17 Best Things to Do in Oakland, California
Oakland, California, is a fun weekend destination where you can spend your morning at a museum, the afternoon admiring majestic redwoods, followed by a great meal at one of the restaurants, and an evening at the theater. The city is home to beautiful parks and diverse activities and unique attractions such as Chabot Space & Science Center where you can look at the stars through a telescope.
Best things to do in Oakland with kids include the Oakland Zoo which houses rare animals, and the USS Potomac where you can learn about the life of the 32nd President of the United States. Photo: Chabot Space and Science Center
» Chabot Space and Science Center
The Chabot Space & Science Center is one of the best educational centers in the U.S. and one of the top Oakland attractions, where visitors learn about the Universe and our planet. Originally founded in 1883 as an observatory, and named after the benefactor of the original observatory, Anthony Chabot, today the center offers an array of innovative exhibits and displays that explore life on earth and in the universe around us.
Surrounded by a beautiful forest of redwood trees in the hills above Oakland, Chabot offers scholars, students, visitors and amateur astronomers a range of interactive programs, activity-filled classes, hands-on workshops and special events, as well as a Space and Science Camp for enthusiastic learners. The center boasts three magnificent telescopes, namely Nellie, Rachel and Leah that are open to the public and allow visitors to experience the wonder of the distant stars, planets and comets that make up the universe around us.
Contact: 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland, California 94619, Phone: 510-336-7300
Photo: Chabot Space and Science Center
Home to the first official and oldest designated wildlife refuge in the United States, Lake Merritt is a large tidal lagoon surrounded by lush green parkland and urban city neighborhoods in the center of Oakland. Featuring several artificial islands, which are home to a variety of bird species, the heart-shaped lake in the center of the city has 3.4 miles of grassy-lined shoreline, along which wind paths and walkways ideal for walking, hiking and running.
If you are wondering what to do in Oakland CA with kids, this is a great place to visit. The lake features a modern boating center where rowboats, canoes and sailboats can be rented and sailing classes can be enjoyed, a themed amusement park for fairy-tale fans called Children’s Fairyland and a beautiful seven-acre collection of themed gardens known as The Gardens at Lake Merritt. Established more than a half century ago, the Gardens serve as a display of outstanding horticulture and historic preservation and provide a variety of enriching public programs.
» Morcom Rose Garden
The Morcom Rose Garden is a beautifully manicured garden featuring intricate paths and walkways, a reflecting pool, cascading fountain and thousands of roses. Named after Mayor Frank Morcom, who planted the first rose in 1933, the garden has been a sanctuary of peace and tranquility, as well as a beautiful venue for special occasions such as weddings.
The Morcom Rose Garden is one of the best romantic things to do in Oakland. The roses are tended by a group of volunteers called the ‘Dedicated Deadheaders,' who care for the garden and help to keep it in pristine condition.
Contact: 700 Jean Street, Oakland, California 94610, Phone: 510-238-3187
Photo: Morcom Rose Garden
»Edible Excursions, Oakland, California
Uncover Oakland one bite at a time with a fun-filled foodie tour with Edible Excursions. Offering unique and intimate culinary strolls through some of San Francisco’s most famous districts, Edible Excursions is an award-winning food tour company that aims to educate visitors about the city’s fabulous foodie scene. Led by founder Lisa Rogovin and a team of expert epicurean guides, tours range from exploring the famous Ferry Building Marketplace, followed by a trip to the infamous Alcatraz, to a wander through the the historic district of Japantown and joining the fray in downtown's craft cocktail bar scene.
For gourmands and food aficionados, a tour of North Berkeley’s iconic Gourmet Ghetto is a must, as well as a walk through Uptown Oakland's theatre and arts-oriented neighborhood with a visit to Temescal. Tours include meeting the owners and artisans of well-known establishments en route, along with tastings of their delicious fare. Private tours for corporate functions and special events can also be arranged, as well as team-building activities.
Photo: Edible Excursions
»Things to Do in Oakland: Fox Theater
Designed with an intriguing and mystical resemblance to an Indian temple, the Fox Oakland Theatre is one of downtown Oakland’s most fascinating attractions. Located on Telegraph Avenue, the former movie theater-turned-concert hall presented films through 1970, until it fell into disrepair and was closed for nearly 40 years.
After receiving a welcome grant, restoration work began on the theater and the newly renovated theater was opened again in 2009. Today, the 2,800-seat concert hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to the Oakland School for the Arts. If you are looking for romantic date night ideas in Oakland, the Fox Oakland Theatre is a great place to visit. This prominent live concert venue hosts performances by notable artists, including Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Kylie Minogue, Alice in Chains and B.B. King.
Contact: 1807 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612, Phone: 510-302-2250
Photo: Fox Theater
» Oakland Museum of California
The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is dedicated to ‘telling the story of California’. Established in the mid-1960s with the aim of inspiring all Californians to create a better future for themselves and their communities, the museum showcases nearly two million objects dedicated to the natural science, art and history of California. Situated in downtown Oakland, close to Lake Merritt, the museum has an array of exhibits, displays and programs featuring historical artifacts, natural specimens, ethnographic objects and photographs that explore the factors that shaped the state of California into what it is today.
