When we were on our tour of Oakland a few weeks ago, I joked about surviving a few hours in the city at night. I knew it was a joke, but some people only know what they see on TV or other generally-mistaken mainstream media outlets.
Oakland certainly has some troubled areas. So does your town. Oakland’s trouble areas may (or may not) be bigger or badder than yours, that’s the sad nature of city life.
But Oakland has some great communities, and a lot of great people- and I spent a couple of very enjoyable evenings in Oakland. As with any city you don’t know well, seek out advice on what’s safe, what’s reasonable, and what to avoid. Local knowledge is key, if you don’t have it, borrow some. I was fortunate enough to have an awesome friend act as tour guide, but if you don’t, ask at your hotel, ask a bartender (especially one you’ve tipped well), or ask a cop. More than once I’ve asked a policeman for advice about their community- they tend to know them, and I usually preface the conversation with “I do not want to end up as paperwork for you…” which lightens the mood.
As far as Oakland, a lot of it feels like San Francisco used to feel. Maybe that’s part of the East v. West Bay thing that happens there, I don’t know. But I know I’ll be back.