The one-story, 20th-century structures that line Temescal Alley and Alley 49 used to horse stables. Horses pulled the town’s trolleys from a nearby amusement park to the hills of Berkeley.
In 2011, the city rezoned the all-but-abandoned lot in Oakland, California, and four co-investors snapped up the parcels with intent to transform the microneighborhood.
Today, the two dead-end streets — known collectively as Temescal Alley — form a hotbed of creativity and artisanship. Independent shops, restaurants, and artists’ workspaces make it the perfect place to pass an afternoon.
On a recent visit to Temescal Alley, I nearly breezed right by the first street, known as Alley 49. Except for a few potted plants, the street was deserted.
I walked to the dead-end and discovered some hole-in-the-wall vendors: a doughnut shop, a designer boutique, and a bookstore. Hip!
Brick-and-mortar boutique Esqueleto enchanted me from the moment I entered. Jewellery, metals, and petrified wood glittered in the window.
Owner Lauren Wolf studied silversmithing in the mountains of Mexico before launching her own textural, organic line. She showcases her work, as well as accessories, home décor, and art from local designers, here.
Next, the smell of freshly made confections led me to Doughnut Dolly. Owner Hannah Hoffman grew up watching her mother work in a Michelin-starred Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, and has made a name for herself with hand-rolled, yeast-raised doughnuts.
Customers can mix and match the pillowy pastries with one of four fillings from a rotating menu. I opted for the lemon-pistachio doughnut filled to order with strawberry jam. It. Was. Divine.
I then poked my head into Book/Shop, a bookstore no larger than a New York City studio apartment. They only keep 80 or so books in the shop at a time, so the collection is almost entirely new every two weeks.
I was tempted to buy this 'book brush,' for dusting off pages, but $36 seemed steep for a novelty gift.
After my jaunt down Alley 49, I whipped around the corner to find the neighbourhood's crown jewel, the original Temescal Alley. Even before noon, young families, tattooed hipsters, and elderly couples milled about.
... And a natural goods store, Homestead Apothecary, which carried herbal remedies for almost every ailment.
The store perfectly straddled relaxed American classics and cutting-edge fashion. I attempted to find a gift for my boyfriend, but sticker shock set in pretty quickly ...
I had better luck at Crimson Horticultural Rarities, a whimsical botanical shop. Reasonably priced succulents, the hipster-plant of the moment, were abundant.
The store's eclectic mix of floral arrangements, taxidermic creatures, preserved pheasant wings, and hanging terrariums kept the inventory fresh and surprising.
Finally, I landed on my new favourite store, Walrus. The vintage and 'upcycled'-goods store looked like Pinterest-come-to-life.
I found tree branches repurposed as candlestick holders, an armoire turned on its side and used as a kitchen island, and cloth remade into Mason jar cozies.
Lastly, I popped my head into Temescal Alley Barber Shop, one of the original vendors to move into the alley after its transformation. Tattooed barbers with rolled flannel sleeves combed, cut, and buzzed customers with classic flair.
The owners often offer customers a nip of whiskey, which couldn't hurt before going under the straight razor.
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