From the outside looking in: Oakland’s First Friday Review from a Southern California native

Britney Yarbrough,

As a Southern California native, Oakland’s First Friday is one of my favorite Bay Area events. I’ve been living in the Bay Area going on five years now, and I do my best to take part in anything that originates in the Bay. Although, it’s not far from home the Bay feels like an entirely different state because people take so much pride in the culture here.

Immediately, walking into the area you will be hit with what smells like a mixture of marijuana, cigarettes, hot dogs and incense. I’m always in complete awe with not only the smell but the aura It is calm but crazy at the very same time.

In Southern California we typically have fairs, flea and farmers markets. But this is something that is a mixture of all three events jam packed into one. Also, the fact that this event shuts down several blocks in order to take place was interesting. Because fairs and fleas are typically in designated areas that do not require shutting down blocks. There is so much going on from food trucks to vendors to small curb side shows, bands and makeshift art galleries all coming together in celebration of the city.

The food trucks provided Korean barbeque, soul food-inspired desserts such as chicken and waffle cupcakes, Indian food, Mexican food and dessert trucks that sell pressed and hardened waffles with your choice of filling, which I might add is amazing! They also had mini doughnuts, mini sweet potato pies and alcohol-infused lemonades.

I typically pay less attention to what is provided to drink because I usually bring water. Most trucks have the general water, Coke and Sprite advertised. With the exception of a select few who have specialty drinks that range from tea to alcoholic beverages.

The entertainment ranges just as the food does, from hip-hop and rock to smooth jazz. It is almost as if you are changing a radio station with each block and on each side of the street. It’s awesome. There a few stages set up that I assume are set up for actual paid performers where people typically dance in front of or crowd around a street performer not too far from the stage. I enjoy watching people perform different things from roller blade routines to poetry because First Friday encapsulates and reflects the wonderful diversity that not only Oakland, but all of the Bay Area has.

There are many native Oaklanders I spoke to along the way through the celebration. They were some of the most welcoming individuals I have come across in my time living in the Bay Area. Before coming to the Bay Area, and particularly before coming to First Friday I was told to go nowhere near the Oakland area and if I chose to go to be extremely careful.

Despite the dramatic warnings, I had made up my mind. There are plenty of unsafe cities  not only within the Bay Area but the world, and I could not allow a few misconceptions about a city prevent me from taking part in such a wonderful homegrown event.

I went with an open mind and I kept it the entire time, and never felt in danger at any moment. The food is always amazing and I try something new every time I go. The art is even better and the items the vendors sell are wonderful. From the paintings to the earrings made of foil and beautifully painted beads.

The only negative aspect is the parking, unless you arrive very early and by early I mean 3:30 p.m. or it will be very difficult to find parking in close range. You also have to factor in traffic if you are coming from a surrounding city and the fact that many people live in the surrounding neighborhoods. The neighborhoods typically prohibit parking in many areas.

The best option is to carpool with some friends, or Uber to save time and frustration. I choose to drive because I usually drive alone and I park under an overpass up the street, which always has a few spaces available to park. The overpass functioned as a homeless asylum and a parking garage for a few years, but recently the homeless were cleared out and moved to another area.

First Friday takes place on the first Friday of every month and is located on Telegraph Avenue from West Grand to 27th Street. You can enter from either end or in between. It is held from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. It will continue past 9 p.m. but the vendors usually leave by that time unless they have a plethora of customers within their booths.

It is a great experience and I attend it every month, and am sure to restock on some of my favorite items such as Shea butter and mini homemade sweet potato pies. This monthly celebration provides profit for local business as well as a great time for everyone who takes part in it.