Across the bay from San Francisco sits Oakland. Once a place of poverty and gang violence, Oakland has risen from the depths of despair to give the vibrant and cultural metropolis of San Francisco a real run for its money. While San Francisco’s transformation from hippy haven to the home of the Tech Giants has come at a price, Oakland is having a surprisingly different evolution.
Oakland is one of America’s rising stars as a city with a heart for business. The fact that Uber have shelved plans to move 3,000 employees to their acquired office space in the Old Sears Building (instead they will move in a few hundred and rent the remaining office space) is no bad thing. While the local economy might have benefitted initially from the move, the long-term effect could have encouraged a spike in rents.
Sky-rocketing rents in San Francisco are a symbol of the city’s success, but have punished the local population. Such a hike in rents in Oakland would undoubtedly have a negative impact on the vibrant culture that is currently developing. For the local business community, the Uber retreat could be more of a blessing than a curse.
It’s been the organic business growth that has made Oakland such an attractive place with local people growing innovative and creative businesses. There’s a passion about grass roots here, and a vibe that has many parallels with Brighton. Just as people are shying away from the exorbitant rents and property prices in London and settling in Brighton, the exodus is mirrored in Oakland in preference of San Francisco.
San Francisco is packed full of people with great business ideas, but the rents in the city are stifling. Ordinary city folk have reached their limits with the sight of billionaires stepping over homeless people. The inequality in San Francisco is huge.
Oakland isn’t without its problems, but it does have some innovative community projects in place. That’s not to say San Francisco doesn’t have some great projects of its own, but to the business visitor they’re largely hidden from view. Oakland has a contagious sense of optimism and you’ll hear about community the minute you hit the city streets. So far, Oakland is proving a viable alternative for those nostalgically seeking the old vibe of San Francisco, but looking for more reasonable rents. If Oakland can hang on to its sense of social responsibility, there’s every chance it will continue to attract a socially conscious and creative business crowd.
Business with community at its heart
In Oakland, you’ll find businesses proud of their roots, committed to supporting their community, yet conducting business with a real sense of flair. It’s a refreshing change from the type of business conducted by the Tech giants across the bay.
Oakland is surpassing itself with an extraordinary sense of cohesion and community. The whole set up should be a contradiction, but Oakland’s real sense of business purpose is intertwined with a strange contemporary hippy vibe.
Walk into any small business in Oakland and you’ll hear tales of local people doing great things and supporting each other. The sense of pride and camaraderie here is impressive and it’s infectious. Community spirit is making the whole area a very attractive proposition for businesses seeking a place for supportive, organic growth.
T-shirt and accessories company, Oaklandish, are a great example of business success with a conscience. Impressively, community motivates everything they do. They give back to the city of Oakland by way of grants and donations, as well as offering pro bono design and marketing to small local businesses. It’s a business model that is at the heart of many of Oakland’s home-grown businesses.
Creative collaboration comes easily in Oakland. An example is the industrial arts school, The Crucible, an impressive community project which comes with the nostalgic whiff of school metalwork workshops. Business travellers are invited to try out a session of hands-on creativity need to be close to one another, feeding off each other’s dynamism. Oakland has the diversity and exciting creative vibe that an up and coming business community needs.
The Gourmet Ghetto
Along with Oakland’s organic and exciting business growth, the city is also being lauded for its food. The North Shattuck area has been popularly known as the “Gourmet Ghetto” since the 1970s because of its concentration of innovative restaurateurs. But it doesn’t stop there. In recent times, some really exciting chefs are ditching San Francisco and hitting the Oakland scene.
The choices for eating in Oakland are huge. For sophisticated dining try Yoshi’s Japanese Restaurant (conveniently located next to Yoshi’s Jazz Club), or Lake Chalet, an amazing fish restaurant overlooking the bay. On Jack London Square offering views of the bay, Bocanova is the number one place for great food and a buzzy vibe. Here interesting food combinations are born from a chef with classic French training and a passion for food spanning North, South and Central America – the Pan American menu is as creative as Oakland’s business community.
