Named for the shady oak trees found in this area, Oakland is the smaller city across the Bay from San Francisco that has become a hip, up-and-coming destination in its own right. Gertrude Stein could no longer say, “there is no there.” While Oakland was considered an unremarkable manufacturing town, today the city has real style, and many of the locally made goods are handmade artisanal products. Oakland is a true melting pot and home to a diverse population. The city’s vibrant African-American community brought traditional soul food, and immigrants from all over the world have opened Ethiopian, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Thai and other authentic ethnic restaurants that make visiting the city so interesting.
1 Lake Merritt
Surrounded by lush trees and green lawns, Lake Merritt is an idyllic park in the heart of the city. In the late 19th century, the shores of Lake Merritt were dominated by beautiful Victorian mansions. The last remaining one, the Camron-Stanford House, is open to the public for tours on Sundays in spring and summer. Built in 1876, the Camron-Stanford House offers a traditional dessert tea, served in the beautiful dining room (reservations required well in advance).
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Where other major cities once stood is now Lakeside Park, several acres of green space and trails along the lake. In warm weather, this area is ideal for taking relaxing walks or playing frisbee games in the summer. The lake is surrounded by a 3.2-mile scenic trail for walking and jogging, a boathouse, and a nature center. Romantics should take an Italian gondola ride across the lake, just like in Venice, or admire the little hummingbirds fluttering around in the Bonsai Garden. Because the lake is a tidal lagoon filled with seawater, it is home to a beautiful variety of birds, such as Canada geese, pelicans, the snowy egret and black cormorants. The tranquil landscape is also perfect for a picnic. Many of the city’s residents can be seen in the grassy areas on blankets and nibbling bread, cheese, fruit and other snacks. To enjoy a more elegant meal, try the Lakeside Chalet, with beautiful lake views and music concerts in the harbor during the summer.
On Saturdays from 9am to 2pm, the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market offers an extensive selection of locally grown fruits and other quality food products. Another casual option is available just east of Lake Merritt at the Taco Trucks parked on International Boulevard. 00 a.m., the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market offers an extensive selection of locally grown fruits and other high-quality food products. Another casual option is available just east of Lake Merritt at the Taco Trucks parked on International Boulevard. 00 a.m., the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market offers an extensive selection of locally grown fruits and other high-quality food products. Another casual option is available just east of Lake Merritt at the Taco Trucks parked on International Boulevard.
Kids will love Lake Merritt for its public playground and Fairyland, the whimsical storybook-themed amusement park that inspired Walt Disney. Kids will be excited to go on the adorable kiddie rides, like the Jolly Train and the Wonder-Go-Round. A highlight of Fairyland is the storybook puppet theater that brings puppet dramas to life with charming costumes, colorful sets and music. The Storybook Puppet Theater is the oldest continuously operating puppet theater in the US. Since 1956, some of the country’s most talented puppeteers have worked here. Puppet shows are presented every day at 11am, 2pm and 4pm.
Official site: www.lakemerritt.org
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Oakland
2 Jack London Square
Set in a picturesque setting at the mouth of the Oakland River, London Square has a relaxing maritime atmosphere. This historic district was a stomping ground of famed American writer Jack London, who worked on the Port of Oakland. In the center of the square is a replica of Jack London’s log cabin, where he lived during an expedition into the Alaskan wilderness. Today, Jack London Square is popular for dining or strolling along the promenade and water path. The area has many inviting restaurants along the European-style walkways, with waterfront terraces overlooking the marina. Enjoy the terrace or relax on a bench and watch as sailboats and yachts sail towards the bay.
Be sure to see the historic USS Potomac ship docked in the harbor (540 Water Street). This was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential yacht from 1934 to 1945. Now the Presidential Yacht Potomac offers educational harbor tours and tours. The yacht sails past the bay’s attractions such as the Bay Bridge and Angel Island. The Potomac also offers romantic sunset cruises, evening cruises with live music performances, and lunch history cruises. Many local companies also offer kayaking tours in this area.
