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Oakland is among the most diverse cities in the United States, with a rich cultural scene that stems from its history as a hub for immigration. It's warmer, sunnier and considerably cheaper than its Bay Area neighbor, San Francisco, and its beautiful climate paired with a variety of dining, arts and entertainment hot spots have made it an increasingly popular tourist destination. This busy port city has a higher-than-average cost of living compared with the rest of the country, but that hasn't stopped it from growing at a healthy rate.
The History of Oakland
The area now known as Oakland was once inhabited by the Huchiun and Costanoan people, who chose the area for settlement because of its large supply of fresh water. By the late 1770s, it had been claimed by Spanish settlers, earning the name "Encinal," which was later roughly translated to "Oakland."
After the Mexican War, the region was acquired by the U.S. government and incorporated as the state of California. When the gold rush brought an influx of people to San Francisco in the mid-1800s, surrounding areas flourished, including the port of Oakland. The 1920s saw Oakland christened the "Detroit of the West," with major car manufacturers such as General Motors, the Fageol Motor Company and Chrysler establishing plants in the city. From there, the Oakland economy continued to grow in bursts, spurred by major events, including both World Wars.
Today, Oakland is an epicenter of international trade, serving as one of the busiest ports in the country. Its top industries, in addition to marine cargo transport, include start-up tech and green energy. The city is consistently ranked as one of the best cities in which to start a career.
Living in Oakland
If you're planning to start a career anywhere in the Bay Area, the easy commute in and around Oakland makes it a convenient home base. The city is known for its sustainability practices, which include a robust public transit system, as well as access to a variety of dining, art, cultural and entertainment opportunities.
The downtown area is home to a vibrant assortment of galleries, retail shops, small businesses and restaurants serving cuisine from around the world. If you're interested in exploring the cultural offerings of the city, you can stroll through the African American Museum and Library or take in a performance at the Oakland Symphony. Oakland also has a number of professional sports teams, including the MLB's Oakland Athletics and the NBA's Golden State Warriors.
In addition to a bustling cityscape, Oakland boasts a vast assortment of natural features, including Lake Merritt, the oldest wildlife sanctuary in the country. In total, the city's parks total nearly 6,000 acres of green space. Despite Oakland's status as a large metropolitan city, it's also home to a number of endangered and rare species.
Here are just a few of the neighborhoods you'll want to check out while you're in Oakland:
With an upbeat, eclectic vibe, downtown Oakland is a hub for dining, entertainment, arts and culture. The city skyscrapers contrast with the many historical buildings, including the 1914 Cathedral Building, one of the nation's most well-known examples of Gothic Revival architecture.
Jack London District
This Oakland neighborhood is home to the second-oldest bar in California, Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon, which served as a longtime writing spot for American author Jack London. From its waterfront location, you can see the entirety of the San Francisco Bay.
Uptown is dotted with classic Art Deco buildings, which have been revitalized with the addition of trendy boutiques and hip restaurants. The neighborhood's entertainment roots can be traced to the iconic Fox and Paramount theaters, which still host regular events.
The Rockridge neighborhood has been named one of the most pedestrian-friendly in the nation, and is home to many young families and couples. On the main strip you'll find Dreyer's Ice Cream Parlor, the birthplace of Rocky Road ice cream.
The majority of public schools in Oakland are served by the Oakland Unified School District, which offers both public and charter options. You'll also find several private schools in the area, including faith-based, specialized study and college prep campuses.
If you're seeking a college education, Oakland has several accredited colleges and universities to choose from, including the California College of the Arts, Lincoln University and a satellite campus of San Francisco State University.
Moving to Oakland
Here are a few helpful resources that can make your move to Oakland easier:
- Utilities: Water services are managed by the East Bay Municipal Utility District, while natural gas and electricity is provided by Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
- Garbage and Recycling: California Waste Solutions partners with Waste Management to provide curbside collection of trash, recycling and compost items. The Zero Waste Program specifically aims to maximize recycling and natural composting efforts, and you have the option of receiving free compost soil twice per year.
- Transportation: Oakland has a range of intercity transit options, including bus and pedi-cab, and is also conveniently connected to neighboring San Francisco by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and the Alameda/Oakland Ferry. The city has consistently expanded efforts to make Oakland bicycle-friendly, and you can find thousands of bike parking spaces both downtown and through the neighboring suburbs.
Oakland Housing Options
Oakland is home to a large number of diverse neighborhoods, each one distinct in its geography, culture and affluence. The wealthier neighborhoods tend to be located along the northeast side of the city in the hills, while the flatlands and bay-area neighborhoods are more affordable. The median home price in Oakland is significantly higher than the national average. However, the wide range of housing options offers a variety of price points, so you can find something to fit your budget.