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Sunset Magazine relocates to Oakland, setting sights on younger, urban readers

on March 4, 2016

Guests were met with the soft and periodic sound of whizzing traffic on one side and ferry boats on the other as they made their way up the steps into the new Oakland offices of Sunset Magazine in Jack London Square. A smiling security guard opened the door with a small whoosh and let them enter the 20,000-square foot office space with white cubicles and office chairs on one end and tables for drinks, hors d’oeuvres and party bags on the other.

Sunset Magazine, a lifestyle publication established in 1898 and focusing on western U.S. living, was hosting a launch party celebrating the new: its move from Menlo Park to Oakland; editor-in-chief Irene Edwards taking over for Peggy Northrop; and its broader editorial and readership direction, shifting from an older suburban audience and editorial focus to a younger metropolitan one.

The magazine, with a print and digital circulation of about 4.6 million combined, covers home, food, garden and travel on the American West Coast. Some of its accolades, according to its website, include 2014’s National Magazine Award for general excellence, and Lowell Thomas Awards gold medals in the “Environmental Tourism” and “Short Work on Travel” categories. The magazine’s editorial, advertising, online, photography and publishing units will now be based in Oakland; employees started working at the new offices in early December.

According to True, several factors prompted the switch in both editorial direction and address, including a desire to include a young and urban audience. Edwards, who served as Sunset Magazine’s executive editor from 2004 to 2008, was behind the quadrupling of readership at Lonny, a digital lifestyle publication, through the addition of features on travel, celebrity homes and entertaining.

Oakland was chosen for the new office after watching a significant portion of Sunset Magazine subscribers move from the suburbs to the cities, and because staffers had noticed that the diverse city is known as a hub for technology and food—not to mention, some of the employees live closer to these offices than the previous ones.

“One thing I know about Sunset is it follows its readers and it’s always reinventing itself. It’s always changed to suit its time while keeping core elements: We still cover food, travel, home, gardening—but we’re constantly looking for ways to do it in a fresh, relevant and natural way,” said food editor Margo True.

Some of the expected changes include featuring more Oakland-based people and businesses and new article ideas. “There will be a lot more wine and food pairings, because that’s something our readers tell us they want,” said True. She said the June issue will also feature profiles of a half-dozen of “the West’s best cooks.”

The magazine’s previous office, True said, looked like a beautiful old-style California hotel with “towering redwood trees, roses, fountains, honey bees, chickens”—and a sense of isolation. People visited to take self-guided tours, but, True noted, the number of visitors dwindled as some of them moved from the suburbs to bigger cities.

A sense of connection among colleagues wasn’t as strong as it could be either, according to the magazine’s wine editor Sara Schneider, who—along with others—transitioned from traditional offices with doors to an open seating format with pods of six. The open space has its challenges—if you have to make a call, said Schneider, you’d need to go down the hall—but sharing space proves great for collaborations. Schneider said she paired color palettes with wines for the magazine’s “Color” issue alongside senior home editor Joanna Linberg. “I always very much appreciated her, but she was across the building on the other side in our old location, so we didn’t interact as much,” Schneider said.

Russ Nichols, president of RMW architecture & interiors who was involved in the building’s design effort, said he loved the sense of “welcome” the new building exudes. “I loved the energy and the welcoming feeling of being at someone’s home. It was like going to the cool kids’ home,” said Nichols. “It did not feel over the top of ‘brand’ or trend, but still made me feel the presence of a significant publication.”

Tanya Holland, the owner of Oakland soul food restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen, was present at the fête cooking fried chicken, fresh biscuits and black-eyed peas. Holland said the magazine’s new location would grant it access to a wider audience. “The match between it and Oakland is great. There will be lots of integration. They have more direct access here to the people who are making and creating in the food scene in the Bay Area. It’s literally outside their door,” said Holland.

Edwards said she couldn’t wait to start the “integration” process. “We intend to take advantage of everything this beautiful environment has to offer. It’s a modern, complicated, and diverse city. It’s always changing, with both the people and the places within it reflecting those changes, so I literally couldn’t think of a better place,” said Edwards.

Some, like Serjio Solano, the magazine’s integrated account manager, missed the previous Menlo Park offices, which he said stood as a “traditional showpiece of the beauty that the West Coast is capable of displaying in a garden and landscape format.” But, he said, “time moves on and so do our consumers.”

This article was updated on March 10, 2016, to correct figures relating to the magazine’s circulation, readership demographics and office space footage, to correct the month the employees moved into the office, and to take out inaccurate information about coverage area expansion. Oakland North regrets the errors.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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