11 fun things to do in Oakland, California

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Many consider Oakland, California, to be San Francisco’s ugly step sister. Oakland is actually larger than the Golden City – in fact it’s the largest city in the Bay Area – but it definitely isn’t as famous. Let’s face it, you won’t see Oakland on too many travel Bucket Lists. Which I think is a shame because there’s actually quite a lot to see and do in Oakland! 

We visited Oakland twice so far. Yes, this was always as part of our visit to San Francisco but we did dedicate a couple of days for sightseeing in Oakland, and never regretted that. Which is why this post is dedicated to fun things to do in Oakland, California! I hope you’ll add some of these items to your next visit to California!

1. Oakland Museum of California

The Oakland Museum of California is one of the most popular destinations in the area not only for tourists but also for locals. The museum features exhibits on California’s art, history, and natural sciences. They also showcase temporary exhibits that usually show the hottest and controversial issues like the marijuana industry and racial tension in the area. It is best to visit the museum on Fridays because the admission fee is half the price.

Things to do in Oakland, California: The California Museum

During the late hours, food trucks, live music, dancing, an open bar, and many more activities would allow tourists to mingle with the local community.

Mornings are perfect for family visits though which is what we did during our visit. Our kids loved this museum, especially the galleries dealing with the natural history of California. We spent a total of five hours  there and learned a lot about the state. I actually suspect we could have stayed for longer. The Museum of California is fascinating and totally top on my list of things to do in Oakland, California.

Location: 1000 Oak Street, Oakland
Website: http://museumca.org/
Opening hoursWednesdays and Thursdays – 11:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. – Fridays – 11:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. – Saturdays and Sundays – 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.
Admission Fees
$15.95 (On Fridays: $7.50) – Seniors (65 and above) and students with ID: $10.95 (On Fridays: $7.50) – Ages 9-17 years old: $6.95 (On Fridays: FREE for those 18 and below)
Members and children aged 8 and below: FREE on all days that the museum is open.

2. San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is not as popular as the Golden Gate Bridge but it’s just as important and probably even more so, in terms of traffic volume. You don’t have to get Oakland to get a view of the Bay Bridge as it’s clearly visible from San Francisco’s piers. Travelers may prefer to visit the bridge at night as well, because it has a permanent art installation of 25,000 LED lights on the bridge’s cables.

Oh, and did I mention traffic? Try to avoid crossing this bridge during rush hour or it will take you a long time to cross it. Been there, done that, and got to experience one of the most impressive traffic jams I have ever witnessed. But yeah, definitely add the silver-gray Bay Bridge to your list of things to do in Oakland.

Location: Interstate 80 between San Francisco and Alameda Counties.
Website: http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/esc/tollbridge/SFOBB/Sfobbfacts.html

3. The Cathedral of Christ the Light

This building houses the members of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Oakland. It also goes by the name of Oakland Cathedral. The Cathedral of Christ the Light does not look like it is a house of prayer due to its architectural design. The design was actually by a designer named Santiago Calatrava from Spain who  won an award for this unique cathedral.

Oakland Cathedral - one of 11 fun things to do in Oakland, California
Photo by Skier Dude

The interior of the Oakland cathedral is just as impressive, if not more so –

Interior of Oakland Cathedral
Photo by Skier Dude

Aside from the place of worship, the Cathedral of Christ the Light is also home to a café, a public plaza, and a garden. Both the public plaza and the garden are open to anyone who wants to enter the area. It has benches and the gardens are usually used for personal reflection, praying, and other social and religious events. It is free but there are fees for tours at the Cathedral of Christ the Light. The tours last from 60 to 90 minutes and a guide will tell your group about the art, history, and architecture of the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

Location: 2121 Harrison St. Oakland, CA 94612
Website: https://www.ctlcathedral.org/
Opening hoursThe Cathedral is open to the public Monday-Friday, 6:30 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. On Sundays, it is open from 6:30 A.M until 7:00 P.M.

Admission Fees: The rate for the tours is at $5 per person. If a group will be availing of the tour, the minimum fee is at $50. Diocese of Oakland -parishes, schools and other church-related groups, however, will be given group tours at no charge.

4. Chabot Space & Science Center

This space and science center is great for kids and people who want to explore more about science. It has a 70-foot digital projection planetarium with a highly-recommended astronomy show. Locals often visit as part of school field trips but tourists looking for fun and education should definitely check out the Chabot Space & Science Center too.

Stargazing isn’t limited to the digital planetarium. Evening visitors can participate in guided viewings of the night sky using the Chabot center’s telescopes. If this is what you’re after, make sure to check the weather first before going – a combination of clouds and light pollution could make for a poor viewing experience. Amateur astronomers also sometimes visit the place so check their website for lectures and other activities. 

Location: 10000 Skyline Boulevard, Oakland
Website: www.chabotspace.org/index.htm
Opening hoursWednesdays to Sundays from 10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Admission Fees
Adults: $18 – Children three to 12 years: $14 – Seniors: $15 – Students: $15 – Children under three years old are free

When you buy a ticket for the center, it is already inclusive of two Digital Dome Planetarium Shows, access to interactive exhibits, the observatory complex, day and evening telescope viewing, as well as the discovery lab.