Jack London Square hosts a farmer’s market on Sundays from 9am to 2pm at Broadway and Water streets, a picturesque waterfront location. There are a few shops in the area worth a visit, such as the cute pastel-coloured Miette Bakery which sells old-fashioned sweets, cakes, cupcakes and cookies. Chocolate lovers should try Barlovento Chocolates at the farmers market or at their workshop (638 2nd Street). These exceptional handmade chocolate truffles are made with fresh ingredients from the farmers market. At the entrance to Jack London Square is the famous soul food restaurant Everett & Jones.
Official site: www.jacklondonsquare.com
3 Oakland Museum of California
The Oakland Museum reveals California’s rich heritage and culture. Through its captivating exhibits and extensive permanent collection, the museum educates visitors about the state’s natural sciences, art, and history. The museum has a special emphasis on the Oakland community and often features exhibits related to the city’s social justice movements as well as the history of political activism. An interesting item is the wicker chair of Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton.
Every Friday evening from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM, tourists have the chance to combine a museum visit with entertainment while mingling with the local community. The Friday Nights @ OMCA event includes a half meal plus curbside cuisine (gourmet food trucks), a DJ or live band, dance lessons, games and family arts activities. Visitors are also free to explore the museum’s galleries.
Address: 1000 Oak Street, Oakland
Official site: https://museumca.org/
4 historical theaters
Visitors can experience the charm of a bygone era by catching a performance at one of Oakland’s historic theaters. Built in 1931, the Paramount Theater is an art deco landmark in the center of the city. This theater presents films as well as musical performances and comedy acts. On Classic Movie Nights, the Paramount will serenade a live Wurlitzer organ before the show. The Oakland Symphony and Ballet also perform here. In the vibrant section of downtown Oakland known as “Uptown,” the Fox Theater is a renovated 1920s movie theater used as a venue for music concerts.
Dating back to 1926, the Grand Lake Theater was located near Lake Merritt and was originally a silent movie house. Typical of Art Deco cinemas, the building features Egyptian and Moorish architectural elements, but its most striking feature is the 52-foot-high, 72-foot-long marquee illuminated by 2,800 light bulbs. The Grand Lake shows both independent films and blockbuster films. Before the Friday and Saturday evening shows, the original Wurlitzer organ plays some tunes to set a festive mood.
5 Redwood Regional Park
In this pristine redwood forest a few miles outside of downtown Oakland, nature lovers can breathe in the fresh, pain-scented air. It’s worth driving here to meditate in the redwoods. Many of the stately coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) soar up to 150 feet. This area was once cleared by logging (for use as building materials), but the forest has been replaced and is now a protected park with walking trails. The park’s wooded acres are home to 1,830 deer, rabbits and squirrels and rare species such as the golden eagle and the Alameda striped racer. The park has restrooms, water fountains, reservable picnic tables and overnight locations. Well-groomed trails invite visitors to stroll through the redwoods and detailed trail maps are available.
Adres: 7867 Redwood Road, Oakland
6 Cultural events and festivals
Cultural events and festivals Sonny Abesamis / photo modes
Oakland’s vibrant cultural events reflect the city’s diversity. A popular monthly event is the Oakland Art Murmur gallery walk, which takes place the first Friday of every month. This event started in 2006 and has been going strong ever since, drawing large crowds. More than 30 galleries in West Oakland and Jack London Square are participating in Art Murmur by opening to the public from 6 to 9 p.m. The event also includes musical entertainment, gourmet food trucks and local street vendors selling arts and crafts. For a less crowded art walk, check out the Temescal First Friday event. This trendy neighborhood has several local galleries and a great selection of restaurants.
Oakland’s largest festival, the Art + Soul Festival, celebrates the city’s rich heritage and culture. The two-day festival in August is held in downtown Oakland and features a fantastic lineup of live music, with a special focus on soul, blues, jazz and gospel, as well as contemporary, hip-hop, afro-fusion and jazz dance performances by Bay Area troops. The dazzling local acrobatic dance troupe BANDALOOP is a must-see sight in this festival. Other highlights of the Art + Soul Festival include the carnival rides, interactive art activities for children and craft vendor stalls. Foodies will enjoy the BBQ competition and the chance to taste delicious ethnic and local specialties.
