Oakland is San Francisco’s cooler, grittier cousin, just a short drive over the Bay Bridge or a quick BART ride on the city’s underground transit system. While it may not be as famous or as shiny as San Francisco, Oakland is warmer and sunnier, it’s more affordable, and the city’s population is one of America’s most diverse. This translates to a vibrant, multicultural city with food and art to match. Did I mention the breweries? There are currently a dozen within the city limits, with a thirteenth set to open this spring.
North Light Café
Your day kicks off in eclectic Temescal, one of Oakland’s oldest neighborhoods. The main drag, Telegraph Ave., is home to a plethora of indie shops and dining spots, including North Light Café, one of its newest additions. A café by day and a bar by night, this compact spot also manages to squeeze in a book and record store curated by famous musicians and authors. Grab a counter seat and enjoy a thick slice of hummus-slathered toast topped with a soft egg. Pair it with it with potent Turkish coffee and you’ll be primed for a day of drinking.
Just a short walk up Telegraph will lead you to the prettiest brewery you’re likely to encounter not just in Oakland, but anywhere. Rose’s Taproom was founded by a pair of artists, so you won’t find the standard industrial décor here. Instead, the space is filled with sunlight and potted plants, and decorated with teal, grey and pale peach accents. Brewer and co-owner Luke Janson specializes in a wide range of brews, from Belgians to hazy IPA, and selections change often. The rich, balanced beers pair well with Rose’s charcuterie and mezze plates.
If an ice cream parlor and a brewery had a baby, it would look a lot like Temescal Brewing, with its soft pastel hues, gleaming subway tiles, and café tables. A neon sign on the wall declares “no jerks,” and you’re unlikely to find any at this LBGT-friendly brewery. Temescal makes a few different IPAs as well as a deliciously malty Scottish ale, along with Diner’s Finest, a coffee-bean-flavored porter that would make a fabulous ice cream float. The beer garden is the place to be on sunny days, where weekend crowds gather to enjoy DJ-spun tunes and rotating food-truck fare.
Book lovers and beer fans converge at this cozy North Oakland brewery. Co-owner and brewer Brian Koloszyc’s love of all things literary is reflected in the names of his beers, and on any given day the taproom might play host to a book swap or author. Novel Brewing offers eight beers on tap, such as the Dust Jacket IPA, The Book Was Better Belgian pale ale, and Lexicon Barrel-Aged saison. Rotating food vendors, like Good to Eat Dumplings and P&J’s Waffle Delight food truck, offer additional sustenance. Outside food is also welcome.
By now you’re probably ready for a proper meal and—let’s face it—more beer. San Leandro-based Drake’s Brewing Co. is known for its excellent amber, but it also makes a vast array of seasonal and limited-edition brews. The Dealership taproom has 32 beers on draft, from the Oaklander Weisse Sour Berliner Weisse to the Denogginizer IPA to the Super Becky Blonde Ale. Finish out the day in the brewery’s expansive beer garden, with its fire pits and inviting Adirondack chairs, listen to some live music and destroy those hunger pangs with a burger or wood-fired pizza.
Firebrand Artisan Breads
It’s morning(ish) and you need pastries. Firebrand’s stellar baked goods have you covered, whether you’re hankering for a cream cheese cinnamon roll or a savory tomato-basil croissant. If protein is your thing, go for a breakfast sandwich stuffed with sausage, fried egg and cheddar cheese, or pulled pork with fried egg and blackberry jam on a salted honey biscuit. Try as you might, you won’t be able to resist picking up a few of the bakery’s giant soft pretzels for the road. What could be better with beer?
The next stop is Old Oakland, where preserved Victorian architecture meets indie shops, restaurants and bars. Tucked into an 1870s brick building adorned with pressed tin ceilings and an antique wooden bar, The Trappist is like a hoppy trip back in time. The beer selection is impressive, with a rotating list of 100 bottled beers from Belgium and beyond, as well as 25 revolving brews on draft, including the likes of St. Bernandus ABT 12 and Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout from Japan. There’s a patio out back for warm days, and if you’re feeling snacky, the bar offers an assortment of cheeses, charcuterie, soups and sandwiches.
Old Kan Beer & Co.
Set in an industrial area near Jack London Square, Old Kan (a loose anagram for Oakland) is the place to go for balanced brews and beer-friendly food. The brewery and restaurant is a collaboration between chef James Syhabout and brewer Adam Lamoreaux, who created a laid-back space to match the neighborhood’s industrial vibe. Consisting of a small taproom on one side of the building and a restaurant on the other, Old Kan is the kind of place that makes you want to hang out for a while. The beers are flavorful and refreshingly restrained, especially the mildly hopped Good Kan IPA and British-style Old Kan Original Pub Ale. (Many of the beers are also available in cans, if you’re looking for something to take back to the hotel for later.) Among the beer-friendly food options are fries smothered in chorizo gravy, burgers, and spicy fried chicken sandwiches topped with crunchy slaw.
Original Pattern Brewing Company
This warehouse brewery is just a few blocks from Jack London Square’s scenic waterfront. Enter the nondescript brick building to find a bright and sunny interior filled with ample skylights, gleaming fermentation tanks, and large wooden barrels in full view behind the bar. There are plenty of places to get comfortable, but the coolest spot is in one of the curved leather booths built into the back wall. On any given day you’re likely to share the space with young families, grandparents, and beer-loving singles, which is part of the brewery’s appeal. Original Pattern’s beers are clean and delicious, with a draft lineup that includes 14 rotating options such as the peachy Mosaic Lager, piney In Yo’ Face! IPA and Saisonette, a subtly floral saison with a touch of effervescence.
The last leg of your brewery-hopping journey takes you to Fruitvale, a vibrant urban neighborhood with a strong Latino identity. Of all the breweries on this tour, Ale Industries looks the most like a functioning production space, with tanks and barrels lining the wall and cases of beer stacked on wooden palettes. Worn leather sofas, high-top tables and bar seating are there for your lounging pleasure, plus a pool table, dart boards and a resident fluffy cat. Brewmaster Morgan Cox takes a wildly creative approach to his craft, with quirky selections that include tea-based beers made without hops; the crisp Beast Oakland; and the dank, session-worthy Uncle Jesse. If you’re lucky, you might even get a taste of La Niña Fresa, a spontaneously fermented pineapple sour.
Authentic Cambodian food and local craft brews come together at this tiny Fruitvale restaurant, named last year on Bon Appetit magazine’s list of America’s 10 best new restaurants. The vibe is 1960s Cambodia, the food is sublime and the thoughtfully curated beer list includes brews from Temescal Brewing, Ale Industries, and other Bay Area favorites. Among the classic Cambodian dishes are lok-lak—a fragrant combination of beef, Kampot peppercorn, and fried egg—and cha troup, made with blistered eggplant, ground pork, and shrimp.