Sure, there’s San Francisco, its towering skyline often sitting above the clouds of the city below, but just next door is Oakland, and, simply put, Oakland is just a cool town.
There’s a deep history in Oakland and the people that live here. They’ve been fighting for their community, their rights, and of course, for cannabis legalization. Maybe this town is hella cool because it’s considered the most diverse city in America. Hell, this is where the Black Panthers started their push for social justice and it’s where the dispensary group Harborside pushed for proper cannabis testing, compliance, and education.
But more on that later. First, a much needed coffee from a bar + bookstore + record store that’s a true embodiment of Oakland and the great people that live here. This is North Light.
An old school brick building with high ceilings. An ascending bookcase with novels and records lining its shelves. At North Light, there’s even a sliding ladder to scramble up the shelves to find that perfect gem.
A white marble bar takes up the back of the shop with two turntables comfortably seated on its edge. Accompanying the slowing turing record playing, Ahmad Jamal’s album FreeFlight sits on a number of what appears to be Pixar lamps…did we mention Pixar’s less than 10 minutes away?
Julian, the bartender whips us up some Zeric-style coffees served in tall cocktail glasses.
Something to eat perhaps? We gravitate to the umami potatoes with bonito flakes. This is a burst of flavor with smoky mayo and scallions.
Next up, the mushroom toast; the bread smeared to its very edge with ricotta and topped with caramelized onions. It’s a delicate balance that works so well and has a salty, meaty texture from the mushrooms.
We thank Julian and as we leave, he says “come back, hang out when you’re in town, you know where to find me.” And you know what, we’re just gonna have to take him up on that.
Located right next to the Oakland Harbor with sailboats cutting through the clear water sits the iconic dispensary, Harborside.
We meet up with the lovely, friendly, and knowledgeable Kathy Starbuck, one of Harborside’s many helpful employees. She’s been working at Harborside for almost two years and started right before recreational, adult-use cannabis was legalized (also known as “the Green Rush”).
The store is quite large and one of the best aspects is the large windows letting in the natural sunlight. When it comes to cannabis, they want to take it “out of the darkness and into the light.”
They’ve really taken that to heart in the store, from the shelves of clones you can purchase for home growing, to the education they provide. But one comment Kathy said stood out among the rest.
She points to the various products throughout the store and says, “Products now hit the floor – before it used to be under lock and key and at some point it was time to treat our customers like customers not criminals.”
With Harborside’s historic push to enhance the industry, just the acknowledgement of having products out for customers to explore themselves is a relatively new concept.
With a day of sunshine ahead, we grab a Delight Pen and head off for some dumplings.
Reservations? Nope, they don’t do that. Killer dumplings? Yup, they do that.
Shan Dong is located in Chinatown — which, by the way, is a proper Chinatown and you don’t hear English spoken as you walk down the streets. Another example of the celebration of cultures living together in Oakland.
We’re seated at yellow worn down tables with a view of the dumpling station; woks lined up ready to cook up deliciousness. A woman making dumplings works quickly yet effortlessly by the window. We should point out this is where Domee Shi did all her R&D for the Pixar movie, BAO.
First up, green beans cooked in garlic and when it hits the table with the white rice, bam! You’re hit with a garlicky aroma that will make you melt with sensory overload.
Next up, Shan Dong chicken – twice fried and crunchy but oh so saucy.
And of course, dumplings. Oh, the dumplings. With a vinegary sweet sauce drizzled on the sticky outside of the dumpling and the softness of the steamed meat inside. All hand made with perfect imperfections of the outer casing. You want this, you need this — go get this, people.
Time for a drink and something sweet perhaps.
DRAKE’S BREWING CO. & HUMPHRY SLOCOMBE
Drake’s Brewing Co. is an open air space with trees sprouting out of gravel floor for shade as you sip your local brew.
As one does, we get a few flights of beer. One flight on the lighter side and another on the hoppy side. A light breeze slowly blows through the trees as we sip our beer and snack on some grilled peppers with big flakes of salt and drizzled with a healthy amount of lemon.
Just outside sits Humphry Slocombe, oh so good ice cream and after a few beers, nothing’s better.
As the day comes to a close we head over to Lake Merritt, first grabbing some pizza from Arizmendi Bakery for our stroll.
This is a huge lake in the middle of Oakland with big green trees on the water’s edge. A drummer rhymically plays along to the sounds of crashing water from a fountain and birds soar overhead as we enjoy a slice of pizza and watch as the world goes by.
Until next time, Oakland.