The Root's Healthy Cities: Oakland

The California city's legacy of activism extends beyond just politics to include food and fitness options.

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Thinkstock; Courtesy of SouleyVegan

(The Root) -- For many outsiders, Los Angeles is a mythic place crawling with Kim Kardashian-like starlets wearing Juicy Couture sweats and sipping on Frappuccinos from Starbucks. But California natives know that's only half of the state's story. Oakland is the polar opposite of its Southern sister city. From where to eat healthy to places where you can get your body in top shape, here are a few options for folks who appreciate a more down-to-earth West Coast vibe.

Where to Work Out

 Along with sunny skies, Northern California is famous for gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay, Lake Merritt and the Pacific Ocean, all of which are great for exercise and meditation. Organizations like Coastal Trail Runs map out paths for large groups to conquer together, while many runners and bikers start with a trek around Lake Merritt (568 Bellevue Ave.) or Tilden Regional Park (entrances off Wildcat Canyon Rd. and Grizzly Peak Blvd. in Berkeley). For the more adventurous, there are running and biking paths through Redwood Regional Park (7867 Redwood Rd.) and Joaquin Miller Park (3590 Sanborn Dr.) with both easy and difficult options depending on which way you turn. And if hiking through the historic redwoods or lounging in the grass after a jog sounds appealing, the City of Oakland has a full list of each of the city's parks and their specialties.

If you'd rather stay inside, the YMCA has nine locations in the East Bay, including Oakland's downtown area branch (2350 Broadway), along with gyms in surrounding cities like Richmond and Dublin. For families, the YMCA also boasts summer getaways like Camp Ravencliff, where kids, and their parents, can relax and enjoy their summers away from school.

Where to Eat

By sourcing local produce and appealing to hippie sensibilities, Oakland has plenty of tasty and healthy options. Asmara (5020 Telegraph Ave.) is an Ethiopian restaurant with great vegetarian choices and a sweet selection of honey wine. For those craving soul food that won't tip their sugar level, check out Souley Vegan (301 Broadway), a vegetarian-vegan restaurant that specializes in African-American comfort food. For sweets that will also complement strict diets, stop by Fat Bottom Bakery (1327 Peralta St.), where the cupcakes are to die for, according to their fans.

When in the Bay area, dining at a restaurant on the water is a must. Scott's Seafood Grill & Bar (Jack London Square, 2 Broadway) is a great location to enjoy the scenery over a plate of fresh fish. For tasty Mexican food, stop by Cosecha (907 Washington St.) for their shrimp tacos. Ikaros Greek Restaurant (3268 Grand Ave.) is not only delicious and fair-priced but will leave a "reserved" sign on your table if you call in advance and need to impress a date. For sushi, a popular meal in the Bay, check out Sushi Park (4209 Park Blvd.), which has delectable vegetarian options along with a great selection of fish.

Where to Shop

From the Black Panthers to the Occupy Wall Street protests, Oakland's legacy of activism extends beyond politics; food is also a part of the Bay area's constant evolution. To support local farmers, check out the Grand Lake-Oakland Farmer's Market at Lake Merritt. Each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., 44 farmers and 30 specialty food vendors sell their goods thanks to the Agricultural Institute of Marin. Beginning in 1983 with one market in the nearby city of Marin, AIM currently manages eight farmer's' markets around the Bay area, in addition to supplying 40 schools and restaurants with farm-to-table ingredients.

For supermarkets, check out Lakeshore Natural Foods (3321 Lakeshore Ave.) or Trader Joe's, which boasts five locations in Oakland and surrounding cities like Berkeley and Alameda. Another organic and natural food market is the family-owned Farmer Joe's Marketplace (3426 Fruitvale Ave.), which opened in 1994 and has two locations.

Where to Get Checked Out

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, health insurance might be a bit more accessible, but for those who still struggle with the cost, Oakland and its neighboring areas have a number of health care options. Street Level Health Project (2501 International Blvd.) specializes in health care for underserved immigrant communities in California, and the staff can communicate in Spanish, English, Mongolian and Mam, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala. Berkeley Free Clinic (2339 Durant Ave., Berkeley) offers various services for those without medical coverage, including dental options and trans-services. Planned Parenthood (5323 Foothill Blvd.) has two locations and provides health care for men and women, along with HIV testing, abortion referral and birth control. For more options, Alameda County has a list of clinics and their contact information.

In Oakland, experiencing beauty like the San Francisco Bay and the redwood forest doesn't have to come at a premium. For those who call Northern California home, these natural elements make for good farming conditions and fresh food options, as well as breathtaking views that are perfect for morning runs or bike rides along the coast.


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Hillary Crosley is the New York bureau chief of The Root.

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