Don’t leave Oakland without heading to the Gastropig for one of their provocatively named Baconslut breakfast sandwiches. Featuring applewood smoked bacon with an over easy egg, cheddar, and Aleppo chilli aioli, these awesome baps offer the ultimate hangover cure.
As well as fine wines from the nearby California vineyards, craft breweries in the area are plentiful. Just as with everything else in Oakland, craft brewers here are making flavour combinations that stand out from the crowd. The Oakland Ale Trail is a must for beer connoisseurs. Brewing is part of the fabric of Oakland. Home brewing is big here and as much a part of every day life for local residents as home cooking.
If you really want to experience the hipster vibe so reminiscent of San Francisco, you must visit Temescal, a locality on the northern outskirts of Oakland. It’s hard to imagine, but there’s an even more relaxed and open vibe here than downtown.
Temescal Alley houses a collection of shops and workshops filled with creative people making and selling beautiful wares. From apothecaries, horticultural shops, and innovative jewellers, to hip and cool independent clothing stores, there’s a real buzz about the place.
One store that typifies the spirit is the cool men’s clothing store, Standard and Strange, who peddle high quality clothing with a price tag to match under the banner, ‘own fewer, better things.’ The argument for splashing out is enticing.
Temescal is the best place to buy gifts you plan to take home. Don’t miss out on the best Tacos in town while you’re here. Cholita Linda’s is low-key, buzzy and deliciously satisfying.
At the other end of the spectrum, nestled in Oakland’s hills, is the iconic Claremont Club & Spa hotel. This is one of America’s finest hotels offering breathtaking views of the bay, handsome guest rooms, elegant dining and a high-end spa. Approach the hotel by road and the imposing, snow-white structure pops into view, to literally take your breath away. The exquisite breakfast menu here is not to be missed. In happier times, and before the break-up, Brad and Angelina stayed here while filming nearby. It’s the place in Oakland to go if you want to impress.
A PEEK ACROSS THE BAY
While Oakland has everything you need from art to museums, a plethora of restaurants and cool bars, to hip entertainment venues, travelling across the bay to San Francisco is easy and well worth the trip. If you do nothing else in San Francisco, take a spin on the San Francisco Love Tour.
You not only get a whistle-stop tour of the city, there’s an eclectic musical accompaniment, and plenty of amusing facts from your driver and tour guide. Your only uncomfortable moment might be cruising through San Francisco’s China Town with Carl Douglas’s track ‘Everybody was Kung-Fu fighting’ blaring from the speakers. It’s not perhaps the most sensitive of musical choices.
A trip to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without a tram ride, visiting the seals at the pier, and, if you have the time, a boat trip to Alcatraz, the historic prison.
Oakland International Airport is the second largest airport in the San Francisco Bay Area. Travel in and around Oakland couldn’t be easier with its Amtrak stations offering numerous train services to cities such as Sacramento, Reno and Bakersfield, as well as daily services to Seattle, Los Angeles and Chicago. Regionally, The BART metro offers a connection to and from the East Bay and San Francisco, as does the San Francisco Bay Ferry.
Oakland has recently launched a new premium business travel airport lounge, called the Escape Lounge. It is not the biggest but is perfectly formed and is brimming with exceptionally good, locally sourced food and drinks, including some impressive locally sourced gins. Thoughtfully designed, the modern interior cleverly blends the overhead industrial pipes into its décor, and manages to pull off a cool, but welcoming vibe. The only negative is that the lounge doesn’t have its own toilets, but the airport facilities are very close by. However, this a well-managed, slick operation with customer experience at its heart. Regular business travellers stop by on both legs of their journeys; the food and service is that good.
The issue of getting to Oakland has been solved by the recent introduction of direct transatlantic flights from Europe with Norwegian. Getting a low-cost long-haul flight from Europe to the U.S’s West Coast has never been easier or cheaper, and it’s Oakland that is cashing in. It’s great news for European businesses already trading in the US, and for those looking to make the move.