5. Oakland Aviation Museum

The Oakland Aviation Museum is another historical landmark in Oakland. It boasts old military and private passenger planes. Most of the aircrafts here are no longer in operation and tourists and locals who will visit this place will see one of the two Solent III Flying Boat left in the world. Kids and adults are also allowed to sit behind the wheel of some of the planes. There are over 30 aircrafts at the museum.

Location8252 Earhart Rd.  Oakland, CA
Website: http://www.oaklandaviationmuseum.org/
Opening Hours: Wednesdays-Sundays from 10:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M.
Admission Fees
Adults $12 – Seniors (60+)  $10 – Military/Students/Teens $8 – Children five to 12 years old $6 – Children four years old and under Free

6. Jack London’s Cabin

This is a  replica of the log cabin which used to belong to Jack London before the gold rush in 1898. London entered the area in 1897 when he was only 21 years old as he was looking for gold. He did not get rich as a gold prospector but he did end up writing about his adventures and his books and short stories have become very popular and remain true classics till these days.

Jack London Square in Oakland, California
Jack London Square in Oakland, California

There are two replicas made using logs from the original cabin and one of them is located at the Jack London Square in Oakland. The log cabin houses photos, documents, newspaper articles and more memorabilia about London. If you’re interested in the history of the American (and Canadian!) west, you should incorporate this into your itinerary but don’t plan on spending too long here or center your trip around this small cabin. Fortunately, there are more places to visit around Jack London Square.

Location: Broadway, Oakland, CA
Website: http://www.jacklondonsquare.com
Opening Hours: Mondays-Sundays from 8:30 A.M. to 12:30 A.M.

7. Redwood Regional Park

The Redwood Regional Park is a hidden forest and is just a few miles from downtown Oakland. Per the name of the park, it is full of redwood and other trees. Many tourists and locals who have gone here said that it is one of the best places to hike when you are in Oakland.

Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, California
Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, California

Back in the 1800s, most of the trees were cut down because the logs were used for construction purposes in the San Francisco Bay Area. Wildlife in the area remains evident as you can spot the golden eagle, deer, raccoons, rabbits, and squirrels.

The park offers picnic areas not only for families, friends or couples as you may contact them if you have events coming up for big groups of 50 to 150 people. The picnic sites are highly accessible to persons with disabilities and are kid-friendly. Overnight camping may also be an option but you must reserve in advance.

One tip if you want to visit Redwood Regional Park is do not go during the weekends because there are some bikers in some parts of the park. You might not be able to enjoy your walk, hike, or picnic when they are around.

Location: 7867 Redwood Rd, Oakland, CA
Websitehttp://www.ebparks.org/parks/redwood
Opening Hours: Sundays to Saturdays from 5:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M.

8. Lake Merritt

Lake Merritt is not only a beautiful lake but also a historical landmark in Oakland, California. In the 19th century, the area had Victorian mansions. One of which, the Camron-Stanford House, stands to this day and is open to the public on Sundays of spring and summer months.

Lake Merritt is a nice place to relax at where you can even enjoy an Italian-like gondola ride across the lake. There is also a Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt that it is visited by a lot of hummingbirds. Birdlife in this area is rich as you can see geese, pelicans, black cormorants, and many more. Lake Merritt is also great for picnics and you can snack on handpicked fruits and other fresh products on Saturdays. Children will also enjoy Lake Merritt as it has a public playground and houses an amusement park.

Location: Lakeside Park, Oakland, CA
Website: https://www.lakemerritt.org/ 

9. Lake Temescal Recreation Area

Lake Temescal Recreation Area is one of the places that tourists should go to in an attempt to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Oakland. The lake was a reservoir for drinking water in the past. It is best known for being an area for hiking, picnicking, and sunbathing. There are also biking paths present here and you may go swimming and fishing at the lake. It is also sometimes used for events such as parties and weddings.

Location: 2950 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland, California
Website: http://www.ebparks.org/parks/temescal

10. Morcom Rose Garden

Whether or not you are a fan of roses, the Morcom Rose Garden is a sight to behold. The garden has thousands of roses that are different in colors, sizes, and appearances. This is a public park that’s free and open to the public at all times. It is best to go here from May through Mid-September to make sure that you will be visiting the area on a sunny day when the shrubs are in full bloom.  

Location: 700 Jean Street Oakland, California
Website: http://friendsofoaklandrose.org/

11. USS Potomac

This historic vessel that’s docked at the port in Oakland, California is also called the “Floating White House.” This was the presidential yacht of former U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt. There are educational dockside tours inside the USS Potomac and there are also sightseeing cruises.

USS Potomac - Things to do in Oakland, California
Photo by chris_j_wood

Visitors recommend the romantic sunset cruises because you can watch the sunset and listen to live musical performances. The costs in restoring the USS Potomac has already reached more than $5 million.

Location: 540 Water Street Oakland, CA 94607
Website: http://www.usspotomac.org/
Opening hours: Mondays-Fridays from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.

So many things to do in Oakland, California!

So, as you can see there are plenty of fun things to do in Oakland, CA! Like most large American cities it offers great museums, gardens and historical landmarks. I hope this post encourage you to add a day or even two in your San Francisco itinerary so that you can cross over the Bay Bridge and enjoy Oakland too.

And to help you find everything, I created this map of things to do in Oakland. If you click on the little icon in the top left corner, it’ll bring up the list of places. Have fun!

And if you’ve visited Oakland or happen to live there, let me know what you think about this list. Anything important to add? Do share it in a comment below!

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