The Oakland Bucket List: 35 Things You Need to Do Before You Die

Published On 09/21/2015 Published On 09/21/2015

You know what’s the worst? Dying. But do you know what’s the best? Doing all 35 of the things on this Oakland bucket list before you do, which range from eating the best sandwich in the world to visiting a cemetery designed by the same man responsible for New York’s Central Park.

Flickr/Jaeger Moore

1. See a show at the Fox Theater

Opened in 1928, the historic theater was shuttered in 1966 and remained dark until 2009 when they reopened the lovingly refurbished venue with the same wonderful Art Deco interior, gilded ornate glamour, and impressive facade it had in the Roaring ‘20s. Doesn’t matter what you see (world-class rock, blues, R&B, hip-hop...), just see something. Extra credit points if you splurge and impress your date with VIP access. Double extra bonus points if you enter through the secret door in Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe.

2. Grab a seat in Section 149

The Oakland A’s superfans in the’s right field bleachers redefine superfandom with player-specific anthems, flags, musical instruments, special claps for different outs, and choreographed dances. Doesn’t matter if you like baseball or not (or even if you’re not an A’s fan), you gotta sit there at least once. Bringing your own kazoo from home: optional.

3. Toast the past at Heinhold’s

Hit this sailor’s bar in Jack London Square -- made from the bones of a whaling ship and opened in 1883 -- and try not to spill your drink (there’s a crooked floor and tilted ceiling, both gifts of the 1906 earthquake that make this way harder than it sounds).

4. Take a gondola cruise on Lake Merritt

Soak in the city from the center of the lake. Since 1999, the owners have been cruising lovebirds around the waters in traditional Venetian gondolas. It may be campy, but it's still totally great. Bonus: it’s BYOB.

Flickr/Todd Lappin

5. Visit Fairyland

What’s that you say? There’s a magical theme park upon which Disneyland was based on right here in our backyard? Yes. Yes there is. And all you need to enter is a child and $10. Oh, and if you’re squeamish about procreation, don’t worry: there’s an after-dark boozy bash for big kids hosted by community superbiz, Oaklandish.

6. Lounge in a loveseat at the New Parkway Theater

It's kind of like your living room (it's got movies, good food, adult bevs, and couches, too), minus the part where you need to clean it up. Oh, and bonus points if you go on one of the monthly theme nights, like Cult Night or Mystery Science Theater 3000.

7. Sing your heart out, piano karaoke-style, with Rod Dibble at The Alley

This funky piano bar has been an Oakland institution since 1933, and Rod Dibble (now in his 80s) has been playing piano karaoke there for folks since 1960. Stop in before anything changes.

8. Have a midday makeout in the Morcom Amphitheater of Roses

Wander the paths by the reflecting pond until you find a nice little spot to get your daytime romance on at this gorgeous rose garden gem that you’ll be kind of shocked even exists in Oakland.

Flickr/Keith Cuddeback

9. Sleep under the stars at Chabot Space & Science Center

The After Dark events at Chabot are big-kid friendly. Bring a date, cuddle up with a sleeping bag, and learn about the night sky away from the crazy city. 

10. Tailgate with the best: Oakland Raiders fans

The real party actually starts before you enter the Black Hole out in the parking lot where masterful custom BBQ grills and full bars are manned by Raider Nation fans in full-commit costumes. Dress in black, don’t be a jerk, and get ready to rock.

11. Raise a glass to freedom at the White Horse Inn

Opened in 1933, this is the nation’s longest continuously operating gay bar. Friendly to every type of lover, the funky dive boasts pool tables, the perfect barstools for bellying up, a round fireplace for lounging, and the requisite mirrored dance room with DJ booth. 

12. Get drinks before noon at Eli’s Mile High Club

Constant live music is the earmark of Eli’s divey dive. That and strong drinks. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was known for blues. Now it’s punk and rock. Stop by anytime after noon to get your liquid and/or aural fix.

13. Watch the sunset from the Merritt College parking lot

Sit high over Oakland with a bird's-eye view north towards San Francisco. Watching the sunset is a must at this sneaky spot, which’s also perfect for fireworks shows. Just don’t, like, tell too many people.


14. Raid the Grand Lake Farmers Market

Saturday mornings are bananas here. You’ll find loads of fresh fruit and veggies, breads and natural meats, and everyone and their mother. Grab to-go lunch, local kombucha, and stroll over for top-notch people-watching on the banks of Lake Merritt. 

15. Join the circus for a day

Oakland fosters all kinds of creative weirdness, including -- but not limited to -- circus schools. You can let your inner circus star loose at places like Trapeze Arts and Kinetic Arts. Massive warehouse spaces allow for flying trapeze, aerial arts, and other crazy shenanigans. And duh, follow it up with a damn good sandwich at 10th and Wood made by owner Vlad Levitansky, a former world-traveling circus clown. 

16. Have the kind of breakfast God intended at Lois the Pie Queen

Dreamy biscuits, fried chicken, and legendary pie make Lois the Pie Queen an Oakland eating institution. Lois has since passed on, but the family business stays strong. Just make sure you 1) save room for dessert, and 2) bring cash.

