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A Guide to Exploring Grand Avenue in Oakland

Photo via Oakland Daily 

If you're looking for a mini-escape from the City, look no further than the Town. Head to Grand Ave. this weekend for good food, strong drinks, and lively entertainment. Here are just a couple of our favorite spots, but look around and see what other gems you can find. 

Concert and a Movie:

Just follow the giant illuminated rooftop sign and you'll find yourself at one of the oldest and grandest theatres in Oakland. The historic Grand Lake Theatre first hosted vaudeville and silent movies back in 1926; now, you can watch big blockbusters and small indie films alike at this elegant theatre. For a special treat, show up Friday and Saturday evenings when a mighty Wurlitzer organ, usually hidden beneath the floor, rises for a brief concert before the show. If that's not enough, Grand Lake even dishes out very affordable (and tasty!) popcorn and snacks. For those just passing by the front, make sure to look up at the theatre’s marquee sign which has regularly been known to display timely political messages in addition to film titles.

Farmer's Market: 

There's a farmers market on the grass in Splash Pad Park – across from the Grand Lake Theatre – every Saturday morning offering fresh produce, food stands, and even a blow up slide and playground for the kiddies. Grab a bottle of fresh juice, available at many of the stands, and peruse the latest in veggies, fresh baked bread, flowers, coffee, and other goods. Usually, there's also a live band to serenade you as you shop. 

Dinner:

Don't head to Boot & Shoe Service expecting to get your heels resoled. The second restaurant of Chef Charlie Hallowell (of Pizzaiolo), features excellent pizza, delicious pastas, well-crafted cocktails, and tasty desserts. The open dining area gives you a clear view of the kitchen featuring a tile-front pizza oven where pies are prepared to perfection and the adjacent lounge is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine before or after your meal. Opt for the wild nettles & ricotta salata pizza for bold flavors, the potato pizza when it's in season, and you can never go wrong with the classic margherita di bufala at any time of the day or night. End the meal sipping on any of the whiskeys offered on their expansive liquor menu. And if that doesn't suit your fancy, you can always head across the street to Hallowell's newest restaurant, Penrose, where he's offering up some worldly flavors and strong cocktails. 

Drinks: 

The Alley, founded in 1933, is one of Oakland’s last piano bars. Sit down for an affordable steak, strong drinks, and peruse the 40,000 to 50,000 business cards from visitors stapled to the walls. Look for official cards from Jerry Brown and Gregg Allman as well as other local celebrities. As the night wears on, you’ll eventually find yourself at one of the seats surrounding the piano where pianist Rod Dibble is ready to accompany you to whatever tune you like. Start warming up your vocal chords! 

Books: 

Walden Pond Book Store is a neighborhood gem that's provided Oaklanders with their reading material for over 40 years. About 60 percent of Walden’s more than 100,000 books are used and affordably priced, and the store gladly buys back novels from its customers. The bibliophilic staff is very helpful and can guide you among the teetering piles of fiction, non-fiction, and specialty books to find what you're looking for or make a recommendation. Walden's Pond also maintains a rare book collection in an upstairs storage room that once hosted readings by Isabel Allende and other literary greats.

Kosher Treats: 

Jews and gentiles alike flock to Grand Bakery for the scrumptious black-and-white cookies, macaroons, Russian tea cookies, and challahs. The bakery, which also serves as the local meeting spot for the Jewish community, has been certified by the Vaad Hakashrus of Northern California for meeting strict Orthodox standards. But if you don’t feel like waiting in line for snacks (especially on Friday mornings when they're busiest) then you can find their sweets in more than twenty local markets including Andronico’s, Diablo Foods and the Piedmont Market.

Bootcamp: 

If you're headed here on a Saturday, start your morning off with a good work out, and you'll feel better the whole day. Boxing for Health, just off Grand on Santa Clara Ave., offers Saturday morning boxing classes at 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m. and noon for beginners and champions alike. Get out all the week's aggression on the punching bag and keep with it throughout the week to get in good shape, fast. 

Have more suggestions? Add them in the comments.