Tucked between MacArthur Boulevard and Ramona Avenue, Piedmont Avenue is a low-key hamlet in the midst of Oakland's frenzy. Remnants of the avenue's 150-year history can be seen in lovingly maintained structures like Key Route station and plaza (4063 Piedmont Ave.), and its hometown mood draws artists, families, and retirees alike. Nearly all the businesses and restaurants are locally owned, so count on attentive, personal service along with great food and unique shopping. One of the best finds of all is a good parking space, so give yourself a cushion of time to search one out.
There's no sign over the door. There's no menu in the window. There's no need —Commis restaurant (3859 Piedmont Ave., 510-653-3902, CommisRestaurant.com) attracts diners with the glow of its Michelin star. In his minimalist eatery, Chef James Syhabout serves prix-fixe three-course menus ($59, plus $29 for optional wine pairing) that reflect sustainable local ingredients — tasteful surprises abound. Reservations recommended.
When East Bay tailors, quilters, and crafters need robot-print cotton, comic-book-themed stretch poly satin, and luscious tweeds and bouclés, they peruse the bolts at Piedmont Fabric (3858 Piedmont Ave., 510-655-1213, PiedmontFabric.com). The little shop boasts a well-edited collection of high-quality fabric and upholstery cloth, trims, ribbons, notions, and thread — and endless possibilities.
Some people have a gift for giving, and Nathan Waldon is one of them. At his eponymous emporium of stylish stuff, Nathan & Co. (4025 Piedmont Ave., 510-428-9638, NathanAndCo.com), you'll find hip baby books, quirky pillows, retro tableware, witty books, and countless other amusements. It's up to you to find the strength to wrap them up and let them go.
Don't miss: Explore the afterlife in the gothic nooks of Julia Morgan's 1928 Chapel of the Chimes (4499 Piedmont Ave.) or Frederick Law Olmsted's 1863 Mountain View Cemetery (5000 Piedmont Ave.). ... Determined shoppers find major bargains ($5 Lilly Pulitzer cashmere sweater, anyone?) in the donation racks at Dress Best for Less (3861 Piedmont Ave.). ... Slake your sweet tooth at Fentons Creamery (4226 Piedmont Ave.), serving towering sundaes and planetary scoops for 115 years.