Although Oakland and San Francisco are neighbors, located just minutes apart across the Bay, the two cities could not be more different. Oakland has its own distinct history, sounds, tastes, its own social movements.
While San Francisco’s flower children were dreamily Summer of Love-ing all over the place, the youth in Oakland were forming the Black Panthers and the Chicanos, declaring that Black is Beautiful and uniting to protect Latinos from being drafted into the Vietnam War. When the hippies returned home to work for the man, Oakland kept fighting: a handful of Black Panthers can still be seen running drills in Oakland today, their work – protecting people of color from racial injustice and police brutality – not yet finished.
San Francisco sometimes feels like the future of American capitalism, but Oakland feels like the future of American populism. And so while visiting San Francisco is its own kind of rad, visiting Oakland is completely, totally different – and just as awe-inspiring.
In this post you’ll find some of my favorite things to do in Oakland. We also included some Oakland history, both because we’re big history nerds, and because we think understand Oakland’s history will make you appreciate your visit even more!
- Editor’s Note: Oakland is huge, its culture runs deep, and its history is complicated. We’ve lived in Oakland for about a decade now, and as transplants, we are still learning about Oakland. Although we haven’t earned the right to be considered “experts” about Oakland, or to call ourselves locals, we strive to treat it (and its residents) with the respect it deserves – and we hope that visitors like you will do the same while you’re here.
Psst: Visiting San Francisco or the Bay Area? We have loads more posts to help you plan your trip! Check these out:
- Where to Eat in Oakland, California
- 29 Things Nobody Tells You About Oakland, California
- 30 Things Nobody Tells You About San Francisco
Hey, looking for help planning your trip to the bay area? Sign up below and we’ll send you a printable version of our self-guided walking tour, plus our favorite tips for visiting!
Quick Tips for Visiting Oakland
Oakland is a major metropolitan city, and as such, there are a few need-to-know travel tips for visiting that we want to share before your trip. Here’s a quick rundown of everything you need to know before your trip to Oakland.
How to Get to Oakland
Oakland has the best airport in the Bay Area. There, I said it. But no, seriously, I absolutely adore Oakland Airport! It’s conveniently located close to the freeway, accessible by train, un-crowded enough so that you won’t get honked at 83 times while you’re trying to unload your luggage, there’s rarely a line, everyone who works there is super friendly, and there are always a plethora of budget-friendly flights.
Oh, and another major bonus? NO FOG! SFO is always dealing with fog delays, but here in Oakland it’s sunny, warm, bright, and delay-free. Welcome to Oakland!
Oakland is a Southwest hub, so they’re usually the best bet for flying in from the USA. You can also score some awesome direct deals to and from Europe with Norwegian Air. To help you score flight deals, you can use our handy dandy airfare search tool!
- Coming to Oakland from San Francisco? It could not be easier. All you’re going to do is hop on a BART train headed into Oakland. You won’t have much trouble figuring out which train you need – EVERY BART train goes to Oakland. Just make sure you get on the direction that’s Oakland bound – so like, check out the map. Seriously, BART is super easy to use.
- Coming to Oakland from San Jose or Palo Alto? This is a little trickier. There is an Amtrak line. But more forms transit to and from San Jose and Oakland are currently under construction, so the easiest way to get to Oakland from anywhere on the Peninsula or South Bay (basically, Silicon Valley) is to drive. But if you’re all the way down there, chances are you probably need a rental car anyway.
How to Get Around Oakland
Oakland is a big city, but it’s super easy to get around town, and you have your pick of options. Here’s what we recommend:
- Public Transit: You can get all over Oakland using transit. BART trains will take you almost everywhere you want to go in Oakland, and AC Transit buses will get you everywhere else.
- Ride-Share App: Ride-sharing was invented in the Bay Area, and we all use it so much it’s become a primary method of transit. You can take shared LYFT lines to anywhere in Oakland, and your ride will be pleasantly inexpensive.
- Bike: Oakland is super bikeable. We’ve got plenty of bike lanes and places to park your bike. Most conveniently of all, there are Ford Go Bike bike share stations EVERYWHERE. Biking is a fantastic way to explore Oakland’s many neighborhoods (at least, the ones that aren’t up in the hills).
- Electric Scooter: The scooter craze is alive and well here in Oakland. Download the Bird and Lime apps to find a scooter to whizz around town on.
Oakland Travel Tips & Things to Know
Remember that Oakland is a major metropolitan city. And as with any large city, there are a few things to know about before your trip.
- Oakland is warmer and sunnier than San Francisco. Oakland is generally sunny and 65-75 degrees between 10am and 6pm. Right around 6pm, the temperature will drop down to the low 60’s, but you’ll still be much warmer here than you would in freezing cold, fog-covered San Francisco. It’s also a lot less windy here. Generally speaking, a light jacket should be fine for a day of exploring Oakland. Unless it’s winter, in which case bring an umbrella, too.
- Oakland is no more “dangerous” than any other major city. Oakland’s rep for being “dangerous” is frankly, problematic. And while perceived danger is objecstive, having traveled in big cities all over the world, I feel no more or less safe in Oakland than I do in any other big city. That said, like in all big cities, travelers may want to be mindful of opportunity theft. Theft does happen in Oakland like it does in all big cities around the world, but most of it is opportunity theft which can be avoided by taking some savvy precautions. We’ve got tips on preventing theft while traveling in our travel safety post.
- Oakland isn’t a neighborhood of San Francisco. Located just five minutes across the water from San Francisco, Oakland’s rolling green hills have long seemed like a refuge from the bustling city. But over the decades that San Francisco has spilled over into Oakland, much of Oakland’s story has been lumped in or overshadowed by San Francisco’s. Don’t make the same mistake: please try to view Oakland through its own lens!