Flickr/Joe Parks

17. Drive up to Grizzly Peak on a clear day

If you want one of the best aerial views of San Francisco anywhere in the Bay, (spoiler alert: you do), this is where to go. And trust us when we say it’s worth the winding drive up through the Oakland Hills (just watch out for bicyclists).

18. Take in a film at the Temescal Street Cinema

The free outdoor summer movie series is one part block party, one part public art initiative, and one part thing you for sure need to do in Oakland before you die. Grab some popcorn, a lawn chair from home, and watch films made by local artists.

19. Savor the noodles at Shan Dong Restaurant

Ask for the hand-pulled noodles at this long-standing Chinatown favorite. And yeah, it’s worth the wait.

20. Celebrate Oakland on First Fridays

Artists, food, performers, musicians, dancers, poets, DJs -- have you not already done this?

21. Take an evening stroll around Lake Merritt

If you were gonna propose to someone, doing it surrounded by old-school lantern posts and the twinkling Necklace of Lights ringing the lake wouldn’t be the worst place you could do it.

Flickr/Thomas Hawk

22. Get a sugar high at Fenton’s

An ice cream haven since 1894, Fenton’s knows its sundaes. The always-packed location on Piedmont is the perfect place to indulge your sweet tooth with a wide swath of the Oakland community. It’s got a total 1950s diner vibe (complete with paper boat hats), plus the long line moves quick and, best of all, you get to sample flavors while you wait. Bonus points if you go and take down the banana split challenge fast enough to get a free shirt.

23. Hear the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ play before your movie

Get your grandeur on at the historic, 89-year-old Grand Lake Theater before the Friday or Saturday evening screenings when this bad boy roars to life once more. Who knew you could have Mission Impossible and the Mighty Wurlitzer in the same night?

24. Eat one of the best sandwiches IN THE WORLD at Genova Deli

If you haven’t had a specialty sandwich or the homemade ravs from this O-town institution, you’ve been seriously doing it wrong. It's been serving up the best since 1926. Everyone in town knows this, too (including one of our editors, who named it one of the 15 best sandwich shops in the country), which means even though it has more than a half-dozen people making sandwiches, you’ll still need to get a number and wait after you walk in.

Golden State Warriors

25. Go see a Warriors game

2015 NBA Champions. Enough said. 

26. Cheese up at the Mexicali Rose

When you need Mexican food covered in broiling cheese, eaten in decades-old vinyl booths, with Aztec warrior murals all around -- you go to Mexicali Rose. That’s just what you do.

27. Lick your fingers at Everett and Jones BBQ

Dorothy Everett, badass BBQ queen and single mom to nine kids, started this East Bay empire in 1974. On Saturday nights, check out live blues with no cover while digging into some ribs. 

28. Get deep dish at Zachary’s

Zachary’s Chicago Pizza will make your cheesy heart melt. You always have to wait. It’s just how it goes. But it’s worth it. Opened in 1983, it’s now an employee-owned co-op, so you get some Oakland free spirit with your pie. 

29. Burn on at an American Steel Studios event

An enormous pair of warehouses shelter a hive of metal workers, artists, creative superfreaks, and innovators that work in American Steel Studios. This is where much of the Burning Man art is born. Fortunately for the not-so-artistically inclined, you can crash wonderland when the front space gets rented out for events. It’s pretty awe-inspiring in there.

Flickr/Michele Ursino

30. Visit Mountain View Cemetery

Designed by the same man responsible for New York’s Central Park, this serene retreat is nestled on top of Piedmont Ave and is the final resting place of chocolate king Domingo Ghirardelli, coffee pioneer James A. Folger, Samuel Merritt (all the Merritt stuff is named after him), and Jane K. Sather, namesake of Sather Gate and Sather Tower in Berkeley. It’s also just a beautiful place to spend an hour or two.

31. Ladybug it up in Redwood Regional Park

This East Bay Regional Park District sweet spot is covered in dog-friendly hiking trails and a hidden grove of redwood trees. The best part, though, is the ladybug migration that happens each winter. You won’t believe you’re just a few miles from a BART stop.

32. Check out all the secrets of Oakland

But especially that park at the end of the world…

Flickr/V Smoothe

33. Drink a beer you’ve never tried before at The Trappist

Which should be easy since there’s a damn good chance you’ve never tried ANY of the beers on tap at this eight-year-old-but-it-feels-like-way-older specialty beer bar.

34. Play a round of golf behind the Oakland International Airport

Oh, you didn’t know there’s a golf course there? Because there totally is.

35. Ask for some fish punch and write something on the ceiling after you finish it at Kingfish

This institution puts all other things that call themselves institutions to shame. Its solution when a new condo development threatened to raze it? They moved THE ENTIRE BAR to a new street. Around since 1922, the Fish is located exactly one mile away from UC Berkeley, which previously had an alcohol-free dry zone radius of exactly one mile (see what they did there?). 

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Annie Crawford is an Oakland-based freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @reinaannie.



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