When it comes to Bay Area destinations, Oakland has made a name for itself, with a slew of major developments and thriving art, culture and food scenes. San Francisco may be known as "The City" for Bay Area residents, but Oakland is known as "The Town."
Visit Oakland recently hosted a "FUM” trip — the destination management organization's fun version of a fam — in February to allow a group of planners from across the country to experience what the city has to offer. A major selling point for planners is its diversity: Oakland is one of the nation's most diverse cities, with more than 125 languages spoken throughout.
LaToya Williams, a Buffalo, New York-based independent planner who works with HelmsBriscoe, raved about Oakland's diversity. "It is absolutely a melting pot," she enthused. "If you want to see limitless diversity, inclusion and team-building, this is the place."
The city is conveniently accessible via the Oakland International Airport, which offers 300 flights daily — and additional travel options abound, given the proximity to the larger San Francisco International Airport. Accessibility is a major selling point for the destination.
How Oakland is preparing to meet at the moment
From restaurants pivoting with outdoor spaces that can double as meeting venues, to activities that are so uniquely Oakland, the destination is demonstrating how it’s preparing for meetings in the future.
The meeting landscape has changed for the foreseeable future. That much is undeniable. But, along with coping with trials and tribulations, destinations have also demonstrated great ingenuity and adaptability this past year. From Oakland eateries bookable as meeting spaces to unique activities that can only be found in Oakland – “The Town” is demonstrating how its preparing to receive meetings.
Convention Center receives GBAC Certification
Oakland’s Convention Center received its GBAC certification, an accreditation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council that verifies a business’ best practices, protocols, and procedures to control risk factors associated with infectious disease. Multiple Oakland hotels are also in the process of receiving the certification, including Oakland Marriott City Center, just a short walk from the Oakland Convention Center, which has 37 meeting rooms and more than 100,000 square feet of total event space, with the largest space able to accommodate 7,900 guests.
The property is following Commitment to Clean, which has rolled out a higher standard of cleanliness for Marriott's hotels.
Oakland's restaurants are pulling through for the people
Oakland’s multicultural food scene has been thriving for decades. In a 2018 article, Eater made that clear when it set the record straight that the Bay Area's "most dynamic dining scene" isn't San Francisco - it's Oakland. The cuisine is diverse and the local chefs are proud to promote the city through local ingredients and native cuisine. Notable restaurants range from small eateries to fine dining, from Bakesale Betty's, Burma Superstar and Homeroom to Lake Chalet, Mägo and Cosecha.
Recently opened is Sobre Mesa, the brainchild of chef Nelson German, who already owns the acclaimed alaMar. With Sobre Mesa, Chef Nelson steers away from entrees to focus on cocktails and tapas-style plates — each small plate can be perfectly paired with a cocktail. His inspiration comes from Latin American countries like the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Another Oakland culinary staple is chef Tanya Holland's Brown Sugar Kitchen. The restaurant, which is available for private events and buyout opportunities, features a soul food menu but with Chef Tanya's special twist to it: Cornmeal waffles, classic buttermilk fried chicken, biscuits, beignets and cheesy grits are just some of the decadent dishes on the menu. One fum trip attendee (jokingly) volunteered to set up shop and live at the restaurant -- true testament to the allure of the food and ambience.
"The food reminds me of home," said planner LaToya Williams. "Buffalo is known for food, and known for the diverse options in the food scene. Here you see so many local chefs, using locally sourced ingredients — and then pairing with a beverage can be wonderfully surprising."
Oakland hotels uphold safety standards
From contactless check-in to the highest standards of cleanliness and safety, Oakland hotels have been preparing for guests who check-in in the age of COVID-19.
In the center of Jack London Square, Waterfront Hotel is, as the name suggests, on the water. The 145-room property has 13 event and meeting spaces, many of which offer waterfront views. The hotel functions in accordance with Hyatt's Global Care and Cleanliness Commitment that enforces rigorous safety and cleanliness protocols.
Claremont Hotel Club & Spa sits on the border of Oakland and the neighboring city of Berkley. The historic 276-room property — it has received Accor's ALLSAFE designation — recently underwent a four-year, $80 million renovation. With more than 20,000 square feet of event space, the resort can cater to groups of all sizes, from intimate gatherings in the Hillary Tenzing Room to larger parties in the Claremont Ballroom. What makes the property truly one of a kind for events is its expansive Bay views. With great on-property dining options (Limewood is the signature restaurant, and East Bay Provisions offers quick eats for attendees on the go) and a world-class health club, Claremont is really a destination within a destination.
Diversity, equality and inclusion
Those living in Oakland -- both natives and transplants -- truly take pride in the city and being a part of the local, inclusive community. Maria Maddock, a global accounts manager for HelmsBriscoe, remarked that Oakland is an appealing event destination for her, given the allure of the Bay Area and the fact it's a more cost-effective option than San Francisco. But what surprised her the most upon visiting Oakland is the city's "small-town charm" - she loves meeting Oakland natives who are so filled with hometown pride.
One latest iteration of locals banding together is the new AKOMA Outdoor Market, a project from Black Cultural Zone. A city-owed, 54,000-foot lot in East Oakland is now transformed each Sunday from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. into a vibrant marketplace, featuring certified farmers, urban farmers, food vendors, merchants, and nonprofit organizations. Extensive and strict protocols are in place and enforced to protect both vendors and visitors during the market.
Things to do in Oakland
Oakland offers a wide variety of one-of-a-kind activities to groups, that still translate safely with masks and physical distancing measures in place.
To get involved on a local level, consider a group mural activity. Murals are big in Oakland, with the streets of the city estimated to showcase more than 1,000 of them. Painting a mural is a great example of a local team-building activity; not only is it engaging for groups, but it also spotlights the importance of businesses giving back to the local community.
This activity is put on by Dragon School — a nonprofit that holds outdoor mural sessions. It's run by a group of artists who are also skilled instructors and can demonstrate to your attendees how to dabble in basic graffiti art. "We use art and creativity to build a shared community identity based on collective experiences," notes the company's site. "When a common goal is shared, unity is strengthened by diversity."
To take a deep dive into Oakland's past and present, consider The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) — an interdisciplinary museum that brings art, history and natural sciences under one roof. The 300,000-square-foot museum opened its doors in 1969. Coming soon to the museum are exhibits such as "You Are Here: California Stories on the Map" and "Hella Feminist." OMCA has space for private events and also offers private docent tours for groups of ten or more, by request.
To see social media coverage of Oakland, follow #NMGtakesOAKLAND on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To learn more about meetings in Oakland, check out our destination guide and head over to Visit Oakland.