- Oakland is in the midst of battling gentrification. As San Francisco spills over into Oakland, it brings with it a myriad of problems and displacing local residents due to rising housing costs. As a tourist visiting Oakland, you’ll be making an economic impact on this community that will last long after you leave. If you choose to stay in an AirBnB, make sure it is a room within an occupied house (rather than an entire house or apartment) in order to avoid contributing directly to Oakland’s housing crisis. Please make an effort to support locally owned businesses, especially those owned by people of color. Visit Oakland has resources that can help you find local businesses to support during your visit, such as Black-owned restaurants. You can read more about Oakland’s gentrification and find resources on how you can help at the Urban Displacement Project and Causa Justa.
- Many of our neighbors in Oakland and San Francisco are homeless – please treat them with compassion and respect. Remember that the people experiencing homelessness here are not a “blight” or an “eyesore” – both problematic and harmful terms that we hear too frequently used by visitors – and they’re not criminals either: they’re people who are experiencing homelessness. Keep in mind that homelessness is traumatic, and the stress of being unhoused often exacerbates mental illnesses and other health conditions. Please have compassion. The least that you can do is to make eye contact and smile – it costs you nothing, and that acknowledgment goes a long way. There’s a helpful resource for how to respond to the homeless in San Francisco on SF Gate which applies to Oakland as well. Here is a list of local organizations – and another that’s specific to Oakland – that work with the homeless and would greatly appreciate your support.
Why Oakland’s History Matters
Oakland’s identity could not be more different than that of San Francisco. For years, it watched it’s neighbor rise and fall, helping out when needed, whether it was taking in refugees after the great earthquake and fire of 1907, or housing refugees of the great tech boom who were priced out of their homes in San Francisco. But as San Francisco rebuilt itself in a new and glittering image every few years, Oakland has always been the everyman.
For all of the years that these two major cities have co-existed, side by side, not 20 minutes away from one another, they’ve maintained completely separate identities. San Francisco’s identity seems to change every couple of decades, keeping ahead of the trend of the times: whether it was the Gold Rush, or the Summer of Love, or the Tech Boom, San Francisco is always introducing next big thing, waiting for the rest of the country to catch up. But not Oakland.
Oakland’s growth, dating back to the 1850’s, has always been rooted in hard work. Manual labor. Docks. Warehouses. Factories. Manufacturing. Fishing. In Oakland’s early days, back-breaking laboring jobs were plentiful, and Oakland’s hard-working and diverse population grew from Chinese immigrants (Oakland has one of the largest and oldest Chinatowns in the US – read more), Latinos immigrated north from Mexico as part of the Bracero program, and free Black communities, all working side by side without the influence of Jim Crowe laws for decades. Oakland was known as the “Detroit of the West” in the 1920’s, during Ford’s heyday, and the comparison still holds true today.
In World War II came a manufacturing boom, and with it, hordes of job-seeking Southerners. The Southerners, both Black and white, brought with them racial tensions and segregationist expectations – a new thing to peaceful, diverse 1940’s Oakland.
This introduction was magnified by the end of the war, and with it, the disappearance of many of the jobs sustaining Oakland’s workforce. Now the poor whites who had moved to Oakland seeking jobs were outraged that the residents of color, who had lived in Oakland without Jim Crowe laws or restrictive housing policies for decades, expected respectful equality between the races. A concept.
Racial tensions simmered, and by the time the Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland in the mid 60’s by two local college students, nobody was trying to hide it. The Black Panther Party’s goal was to protect the unprotected, through community social services (known as “community survival”) programs like free breakfasts for children and health clinics. Police brutality against unarmed Black residents stoked the flames for many conflicts to come, which attracted the attention of the FBI in a series of COINTELPRO raids.
If y’all have ever visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee (which we did last year) you may recall the chilling summary of far-too-coincidental steps leading to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. Well, there’s no question about whether the government was actively hunting down and killing members of the Black Panther Party. They were.
In the 70’s and 80’s, Oakland was hit hard by the crack epidemic, with its increase in crime and the guillotine response of the War on Drugs following shortly afterwards. The effects of those years, and of that swift and harsh response to the drug addiction epidemic that was allegedly tied and even funded by the CIA, can still be seen today.
So, what about now? Is Oakland finally experiencing its happily ever after?
Well, not exactly. The Tech Boom 2.0 has shifted Oakland, and the rest of the Bay Area, to extremes. Skyscrapers are emerging all over downtown, housing prices have shot up into the stratosphere, and longtime Oakland residents find themselves facing the effects of rapid gentrification and in many cases, are unable to afford to live in their own homes.
The Oakland you’ll see today has two sides: there’s fancy new buildings and expensive coffee shops and restaurants and there’s also rampant homelessness, urban displacement, and folks struggling to make ends meet in the city they’ve lived in for their entire lives. These two things exist side by side: you can’t talk about Oakland without acknowledging each of them, and to visit Oakland, you must be aware of its history and its complicated present in order to pay it the respect it deserves.
Oakland, Race, and Social Justice
You cannot talk about Oakland without talking about race. The history of Oakland is deeply rooted in social justice and anti-racism, and so is its present day.
But unfortunately, Oakland’s story is still so deeply tied to race that when you Google Oakland, a whole bunch of racist questions come up as frequently asked suggestions, like “when did Oakland become ghetto” and “is Oakland really that dangerous?” (For the record: if you’re still wondering those questions, you should read this article which will explain why associating a place full of Black and Brown people with “ghetto” and “danger” is deeply racist.) It’s important to us, both as people who call Oakland home and as travel writers, to not only help frame the mindset of visitors who might not be familiar with Oakland, but also to positively impact and shift the dominant narrative about Oakland (here’s why that matters).
You also cannot appreciate Oakland without acknowledging the important role it has always played in radical social justice movements. Oakland has quietly been a mecca for people of color for as long as San Francisco has been a mecca for entrepreneurs and inventors. The history of the USA has played out on the streets of Oakland time and time again, and the Oakland you’ll experience today is one that is directly reflective of this exact moment in time. As part of that, the complicated story of Oakland reflects the complicated story of race in the USA.
