Huddled on the Bay Area, near San Francisco, Oakland is sometimes bypassed in lieu of its popular neighbours. Though, don’t let that sway you, there’s a heap of the best things to do in Oakland that’s well worth a gander. Even more, it’s a great city to include as part of a wider Californian road trip.
Whether you spend a day, a weekend or even longer in the city, Oakland is the kind of place that’s perfect for a little gander and totally worth stopping off for a little visit.
So, to help you make the most out of your time in the city, I wanted to pop a few gems that we love.
Take a look, below, at the best things to do in Oakland in California. Have an epic trip around the state.
1.) Lake Merritt
Lake Merritt, the oldest designated wildlife refuge in the US, is a great place to stop whilst in Oakland. Not only is it a peaceful strolling area, but it’s also got heaps to do around its shores.
The park has a heap of garden areas where you can take a quiet stroll and explore at your own place. Plus, there’s a Japanese garden, a succulent garden, a bonsai garden, an edible community garden that is all great to nosey around.
Love a bit of bird watching? The surrounding area of Lake Merritt has become a haven to over 100 different species of birds.
After a stroll, head over to Children’s Fairyland which’s right on the shore. Said to have inspired Walt Disney, Children’s Fairyland has been around since the 1950s. This classic amusement park features heaps of rides, parks, and storybook sets that are great for the whole family.
Not only that, there are different themed spots to visit within the park itself. Be sure to experience Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit tunnel, the Jolly Roger pirate ship, and the Storybook Puppet Theater.
Afterwards, head to the nearby Calavera for some of the best Mexican food. They make some of the best tacos in the city.
2.) Oakland Museum of California
With an extensive collection of rotating exhibits and permanent displays, the Oakland Museum of California showcases the totally rich culture and heritage of the region.
There are areas dedicated to various topics, such as history, natural sciences, and the arts that are too good to miss.
Not only that, but the history of the Oakland community is also featured here, with exhibits ranging from political activism to social justice movements. It’s easily one of the best things to do in Oakland if you want to get a grounding of the history here.
Fancy a coffee? Head over to Blue Bottle Coffee (Which is in other cities, too).
3.) Chabot Space and Science Center
Wanna get your science fix? You’ve gotta head over to the Chabot Space and Science Center.
With a focus on space exploration, the solar system, and the universe at large, this state-of-the-art museum is an exciting spot to visit, especially if you’re something of an astronomy fiend.
Now, for me, the main feature is the planetarium. It’s a totally epic way to stargaze from the comfort of the theatre.
Aside from the planetarium, it also houses a string of observatories where you can have guided tours, too. It’s so much fun and you can easily spend a good few hours exploring.
Afterwards, stop by Heinold’s: First and Last Chance Saloon, which has become an iconic part of Oakland due to author Jack London. Built within the 1800s, it’s become something of a landmark in Oakland and can’t be missed.
By the way, they conjure up a tasty French 75 cocktail!
4.) Redwood Regional Park
Just behind the Chabot Space and Science Center, the Redwood Regional Park is a world on its own. It’s one of the best things to do in Oakland if you want to get away from it all.
Located on a huge part of the ridgeline separating Oakland from the rest of the East Bay suburbs, the Redwood Regional Park is home to well-preserved redwood trees that are as high as 150 feet.
Feeling like a stroll? You can explore the area by taking the 150-mile Interpark Regional Trail system if you’re feeling up to it?
It is a wilderness hike in the middle of the city, and you will realize that you can still feel closer to nature despite the streets of Oakland being right on your doorstep.
5.) Mountain View Cemetery
Cemeteries are not necessarily somewhere I’d suggest visiting, per se, but hear me out.
looking much more like a park than a cemetery, it’s the kind of place that’s pretty gorgeous for a stroll. Plus, from here, you’ll get some breathtaking views across the city from atop the hill.
Oh, and be sure to find the resting spots of famous luminaries of the region. You might spot; rapper Mac Dre, architect Julia Morgan, and mogul Charles Rocker.
That being said, if you find cemeteries a little macabre, you’ll probably wanna give it a miss.
6.) African American Museum
One of the best things to do in Oakland, especially if you love museums, the African American Museum is incredible to visit.
Dedicated to the history, culture, and lives of African Americans who settled in the region, it details heaps of history that’s so important to see.
More than 160 families of African American descent have their permanent records here, which are included in the extensive archive kept in the library. There are also over 12,000 volumes of texts, documents, and books that tell the rich heritage and culture of African Americans.
Afterwards, head over to Hopscotch for their cocktails and pork shoulder ragu.
7.) Old Paramount Theater
Built almost 100 years ago, seeing the Old Paramount Theater is one of the best things to do in Oakland. Once upon a time, it was the largest theatre on the west coast and was known all across California. Nowadays, its heydays are long behind it but it’s still worth a gander and is totally beautiful.
If that’s not your thing, head across to the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate. Constructed in 1878, the Dunsmuir Mansion belonged to the prominent coal baron Alexander Dunsmuir.
The Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, featuring 37 rooms, 10 fireplaces, a Tiffany-style dome, and a grand location in the Oakland Hills. This makes it a perfect place to explore for a little afternoon trip and well worth a visit.
Afterwards, head for a stroll around Anthony Chabot Regional Park and follow the trails around Lake Chabot.
8.) Oakland California Temple
The second temple built in California, the Oakland California Temple is gorgeous to see. Even if you don’t go inside, you see some epic views of the temple, and San Francisco Bay, from the area around Chabot Space and Science Center.
If that’s not your thing, head across to the Grand Lake Farmers’ Market. Now, there are several farmers’ markets all throughout Oakland, but this is one of the best.
Situated just a few strides away from Lake Merritt, it hosts more than 40 farmers selling local produce and fresh goods. There are also crafters and food trucks where you can sample the best of local products.
Fancy a bigger bite? Head over to nearby The Star on Grand. They make some of the tastiest (and biggest) pizzaz in all of Oakland.
9.) Downtown Oakland
Downtown Oakland is incredible to visit, especially if you fancy a more bustling city experience. Once here, take in the sights around the Town Hall and visit the Italian mansion of Pardee Home (Museum). Oh, and for a refreshing beer, head across to the Trappist (on 8th Street) that’s great for a tipple.
Fancy a stroll? Head across to the Morcom Rose Garden.
Best visited during the spring and summer seasons, the Morcom Rose Garden is a city-owned garden hidden in plain sight.
When you get tired of the hustle and bustle of city life and strenuous sightseeing, just head to the Morcom Rose Garden for a quiet little chill.
Depending on when you visit, there’ll be thousands of roses, all blooming in different colours! can be found here. It’s so tranquil.