BARTable Walk: Rockridge to 19th St./Oakland
Mix together two neighborhood tours, add in a stop at a building full of architectural surprises, top off with a stroll through a food and art corridor, and you've got a recipe for urban adventure on this BARTable walk in Oakland.
Walk Time: 2 hours | Distance: 4 miles | Terrain: Level sidewalks (with one hill)
Exit the Rockridge BART Station down the main staircase/escalator, turn right to College Avenue, then left to the intersection at Keith Avenue. Before continuing down College Avenue, cross over to the other side of the street to visit the Oakland Firestorm Memorial. On a column supporting the station footbridge is a mural of over 2,000 hand-painted tiles that honors the people who battled and died from the fire that hit the East Bay hills in October of 1991. The devastating fire killed 25 people, injured 150 others and destroyed over 3,000 homes, coming within a half mile of College Avenue.
Installed in 1994, the Oakland Firestorm Memorial was rededicated in 2016 for the 25th anniversary of the fire with a plaque listing the names of those who died.
Returning to the walk down College Avenue, cross Keith Avenue into the southern half of the Rockridge district. Named for rock outcroppings nearby, Rockridge stretches roughly from Alcatraz Avenue to the north in Berkeley to the intersection of Broadway and 51st Street and Pleasant Valley Avenue to the south. The popular neighborhood is known for its cute cottages and bungalows with manicured gardens.
The Rockridge neighborhood is known for its cute cottages and bungalows with manicured gardens.
All along College Avenue, its commercial backbone, are dozens of places to sit down for a casual or special occasion meal, meet friends for happy hour or grab a cup of coffee and get caught up on your reading list. On top of that is a wide range of unique shops and businesses, ranging from houseware, boutique clothing and new/used book stores to day spas and yoga studios. Well-worth an afternoon of exploration by itself. Forget to bring the snacks? Rockridge Market Hall (5655 College Ave.) on the corner is a European-style market with multiple businesses under one roof, some opening to the outdoor sidewalks. Besides a grocery with prepared foods, cheeses and pasta, there is a bakery, butcher and coffee roaster as well as wine, seafood, produce and flower shops.
Built by siblings, Peter, Sara and Tony Wilson, Rockridge Market Hall celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017.
Continue down College Avenue for a few long blocks to its end and cross over Broadway to the arched gate of the California College of the Arts (5212 Broadway), the highly-regarded design (and also art, architecture and writing) school founded in 1907. With a San Francisco location as well, the Oakland campus dates back to 1922 when founder, Frederick Meyer, purchased the James Treadwell estate that included his mansion and carriage house (both built in 1875 and on the National Register of Historic Places).
The California College of the Arts was first named the School of the California Guild of Arts and Crafts and founded with just $45.
Walk to the right of the gate and take a left down the entrance road to the Shops at the Ridge shopping center. Stick to the left side and follow the storefront sidewalk past Safeway to the Bilger Quarry. The Oakland Paving Company, then the Blake & Bilger Company, mined and crushed rock (Franciscan quartz diorite) at the site with machinery operated by Italian immigrants. The quarry was active into the 1920s and the crushed rock was used to pave many of Oakland’s streets.
The Bilger Quarry now holds water from the Rockridge branch of the Glen Echo Creek that the Claremont Country Club uses to irrigate its golf course.
Continue along the sidewalk and take a left on to Pleasant Valley Avenue. Head up and over the small hill and take a left on to Piedmont Avenue to the Chapel of the Chimes (4499 Piedmont Ave.). Beyond just a columbarium (a place where funeral urns are stored), it is an amazing building complex. Founded in 1909 in an old streetcar station, the Chapel went through a major renovation and expansion in 1928 under the direction of famed architect, Julia Morgan (the first female licensed architect in California). With the work of local artists and craftpersons, her design includes a series of cascading levels with statues, fountains, gardens and staircases, all with natural light flooding in through glass ceilings above. Many of the urns in the wall niches are in the shape of books that give the feeling of a magical library straight out of a Harry Potter novel. The Chapel also hosts live music events, including popular winter and summer solstice performances. Weekly tours are available.
With its mosaics, tiles and fountains, the Chapel of the Chimes interior gardens are said to be reminiscent of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.
Double back down Piedmont Avenue and cross Pleasant Valley Avenue into the main business zone of the Piedmont neighborhood. Like Rockridge, dozens of specialty shops, bars, restaurants and cafes line the street, drawing visitors from surrounding neighborhoods and cities. Also, like Rockridge, you can spend an entire afternoon alone exploring the area. There are many newer attractions to see, but here’s a rundown of some originals.
Fentons Creamery (4226 Piedmont Ave.) is an old school ice cream parlor and forever favorite for birthdays, celebrations and just getting a scoop on a hot (or cold) day. It opened back in 1894 and claims the invention of rocky road ice cream when one of their candy makers blended a rocky road bar it into some ice cream. The story then goes that this inspired Dreyer's to make their own version with almonds instead of walnuts.
Fentons has a cameo appearance in the animated movie, 'Up' (2009). The film’s director, producer as well as other Pixar employees were regular customers at the time.
The Piedmont Theatre (4186 Piedmont Ave.) has kept its doors open since 1917, making it the oldest operating movie theater in Oakland. It’s shown everything from silent films to Hollywood classics to indie, art-house and blockbuster movies of today.
On Saturday nights, the Piedmont Theatre hands out prizes from local businesses and movie memorabilia before each screening.
The Piedmont Grocery (4038 Piedmont Ave.) has been an independent and family-owned store since Herman and Eugenia Sack opened it in 1902. Way back in those days, grocery deliveries were made by horse and wagon. The Sacks sold the business in 1957 to longtime employee, Charles Larson, whose family continues to run it today.
