Ah, list-making time again. How precious.
Every year at about this time - which is to say, the end of one year and the beginning of the next - travel media line up to draw up their lists of what's in and what's out, and share their wisdom about what destinations you absolutely have to visit. You know, be there or be square, Where to Go Now, etc.
Ths year, the upmarket, Ivy League New York Times (www.nytimes.com) puts at no. 5 of its 45 must-see places of 2012 a place I know pretty well: Oakland, California. Not suprisingly, visitoakland.com, whose melancholy task it is to promote tourism to this interesting but gritty (and occasionally scary) city across San Francisco Bay from San Francisco is sending out e-mails to tout the recommendation.
The Times touts Oakland chiefly for the revitalization of its Uptown district - actually centered near downtown at roughly Telegraph Avenue above 20th Street - and the most expensive restaurants by celebrity chefs it could visit on the parent company's expense accounts. Uptown is indeed an interesting area, worth your time if you're in the Bay Area. Other places, such as Temescal, the restored Victorian Row of houses and restaurants downtown and especially Rockridge, on the northern city line with Berkeley, are worth a visit, too.
I used to live in Oakland and I like some things about it very much, but as a long-time Bay Area guy, I have to level with you and say it is not most people's idea of a tourist paradise. Most of Oakland is not pretty, some of it - especially West Oakland, east Oakland, downtown's streets after dark and long blocks of murderers' row along International Boulevard are visited at your own risk. Some Oakland BART transit stations and especially the parking lots are high-risk.
I suspect the Times flagged Oakland because the writers and editors like to play with a frisson of fear and see themselves as hip and pioneering, very cool trendspotters, if they do say so themselves. It could be a reaction to the Gray Lady's longtime reputation as an authoritative but dowdy Establishment sheet. Not any more, the Times's hipsters want us to know.
OK, if you say so. Bottom line for travelers: Don't avoid Oakland, just keep your eyes open and explore it on your own, within the broad guidelines cited above.