The story of Oakland, past and present, is complicated, and over the decade that we’ve lived here, we are still learning. You can get a taste of it on screen in movies like Black Panther, Sorry to Bother You, and Blindspotting (YUP, 3 Oakland blockbuster movies this year!). You can feel it walking through the streets of Oakland’s many neighborhoods, admiring the art and murals splashed all over town, tasting the wide variety of local flavors, and listening to Oakland’s music.
Visiting Oakland means exploring and examining an important piece of America’s history, even as it plays out in real-time. And although I’ve barely scratched the surface of the heavy history of Oakland, I hope that your awareness of these complexities helps to frame your visit and opens your eyes to the beauty, pain, struggle, and vindication of Oakland.
- Note: If any of that made you feel uncomfortable, I recommend doing some reflection and reading up on anti-racism before visiting Oakland – the book How to Be an Anti-Racist is a good place to start. Be prepared to face the inner racist you may not have realized you had and swallow some uncomfortable truths. Do the work.
Here are a few more resources to educate yourself about Oakland’s history before your visit:
- Article on Oakland.ca: Oakland’s history of resistance to racism
- Book: Oakland: The Story of a City (you can purchase directly from the Oakland Heritage Alliance)
- Book: Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party
- You can find plenty more book suggestions in the Oakland Local Wiki!
The Best Things to Do in Oakland, CA
Explore Oakland’s Neighborhoods
Oakland is ENORMOUS. It’s way bigger than you think, and there are a ton of neighborhoods. Like San Francisco, each of Oakland’s neighborhoods has a distinct and unique vibe. Spend a day exploring a few and you’ll see the many sides of Oakland.
Here’s a comprehensive Oakland neighborhood guide, with a few picks below for walkable, tourist-friendly spots to spend a few hours exploring:
- Jack London: Home of the best views in Oakland, Jack London Square sits right on the water, gazing across the Bay to San Francisco. Rent a kayak at California Canoe & Kayak to explore the waterfront by boat. Head to Everett & Jones for some amazing BBQ, Souley Vegan for some equally as amazing vegan soul food, or Nido for tacos. Follow your meal with a glass of Zinfandel from Rosenblum Cellars, one of the wineries on the Oakland Urban Wine Trail. Or get a drink at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, an Oakland institution since 1883 that was built out of the remains of an old whaling ship.
- Fruitvale: (Yes, that Fruitvale.) This is Oakland’s historic Hispanic neighborhood, with a rich history – and amazing food. Try the incredible treet tacos in town at Tacos Sinaloa, then head to the BART station to grab a mangonada at Nieves Cinco de Mayo in the Fruitvale Market and a stuffed churro at the Churros Mexicanos cart for dessert. Stroll along the water in Jingletown, an artsy micro-neighborhood full of galleries along the estuary, or visit the Peralta Hacienda historical park to tour the Peralta House Museum to learn about Spanish coloniazion and Native land loss in California.
- Uptown & Downtown: The most central area in downtown Oakland, these two neighborhoods are next to each other. If you’re up for the walk, you can easily explore both of them. Wander into the many locally owned art galleries and independent stores. Pick up some Oakland gear at Oaklandish. Admire incredible street art, both at eye level and splashed on buildings and skyscrapers overhead. Don’t miss The Fox and Paramount Theatres, two of Oakland’s most iconic (and beautiful) buildings.
- Old Oakland: This stunning and historic section of Oakland was once the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. Today, it’s one of the most beautiful neighborhoods to explore, full of brick and Victorian restored buildings. We recommend taking the free Old Oakland Walking Tour to learn more about the area. Afterwards, spend a few hours shopping at the many independently owned local stores and stop into Swan’s Market for a bite to eat. This guide to the best things to do in Old Oakland is full of helpful suggestions!
- Temescal: Head to Telegraph Avenue near the Macarthur BART station and wander up and down this stretch of shops, breweries, and restaurants. Here you’ll find some of the best restaurants in Oakland. Try the tacos at Cholita Linda, the tofu soup at Pyeongchang Tofu House, and the tea leaf salad at Burma Superstar.
- Rockridge: One of Oakland’s greenest (and boujiest) neighborhoods. Start at Rockridge Market Hall, a European-style food hall, for excellent coffee (and cheese samples). Head up or down College Avenue past shops, breweries, flower shops, restaurants, and bakeries. But the real charms of Rockridge are found in its side streets and up its hills: veer off College Avenue onto any street to appreciate old Craftsman homes nestled into towering sequoia trees and banked by lush gardens. Climb up one of the many hidden staircases into the Oakland hills for jaw-dropping Bay views (this book is full of step-by-step secret staircase walks). After your urban hike, grab a cone at Tara’s Organic Ice Cream for dessert. By the way, Rockridge is located next to Temescal – combine them if you’re up for the walk!
Spend a Day at the Lake
It always comes as a surprise to anyone who has yet to visit Oakland that there’s a giant lake in the middle of downtown. Yep, that’s right: Lake Merritt is right smack downtown, and it’s beautiful.
The 3-mile wide lagoon is home to the oldest designated wildlife refuge in the United States, but today the lake feels more urban than natural. There are several ways to enjoy Lake Merritt. Here are our favorites:
- Complete the 3-mile lake loop. Spend a morning or evening strolling, biking, scootering or jogging (you Olympic athlete, you) around Lake Merritt on its wide, paved paths, taking in views of Oakland from every angle. You can even download a free audio guide to listen to as you walk.
- Spend a day on the water. Stop by the Lake Merritt Boating Center and pick up a rowboat, kayak, canoe, or sailboat. Or, if you’re feeling romantic and/or Italian, how about a Gondola?
- Grab your binoculars and go birding! There are 70 species of native birds surrounding Lake Merritt, and no, they’re not all pigeons. Here’s a visual guide
- Have a meal at Lake Chalet. Right on Lake Merritt – actually, right over the water – you’ll find Lake Chalet, the best place to get amazing food while taking in stunning lake views. The restaurant is located in the historic Oakland Boathouse, and you can take in the lake views from outside on the dock patio or inside the dining room through floor to ceiling windows. Whether you’re swinging by for brunch, lunch, or dinner, everything on the menu is delicious. In the mood for drinks? Head right outside to the Tequila Pier Bar.
Psst: After your lake day, don’t forget to spend some time exploring Grand Lake, the neighborhood next door.
Go Hiking in the Redwoods
Think you have to drive an hour north to Muir Woods to get your redwood fix? Think again! Avoid the crowds and go hiking in one of Oakland’s beautiful redwood parks. Yes, I said one of: there are two, and the redwoods you’ll find in the are some of the oldest in the Bay Area, dating back to the 1880’s.
Oakland Redwood Regional Park and Joaquin Miller Park are technically two separate parks, but they actually connect, providing a sprawling network of hiking trails criss-crossing through redwood-covered valleys and hills overlooking stunning views of the Bay Area. Despite being only a few minutes away from Downtown Oakland and quite close to civilization, the parks are peaceful and quiet: you’ll feel like you left Oakland, stepped through a wardrobe, and emerged into redwood Narnia.
Head to a staging area and pick a trail (or several) from the helpfully provided park maps to explore these stunning parks. The Scenic Redwood Loop is a 4-mile hike that offers everything from valley floor streams and ferns to scenic overlooks (and plenty of redwoods, of course). If you’re looking for an all-day-long redwood extravaganza, pack a snack and try the French Loop Trail, one of my favorite hikes ever. For more information about these hikes, check out our guide to the best hikes near San Francisco!
- Note: These parks, along with the rest of the East Bay, are stolen Ohlone land. If you enjoy it, please consider paying a Shuumi Land Tax. The Shuumi Land Tax directly supports Sogorea Te’s work of rematriation, returning Indigenous land to Indigenous people, establishing a cemetery to reinter stolen Ohlone ancestral remains and building urban gardens, community centers, and ceremonial spaces so current and future generations of Indigenous people can thrive in the Bay Area. Shuumi means gift in the Ohlone language Chochenyo. Learn more at Sogorea Te’.
Catch an A’s Game at the Oakland Coliseum
We love our sports in Oakland, but lately we’ve been done dirty by some of our formerly beloved local teams (yes, I’m throwing shade at BOTH the Warriors and the Raiders). However, there is one Oakland sports team that is NOT leaving us, one that stays proudly loyal to Oakland, and one who we absolutely adore in return: the Oakland Athletics, or Oakland A’s for short.
Wander through Oakland and you’ll realize that our beloved baseball team is everywhere: their elephant mascot, Stomper, can be seen all over town in colorful painted statues, and you’d be hard pressed to look around Oakland and NOT see someone sporting an A’s hat, sweatshirt, or jersey. Local to Oakland since 1968 (hey, happy 50th anniversary!) the A’s are widely known for their starring role in the movie Moneyball, but the present day A’s just might surprise you.
There’s so much to love about going to an Oakland A’s game: the games are affordable, the crowd is excited, the food is great, the fireworks are amazing, the baseball is excellent, and the vibe is exactly the way America’s favorite pastime should be: FUN! It’s easy to fall in love with Oakland when you’re at an Oakland A’s game – even if you’re not up on the baseball lingo and you don’t know exactly who the players are (ahem, me).
Catching an Oakland A’s game is one of the best things to do in Oakland. If you go, make sure to get a giant A’s hat full of loaded nachos and a plate from BBQ Ribs and Things in Section 104. And while you’re there, get a slice of Sweet Potato Pie. Oh, and an ice cold beer, of course! Ah, the taste of summer. Check schedule & pricing for upcoming A’s Games!
Learn About Oakland’s History
I’m a firm believer in the melding of history and travel: how can you appreciate a place without understanding the context of where it came from, and what makes it the way it is today? Oakland is a prime example of this point, and getting to know the many sides of Oakland should include its past as well as its present.
Here are some of the best ways to dive deep into Oakland’s rich culture and history. (By the way: I suggest that you read up on the history of Latinos in Oakland, because their story is under-represented in the list below – I am open to suggestions for what to add).
- Take a Walking Tour: Oakland offers 8 different free walking tours, each covering a different section of Oakland and focusing on its past and present. Tours range from neighborhood exploration to African American leadership to churches and temples. Check the schedule and learn more. One of our readers also suggested the guided walking tours led by the Oakland Heritage Alliance!
- Oakland Museum of California: Art. History. Natural sciences. Hip-hop. The Oakland Museum showcases California’s many sides, with a particular focus on Oakland – so you’ll find everything from an exhibit about the Oakland A’s to galleries showcasing the history and natural beauty of California.
- African American Museum & Library: Dedicated to the discovery, preservation, interpretation and sharing of historical and cultural experiences of African Americans in California and the West. You’ll find a museum on the 2nd floor with rotating exhibitions highlighting the art, history and culture of African Americans; archives of over 160 collections documenting prominent families, pioneers, churches, social and political organizations; and approximately 12,000 volumes by or about African Americans, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, plus Africa in relation to the African-American experience, genealogy, and California history.
- Oakland Asian Cultural Center: Located in the heart of Chinatown, this museum and cultural center showcases Asian Pacific Islander arts and culture through rotating exhibitions, performances, classes, and more.
For more suggestions on where to visit to learn about Oakland’s history and culture, take a look at this guide on Visit Oakland.
Sample the Oakland Food Scene
If you’ve been paying attention, you probably noticed that I’ve been throwing out a LOT of suggestions for places to eat and drink. That’s because Oakland’s food scene is INCREDIBLE.
It’s diverse, it’s fresh, it’s expertly created, and it’s one of the best ways to get to know the city. You can get to know Oakland through chicken & waffles, shrimp & grits, dumplings, spongy Ethiopian injera bread, sizzling Korean bulgogi, and deep-fried vegan soul food. Is there any better way to get to know a place?
Oakland’s food represents Oakland’s history: Chinese, Mexican, Korean, African, and soul food restaurants can be found all over town, and you’ll have a hard time picking a bad spot. This list of 100 things to eat in Oakland, although a few years old, is a great starting point!
For more suggestions, you can browse this directory on Visit Oakland, along with this list of Black-owned restaurants. Jeremy and I also have a list of our favorite places to eat in Oakland.
If you only have a couple of days, we recommend taking a food tour to help you make a dent. Another benefit of taking a food tour is that you’ll also get a chance to walk through some of the best neighborhoods in Oakland, so you can cross two of the best things to do in Oakland off your list in one fell swoop! You’re SO efficient.
- Grand Lake Cultural Cuisine Tour: Savor locally-sourced Italian comfort food from a neighborhood kitchen on the banks of Lake Merritt. Visit one of world’s best spice shops according to Food & Wine Magazine. Take a samba-filled tour with a selection of sweet and savory bocadillos from the most authentic Cuban restaurant in Grand Lake, and finish with a pastry from Oakland’s newest French patisserie.
- Rockridge Neighborhood Food Tour: Try a fluffy morning bun from the best French patisserie in the Bay Area, exotic cheeses at Oakland’s European-style marketplace, house-made sausages from a Rockridge local butcher, crispy chicken tacos, and ice cream. If you kinda want a tour that’s just ice cream (no judgment) guess what? There’s one of those, too. After your tour, if you still feel up for a walk, head into the hills to explore Oakland’s hidden staircases!
- Temescal Tastes Tour: You’ll taste tacos from Cholita Linda, an award-winning Breton pastry from a local artisan baker, authentic Ethiopian injera and wot, Korean rice bowls, treats from Temescal Alley, and more in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood.
Drink Your Way Through Oakland
You can’t have a foodie scene without a booze scene. Right? At least, that’s what they say. “They” mostly being “me and Jeremy.” Anyway, Oakland’s got a great booze scene, with loads of craft breweries, distilleries, wineries, and bars concocting groundbreaking cocktails.
Like, did you know the Mai Tai was invented in Oakland? Yep: Victor Bergeron of Trader Vic’s whipped it up in 1944. So go on, celebrate Oakland’s history and order one. Just make sure you don’t drink on an empty stomach – there’s too much great food here for that!
- The Oakland Ale Trail: Oakland’s joined the Craft Beer scene with its own plethora of locally owned, small batch artisanal breweries and taprooms! Get your brew on with the Oakland Ale Trail. Here’s a guide to spending a day drinking your way through the Ale Trail.
- Take a Beer Tour: Let’s face it, the more beer you consume, the less capable you are at leading yourself around from place to place. So make someone else do it! Book a beer tour so you can drink your way through Oakland safely, responsibly, and with someone else in charge. Check out the Uptown Beer Walk, the Temescal Beers and Bites tour, or The Golden West Beer Tour (which includes some Berkeley spots).
- The Oakland Urban Wine Trail: Want to know something great about California? There is SO MUCH WINE. There are vineyards all over the place. But growing grapes and actually bottling and producing wine are 2 different things. Enter Oakland: local winemakers are bringing their grapes back home to finish the process right here in town, right in those large, urban warehouses that Oakland’s got in spades. Do your own DIY tour or try the trail on bike with East Bay Winery Bike Tours!
Appreciate Oakland’s Visual Arts Scene
Oakland has an amazing visual art scene, and you can see the soul of the city in every work of art around town whether it’s scrawled on the side of a building or displayed in a gallery. Here are some of our favorite ways to get to know Oakland through its artists.
- Art Galleries & Visual Spaces: There are a TON of visual spaces in Oakland, and they don’t all conform to the stereotypical idea of a “gallery.” You can explore them on your own using this guide, complete with a helpful map and brochure, created by Oakland Art Murmur. Explore Oakland’s art spaces with the First Friday Art Walk on the first Friday of the month (at the same time as, but separate from, Oakland First Fridays. Confusing, I know). Most of the visual arts hosts also participate in a weekly Saturday Stroll every Saturday from 1–5pm. This is a self-guided activity where many galleries host free cultural programs such as receptions, artist talks, lectures, musical performances, and literary readings. On the 3rd Saturday of each month, there are also themed, guided art tours. So if you’re looking to get artsy, check your schedule!
- Street Art: Colorful murals and works of art adorn Oakland’s walls, buildings, and shopfronts. There are over 600 murals in Oakland … and growing. Whether or not you’re looking for street art, you’re bound to see some. But if you want to be intentional about your mural hunting, there are a few resources to help guide you. Here’s a self-guided street art tour of Chinatown (yes, Oakland has its own Chinatown). We’ve also found a few guides that will help guide you (HA HA HA get it?): start with this one and this one, and then check this one to see the newest murals in town (with a handy map). Still looking for street art? This massive wiki lists every known mural in Oakland. Happy mural hunting!
- Self-Guided Walking Tour: Oakland Art Murmur created this self-guided walking tour of some of the best visual art on display in Oakland. You’ll see not just street art, but sculpture and other artistic creations as well.
Appreciate Oakland’s Performing Arts Scene
Oakland has a lot to say and a lot of ways to express itself! Here are some of our favorite ways to get to know Oakland’s performance (or just non-visual) art scene.
- Oakland First Fridays: Here’s the party line: “Oakland First Fridays is an immersive art and community experience on the first Friday of each month, on Telegraph Avenue from West Grand to 27th Street. Every First Friday from 5–9:00 pm, Oakland’s KONO district springs to life with for this event, with galleries, artist collectives, street artists, local culinary artisans, performers, musicians, dancers, DJ’s, and poets.” Here’s the local line: First Fridays are where Oakland shows up. The community – we’re talking 30,000 people on average each month – comes out in celebration of art and culture, of food and music, of dance and performance. Stands sell locally made arts and crafts and t-shirts and CDs and tacos and BBQ (but no alcohol, except in 1 regulated spot). Competing speaker systems vie for attention, and there is no shortage of music, laughter, and dance. It is one of the most magical, positive, and uniquely Oakland experiences you can have – and if you’re in town for this incredible event, we’ll see you there!
- The Flight Deck: A shared workspace, art gallery, 99-seat black-box theater and rehearsal space in Oakland. Born from the Ragged Wing theatre ensemble, today The Flight Deck is home to multiple resident companies, making this venue a fantastic place to start when looking for local performances in Oakland. Whether it’s a play, a spoken-word performance, the Flight Deck’s mission is to provide a home for multidisciplinary artists to present work, share resources and practice radical acts of imagination in the heart of downtown Oakland.
- Ubuntu Theater Project: This incredible theatre company stages groundbreaking theatre year-round. The name “Ubuntu” is a Zulu proverb that means ‘I am because we are’ and ‘I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” The performances produced by the Ubuntu Theatre Project probe at the heart of this statement, creating compelling works that unearth the human condition and unite diverse audiences through revelatory, heart-pounding theater.
- Sundays in the Redwoods: Take in a live concert in the most beautiful venue in the world: a redwood forest! Every Sunday features a different line-up but no matter who’s performing, it will be a day to remember.
- Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts: This multicultural, multidisciplinary performance arts complex has been serving the community since the 1920s. Its theater and performance venues showcase music, theatre, ballet, African and contemporary dance, and more with a rotating cast of performers and organizations. Check out the events calendar to see a performance … or take a class!
Which of these awesome things to do in Oakland is totally up your alley? Were there things in our post about Oakland that you didn’t know? Drop us a comment below!
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Psst: Visiting the San Francisco Bay Area? We have loads more posts to help you plan your trip! Check these out:
- 29 Things Nobody Tells You About Oakland, California
- Where to Eat in Oakland, California
- The Ultimate Self-Guided Walking Tour of San Francisco
- 30 Things Nobody Tells You About San Francisco
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Disclaimer: This post was created as part of a paid partnership with the Oakland Athletics. All opinions, recommendations, things we said or did under the influence of beer & nachos, and bad jokes are 100% our own and totally not their fault.
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Oakland has been my home for over 20 years and I still didn’t know about some of these things. Really enjoyed this.
It’s troubling to see the way you brush aside safety concerns as “racist.” Yes, calling Oakland “ghetto” is probably racist (although I have certainly heard my share of POCs use the phrase), but there absolutely are areas of Oakland where you don’t want to be at night.
Oakland is in the 0th percentile for safety in terms of crime stats for American cities – 99% of US cities are safer than it. Its violent crime rate is triple that of San Francisco – and that’s keeping in mind that you can’t even get through to 911 to actually report a crime due to funding shortages.
This isn’t to hate on Oakland, I lived there for a number of years and I think it’s a great city and they should visit. But, telling people who are concerned with safety that it’s all in their head and they’re racist for it is, quite frankly, Trump level-level spin on the numbers.
Lia Garcia says
Hi Vic, I don’t think I’m telling folks that it’s all in their head or racist to have safety concerns, although it IS racist to assume that a place is dangerous just because of things like population demographics (lots of non-white people), resident homeless people, or graffiti – and that’s what I tend to hear most frequently when it come to Oakland. It’s true that there are places in Oakland where you don’t want to be at night (which I’d say is also the case with most large cities), but most visitors to Oakland likely won’t be spending time in those areas, none of which I’ve included in this post. Personal safety is relative, but it’s important to differentiate safety perception based on facts – such as, as you pointed out, Oakland’s high percentage of violent crime, which according to some random site I found but couldn’t personally fact-check or verify, is in the 8th percentile – versus perceived assumptions.
Thanks for the thoughtful response. Your post above read a bit differently to me than your comment, but overall I think you gave great suggestions for Oakland and I wouldn’t be very worried about safety there. Thanks for taking the time to respond 🙂
I don’t think I have ever commented on a blog post before but I just had to let you know how much I love and appreciate this post! I appreciate you really breaking it down for people and talking about things other than just what people may want to hear. Keep it up!
All of my friends from Northern California are always saying “hella” and so that adds to the title gave me a good laugh :). Also, the food selection options look amazing.
Maria R says
Thank you for this well-written article. I live in the East Bay and loves to come to Oaktown (I worked here for 20 years) to gawk at the murals.
This is such a great post, thank you so much!
this post reads like a libtard, swj opinion piece. i couldnt continue reading it
Lia Garcia says
In that case I truly hope that you don’t visit Oakland, because the entire city will probably offend your delicate sensibilities.
I personally appreciated how informative this was thank you for the comprehension!
It’s so funny to me when people think SJW is an insult lol. Anyway, why bother commenting at all? Move along!
Thanks Lia for this great piece! I’m a Bay Area native and live in Oakland for the past 5 years. Sometimes it takes an outsider to truly remember what a beautiful place we live. As a local, people ask me questions about places that are close by that I’ve never been before, and I’m always so embarrassed! Really enjoyed reading 🙂
We will be visiting Oakland for a day and going at an evening A’s game, is there a particular area/neighborhood you recommend staying at for the night? We will be leaving the game late and can either walk/Uber/Bart based on where it’s recommended to stay! (Walking would be awesome if it’s a safe area!)
Lia Garcia says
There really isn’t’ anywhere to stay (or anything to see) within walking distance of the coliseum, but you’ll easily be able to hop on Bart from there. I’d suggest looking into uptown, downtown, Grand Lake, or the Dimond area. Uptown and downtown have plenty of hotels, are very walkable, and easily accessible from Bart. Grand Lake and Dimond are not easily accessible from Bart so you’ll need to take Uber or a bus, but they are walkable and not too far from the Coliseum area. You might also check out North Oakland – Rockridge and Temescal are easily accessible by Bart and walkable, but there aren’t really any hotels so you’d need to snag an AirBnB… and we don’t exactly recommend staying in AirBnB’s in the Bay Area because the impact they’ve had on gentrification and housing prices is controversial at best, deplorable at worst. Hope that’s helpful!
Ashley Currie says
This article is BEAUTIFUL
Practical Wanderlust says
Thanks Ashley! Glad you liked it 🙂
Practical Wanderlust says
Stumbled across your blog today and have truly enjoyed your witty and fun input. I moved to the Alameda area back in April with all intentions to get out there and explore. I will definitley use your blog for tips and trips. Keep up the awesome blogging!
Lia Garcia says
Ahh welcome to the Bay! Alameda is so freakin’ cute. And you’re well-positioned to explore both SF and Oakland!
Oak May says
Lake Merritt – a huge lake in downtown Oakland. Lots to do and you can walk, run, or just watch people do it. Water birds, lots of families, restaurants near by. Busy on the weekend but during the week, plenty of parking. A wonderful place you must visit when in Oakland. Jogging path, rent kayaks, relaxing. Really
Lia Garcia says
We completely agree!
I used to live in Orinda and work in Oakland near Lake Merritt. I had to move back to LA and I miss it so much. I’ve experienced some of the things on your list but now have many more to try (and perfect timing because I’m flying into Oakland airport Friday – it really is a great airport. So much better and easier to navigate than SFO)! I love your writing style and am going to follow you on social media right away! Thank you for such a great post.
Lia Garcia says
It’s funny how differently we experience places when we live there versus when we visit them as tourists! We’ve found ourselves getting into the same habits and visiting the same places again and again too, and even though we’ve lived in Oakland for a decade now, there is still SO MUCH we haven’t seen. Luckily, writing posts like this is a great excuse for us to get out of that comfort zone and go explore 🙂 Enjoy your visit and we’re so happy you’re following us!
So happy to stumble across this loving overview and awesome blog! You hit some great highlights but there’s so much more to share.
I needed this article! We are moving from Austin at the end of the month, and I’ve been really anxious about the move. Thank you for the amazing, thoughtful article, I’m excited to explore our new city!
Lia Garcia says
Awww yay! Welcome to Oaktown 🙂 I hope you like it here as much as we do!
Great article! You have a picture of very colorful stairs… where is OAK is this? I’d like to see them…
Lia Garcia says
Those are the Carrington Steps! Here’s more information and details on where to find them: https://localwiki.org/oakland/Carrington_Steps
There’s not much else to do around there – they’re just tucked into a quiet neighborhood – which is why I didn’t write anything about them in the article. But they’re beautiful for a photo 🙂
Naomi Schiff says
Where is East Oakland, Fruitvale, East Bay Hills????? I had high hopes for this article, but skimming it, I see we are in the same old touristy neighborhoods. Aargh!
Lia Garcia says
Great callout, Naomi! This post is meant as sort of an introductory guide to Oakland for tourists. In the future I’d like to create some more Oakland posts that veer off the familiar beaten path and cover some of the lesser known parts of Oakland! But this was meant to introduce Oakland to folks who haven’t actually necessarily even heard of it before. Don’t worry – I’ll cover those areas in the future 🙂
Naomi Schiff says
It seems more targeted to young, white, timid, upscale visitors, and it perpetuates stereotypes about Oakland, I’m afraid. The fantastic architecture of Mills College? The well-regarded zoo? Jingletown? Fruitvale? Peralta Hacienda? Sausal Creek? Woodminster? The old airport where Amelia Earhart took off? The incredible services at Allen Temple? I will send you a map I made some years ago, that still pertains. I’m afraid the Oakland Athletics themselves have not figured out much about East Oakland, weirdly.
You might be interested in four Oakland Heritage Alliance tours remaining this summer: oaklandheritage.org
Weeds in the Urban Landscape-Aug 18, 2018 10:00 AM
Glenview-Aug 19, 2018 1:30 PM
Visions Toward Tomorrow – African American Museum & Library-Aug 25, 2018 12:30 PM
Steinway Terrace-Aug 26, 2018 10:00 AM
Lia Garcia says
Fantastic suggestions! I’ve definitely targeted young folks here (most of my readers are women aged 24-35) but I certainly wouldn’t consider my audience as upscale and I sure hope they’re not timid! I definitely don’t intend to target white folk, either. I’m disappointed that I’ve perpetuated some stereotypes about Oakland and I’d love some input on dismantling those stereotypes from those who know Oakland better than I do. Other than the zoo, the places you’ve mentioned are all places I plan to write about at some point in a future post (zoos are a bit iffy on the animal ethics side of things, in general – and I also feel like they tend to be more of a family friendly activity, like Children’s Fairyland is, hence why neither of them are included here as I don’t have a family audience). Those tours sound fantastic and I’ll definitely check them out and update my post to include them! Thank you for the helpful resources and feedback!
Hey Lia, Greetings from Split, Croatia. As a former long-time resident of Oakland and Alameda (and Berkeley, and SF), I think you did a splendid job of presenting Oakland to a first time visitor–so no need to be disappointed in yourself (but yeah, shout out to Piedmont Ave!). I’ll add taking a trip from JLS to the SF Ferry building and walking along the Embarcadero down to Crissy Field as a lovely outing from Oakland, concur the East Bay Winery Bike Tour was a blast, and absolutely loved SUPing along the Oakland estuary.
Lia Garcia says
You’re so kind, thank you Lucija! And thanks for your fantastic suggestions 🙂
Auckland was knоwn as the “Detroit of the West” in the 1920s, at the time of Fоrd’s heyday, and the comparison today is fair. It is very interesting. Thank you for your article.
Kristen C says
The Aukland A’s!!! Woot!
As a native (and current resident) of the Piedmont Ave area, I’m somewhat disappointed you didn’t include us on your list of locations to visit while in Oakland. Although not as long as the College Ave stretch, we have one of the more vibrant “main streets” in Oakland, with a surplus of small business and restaurants, and (thankfully) a lack of big box retailers/ chains. Please do give us a try — whether it be for an extravagant evening at the Michelin-starred Commis, ice cream at Fenton’s, or for a film night at Oakland oldest, continuously operating theater, the Piedmont Theatre.
Lia Garcia says
Thanks for the tips! TBH I agonized over which neighborhoods to include in this post because Oakland is FULL of amazing neighborhoods with so many awesome things to do. I’m planning to create an Oakland neighborhood guide in the future to rectify this issue 🙂
Elaine Masters says
So love seeing this and all that’s changed in my old hometown. I need to return for the arts scene and a baseball game. Wasn’t much of that when I was house-sharing near Lake Merritt in the 70’s! “There is a there there..”
Lia Garcia says
I’d be willing to wager that Oakland looks VERY different today than it did in the 70’s! Come back and see it 🙂
In love with your photography, as always! And your section on the area’s homeless makes me absolutely adore you as a person – there’s not many people who would consider the homeless as their neighbours, or mention them in a blog piece like this. But they absolutely are our neighbours, and we should look after them accordingly. Thank you for being a caring, wonderful human being! <3
Lia Garcia says
You’re so sweet, thanks Nicky! It wouldn’t feel right to me to write about Oakland (or San Francisco) without mentioning the homeless population, tbh. Growing homelessness is a major issue here, and the Bay Area having the most expensive housing prices and cost of living in the country, it’s no surprise. It’s something that a lot of visitors are taken off guard by and aren’t sure how to respond to when they arrive. I know I was pretty surprised coming from Louisville, where we had like, 10 homeless residents and everyone knew them by name. I think it’s so important to prepare yourself and also to have a mindset of compassion and acceptance before you arrive – otherwise not only are you going to feel super uncomfortable, but you might hurt some feelings too.
Carly Heyward says
It was really nice to see the pretty side of Oakland! You don’t really hear much about it!
Lia Garcia says
Unfortunately, you don’t! I’d really like to see the narrative about Oakland change, personally 🙂
Gwen Kleist says
I travel to Oakland all the time for work and always wish I had more time to do the fun stuff! Great post. Adding some of these to my to-do list next visit!
Lia Garcia says
Yesss! So many of these could be done in a day or two or even during the evening. Definitely get out there and spend some time exploring!
Erin Clarkson says
What an incredibly helpful guide to your adopted hometown! I love that you’ve reminded visitors to be compassionate when interacting with the homeless. We have 4000+ homeless in Savannah, and I agree that a smile and friendly demeanor goes a long way. So many are veterans or people just like us who have simply fallen on hard times through the years.
Lia Garcia says
Yes, exactly! I once saw someone break down in tears on the train because nobody would look him in the eye. He kept saying that the worst part of being homeless was becoming invisible. (Several people on the train did start talking to him at that point, I should add.) That moment stuck with me. When I first moved to the Bay Area I put up these walls and avoided eye contact with everyone on the street just because I felt so overwhelmed and helpless to do anything for them – giving out cash isn’t sustainable when you’re meeting like 10-20 homeless folks every day just on your walk to work (that was in San Francisco, where there are far more folks living on the streets). But now even if I have nothing to give I look them in the eye and smile and say something like “I’m sorry, man” or “I don’t have any cash, best of luck” so at least they feel seen. It costs me nothing, takes 0 energy or time out of my day, and goes a long way towards recognizing that shared humanity.
Well dang. I have a cousin who lives in the Oakland area, who’s always asking when I’m going to come visit. I guess I’m finally going to have to take him up on that offer! I’ve seen some great flight prices to Oakland airport, but was skeptical about flying in there. Turns out I should actually strive to fly there instead of into SFO!
Lia Garcia says
YESSSS! So glad to hear you say this 🙂 The Oakland airport is so good that I get cranky every time I have to fly in and out of SFO instead (although they do have some pretty swanky chairs. Things I look for in airports lol). It’s so much less crowded and way easier to navigate, but there are sooooo many international, direct and budget-friendly flights!
Mary Beth says
Dude. Love this guide! But esp love that you take a minute to address the homeless folks there and ask that people treat them like… oh, I dunno… HUMAN BEINGS. I’m in Monterey, and always hear peeps complaining about the homeless people in the tourist areas. Like they shouldn’t be there “interrupting” people’s vacay. It drives. me. nuts. Grrrrrrrrr…
OK, back to your post! I’ll admit that I’ve overlooked Oakland quite a bit every time I’ve headed your way…. But no longer! Pinning for later!
Lia Garcia says
YES, thank you! How hard is it to have compassion for people who are experiencing something shitty, stressful, and awful? Like the .5 seconds of inconvenience you’ve faced having to step over someone who is LITERALLY SLEEPING ON THE STREET is nothing compared to, oh, I don’t know, LITERALLY SLEEPING ON THE STREET. You don’t think they’d rather be indoors somewhere with a toilet and a shower if they could?? Have some empathy!
Hey Lia, you got it right – I’m one of those people who have never heard of Oakland. It looks so multicultural and fascinating, it’s now on my list. And I so appreciate you adding in all this history to the area – it’s not something you normally read on travel blogs, so huge props to you for respectfully explaining the situation.
Lia Garcia says
So many people have never heard of Oakland! But it deserves its own hype. Multicultural is definitely a good word to describe it 🙂
Sarah - Borders & Bucket Lists says
LOL first of all, I have to say the title is AMAZING! All of my friends from Northern California are always saying “hella” and so that addition to the title gave me a good laugh :). Also, the food selection options look amazing!
Lia Garcia says
I’m not gonna lie to you, I spent like an hour just trying to figure out how to fit the word “hella” into the title organically 😛 Also, fun fact, the word “hella” actually originated in Oakland! So you can tell that to your NorCal friends next time they say it 🙂 And feel free to adopt it yourself, btw. It’s a hella good word.
Julie Boyd says
I really loved how much thought you put into this article. It’s not just a basic list of things to see and eat (although I appreciate that part as well!), but you talked about the history and culture of Oakland. I moved to San Jose from Southern California last year, and this makes me excited to go explore another part of the bay area that I might otherwise not have considered as a destination. Thanks so much for sharing!
Lia Garcia says
Hey, you’re super close by! Come on up and see us in Oakland sometime 🙂
I honestly thought there wasn’t this much to do in Oakland but now I really want to go! I had no idea there were so many homeless people. It makes me so sad but unfortunately that’s the case with any big city. Take me to the redwoods though!!