If you haven’t been to the Albany end of Solano Avenue lately, there’s been a surge of energy in the neighborhood. Between the outdoor dining that has sprung up and a stream of new shops and eateries, there’s excitement spilling out onto the sidewalks of both on Solano and nearby San Pablo Avenue.
From exceptional pastries to a destination restaurant, and lots of culinary treats in between, this neighborhood is full of delights. And because this neighborhood is in Albany, there’s another delight — free parking. Or, get there by bike on the Ohlone Greenway.
Choose Albany: Learn more about opening a business in Albany, and business grants available, at www.choosealbany.org or (510) 528-5736.
Pastries and coffee
After the Pâtisserie Rotha opened on San Pablo Avenue in 2018 there were consistently lines down the block. Rotha still pulls crowds and sells out fast, and the pastries are as exceptional as ever. It’s all traditional French fare except their pastéis de nata, a Portuguese pastry that is not easy to find in the East Bay. Rotha’s hours are Thursday and Friday, 7:30-11 a.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 8-11 a.m. — and their schedule is worth planning around.
A short walk up Solano Avenue from San Pablo, the street is overflowing with options when it comes to coffee shops. Souvenir and Royal Ground are at the corner of Kains. Two blocks up, Hal’s Office — once the real estate and notary office of Hal Hoffman — now crafts artisan coffees with locally roasted beans. (On Thursday through Sunday evenings, “Hal’s After Hours” is pouring organic natural wines.) Further up the street, Highwire offers outstanding coffee and excellent pastries out of an airstream trailer, with magical garden seating in Flowerland Nursery. Flowerland has had more than 70 years in business to perfect its charming approach: beautifully landscaped areas, along with a full nursery, and a boutique with plant-themed gifts.
Tucked around the corner from Solano on Cornell Avenue is Morningtide, carrying curated, women’s clothing (new and gently used), ceramics, gifts, home goods, jewelry and sustainable living homewares by independent designers. Weekend pop-ups bring a variety of culinary treats, such as Hawaiian baked goods from Ono Bakehouse Sept. 2 (which is also a fundraiser event for the Maui Food Bank) and Filipino-inspired pastries Sept. 16 from La Kalidad.
Across the street, Umami Home + Gifts artfully displays vintage and new home decor, jewelry, baskets, textiles and more. Vintage glassware sits alongside new fair trade tea glasses from Morocco. Proprietor Melanie Goldberg also offers art and jewelry made by local artists.
A few blocks up, just before the Ohlone Greenway, Abrams Claghorn Gallery pairs a curated gallery space with a museum-style store that exhibits and sells fine and functional artworks created by diverse Bay Area artists. The gallery hosts workshops that invite visitors to learn about and work alongside the artists showcased in the exhibits.
Lunch and dinner
Picnic, at the corner of Solano and San Pablo, got its start in 2017 when locals Susannah Schnick and Leslie Nishiyama started making sausages and charcuterie, and selling them at farmers markets in Berkeley and Kensington. Schnick had been a butcher/salumist at Cafe Rouge in Berkeley and Clove and Hoof in Oakland. Two years later, their chicken liver mousse won a Good Food Award. Now those treats along with prepared dishes and daily sandwiches can be found Tuesday through Sunday.
You might visit Picnic before heading to Albany’s free concert in Memorial Park Sept. 20 or when hiking around the Albany waterfront, Albany Hill or enjoying the Ohlone Greenway. Some of the other dining options include Little Star Pizza, Zaytoon Mediterranean Restaurant, Oori Rice Triangles, 5 Tacos and Beer, and Bowl’d Korean Rice Bar.
Juanita & Maude is a great destination restaurant, making the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 25 Restaurants list. The seasonal daily menus offer dishes such as tuna tartare and seared coriander & fennel crusted ahi tuna. And their signature burger with bing cherry and sweet onion mostarda, rosemary aioli, arugula and fresh pecorino made the 2023 Michelin Guide list of Best Hamburgers in California.
On San Pablo Avenue, the Hotsy Totsy Club, established in 1939, serves award-winning cocktails in a welcoming old-school atmosphere. Ocean View Brew Works has a charming courtyard and a variety of beverages as well as special nights: bingo, trivia, pub science, and live music. Next door, Kitchenette, owned by the same family, serves panini, milkshakes and more. On Solano Avenue, newcomer Flora and Ferment offers more than 200 different ciders.
Ivy Room on San Pablo Avenue is an independent live music venue with a long history. You’ll find a wide variety here —rock ’n’ roll, bluegrass, folk, punk and soul — seven nights a week.
New businesses coming
These are just a sample of the many restaurants, shops and businesses in this neighborhood. For a list of businesses and map, please go to www.albanyca.org/business-directory.
More businesses are on their way to the neighborhood in 2024. Look for Best Friends, a bottle shop featuring natural wines and craft beer, to open at the corner of Solano and San Pablo avenues. Hella Bagels is coming to 1019 San Pablo near Marin Avenue. Pints and Scoops is slated to go into 745 San Pablo Ave.
Help for proprietors
Albany has existing opportunities for new businesses to join the city’s dynamic business environment. The Office of Economic Development staff can help locate available spaces and provide ombudsman services. Also, the City of Albany has introduced a Business Attraction Grant Program that offers up to $20,000 to a new business moving into an Albany commercial property. Visit www.choosealbany.org to learn more or call Economic Development staff at (510) 528-5736.