Oakland also has many street markets throughout the year. Many residents attend the Temescal Street Fair, a community event in July with live music, art and food vendors, as well as the Laurel Street Fair in August with live music, DJs, dance performances, craft vendors, a children’s carnival and food trucks. Other events focus on ethnic heritage, diversity and local food culture, such as the Chinatown StreetFest in August, the Oakland Pride Festival in September, the Eat Real Fest in September featuring locally made artisan food products and the Black Cowboy Parade and Heritage Festival in October that honors the contributions of African Americans in the West.
In July, Jack London Square hosts Waterfront Flicks, free outdoor films shown on the Ferry Lawn. People bring their blankets and chairs to the grassy area and enjoy an evening of entertainment in the fresh air. Dancing under the stars is every Friday evening in July; programming includes free dance lessons and a dance party.
7 Dining & Shopping in Rockridge & Temescal
Oakland’s trendy Temescal neighborhood caters to a diverse crowd of foodies, hipsters, techies and young families. Temescal’s main drag is Telegraph Avenue, and the lively area is from approximately 48 Street to 52nd Street, which is full of excellent ethnic restaurants and pizzerias. Just off Telegraph Avenue at 49th Street are two charming pedestrian alleys with locally-owned specialty boutiques and craft shops. Temescal Alley is lined with historic buildings that were once horse stables and carriage houses. Visitors walking down this alley will find a favorite ice cream parlor, stylish clothing stores, boutiques selling handmade jewelry, and an old-fashioned barber shop. Temescal Alley has a popular Sunday farmers market from 9am to 1pm year round. It is also worth walking over to Alley 49. This little side street has cute shops and donuts Dolly’s freshly baked donuts that are always sold out. The Temescal Street Cinema program runs from mid-August to mid-September and is held on Thursday evenings.
The Rockridge neighborhood has a fantastic selection of stylish shops and upscale restaurants along College Avenue, between Florio Street and Bryant Avenue. Some restaurants in this area are inspired by Alice Water’s philosophy of cooking with fresh ingredients. For example, the Oliveto is a highly rated Italian restaurant that uses local organic ingredients and even works with grain farmers and millers to make the flour for its pasta and pizza. The restaurant also offers community food events such as cooking classes. Other attractive offerings of Rockridge include its artisanal coffee shops, casual American cafes, trendy Italian restaurants (as well as Zachary’s famous Chicago-style pizza), and authentic ethnic restaurants. The Rockridge Food Tour company takes visitors on a three-hour guided walking tour of the Rockridge neighborhood. Participants learn about food culture and history while trying morning sandwiches, pizza, ice cream and other gourmet treats at six locations.
8 Oakland Rose Garden
Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood, the Oakland Rose Garden is an enchanting place that is especially lovely in the spring and early summer. The garden is planted with thousands of roses in all different colors and varieties. High season is late May, June, late July, early August and mid-September. Visitors can stroll through the gardens and admire the scenery around the steps and walkways. The Oakland Rose Garden is sometimes rented as a venue for weddings and special events. With its abundance of fragrant roses, the garden landscape provides beautiful photo opportunities.
Address: 700 Jean Street, Oakland
9 Chabot Space and Science Center
This state-of-the-art space and science center features a 70-foot domed digital projection planetarium that projects beautiful, seamless images along with premium digital sound. Audiences will enjoy a captivating stargazing experience, with the feeling of being immersed in the night sky. The Chabot Space and Science Center educates visitors about the solar system and galaxies and is popular for school field trips.
Adres: 10000 Skyline Boulevard, Oakland
Official site: www.chabotspace.org/index.htm
10 Black Panther Tours
Black Panther Tours offers a unique bus tour of Oakland, focusing on the history of the Black Panther Party. This special thematic tour is a must-do experience for anyone interested in social justice, the civil rights movement, and African-American history. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense was founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale to protect African Americans from police brutality. The party later adopted a Ten Point program with the goal of empowering black limbs and creating “Survival Programs” to provide community support such as education, transportation and a free breakfast program for children.
