I’ve never been on a foodie walking tour so when I found out about Localite Tours in Oakland, I jumped at the chance to be a part of their tour on a gorgeous Sunday in November.
The tour was starting at 2pm so I decided to start my day off with brunch near the Mariott where I was staying for the weekend, as part of my press visit to Oakland.
My husband was the one who actually suggested we try nearby Cock-a-Doodle cafe on Washington st. in Old Oakland. The wait was maybe about 15-20 minutes and we opted for the patio behind the restaurant. The patio’s really cute with a small pond and a view into the next door house’s laundry hanging off its balcony. I was charmed. Why I’m charmed seeing laundry hanging off of some balcony is an entirely different discussion for another blog!
My husband had apparently researched the food here and he said THE thing to order was the Mexican hot chocolate. Apparently the Graham cracker crusted french toast was also a must have. I was amazed, as I’d never seen him research food at a restaurant before, especially not brunch! Stuffed with the previous night’s dinner at Desco, I opted for the home-made granola. Mistake. Big. Huge.
I took one sip of the hot chocolate, which comes in a gigantic bowl and using the tiny spoon they give to scoop up the drink, I slurped my way through almost half of it. I have honestly not had Mexican hot chocolate before and this was awesome! It was not too sweet, just right in fact, and it tasted real, none of that fake flavoring stuff. Then I took a bite of the french toast and almost fell off my chair.
It was so delicious, I ended up chomping through a good portion of it. Call me an addict. I’m taking Bart from San Francisco just to eat here again. (Why don’t we brunch spots like this in San Francisco!?)
My husband left soon after brunch and I wandered down the streets of old Oakland, marveling at how different it looked during the day. I actually felt safe walking alone down tree lined Broadway and 9th.
My friend Jenni, a food blogger at www.constanttasting.com, soon joined me a few minutes later and we set off on foot to explore the other side of 9th and Broadway, Chinatown! We had a good hour or so before the food tour and wanted to see how different Oakland’s China Town was compared to its better known counterpart in San Francisco.
Our first stop as we wandered through the streets, was this bakery called First Cake. Jenni wanted pork buns and I was hankering for some walnut cookies. The pork buns were delicious and the cookies were yum. Not to mention everything was under a dollar in this bakery! Now that’s a steal! You won’t find that in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
We stopped by another bakery, and this one lured us in with its pretty wedding cakes in the window display. And wouldn’t you know it, the prices were half of what you’d be paying at a regular bakery. Jenni grabbed a business card, deciding it may just come in handy in the future!
We walked through some packed sidewalks, dodging Sunday morning locals as they shopped for fruits and vegetables. Just like San Francisco’s Chinatown, this one isn’t shy about displaying its herbs and teas and other Chinese wares on the sidewalk – the difference being, this district felt more local and less touristy.
We soon headed out toward the Oakland Museum where we were to meet our host from the Localite Tours, Gretchen. We were joined by maybe about few more folks and after a brief introduction, Gretchen led us toward the free sculpture gardens in the back of the Museum. Open to all, these sculptures highlight works from primarily California artists.
Lodi born, Viola Frey is renowned for her ceramic sculptures, exploring issues of gender and art history through her works. This one below is kind of cool, colorful, and fun to stare at before moving on.
Further out in the garden, Gretchen, pulling along her a red wheelbarrow, stops and tantalizes us with some history and some tamale bits from a local Mexican restaurant in Oakland. Her little red cart contains two varieties and the one I had was green chili cheese tamales and they were just okay, a little too heavy on the cheese in my opinion. The restaurant apparently grinds its corn in-house and is known for these tamales.
She then went on to explain a little of Oakland’s history and gave us some time to explore the Babylon style terraced gardens. Jenni and I saw a few more sculptures including this one below that was very yellow and very big!
Obviously a peace symbol sculpture, this little courtyard has great views onto Lake Merritt.
From here, we walked to another little courtyard where you can see pictures of the Gold rush miners and Gretchen gives us a little bit of history here. We walk through a narrow pathway and exit out the garden near the Henry J. Kaiser auditorium. I had no idea that Kaiser was an Oakland native. Apparently he was also famous for building the Richmond shipyards and then of course the now monumental Kaiser Medical centers. Pretty interesting!
We cross the street to Lake Merritt and here again Gretchen pulls out some tasty sandwiches from her little cart. It began to dawn on Jenni and I that we weren’t exactly going to be visiting restaurants and tasting food. Gretchen apparently had all the food in that little cart of hers. Interesting. Who can argue about the merits of history and food!
The sandwiches are made by Gretchen with some home-made plum jam and almond butter. Yum. She then gives us some history about the Black Panthers and how they started in Oakland as a bunch of people who were upset by the poverty and lack of nutrition and tried to provide simple meals such as the sandwiches to the poor kids in the neighborhoods.
We then walked toward the last standing Victorian building on the lakefront, the Camron-Stanford house. It’s so pretty and such a shame that most of these Victorian homes that used to line the lake are now replaced by apartments and one big, tall, ugly hotel building.
At the house, Gretchen offers us some pork buns from a local Chinese store and Jenni and I exclaim how we just tried some awesome pork buns earlier in Chinatown. Jenni whispered to me these ones were not so great.
I decided to pass, kind of stuffed with all the food we’d been eating. The entrance to the house is impressive and we walk in through the front door for our official tour.
The historians at the house give us the history on the previous inhabitants etc and I think Jenni thought that was interesting, while I amused myself by taking pics of a Turkish chair and a pretty gasolier chandelier!
From here we walk next door to the Lake Chalet restaurant, which is really pretty and has a gorgeous view of Lake Merritt. We’re treated to some cheese, calamari and beer, brewed by the sister restaurant in San Francisco, Beach Chalet Brewery. We get to know each other a little better as we munch on our snacks and soon we head off along the lake to our last stop for dessert. Some of the people on the tour were from Oakland and when I asked what was so great about the budding food scene, one gentleman remarked it was even more trendy than San Francisco’s Mission District. I was astonished. I kind of didn’t get that vibe from Old Oakland but perhaps Temescal and parts of Telegraph/Broadway were home to this trendiness that he spoke of. On the way, I spot Alessandro, the gondolier, rowing his gondola on the lake, and I wave to him in excitement, hoping to catch his attention. Alas, he pays me no heed and continues on his merry way with his tour.
We soon cross the street and approach the Terrace Room, inside the Lake Merritt Hotel. As we walk in, I’m amazed at the views. Tucked inside the Lake Merritt Hotel, the Terrace Room is truly a gem. The champagne and chocolate ganache we are served are delicious, while the manager regales us with stories of the building’s history. Apparently their Sunday brunch is supposed to be a hit. I wouldn’t mind trying that out someday.
This marks the end of the walking tour and after polishing of our cake, we stroll around the room, looking at the pretty murales on the wall of Lake Merritt back in the day. Jenni and I thank Gretchen, and walk back toward the Mariott, admiring the lights around the lake.
I enjoyed the tour actually, it was quirky and I felt like I knew a little bit more about Oakland and its roots. The food was so-so and I didn’t really get the feel that it was a foodie tour. It was more a walking tour of the city, its people and origins with some snacks thrown in.
This particular city tour is new and I think it definitely has potential. I wish they would actually take us on a tour of different restaurants and weave in some history that way. Nevertheless, it’s a fun activity if you are looking for something to do on a Sunday afternoon. Gretchen is engaging and friendly and you’ll see a slice of Oakland that’s actually quite beautiful.
What: Localite Tours
Where: Oakland. Contact http://www.localitetours.com/tours/
When: Tours run year-around. Try one of several tours listed on their website.