Oakland has suffered a lot of bad publicity lately because of the crime problem, but there's a lot more to the city than that.
For starters, it's home to one of the best street festivals in the Bay Area, one that happens not once a year but once a month!
It's called Oakland First Fridays, and the next one is coming up next week.
First Fridays grew out of Oakland Art Murmur, which began eight years ago as a free monthly stroll through the KONO (Koreatown/Northgate) and Uptown districts, featuring the many art galleries and mixed-use venues that have made Oakland one of the most artistically exciting cities in the country.
As Art Murmur became more popular and the parties spilled out onto the streets, attracting gourmet food trucks and artists selling their own creations, First Fridays became its own event, operating on a parallel track with Art Murmur.
Up to now, First Fridays has relied on volunteers, who have labored long and hard on what has been a labor of love. But toward the end of last year it became clear to the folks at the KONO Community Benefit District that they needed a pro to coordinate everything and take First Fridays to the next level.
The same thing happened back in the 1980s with the Solano Stroll in Berkeley/Albany. The Stroll had been chugging along just fine for on volunteer labor for 15 years, but in 1989 the Solano Avenue Business Association wisely hired event planner Lisa Bullwinkel to run the show, and that's when the Stoll really took off and became the iconic festival it is today.
To run First Fridays, KONO has hired event planner Sarah Kidder, an Uptown resident herself whose previous credits include the West Contra Costa County Unified School District's annual Ed Fund Excellence in Education banquet and last year's wildly successful Bark And Meow Around The Block street festival for the Berkeley Humane Society.
And she's pulling out all the stops to make this next First Friday the most fun ever. In addition to looking at all that glorious art, you can chow down on food from local culinary artisans, including real Dutch stroopwafels from The Stroopie Gourmet, handcrafted bagel dogs (a hot dog in a bagel instead of a bun) from Authentic Bagel Company, and Goat Rezala and Galawati Kebabs from Munch India, among many, many others.
Plus: live bands, street artists, performers, dancers, DJs and poets. It's really too much to take in during one evening, but that's OK: You can always come back for more next month.
The next First Friday will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 7 on Telegraph Avenue from West Grand to 27th Street. The main entrance is at West Grand and Telegraph, although you're welcome to enter via a side street.
Parking can be iffy, so come early if you drive or, better yet, take BART to the 19th street station and walk over to West Grand. You can also get there by taking the Broadway B free shuttle that runs from Jack London Square to Grand Avenue, stopping every two blocks along the way.
Oh yes: the crime problem? Not to worry. The Oakland police will be out in force, and so will lots of private security.
See you there!