Rumor has it Clint Eastwood did a stint as a grocery clerk at the Piedmont Grocery. He and his family lived in Oakland and Piedmont (the city) while growing up.
The Fred C. Turner Shopping Center (Piedmont Avenue and 40th Street) is a red brick building, designed by Julia Morgan and built in 1916 for Frederick Chester Turner, an enginer for Oakland and city council member. With apartments above, the building houses several specialty stores on the street level.
The Fred C. Turner Shopping Center was once called the Piedmont Terminal, likely a reference to a Key System streetcar line that terminated at the intersection.
At the intersection with MacArthur Boulevard, cross to the other side and take a left. (If you cross from the right/westside of Piedmont Avenue, cross again to the left.) Take a right on to Richmond Avenue into the small Oak Glen Park neighborhood. Walk along either side of the park at its center, past original Oakland oaks and the Glen Echo Creek (at a rare spot where it’s open to daylight).
Glen Echo Creek in Oakland.
There’s a legend that a wealthy resident, who once owned the area, trained and raced horses around the park. Veer right on to 30th Street to Broadway, cross the street and continue to the left down the fast-redeveloping Broadway Auto Row with dealerships and car-related businesses going back to 1912.
If you’re in search for fun and challenging gifts for kids, cross 26th Avenue and check out Robotics for Fun (2533 Broadway). This educational center teaches robotics to children with weekly classes and workshops. They also put together build sets, called Grid Kits, for purchase. The kits, grouped by level of difficulty, are cardboard pop-out pieces that are folded and glued to form T-rexes, unicorns, helicopters, elephants and much more.
Robotics for Fun, maker of Grid Kits, was founded in 2004 by a former robotics instructor at the Chabot Space and Science Center.
Walk back up Broadway to 26th Street and take a left into a buzzing food and art zone that goes down the block and wraps around back through 25th Street. Here are a few highlights:
Classic Cars West and Hella Vegan Eats (411 26th St.) teamed up for a winning combo of cars, beers, food and art. Classic Cars West showcases a diverse range of vintage autos for sale in its hangar-sized warehouse. Sharing the space is Hella Vegan Eats that serves up hearty, 100% vegan versions of favorite comfort foods, such as burgers, burritos and even fried “chicken” along with wine and local craft beer.
Forage Kitchen is a shared kitchen and workspace, helping local food entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running.
Round the corner to the left at Telegraph Avenue and head back up 25th Street. If you still have a hankering for meat, step into the cafe at Forage Kitchen (478 25th St.) and order up some BBQ from Smokin Woods. Choose from ribs, chicken or tri-tip, topped with housemade sauce and paired up with some sides.
Across the street is Two Mile Wines (477 25th St.) making wine right on-premise. Sample vintages made with grapes sourced from Napa, Sonoma and the Central Coast in their tasting room.
Two Mile Wines took its name from an 1800s law that banned the sale of alcohol within two miles of the Berkeley campus.
Next door is a cluster of art galleries (Vessel, Mercury 20 and SLATE) featuring art of various forms – paintings, sculptures, photography, some from local artists. If walking by on a Saturday, time your arrival between 1 and 5pm for Oakland Art Murmur’s Saturday Stroll when these member galleries hold open studios, which may include artists talks, receptions and film screenings. Visit OAM online for info.
The galleries on 25th Street are also open on the first Friday of the month alongside the Oakland First Fridays festival (5 to 9pm) on Telegraph Avenue, from Grand Avenue to 27th Street.
To wind up the walk, take a right back on to Broadway and continue straight for six blocks (0.5 mile) through the Uptown district to the 19th Street/Oakland BART Station at the intersection with Thomas L. Berkley Way.
Variations and options
• Extend the walk: Continue with the 19th Street Oakland to Lake Merritt BARTable Walk.
• Add a walking tour: Take Oakland Art Murmur’s “What is (Public) Art?” self-guided walking tour through Downtown and Uptown. The Oakland Heritage Alliance leads walking tours all around the city, covering some sites included in this BARTable walk, such as the Bilger Quarry and Treadwell Mansion.
• Take a side trip: If you have an hour or more to spare, continue up Piedmont Avenue from the Chapel of the Chimes to the Mountain View Cemetery. Opened in 1865 and designed by renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted (who designed Central Park in New York City and the master plans for UC Berkeley and Stanford), the cemetery’s terraced grounds are the final resting place of many famous local figures. Some of the most notable (and wealthiest) are concentrated along two paths, nicknamed “Millionaire’s Row,” lined with imposing mausoleums, including those of railroad tycoon Charles Crocker, chocolate maker Domingo Ghirardelli and Oakland mayor Samuel Merritt. Docent-led tours are available. (Pro Tip: Put together a gourmet picnic lunch from Rockridge Market Hall and enjoy on the grounds.)
What to bring: Sturdy walking shoes and a daypack with water, bag lunch or snacks (or pick up along the way), sun protection (hat, sunscreen), extra layers or rain gear (just in case). A smartphone is handy for maps and looking up information or taking photos. And, of course, your BART ticket or Clipper card.
About the stations
Rockridge Station first opened in May of 1973 and is situated in the center of the Rockridge district along the median of Highway 24. It also straddles the area’s main thoroughfare, College Avenue, with a footbridge connecting the main station facilities to a west entrance and parking lot. From the elevated platform for the Antioch and SFIA/Millbrae lines are views of the East Bay hills on one end and on the other, San Francisco.
The 19th Street/Oakland station first opened in September of 1972 and serves Oakland’s Uptown district. The station has three levels – a top mezzanine with ticket vending machines and faregates, an island platform for northbound trains of the Antioch and Richmond lines and at the bottom, a single set of tracks for southbound trains of the Warm Springs/South Fremont and Daly City/SFIA/Millbrae lines. The station was used for a scene in the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith.