A trip to Northern California often involves San Francisco but there is so much more to this region. Just across the San Francisco bay sits Oakland, a diverse and vibrant city with its own unique culture.
And with its location in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s the perfect place to visit if you’re looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Want to know what is Oakland, California is known for?
Look no further than its food scene, art, and culture. This city has some of the best Mexican and Asian food in the country so grab a bite at a restaurant, food tour, or one of the many festivals. It is also home to a thriving arts community.
Loaded with historical and cultural experiences, there are many different things to do in Oakland for adults and kids.
Visit the USS Potomac, a children’s museum, or tour a historical home. So whether you are searching for things to do in Oakland this weekend or on an extended family trip, you will never find yourself bored.
Visitors can mingle among many different ethnic groups, and fill their bellies with food from all over the world here. Oakland attractions include beautiful parks, such as Lake Merritt, which is perfect for a picnic or a walk on a sunny day.
Check out our list of the top things to do in Oakland today!
- Most significant landmark – USS Potomac
- Best park – Redwood National Park
- Best free activity -Friday Nights at OMCA with Off the Grid | Oakland Museum of California
- Best activity for kids – Oakland Zoo
- Best activity for adults – Oracle Arena
- Best food – Oakland Greek Festival
- Best nightlife – Rockridge Neighborhood
- Best all-around accommodation – Waterfront Hotel by Hyatt
Best & Fun Things to do in Oakland, CA
And without further ado, here are some of the top things to do in Oakland, California
1. Visit Jack London Square
Address: 472 Water St, Oakland, CA 94607
You can’t visit Oakland without checking out Jack London Square. Hang out with the local community on the waterfront and enjoy the weekly farmer’s market, open-air concerts, and festivals.
Jack London Square has tons of things to do in Oakland for couples. During the summer months, you can enjoy free outdoor movies and jazz. If you are a foodie, there are many great restaurants to try.
A ferry ride between the Jack London Square ferry terminal and San Francisco bay leaves every two hours. An excursion to San Francisco is the perfect time to book Viator’s popular Golden Gate Bay Cruise.
Enjoy the weekend crowds or come during the week for a leisurely lunch or dinner by the water. If you’re looking for the best things to do in Oakland on the weekend, spend a day on Jack London Square with some friends or family. Many people also love walking their dogs here.
Consider staying at the Waterfront Hotel by Hyatt and enjoy the outdoor pool. Learn more about the area and have a fun adventure when you book the Oakland Scavenger hunt. Jack London Square is one of many landmarks you will see on the hunt.
See Related: Best Things to do in California
2. African Museum and Library of Oakland
Address: 649 14th St, Oakland, CA 94612
If you are in downtown Oakland and looking for something to do, walk over to the African American Museum & Library. This museum is dedicated to educating the public about the history and culture of African Americans.
There is a wide variety of exhibits that tell the story of the African American experience from slavery to the present day.
The building is built with accessibility in mind by way of parking, elevator access, bathrooms, and water fountains. So seniors and others with mobility concerns can enjoy this historical location.
The museum is closed on Sundays. Come for a self-guided tour and enjoy the over 160 collections based on the lives of area pioneers, politics, families, and more. If you plan to bring a group for a tour, call or email ahead of time for a guide.
Check for current exhibits on their website.
3. Have Tea at The Pardee Home Museum
Address: 672 11th St, Oakland, CA 94607
If you are into architecture, you must stop at this landmark in downtown Oakland. This home is one of the most beautiful and ornate mansions in Oakland. It was once home to George Pardee, who was the 22nd governor of California in 1902. The historic home is now a museum open to the public for tours.
The mansion was built in 1869 by Enoch Pardee and is one of the best examples of Italianate architecture in Oakland. It is two stories tall with a grand staircase, high ceilings, and a central atrium. View over 70,000 artifacts that George Pardee’s wife, Helen, collected from all over the world.
Take a scenic stroll around the garden or enjoy tea service.
Tours of the home are offered on Saturdays by reservation and cost $10 per individual. Come learn about the history of the home and the three generations of the Pardee family who lived there.
You will also get to see some of the original furniture and art that is on display during the 1.5-hour tour.
If you have 6-20 guests to invite, you can also reserve space for private tea parties in the elegant dining room. All tea parties include tours of the home.
See Related: Most Famous Historical Landmarks in the USA
4. Grab a Beer at Drake’s Dealership
Address: 2325 Broadway Oakland, CA
Drake’s Dealership is a popular restaurant and beer garden that keeps at least 32 beers on tap. Feast on wood-fired pizza as you relax in the open-air beer garden. Located on Auto Row, the hotspot is in a unique brick building that used to be a Dodge Dealership.
If you like to go drinking with your dog, you can bring your pet as long as you keep it on a leash. The spot is open for events such as banquets.
Continue your buzz with an All-Inclusive Brewery Tour in the Bay area.
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5. Dress in Dope Era Style
Address: 1764 Broadway Oakland, CA 94612
One of the top things to do in Oakland includes shopping!
If you love hip hop, pay a visit to Dope Era clothing which started as a small pop-up shop in Oakland. Since the dynamic Mistah F.A.B formed his dream store in 2011, the local streetwear brand has gained national attention.
Mistah F.A.B has become a popular and respected local figure who often collaborates with other famous brands and artists.
Since 2011, they have been creating hats, shirts, and sweatshirts with unique designs. The clothes are inspired by the Bay Area hip-hop scene with items for women, men, and children.
If you are looking for a souvenir to bring home, or just want some new clothes, this is the place to go. They have a brick-and-mortar store downtown, or you can shop online. If you are lucky, you may spot some celebrities like Snoop Dog shopping here.
6. View the Oakland Tribune Tower
Address: 409 13th Street, Oakland, CA
Get a taste of history by visiting the Oakl-and Tribune Tower. It is the tallest building in Oakland and used to be the home of the Oakland Tribune newspaper.
The 22-story building was erected in 1923 and is an example of Beaux-Arts architecture. It has a pyramidal roof and a terracotta frieze that wraps around the entire building. It became a landmark in 1976.
The Oakland Tribune was the first tenant of the building and occupied it until they moved to a new location in 1989 after the Loma Prieta earthquake.
Today you can have dinner or host a private event in the Tower at the aptly named Tribune restaurant.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Long Beach, California
7. Enjoy some Peace at the Chapel of Chimes
Address: 4499 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611
If you are a fan of architecture, you will want to check out the Chapel of Chimes. This mausoleum was built in 1909 and is full of beautiful stained glass windows, marble, mosaics, and sculptures.
The building mostly serves as a funeral home but is open to the public for tours. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Oakland due to its Renaissance beauty and calm.
If you are looking for something unique to do in Oakland, California, this is the place for you. Come on your own or book a guided tour. You can also find sensibly priced, well-rated, and comfortable accommodations at the Signature Inn Oakland.
8. Get Wild at Redwood Regional Park
Address: 7867 Redwood Rd, Oakland, CA 94619
Nature lovers looking for places to visit in Oakland must check out Redwood Regional Park. This park is full of towering redwoods, evergreens, and chaparral trees. The redwood trees stand as tall as 150 feet and are over 500 years old.
It is part of the Oakland Hills and offers panoramic views of the Bay Area. It is a great spot for a picnic, overnight camping, jogging, and horseback riding due to over 40 miles of trails. This scenic park is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
If you are visiting with kids, they will love the playground and the opportunity to see some wildlife. It is one of the best free things to do in Oakland.
See even more Northern California redwoods on this Redwood Forest Steam Train Tour that departs from San Francisco.
See Related: Best Vacations for a Group of Friends
9. First and Last Chance Saloon
Address: 48 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607
The Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon is a historic bar in Jack London Square. It is one of the oldest bars in California and has been serving drinks since 1884.
The bar got its name because it was the first and last chance for sailors to drink before setting sail or after coming back to shore. Jack London himself was a regular at this bar. The bar was built from parts of an old whaling ship.
Today, it is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. The bar has a cozy atmosphere and is dog-friendly. As you sip your drink, enjoy photos and hats from many historical periods, such as both World Wars, Vietnam, and Prohibition.
If you are looking for a historic bar with a feeling of old-time Oakland, this is the place for you. Half a mile away is the Courtyard by Marriott Oakland Downtown if you need a place to rest your head after a few.
10. Birdwatch on Lake Merritt
Address: 666 Bellevue Ave, Oakland, CA 94610
If you want to know what to do in Oakland as a nature lover, you must visit Lake Merritt.
The salt-water lake is man-made and sits in the heart of Oakland. It is surrounded by parks, restaurants, and residential neighborhoods. It’s also the oldest designated wildlife refuge in the country!
The lake is a popular spot for bird watching as it is home to over 100 species of birds. You can also go for a walk or jog around the 3.4-mile path that surrounds the lake.
If you are visiting with kids, they will love the Children’s Fairyland which is a storybook theme park. We’ll get into more detail on this place later.
During the summer, you can enjoy free concerts at the bandstand. The lake also has a weekly farmers market where you can buy fresh produce, flowers, and other goods. Take photos or just take in the serenity of the Bonsai Garden.
Lake Merritt has the honor of being the first wildlife refuge in the United States and is a beautiful spot to relax and enjoy the outdoors.
There is no shortage of things to do at Lake Merritt, making it one of the best places to visit in Oakland. Stay close by in a unique n’ chic room at the Moxy Oakland Downtown.
While you are in the area, consider attending the Silent Disco Style Yoga Class in Lake Merritt Pergola.
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11. Take the Kids to Oakland Zoo
Address: 9777 Golf Links Rd, Oakland, CA 94605
One of the top Oakland tourist attractions is the Oakland Zoo. This zoo is home to over 850 animals representing over 190 species. The Oakland Zoo is committed to conservation and has a variety of programs to protect animals and their habitats.
The zoo is divided into various sections, such as the African Savanna, the California Trail, and the Tropical Rainforest. Visitors will see lions, birds, reptiles, tigers, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and more.
There is a Children’s Zoo where kids can pet goats and sheep. Then parents and kids can enjoy a show at the Clorox Wildlife Theater.
The Oakland Zoo is a place to learn about animal conservation and see some of the world’s most beautiful animals. Bring the kids so they can enjoy the various educational programs available.
Hours vary based on the season. Consider booking a tour with the zoo for your group.
See Related: 28 Best National Parks in the USA to Visit
12. Rent a Boat at California Canoe and Kayak
Address: 288 9th Ave, Suite C, Oakland, CA 94606
If you love being on the water, fun things to do in Oakland include canoeing or kayaking with California Canoe and Kayak. They have a variety of options for both beginners and experienced paddlers.
Don’t worry if you have never been canoeing or kayaking before. The company offers private and group lessons. You can rent boats or take advantage of their 60-day demo program before buying one. They also have group tours if you want to explore Oakland’s waterways with others.
In addition to boats, you can buy all the accessories you need for your trip at their on-site store.
California Canoe and Kayak provides the opportunity to see Oakland from a different perspective. It is one of the best things to do in Oakland if you love being on the water.
See Related: Best San Francisco Walking Tours
13. Marvel at the Oakland Aviation Museum
Address: 8252 Earhart Rd, Oakland, CA 94621
Do you have a love of all things aviation? Then you will want to add the Oakland Aviation Museum to your list of things to do in Oakland. This museum sits in the former Boeing School of Aeronautics.
The museum has a variety of exhibits that tell the story of aviation in the Bay Area. You will see everything from vintage aircraft to interactive displays. The Oakland Aviation Museum is a great place to learn about the history of aviation and see some amazing aircraft.
One of their popular events is the Open Cockpit Days, where you can sit in the cockpit of a real aircraft. The museum is also home to several special events throughout the year.
There are various admission prices, but children under 4 can get in for free. Request a tour online.
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14. Learn History at Oakland Museum of California
Address: 1000 Oak St, Oakland, CA 94607
This museum is a great option for families with kids as the first Sunday of every month is free. The Oakland Museum of California is one of the best things to do in Oakland if you want to learn about the state’s history and culture.
You will see everything from Gold Rush artifacts to works of art by Californian artists. One of the highlights is the Native American Gallery, which has a collection of over 1,000 artifacts.
The OMCA garden is a popular gathering place to relax after exploring the museum.
Friday nights are a perfect time for families and friends of all ages to enjoy free gatherings during Off the Grid events. Such events include music, activities, food trucks, and late-night gallery access (with a museum ticket). Just remember that it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
You can easily walk to the museum from your accommodations at the Oakland Marriott City Center.
15. Go Hiking at Joaquin Miller Park
Address: 3450 Joaquin Miller Rd, Oakland, CA
If you are in the Oakland Hills, then you need to check out Joaquin Miller Park. This park is a great place to go for any nature enthusiast. Look up at giant redwoods, photograph wild turkeys or Cooper’s hawks, or study the over 200 native plants in the park.
You can easily get away from the city without leaving the city limits. The large natural site got its name from the famous poet Joaquin Miller who lived in the area.
There are over 50 miles of trails in the park, so you can find one that is the perfect fit for you. There are also several picnic areas where you can enjoy a packed lunch or barbecue. Joggers, runners, equestrians, walkers, and bikers have plenty of space to get a workout.
A 2,000-seat amphitheater is also located in the park for various events throughout the year. You can enjoy both professional and amateur musicals here.
Anyone looking for cheap things to do in Oakland should make time for a visit to Joaquin Miller Park. Admission to the park is free, and it is open every day from sunrise to sunset.
16. Get Spiritual at Oakland California Temple
Address: 4766 Lincoln Ave, Oakland, CA 94602
If you wonder what to see in Oakland if you’re interested in church architecture, then you need to add the Oakland California Temple to your list.
The temple was built in 1964 and is the second temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints built in California. It is an impressive sight and is one of the most popular things to do in Oakland for Latter-Day Saint members.
Only those who are members of the church can go inside the temple. However, everyone is welcome to walk around the beautiful grounds. The temple is open Monday through Saturday.
There is also a Visitors’ Center on the grounds where you can learn more about the Mormon faith. The center is open to everyone, and you do not need to be a member of the church to enter.
Come here for peace and serenity in the middle of a busy city. Schedule a guided tour online if you would like to see more of the church.
17. Get Educated at Chabot Space and Science Center
Address: 10000 Skyline Blvd, Oakland, CA
People of all ages will enjoy learning about space in the Chabot Space and Science Center. It is one of the top Oakland attractions for families.
The center has a planetarium, a telescope, and many interactive exhibits. There are also several educational shows held throughout the day.
One of the most popular things to do at the Chabot Space and Science Center is going on a night hike. Trained naturalists lead these hikes in the fall.
The center has a planetarium, a telescope, and many interactive exhibits. There are also several educational shows held throughout the day. The film theater and large planetarium are both wheelchair accessible.
One of the most popular things to do at the Chabot Space and Science Center is to look at live space through the free telescope viewings.
These are held on Friday and Saturday nights, weather permitting. On clear nights, you can see Saturn, Jupiter, and other stars and planets. The center also offers stargazing classes where you can learn more about what you are seeing.
Plan to spend a few hours at the Chabot Space and Science Center. It is open every day except for Christmas Day. Admission prices vary depending on what activities you want to do while you are there. Check for tickets on Viator.
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18. Enjoy the Art + Soul Oakland Festival
The Oakland area is known for its creative culture, and one of the best ways to experience this is by attending the Art + Soul Oakland festival. This two-day event is held every summer and features local and national artists.
There are plenty of things to do at the Art festival. You can browse the artwork, listen to live music, and watch dance performances. There are also plenty of food vendors, so you can grab a bite to eat while you are there. All beer and wine come from local Oakland breweries and wineries.
The New York Times has ranked it as one of the must-see things in the area.
The Art +Soul Oakland festival is a great way to support local artists and enjoy the creative culture of the city during the summer. Past performers have included Sheila E., Raphael Saadiq, and Ledisi.
19. Sail on the USS Potomac
Get a taste of history and ride on the USS Potomac, built-in 1934. This boat was originally built for the Coast Guard but was utilized by President Franklin Roosevelt as his “Floating White House” from 1936 – 1945.
This activity is for history buffs or anyone who wants to learn more about one of the most famous presidents in American history.
After Roosevelt’s death, the boat changed hands several times before being restored to its original glory. Now, you can take a tour of the boat or even go for a ride on it. What better way to cruise around the San Francisco bay?
From Wednesdays through Sundays, you can even charter the ship for your events, including weddings. You can do catering on the ship to complete your event.
In recent history, the boat was used to film the movie “The Master”.
Tours of the boat are available every day except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission prices vary depending on the type of tour you want to take. Touring or sailing on this ship is one of the many things you can have fun doing in the popular Jack London Square area.
With a ten-minute drive to Alameda, you can continue your military ship exploration on a USS Hornet Tour from Viator.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in the US
20. Play at Children’s Fairyland
Address: 666 Bellevue Ave, Oakland, CA 94610
Anyone who is seeking things to do in Oakland with kids will want to add the aforementioned Children’s Fairyland to their list. It is a ten-acre park that is designed for children ten and under.
The park has several rides, including a carousel and a train. There are also puppet shows and live entertainment. One of the most popular attractions is the Jolly Roger Pirate Ship, which is inspired by the story of Peter Pan.
Children’s Fairyland is open every day except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission prices are reasonable, and there are also discounts available for groups. You can rent the park for birthday parties and take advantage of educational programs for kids.
Admission is only $15 except for toddlers under 1-year-old who can get in for free. So if you are looking for cheap things to do with kids in Oakland, Fairyland is a perfect choice.
It has a prime location on Lake Merritt which also offers things to do like paddle boarding, row boating, and several places to eat.
21. Explore Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate
Address: 2960 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland, CA 94605
History and architecture lovers should add the Dunsmuir House to their trip itinerary. It is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate is a beautiful 50-acre property that is perfect for a day trip. The estate grounds include a historic mansion, gardens, and hiking trails.
The mansion was built in 1899 and is a prime example of late-Victorian architecture. It is now a museum that is open to the public for tours. The gardens are also open to the public and are a popular spot for weddings, retreats, and other events. Put in a reservation request online.
An excursion here is the perfect way to spend a day if you are looking for things to do in Oakland that are both educational and relaxing. Admission to the estate is free, but there is a charge for tours of the mansion.
If you are staying at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Oakland, you will have close access to this attraction and Oakland International Airport.
See Related: Best Things to do in Big Bear, California
22. Wander the Rockridge Neighborhood
Address: College Avenue, Oakland, CA
The Rockbridge area is well-known for its college atmosphere since UC Berkeley is nearby.
College Avenue runs through the center of the neighborhood and hosts coffee shops, bistros, and ethnic food options. There are also several breweries, such as Linden Street Brewery and Temescal Brewing.
The Rockbridge Public Library is also located here and is a great place to spend an afternoon. The Rockbridge area is a great place to visit if you are looking for things to do in Oakland for adults. There is something for everyone in this vibrant and lively area.
One of the best places for a cool treat is Fenton’s Creamery on Piedmont Ave. So if you have kids with you, bring them to this ice cream shop that has been serving delicious treats since 1894. They have a wide variety of flavors, so you’re sure to find something you’ll love.
Then everyone can go shopping for food and wine at the Rockridge Market Hall, which houses eight independent shops. If you want to do a food tour in the area, check for availability on the Rockridge Neighborhood Heritage Food Tour
Enjoy spa services, a pool, and beautiful rooms at the Claremont Club & Spa, a highly-rated hotel near the area.
23. Go on an Edible Excursions Food Tour
Food tours are a great way to learn about a new culture and try new foods. Edible Excursions offers food tours in Oakland that focus on the city’s diverse food scene. If the Oakland one is booked, there are several more slots across the bay in San Francisco.
During the food tour, you will visit several different restaurants, bars, and food trucks. You will also have the opportunity to sample a variety of dishes. The tour includes both savory and sweet options, so you are sure to find something that you will love. Some options allow you to learn how to make dishes or drinks as well.
Edible Excursions offers Oakland walking tours that last for about three hours on Saturdays.
In addition to food, you will have the chance to throw back a few drinks at local watering holes like Woods Bar & Brewery so you must be over 21 years old to join. Most of the Oakland tours take place uptown but the San Francisco ones are in various parts of the city.
This is a popular tour that can book quickly, so check for openings here!
24. Go Greek at the Annual Oakland Greek Festival
Address: 4700 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland Hills at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, Oakland, CA
For more than half a century, the Oakland Greek Festival has been one of the most popular events in the city. The festival is held every year and includes dancing, music, and food.
The festival is a great way to experience Greek culture without leaving the city. Greece is known for its culinary delights, and the Oakland Greek Festival is the perfect place to sample some of these dishes.
The Oakland Greek Festival is usually held anytime from May through September. Admission is free for kids under 12 years old, and there is plenty of free parking, paid premium parking, and shuttle service.
25. Watch a Game at the Oracle Arena
Address: 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA
One of the best things to see in Oakland is a sports event. Sports fans will want to visit the Oracle Arena (also known as Oakland Arena), which is home to the Golden State Warriors. The arena is located in downtown Oakland and is one of the oldest NBA arenas.
In addition to other sporting events like WWE, you can come here to see concerts by some of the biggest names in music. The arena has a capacity of over 19,000 people, so there is plenty of room.
What to do in Oakland when it rains?
There are plenty of things to do in Oakland on a rainy day. You can visit the Rockbridge Public Library, go shopping on College Avenue, or roam one of the many museums, like the Oakland Museum of California. Several bars and coffee shops in the city offer a cozy place to relax and take refuge from the rain.
What is there to do in Oakland for free?
You can hang out around Jack London Square, or take a walk through one of Oakland’s many parks. Lake Merritt is free with tons of nature.
What are some things to do in Oakland, California at night?
You can go to a bar or club on Broadway, see a show at the Fox Theater, or visit one of the many restaurants in the city.
What are some things to do in Oakland, California with kids?
Some great things to do in Oakland with kids include visiting Children’s Fairyland, going to the Oakland Zoo, or checking out the Chabot Space and Science Center.
What is a good day trip from Oakland?
Some good day trips from Oakland include visiting San Francisco, Napa Valley, or driving down the coast. You can get to San Francisco in about an hour by car or BART, and Napa Valley is about an hour and a half away.
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