Explore magnificent natural landscapes, unique cultures, and the rich history of migration that is an important part of California’s heritage.
Contact: 1000 Oak St, Oakland, California 94607, Phone: 510-318-8400
Photo: Rue Flaherty/Oakland Museum of California
»Bellanico Restaurant and Wine Bar
Located in the Glenview district of Oakland and sister to the ever-popular Aperto in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill, Bellanico Restaurant and Wine Bar serves rustic Italian seasonal dishes made from locally sourced, sustainable and organic products.
Bellanico’s brunch, lunch and dinner menus feature Fulton Valley Poultry, natural Australian Lamb, and wild-caught fish and shrimp. Bellanico has a wine bar that offers Old World wines with an emphasis on indigenous Italian varieties. Wines are served by the glass or in various flight sizes so that they can easily be tasted and compared.
Contact: 4238 Park Blvd., Oakland, California 94602, Phone: 510-336-1180
»Oakland Zoo, Oakland, California
The Oakland Zoo is a beautiful animal sanctuary in southeastern Oakland that is home to 440 animals. Covering 100 acres, the zoo features modern exhibits and natural habitats in which the animals live, as well as interactive displays and educational programs for visitors to learn about the zoo’s inhabitants.
Nationally known for its excellent elephant exhibit, where the stately giants roam freely, the zoo also features the Valley Children's Zoo, which boasts interactive play structures for children and is home to a range of unusual animals, including ring-tailed lemurs, century-old Aldabra tortoises, pot-bellied pigs, and bats. The Children’s Zoo has a modern Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Room and Bug Room, which is a favorite with younger visitors.
Contact: 9777 Golf Links Road, Oakland, California 94605, Phone: 510-632-9525
Photo: Oakland Zoo
»Duende Restaurant & Bodega, Oakland, California
A slice of Spanish heaven in the heart of Oakland, Duende is a cozy restaurant that serves authentic regional Spanish cuisine in a warm and friendly setting. Combining traditional and local influences with contemporary flair, a dynamic menu includes a variety of Spanish favorites such as Tapas and Pintxos, selections of Raciones and pans of Paella and Fideua.
Striving to capture the spirit of Duende in a glass, the bar offers an impressive cocktail program made with fresh juices, a carefully selected list of Spanish-based wines and beers, and over 20 sherry offerings served by the glass. In addition to sublime Spanish cuisine and fine wine, Duende has a specialty café and retail shop called Bodega, which can be booked for private lunches, parties, and special events, and where Duende’s collection of Spanish wines, coffee brewing gear, and delicious olive oils can be purchased.
Contact: 468 19th Street, Oakland, California 94612, Phone: 510-893-0174
Photo: Duende Restaurant
»Things to Do in Oakland: USS Potomac
Known as the “Floating White House”, the USS Potomac served as the official presidential yacht for Franklin Delano Roosevelt until 1945. The USS Potomac, now a National Historic Landmark, was opened to the public in 1995 and is only one of three presidential yachts that still exist today.
Standing as a memorial to one of America’s most influential presidents, the USS Potomac offers guided cruises to different islands in the bay, including The Bridges of the Bay, Angel Island, the Islands of the Bay, and The Bay Model. Learn about the history of San Francisco Bay and the vital role Franklin Roosevelt played in its development, as well as that of the nation as a whole.
Contact: 540 Water Street, Oakland, California 94607, Phone: 510-627-1215
Photo: USS Potomac
»TrueBurger, Oakland, California
Owned by two local Bay Area cooks, Greg Eng and Jason Low, TrueBurger is a stylish, contemporary burger bar that serves classic American burgers, fresh milkshakes and crispy fries. Made with daily ground and hand-formed pasture-raised beef without hormones or antibiotics, seasoned and seared ‘diner-style’ on a fresh bun, it’s no wonder that TrueBurger is one of the best in area.
Accompanied by piles of crispy, golden, thinly-cut fries, and freshly whipped milkshakes made with premium ice cream and unique ‘mix-ins’ such as toasted marshmallows, peanut butter, Twinkies, and Oreos, this is real American dining at its best.
Contact: 146 Grand Ave., Oakland, California94612, Phone: 510-208-5678
» Things to Do in Oakland: Art and Soul Oakland
Art and Soul Oakland is an annual summer festival that celebrates local art, music, and food. Held at the Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland, the festival runs for two days and features a variety of local music artists and bands, as well as exhibitions of various visual art elements and dance.
Past festivals have seen the likes of Lisa Loeb, Toni Toni Tone, the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, The Lost Prophets and Vintage Trouble, to name but a few. Food vendors offer homemade snacks, light meals, and beverages. An array of activities make the festival suitable for the whole family. The 17th Anniversary Art + Soul Oakland will take place Aug 19 – 20, 2017.
Contact: 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, California 94612, Phone: 510-444-2489
Photo: Art and Soul Oakland
»Nido Kitchen and Bar, Oakland, CA
Nido Kitchen and Bar is a cozy Mexican restaurant located on the edge of Jack London Square, serving modern, farm-to-table Mexican cuisine and drinks. Translated as ‘nest’ in Spanish, Nido draws influence and inspiration from Mexico’s central and Pacific coast, serving seasonally prepared dishes that echo the bold flavors and tastes of this vibrant country.
