Oakland's Temescal Alley is a Design Diamond in the Rough

A creek once ran through the Oakland neighborhood of Temescal. While long gone, if you look in this neighborhood’s back alleys you can find a strong current of urban renewal that is feeding the community in ways the old water way could not. 

Tucked off Telegraph Avenue and 49th Street, in what used to be horse stables-cum-carriage houses, now resides a vibrant community of artist studios, retail shops and eateries. It is an artistic, hipster-leaning but family-friendly enclave that is quickly becoming the heart of a community better known for its ethnic eateries than bohemian boutiques.

While Temescal Alley may be the brainchild of UC Berkeley architecture professor Raymond Lifchez and his wife Sarita Waite, it is the love child of about 20 different establishments that call it “home.” Strolling through the two alleys that comprise “Temescal Alley,” it quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t like any other pedestrian mall. 

Owners readily cross the path to each other’s stores to talk shop, share gossip or simply inquire if they can make change for a customer. Shop owners take pride in addressing repeat customers on a first name basis and taking the time to explain their wares to new patrons. To ensure that the Alley maintains a diverse mix of products, shop owners must vet new brands they would like to include in their stores. As one shop owner put it, “no two stores will ever have the same things. It’s what I think our customers want - a unique shopping experience.”

And a unique shopping experience is what you get when you visit.  Start in the first corridor with a freshly-made, hand-filled donut at Doughnut Dolly, browse the curated collection of tomes in the light-filled bookstore aptly named Book/Shop and shop for beautiful jewelry, baubles and home accents in Esqueleto.     

Saunter into the second alley and you will be greeted with triple the number of stores including men’s clothing and denim purveyor Standard & Strange and indie clothing designer Ali Golden, known for her expert tailoring, and the adorable Mind’s Eye Vintage clothing shop.  Venture a tad deeper to get acquainted with Crimson Horticultural Rarities, a shop that can stand toe-to-toe with any of the hip ephemera or botanical specialty stores that now dominate San Francisco’s Mission District. 

Recharge with a drip coffee at Cro Café and continue shopping with stops at Walrus for upcycled home goods and Homestead Apothecary for a wide assortment of specialty teas. Round out your visit to Temescal Alley with a shave and a cut at Nick Vlahos’s hip Temescal Alley Barber Shop. If you aren’t in need of freshening up, then high tail it over to the soon-to-be-moving Lot 49, a treasure trove of moderately priced mid-century and thrifted treasures.

Who knew trolling back alleys could result in finding so many good things!