Ask longtime Oakland residents for the geographic constraints that define the city's Uptown district, and you'll hear everything from the sliver of space between 14th and 17th streets to the blocks that stretch from 12th to 25th. Ask them when it first received the moniker Uptown (despite being located in what other municipalities would consider decidedly downtown), most will reference the renovation of the Fox Theater or the turn of the new millennium as benchmarks. But ask which area of the city most encapsulates Oakland today, with its juxtaposition of old and new mixed with rapid gentrification, opportunity, and possibility, and there's no ambiguity: It's Uptown Oakland.
A decade ago, before the area was officially dubbed "the Arts and Entertainment" district of the city, Uptown's potential felt largely unfulfilled, with abandoned storefronts and longtime mom-and-pop shops. Although beloved by locals, the neighborhood failed to entice visitors from the surrounding communities, especially San Francisco. Now one of Oakland's hippest hoods, Uptown, with its robust mix of dining, shopping, and nightlife, has been luring San Franciscans with (slightly) cheaper rents, a little more space, and the same quality of life and range of options.
Stroll Telegraph Avenue during the district's wildly popular First Friday events, and you'll find 20-somethings spilling out onto the closed-off streets from galleries and bars while music thumps from the stereos of street performers and food vendors ply much-needed hot dogs on the small batch whiskey–fueled masses. And the buzz around Uptown Oakland will likely only continue to build in the coming months, with the opening of Proof, a woman- and African American–owned craft bottle shop; an Oakland location for Humphry Slocombe (coming to The Hive this summer); and Oakland Rec Club, a planned two-story cocktail bar, kitchen, and pool hall.
As tech giants and other companies continue to move into the district (Pandora has called Uptown home since 2000, and Uber is migrating a few hundred of its workers to the former Sears Building in 2018), some fear the area's affordability may vanish, and with it, much of its diversity and "Oakland soul." But if there's one thing Uptown has proved over the years, it's a district that's always primed for reinvention—and poised to defy definition.
Coffee + Treats: Ice Cream, Donuts, Espresso & More in Uptown Oakland
Sweet Belly's brain-cell-numbing offering.
Expect bite-sized donuts with cheeky names (Sean Pecannery, Hostess with the Mostess) and a varied selection of croissant-donut hybrids called cron'ts in two sizes. Don't leave without picking up a salted maple in any iteration. // 1934 Broadway (Oakland), donutsavant.com
Little Giant Ice Cream
You can watch as the ice cream makers in the back churn out new flavors, ranging from a vegan matcha green tea ice cream to Mexican rocky road made with Tcho chocolate. Have your pooch in tow? They also make ice cream for dogs. // 1951 Telegraph Ave. (Oakland), littlegianticecream.com
Sweet Bar Bakery
Swing in for a breakfast egg bake served with ciabatta toast and lemon mint maté iced tea, or pick up an afternoon treat from the artisanal bakery's display of tender ginger cookies, Champagne truffles, and indulgent cupcakes made with organic, local ingredients. // 2355 Broadway (Oakland), sweetbarbakery.com
Indisputably Instagrammable, Sweet Belly's mix of mini donuts and soft-serve ice cream gets extra credit for a focus on organic, made-in-house ingredients, boundary-pushing combinations, and the same focus on warm hospitality as flagship Belly a few blocks away. While the flavors change monthly, don't sleep on a combo with earl grey ice cream, fruity pebbles, and a matcha donut with honey. // 435 19th St. (Oakland), sweetbellydesserts.com
Housed in a former shipping container, this new location for the Fruitvale roaster serves up cups with a side of social consciousness and risk-taking, with owner Keba Konte focused on promoting fair trade, employing people of color, and exploring profit-sharing to create livable wage jobs. // 2327 Broadway (Oakland), redbaycoffee.com
This third Oakland location of the bicycle-delivery coffee company features a spacious shared patio (dogs welcome) and free pour overs on Fridays. // 1745 San Pablo Ave (Oakland), bicyclecoffeeco.com
Order a double ristretto espresso and egg sandwich, borrow a magazine from the reading rack, and soak in some rays on Farley's outdoor parklet. // 33 Grand Ave. (Oakland), farleyscoffee.com/farleys-east
Cat Town Café
This nonprofit cat rescue removes the most vulnerable cats from East Bay shelters and socializes the felines, many of whom make it into the Cat Zone, where you can interact with up to 24 free-roaming, adoptable cats. Since January, the café space has been run by Rawr Coffee Bar, with Highwire coffee and espresso drinks, as well as baked goods for the humans and toys and treats for the felines. // 2869 Broadway (Oakland), cattownoakland.org
Awaken first caused a stir with its anti-laptop stance, meant to promote actual conversations between patrons over lattes made with Strauss organic milk and vegan donuts from Pepples. The roomy coffee shop also serves as a gathering place near recently revamped Latham Square, offering draft beer and wine with frequent live music nights and Story Showdown events the third Thursday of every month. // 1429 Broadway (Oakland), awakencafe.com
Tertulia Coffee/Sanchez Contemporary
Opened in early July, this café and art gallery hybrid serves Stumptown brews alongside Firebrand pastries, and showcases works by local artists of color. Don't miss the nitro cold brew on draft. // 1951 Telegraph Ave. (Oakland), tertuliacoffee.com