Norwegian are the first airline to offer low-cost direct flights to Oakland from the UK. It was a very business-savvy move by Norwegian, with Oakland shaping up nicely as a great place to do business across the pond. It’s a comfortable flight which is free from burning nasal passages, a customary symptom of most long haul flights, as Norwegian’s new 787 Dreamliners fly at 1,800m rather than the standard 2,400m. There’s ample leg room, unexpectedly decent airplane food, obligatory free booze, and a service you’d be hard-pushed to match on other big brand airlines (water appears just before your brain makes the connection that your mouth is running a little dry). But, most impressive of all is the cost.
TOP PLACES FOR A MEETING/EVENT
Rose Dykins lists some of the Golden City’s most interesting places for corporate events
With its mission to ignite curiosity and inspire creativity, this excellent science museum would be great for teambuilding. Its event spaces include a waterfront terrace and the hands-on exhibition galleries themselves.
CONSERVATORY OF FLOWERS
Set amid the glorious surrounds of Golden Gate Park, the romantic glass-paned pavilion has five event spaces filled with tropical plant life.
For a sample of North California’s vinification culture, this co-op of three wineries is within easy reach of Downtown on Treasure Island, accessed via the Golden Gate Bridge. Group tastings can be arranged, and there is event space for up to 1,000 delegates.
COMPUTER HISTORY MUSEUM
An interactive museum with exhibits that chart the evolution of computers – including a recreation of a bizarre-looking 1960s computer system – this attraction ties in nicely with a tech-themed event. Group reservations are available for a minimum of ten people.
Offering a dreamy view of the Golden Gate bridge, the lawns of this luxury resort make for summer outdoor receptions. It also has a cosy indoor meeting and dining spaces with fireplaces and smart walnut wood tables.
WHERE TO STAY
Tips from Rose Dykins and Julia Trevett
SAN FRANCISCO PROPER HOTEL
After a slightly stagnant period, San Francisco’s hotel scene is starting to liven up, with some top-to-tail renovations and a number of new boutiques openings. Perhaps the most significant is the Proper Hotel, housed in a distinctive flatiron building in the Mid-Market neighbourhood. Set to open in August, the property will has four restaurants and bars – including a rooftop venue – and 131 rooms with mixed-print wallpaper and vintage furnishings. RD
FAIRMONT SAN FRANCISCO
Poised proudly atop Nob Hill, with panoramic views of the city and the Bay Area, this grand luxury provides a more traditional option amid San Fran’s typically trendy accommodation. Its 592 rooms and suites are classically elegant, and the marble-pillared Laurel Court restaurant and bar transports you to a bygone era, serving up freshly-caught seafood and produce from boutique wineries. RD
HOTEL ZETTA, SAN FRANCISCO
Located in the buzzy Union Square district, this modern characterful 116-room hotel is part of the Viceroy brand. Its individually-designed rooms feature one-off artwork, and combine oriental rugs with butcher block desks and high tech. Meanwhile, the property’s social spaces that are “set to the tune of a Silicon Valley start-up” – with a nine-metre Plinko game wall and a Nintendo Wii U console. RD
HOTEL ZELOS, SAN FRANCISCO
Set in the historic Pacific building in San Francisco’s SOMA district, Hotel Zelos is an ideal place to stay if you’ve travelled in from Oakland (Powell Street BART station is just around the corner). The rooms are a reasonable size for the city’s often compact offerings, and the hotel boasts a decent restaurant, Dirty Habit, located on the fifth floor, which has a trendy vibe, great cocktails and a cocktail focused menu. A good pick, Hotel Zelos is within walking distance of Chinatown and Union Street. JT
WATERFRONT HOTEL, OAKLAND
Overlooking the waterfront in Oakland’s Jack London Square, this boutique hotel offers a nautical theme, hugely spacious rooms and is perfectly placed to explore everything Oakland has to offer. The wind-chiming concert of nearby boats is strangely comforting, as is the infrequent claxon of the Amtrak trains hurtling through the main thoroughfare a few streets away. A comfortable hotel with a very relaxed atmosphere. Don’t let the thought of all this surrounding noise put you off, this is a comfortable hotel with a very relaxed atmosphere, and I would definitely go back. JT