The unassuming interior boasts scarred concrete and plaster walls, rugged benches and rippled metal doors from industrial storage containers, however, it’s the sublime food that grabs the attention here. Poultry, pork, and beef are sourced from local producers in support of the community and prepared in-house to ensure absolute freshness, such as their famous hand-made corn tortillas and creamy guacamole. Nido’s bar serves an extensive cocktail menu, as well as a variety of tequila, wine, and beers.
Contact: 444 Oak St., Oakland, California 94607, Phone: 510-444-6436
Photo: Nido Kitchen and Bar
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For more than 60 years, Swans Market was the heart of Old Oakland and its major shopping destination. After closing in 1983, the city block that housed the market stood abandoned and dilapidated until the developer EBALDC came up with an award-winning and inspired redevelopment design of the entire block. Today’s Swans Market has once more become the place where the neighborhood gathers, eats, celebrates, and shops. Swans contains 18 affordable rental apartments, market-rate condominiums, and a range of businesses. Some of Swan’s renowned residents are the innovative Mexican Cosecha Cafe, Japanese Izakaya, Rosmunde and Taylor’s Sausages, and so much more. It now has the best Bay Area food court and is not only the heart of a revived neighborhood but also a destination for foodies from all over town.
Contact: 538 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607, Phone: 510-287-5353
Photo: Swans Market
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»Chop Bar, Oakland, California
Located near Oakland's Jack London Square, Chop Bar is a neighborhood favorite serving breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch and dinner. The menu features dishes made with locally sourced and sustainable ingredients from local vendors, farmers, and producers, supporting and giving back to the community where they can.
A comfortable bar serves unique custom-made cocktails using seasonal ingredients, fresh juices and a selection of craft beers and drafts, while a new wine-on-tap system offers a choice of fine wines.
Contact: 247 4th Street #111, Oakland, California 94607, Phone: 510-834-2467
More trip ideas: Top 10 Things to Do in San Francisco & Oakland with Kids.
Photo: Chop Bar
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»Rockridge Neighborhood Heritage & Walking Food Tour
The Rockridge Neighborhood Heritage & Walking Food Tour is a three-hour guided tour that covers one and a half miles and stops at six Rockridge eateries. Visitors learn about the food culture, the architecture, and the history of the European-inspired area as they walk through the area and taste the samples.
Established in 2014 by Lauren Herpich, the company offers both public tours as well as private tours. Some of the food you can sample during the walking tour includes French pastries, Italian delicacies, dishes prepared by a local butcher, local and international cheeses, Chicago-style pizza, and ice cream. Read more
Contact: 3527 Mt. Diablo Boulevard #430, Lafayette, California 94549, Phone: 510-604-6546
Photo: Rockridge Neighborhood Heritage & Walking Food Tour
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»East Bay Regional Park District
East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) is a vast system of pristine public parks and trails covering the Alameda and Contra Costa counties on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay. Spanning more than 120,000 acres, the district boasts 65 parks, some of which are wilderness areas, while others offer a variety of outdoor activities such as swimming, boating, camping and fishing.
The parks offer more than 1,200 miles (1,900 km) of trails, which link the parks together and are ideal for hiking, biking and horse riding. Within the East Bay Regional Park District is the Redwood Park, which is a tranquil, hidden redwood forest, which offers a peaceful place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Contact: 2950 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland, California 94605, Phone: 888-327-2757
Photo: Yuval Helfman/Fotolia
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17 Best Things to Do in Oakland, California
- Chabot Space and Science Center, Photo: Courtesy of Chabot Space and Science Center
- Lake Merritt, Photo: Courtesy of Crin - Fotolia.com
- Morcom Rose Garden, Photo: Morcom Rose Garden
- Edible Excursions, Oakland, California, Photo: Edible Excursions
- Things to Do in Oakland: Fox Theater, Photo: Fox Theater
- Oakland Museum of California, Photo: Rue Flaherty/Oakland Museum of California
- Bellanico Restaurant and Wine Bar, Photo: Bellanico
- Oakland Zoo, Oakland, California, Photo: Oakland Zoo
- Duende Restaurant & Bodega, Oakland, California, Photo: Duende Restaurant
- Things to Do in Oakland: USS Potomac, Photo: USS Potomac
- TrueBurger, Oakland, California, Photo: TrueBurger
- Things to Do in Oakland: Art and Soul Oakland, Photo: Art and Soul Oakland
- Nido Kitchen and Bar, Oakland, CA, Photo: Nido Kitchen and Bar
- Swans Market, Photo: Swans Market
- Chop Bar, Oakland, California, Photo: Chop Bar
- Rockridge Neighborhood Heritage & Walking Food Tour, Photo: Rockridge Neighborhood Heritage & Walking Food Tour
- East Bay Regional Park District, Photo: Courtesy of Yuval Helfman - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Chabot Space and Science Center
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