The tour begins at the West Oakland Library and covers 18 locations in Oakland that were important to the Black Panther Party and the civil rights movement. Stops include, for example, the traffic light at the corner of Market & 55th Street, where a small group of armed Black Panthers stopped motorists and supervised children at the intersection; the Black Panther Party Office on Martin Luther King Jr. Way; the church where the party offered a free breakfast for children; the homes of Black Panther leaders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale; and the site of a 1967 shootout between Newton and a police officer. During the bus tour, the guides share stories and historical details that bring the group’s political struggle to life. Tickets for the Black Panther Tours are available by advance reservation.
Official site: www.blackpanthertours.com/tour.html
11 Oakland Zoo
Within the 490-acre Knowland Park, the Oakland Zoo is home to more than 660 native and exotic species, from the American bison to the blue-and-yellow macaw and the African elephant. One of the most notable aspects of the Oakland Zoo is its support for the Action for Wildlife Conservation program, which focuses on protecting endangered wildlife around the world. The zoo also has special activities for children, such as animal food, birthday parties, ‘Teddy Bear Tea’ events, Family Sundown Safari nights and Zoovie nights with animal or nature themed films for children.
Adres: 9777 Golf Links Road, Oakland
Official site: www.oaklandzoo.org
12 Temescal recreation area
The Lake Temescal Natural Area is located three miles outside of downtown Oakland and was formerly a reservoir for drinking water. Because of its peaceful landscape, the Temescal Recreation Area is popular for hiking, sunbathing, and picnicking. Picnic areas with grassy areas on each side of the lake provide plenty of room to stretch out, and some of the tables are bookable. A paved, wheelchair-accessible path runs the length of the park, ideal for a peaceful nature walk. Other paved bike trails are available to cyclists: the East Shore Trail and a path along the park’s eastern border. Within the park, a lakeside location is sometimes used for weddings, parties and other events.
Adres: 6500 Broadway, Oakland
13 African American Museum & Library in Oakland
The African American Museum and Library in Oakland is a unique resource dedicated to preserving and sharing the historical and cultural experiences of African Americans in Northern California and the Bay Area. More than 160 collections document the stories of prominent families and pioneers, as well as the history of churches and social and political organizations. The Eternal Voices video library contains more than 80 years of African American East Bay history. Scholars can use the microfilm collection to research special topics and important historical figures, such as African American slavery, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, and WEB Dubois.
Adres: 659 14th Street, Oakland
14 Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate
Nestled in the Oakland Hills, the Dunsmuir mansion was built in 1878 by wealthy coal baron Alexander Dunsmuir. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this historic landmark was designed by San Francisco architect J. Eugene Freeman in the turn-of-the-century Neoclassical Revival style. The mansion features a Tiffany-style dome, 37 rooms, wood-paneled banquet rooms and 10 fireplaces. The estate is set in 50 hectares of lawns and has a pond, gazebo and beautiful gardens. It is open to the public for visits and is a popular venue for weddings.
Adres: 2960 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland
Official site: www.dunsmuir-hellman.com
15 25th Street Collective craft workshops
The 25th Street Collective brings together a talented group of local artisans, including food producers, fashion designers and jewelry makers. With a spacious warehouse, the collective offers studio space for local artisans. The 25th Street Collective is also home to Oakland Sewn, a small-scale clothing manufacturing company. Open studios are held every Saturday from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM, on the third Thursday of each month from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM, and on the first Friday from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM. For a festive afternoon of live music and food, visit “Saturday Soiree” on the first Saturday of the month from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM.
Adres: 477 25th Street, Oakland
Official site: https://25thstreetcollective.com
Where to Stay in Oakland for Sightseeing
We recommend these conveniently located hotels in Oakland, near attractions like Jack London Square and trendy Temescal:
- Oakland Marriott City Center: mid-range pricing, modern decor, pool and fitness center, valet parking.
- Waterfront Hotel, a Joie de Vivre hotel: 3-star hotel, water view, nautical theme, free social hour on weekdays with snacks.
- Inn at Temescal: affordable prices, near the BART station, helpful staff, bright rooms, comfortable beds.
- Days Hotel Oakland Airport-Coliseum: budget airport hotel, breakfast included, outdoor pool, free parking.