Top Five Things You'll Only See in Oakland

There are many reasons why Oakland residents are proud of their city. Right now, we still have some semblance of a middle class and remain one of the most diverse cities in the United States. We have hundreds of acres of parks and the largest saltwater lake within city limits. I could go on about the great restaurants, bars, brew pubs, locally owned shops, and people that make Oakland great. Aside from the obvious, Oakland also has its little-known quirks. You have to live here to understand.

We have gnomes. Tiny creatures, about four inches tall, painted on wood blocks propped on telephone poles. You have to look carefully to find them. Hint: visit the neighborhoods around Lake Merritt, Lakeshore, and Cleveland Heights. They'll be waiting for you.

Secret staircases
Cleveland Cascades ascends quite visibly on Lakeshore Avenue across from Lake Merritt. Hidden away in hilly neighborhoods, long stairways stretch between houses, connecting one street to another. Look on Grand Avenue past Mandana, around Upper Rockridge, and throughout Crocker Highlands. How many can you conquer in one afternoon?

Oakland protests
If you cause harm, Oakland protests and sometimes riots. Oakland protests police shootings, workers' rights, capitalism, and more. Radicals have found their way to Oakland since the 1970s, if not before, and will continue to do so. If the natives feel that our city is moving in the wrong direction—too gentrified, for example—they will make their opinions known in a big way.

Hipster headquarters
Many cities probably have a heavily hipstered neighborhood, but Oakland has one of the highest concentrations in the Bay Area. The Temescal neighborhood has more full beards, fixie bikes, and tattoos in a few square blocks than one would find in several square miles. The neighborhood also has the thrift stores, bars, and bike shops to cater to them.

Rod Dibble
Rod Dibble has played piano and sang show tunes at The Alley, a dive bar in Oakland, since 1960. He knows thousands of songs by heart but won't play the latest Top 40 hits. Know some Gershwin if you'd like to sing along. The Alley hasn't changed in decades—faded old business cards line the wood walls. Rumor has it that Governor Jerry Brown tacked his somewhere in the bar.

Heather Johnson is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.