What to do: Oakland is going through a revival. A civic push in recent years to revitalize the city has resulted in the opening of new restaurants and bars, housing developments, shopping centers and tourist attractions.
The city's focal point, Lake Merritt, has benefited from this activity. Improvements, such as additional bike paths and park space, have been going on since 2002. In 2008, the Municipal Boat House was renovated and a new restaurant, the Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill, opened there (1520 Lakeside Dr.; 510-208-5253; thelakechalet.com). Visitors to the lake can rent pedal boats or kayaks, or stroll around its 3.4-mile circumference. Stop by the Cathedral of Christ the Light, an awe-inspiring contemporary 136-foot-tall wood-and-glass structure that opened in 2008 (2121 Harrison St.; ctlcathedral.org). Group tours of the cathedral are given Monday through Friday at 1 p.m. If you have children, visit Children's Fairyland, also lakeside, which features 10 acres of animals, fairground-style rides and live shows and was last upgraded two years ago (admission $8; 699 Bellevue Ave.; 510-452-2259; fairyland.org). The nearby Oakland Museum of California has art, history and natural-history exhibits. The museum reopened in May after a $58 million rehabilitation (1000 Oak St.; 510-238-2200; museumca.org).
Old Oakland—the historic downtown area next to bustling Chinatown—has been restored to highlight its brick sidewalks lined with trees and Victorian apartments. New galleries, shops and sleek restaurants have made their debut alongside longtime favorites, such as Ratto's Market & Deli, a 113-year-old deli and specialty shop (821 Washington St.; 510-832-6503; rattos.com). In the Uptown neighborhood, last year's reopening of the historic Fox Theater (1807 Telegraph Ave.; thefoxoakland.com) as a music venue has helped spearhead the development of the area, which has taken on a decidedly art-deco-meets-funk look. On the first Friday of every month, art galleries remain open into the evening and host receptions and performances as part of Oakland Art Murmur (oaklandartmurmur.com).
Where to eat: Oakland has drawn a lot of attention recently for its burgeoning food scene, especially after Commis (3859 Piedmont Ave., 510-653-3902; commisrestaurant.com) garnered the city's first and only Michelin star this year. But there are many local favorites that haven't received as much national attention. Brown Sugar Kitchen puts an organic spin on soul food and is known for its fried chicken and cornmeal waffles (2534 Mandela Parkway; 510-839-7685; brownsugarkitchen.com). Champa Garden, a hole-in-the-wall Lao restaurant near Lake Merritt consistently draws crowds for its stir fries, curries and noodle soups. Try the appetizer sampler of Lao sausage, fried rice-ball salad and spring rolls (2102 Eighth Ave.; 510-238-8819; champagarden.com). More upscale, Wood Tavern is a go-to for fresh and classic California cuisine (6317 College Ave.; 510-654-6607; woodtavern.net).
Where to stay: The Claremont Hotel Club & Spa is a white-walled oasis of a hotel that straddles the Oakland-Berkeley city line. The sprawling 95-year-old complex was renovated earlier this year and features tennis courts and a pool. Room rates range from $209 to $389 a night (41 Tunnel Rd., Berkeley; 510-843-3000; claremontresort.com). The Oakland Marriott City Center, located downtown, was also refurbished this year and is continuing renovation projects into 2011. Rooms here start at $120 and rise to $220 a night (1001 Broadway; 510-451-4000; marriott.com/hotels/travel/oakdt-oakland-marriott-city-center). In Jack London Square, the Waterfront Hotel is a modest option that was renovated in 2008. Rooms start at $109 a night, and top out at $389 (10 Washington St.; 510-836-3800; jdvhotels.com/hotels/sanfranciscoeastbay/waterfront).
Write to Marisa Wong at email@example.com