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Ebony Escapes!to Oakland, the other city by the bay

Lysa Allman-Badwin | 3/20/2014, 2:23 p.m.
Oakland is a spectacular city that offers its own unique flavor and flair to the Bay Area.

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been here, if ever—the views from the airplane window are always captivating.

The newest one for me this time around was the revitalized East Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, one of the busiest bridges in the country. It is a vital connection between these two iconic cities, each offering their own unique flavor and flair to what it means to live, work and visit the Bay Area.

It has well been over a decade since I left the Bay Area after living there--in both Oakland and San Francisco—for a good chunk of my formative adult years. And although I yearned for a little taste of the familiar, I was intrigued and, quite frankly, drawn to what the Oakland I knew has become.

The accolades are telling. Oakland was ranked the No. 5 place to visit in the world by The New York Times in “The 45 Places to Go in 2012.” Sandwiched between No. 4 London and No. 6 Tokyo, it was the highest ranked North American city.

Its downtown area, including Chinatown, Old Oakland and Jack London Square, was named among ”America’s Top 12 Art Places for 2013” by the organization ArtPlace. Last year, the Huffington Post named Oakland as the “Most Exciting City in the U.S.”

The organization Walk Score, whose mission is to promote walkable neighborhoods across the country, recently said, “Oakland isn’t the Bay Area’s second city anymore. With its stunning location on the shores of Lake Merritt and proximity to Silicon Valley employers, it’s come into its own. The ethnically diverse population makes it a cultural playground for food, art, music and more.”

What? Isn’t this the birthplace of the Black Panther Party that both galvanized and polarized the Black community and the nation around social justice issues in the 1960s? And where the tempestuous Occupy Oakland movement captivated the nation in 2011? How about where the attitudes of many communities here seem to follow the long-standing Oakland Raiders fan motto, “Take No Prisoners”?

Well, the answers are yes and no.

Like many cities across the country—and around the world, for that matter—Oakland has undergone its fair share of issues, whether social, political, economic or otherwise. But like a teenager who sometimes follows a path seemingly headed toward self-destruction and pure misery, that same path is often what leads to greater growth, maturity and a newfound freedom to blossom into all he—in this case, Oakland—can be.

Dynamic, diverse, soulful and culturally rich

Situated just 42 feet above sea level and encompassing over 56 square miles, including 19 miles of coastline to the west and magnificent rolling hills to the east, Oakland is a jewel in the Bay Area. Two-thirds of the city’s landscape comes from the flat plain of the San Francisco Bay, while the hills of the East Bay range make up the remaining foothill terrain. Its adjacent neighbors are Alameda, just across the estuary, Berkeley to the north, San Leandro to the south, Emeryville lying between Oakland and Berkeley, and Piedmont, which is completely surrounded by Oakland.