There’s a city by the bay made popular in song, books and film, but there’s a town by the bay equally deserving of a visit—especially for its beer. Oakland, California, known to locals as The Town and not to be confused with The City (San Francisco), is home to burgeoning breweries, tucked-away beer gardens and well-stocked bottle shops. Plus, within a 20-mile radius, you can easily get your fill of medal-winning sour beers and see spectacular sunsets in other East Bay cities. Fly to Oakland International Airport, make sure your Uber app is up-to-date, and put on comfortable shoes. Like the East Bay’s rolling hills and countless trails (also worth a visit), some of this route was made for walking.
Start the weekend in Jack London Square at Oakland’s oldest bar. Open since 1883, Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon (48 Webster St.) was a favorite haunt of author Jack London, who drew inspiration from the saloon’s clientele for characters in his novels. Today, Heinold’s retains its 19th-century charm and offers 21st-century beers, including local draft options from Line 51 Brewing and nearby Federation Brewing (420 3rd St., Unit A), which recently opened.
Two outstanding beer bars are within walking distance of Jack London Square. At Beer Revolution (464 3rd St.), gaze upon an ever-rotating tap list of more than 50 beers, hand-written on three chalkboards above the bar. Closer to downtown, The Trappist (460 8th St.) is a cozy Belgian beer bar. In addition to the expected Belgian choices from St. Bernardus Brewery and St. Feuillien Brewery, look for draft beers from Mikkeller, Cellarmaker Brewing Co. and Moonlight Brewing Co. Grab an appetizer from the seasonal menu, but save room for your next stop.
In 2015, San Leandro-based Drake’s Brewing Co. opened Drake’s Dealership (2325 Broadway), a taproom and restaurant, inside a building that once housed part of a Dodge dealership. Enjoy a wood-fired pizza—The ’89, with pepperoni and pickled peppers, is a standout—next to a fire pit in the outdoor beer garden. Pair it with one of more than 20 Drake’s beers on tap. Expect to find the brewery’s popular IPA, as well as small batch options like Rye Robustito, a 2016 Great American Beer Festival bronze medal winner in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer Category. The porter, aged in High West whiskey barrels, has aromas of oak and vanilla and tastes much stronger than 4.8%.
After dinner, walk to The Good Hop (2421 Telegraph Ave.), a stellar bar with 16 taps and hundreds of bottles. Time your trip for the first Friday of the month, and when you arrive at The Good Hop, you’ll be in the heart of Oakland First Fridays. The art-focused street festival spans five blocks and includes street food, local crafts and alleys with open art galleries. Future events will likely feature somber tributes to victims of the December 2016 Ghost Ship Fire. Assuming it’s a First Friday, have one round at Telegraph Beer Garden (2318 Telegraph Ave.), if only to glimpse its colorful “BEERYLAND” sign.
Walk south on Telegraph to Woods Bar & Brewery (1701 Telegraph Ave.), the flagship home of Woods Beer Co. The brewery delivers on its promise to create “adventurous brews for curious drinkers,” so it’s best to order samples before committing to a full pour. Start with MateVeza IPA and Morpho, each of which include the herbal South American drink yerba mate. If you’re thirsty for one more round, walk across the street to Diving Dog Brewhouse (1802 Telegraph Ave.), a brew-on-premises pub with roughly 30 beers from established breweries on tap.
Start your day with brunch at Hog’s Apothecary (375 40th St.), a beer hall and restaurant specializing in house-butchered meats and farm-fresh produce. The food menu varies, but anything with house-made sausage is recommended. Wash it down with a beer from one of the bar’s 30 taps.
After brunch, go for a stroll in Temescal, one of Oakland’s oldest neighborhoods. Temescal Brewing (4115 Telegraph Ave.) is a new, welcome addition to the neighborhood. The tap list in the small tasting room is ever-changing, and the beer is best enjoyed in the expansive beer garden with free popcorn.
At Novel Brewing Co. (6510 San Pablo Ave.), order a flight, cleverly presented in a hollowed-out classic book. The book theme is prominent here, with beer names like Prose Gose, Bookend Brown Ale, Point of View Pils and Paperback Porter, a chocolaty, easy-drinking 4.7% ale.
It’s time to venture beyond Oakland, starting with Fieldwork Brewing Co. (1160 Sixth St., Berkeley), one of the East Bay’s fastest-growing breweries. Expect to find a half-dozen IPAs, and consider yourself lucky if Coconut Milk, a double IPA brewed with hand-toasted coconut, is available. You’ll also find farmhouse-style beers and nitro stouts like Hot Chocolate, an ode to Mexican hot chocolate with hints of cinnamon that finishes with a cayenne pepper and ancho chili kick.
At the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Room (2031 Fourth St., Berkeley), sample experimental beers otherwise only available at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s pubs in Chico and in Mills River, North Carolina. In the cooler, look for limited-release bottles, like Barrel Aged Narwhal, to go.
Sour beer lovers will discover utopia at The Rare Barrel (940 Parker St., Berkeley), which only makes barrel-aged sour beers. Open since 2013, The Rare Barrel has won three Great American Beer Festival medals and three World Beer Cup awards. Ensorcelled, a dark sour aged in oak barrels with raspberries, is the most decorated of its beers. You’ll also find a handful of guest beers from other California breweries on tap.
Time your next stop to watch the sunset over the San Francisco skyline from Faction Brewing (2501 Monarch St., Alameda). Inside an old airplane hangar on a former naval base, the brewery excels at pale ales, IPAs and Belgian-style ales. Order a flight or go straight for a full pour of The Penske File, a pale ale with Mosaic and Equinox hops.
For a late dinner, return to Oakland and feast on schnitzel at Brotzeit Lokal (1000 Embarcadero). German and Belgian beers dominate the beer list, with a sprinkling of Bay Area offerings like Marin Brewing Co.’s Mt. Tam Pale Ale.
Revive with a 3.4-mile walk or run around Lake Merritt, a tidal lagoon in the center of Oakland. For brunch, plan to line up 15 minutes before the 11 a.m. opening time at Portal (1611 2nd Ave.). Enjoy a view of the lake from the patio and order the Portal Benedict, which substitutes grilled polenta for English muffins. From the rotating tap list, you’ll likely be able to revisit beers from Fieldwork and Faction.
Before going back to the airport, check out three breweries in San Leandro. Assuming you didn’t get your fill of Drake’s on Friday night, look for special releases at Drake’s Barrel House (1933 Davis St. #177, San Leandro). Be sure to visit Cleophus Quealy Beer Co. (448 Hester St., San Leandro), a small-batch brewery with a friendly, intimate tasting room. The Strawberry Rhubarb Sour is tart and well-balanced, with hints of strawberry jam and lemon.
Finally, reflect on the weekend with an El Sully Mexican-style lager over a game of cornhole or bocce ball at 21st Amendment Brewery (2010 Williams St., San Leandro). Small rope lines are the only thing separating the tasting room from the sprawling brewery, located inside an old Kellogg’s factory. Toaster Pastry, a red IPA, is a nod to the building’s breakfast-focused past. 21st Amendment still operates a pub in San Francisco, but its decision to put down roots here in 2015 serves as a reminder that the beer scene in the East Bay is still growing.
Editor’s Note: The print version of this article included a mention of Doughnut Dolly, which closed all of its locations in March.