Oakland has always struggled to forge an identity for itself distinct from its famous sister San Francisco across the bay. As the western end of the transcontinental railroad, Oakland became a huge center for shipping and trade in the 19th century. Some of the grand structures built during that period can still be seen today, amidst a growing city with a pleasant climate and laid-back populace.
Oakland is still a busy port, but in the 21st century more and more people come here for other reasons. UC Berkeley, a few miles north of Oakland, is one of the nation's premiere universities. Many people who work in San Francisco live in less expensive Oakland and commute by car or public transit. Scenic Lake Merritt with its gondoliers adds an unexpected touch of archaic sensibilities to the town, a bridge to a quieter past once enjoyed by author Jack London and other famous residents.
Oakland is in west central California and is part of the East Bay metro area, along with Hayward to the south and Berkeley on the north. The city is also part of the larger Bay Area which includes San Francisco and San Jose.