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. We encourage anyone visiting the San Francisco Bay Area to spend a few days exploring Oakland, too!
I’ve lived in Oakland for over 6 years now, and I’m still discovering new things to fall in love with daily. I’m thrilled to finally have a chance to introduce my adopted home and to showcase Oakland in all of its glory. In this post you’ll find all 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!
Table of Contents
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: A Local’s Guide
- 29 Things Nobody Tells You About Oakland, California
- 30 Things Nobody Tells You About San Francisco: A Mildly Helpful Local’s Guide
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 hella 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
Remember that Oakland is a large city. And as with any large city, there are a few things to watch out for and be aware of 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.
- Prevent opportunity theft. Theft does happen in Oakland, but most of it is opportunity theft, which can be avoided by taking some savvy precautions. Much like in San Francisco, a phone makes you an easy target – avoid taking your phone out and looking at it while you walk down the street, and duck into a doorway to check your phone instead. Don’t set your purse or bag down in a restaurant or bar where it could be quickly grabbed, especially if you’re seated near a door – hook it around the leg of your chair or put it under your legs instead. And never leave anything in your car that can be seen from the outside – your seats should be totally empty no matter where you’re parking. Window smashing is unfortunately very common in the Bay Area. The best place for your valuables is in the trunk, but be sure to put them there BEFORE you park, because smart thieves may see you placing stuff in the trunk and break in anyway.
- Certain parts of Oakland aren’t tourist-friendly, especially after dark. Again, this is true of any big city, but it’s something to be aware of. Stick to tourist-friendly neighborhoods like the ones we talked about in this guide. If a neighborhood has no nightlife to be found, maybe don’t wander around it after dark. Same with parks.
- Many of Oakland’s residents are homeless. The significant homeless population in Oakland (and in San Francisco) can feel like a bit of a culture shock. Remember that the people experiencing homelessness here are also our neighbors, and not a “blight” or an “eyesore.” Many of the folks that you will see on the streets of Oakland are also struggling with mental illnesses and cannot afford to pay for regular medication and treatment, so you may see people who appear to be talking to themselves or to thin air. Although this can be startling, remember that these people are in far more danger than you are, and are unlikely to harm you in any way. Homelessness is traumatic, particularly for the mentally ill, whose conditions are often exacerbated by the stress of homelessness. 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 fantastic 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 that work with the homeless and would greatly appreciate your support.
Why Oakland’s History Matters
When I moved to the Bay Area nearly 7 years ago, fresh out of college in Indiana, I fully expected some culture shock. But San Francisco didn’t just give me culture shock: it gave me TIME shock, too. I felt like I’d been living in the past in Indiana, and San Francisco was in the future: there were billboards advertising games, drones flying overhead, delivery for everything from food to toothpaste, and everyone I met worked in the tech industry at a company I wasn’t just familiar with, but that I used every day. I was overwhelmed.
Oakland, San Francisco’s neighbor just across the Bay, felt like a refuge. With its rolling green hills, redwood forests, far-less-bustling downtown, and a culture that felt, if not remotely familiar, far more accessible to someone who wasn’t working in the tech industry, I quickly chose Oakland as my home. I’ve loved San Francisco from a distance ever since, but I’ve lived in the same neighborhood in Oakland for 6 years now.
When I told my friends back home that I was living in Oakland, I mostly got confusion (“where’s that?”) or shock (“isn’t Oakland, like, SCARY?”). Most folks back home had never heard of Oakland, so I just told them I was living in San Francisco and left it at that. For those who associated Oakland with crime and violence, I explained that Oakland was just as scary and unfamiliar to me as San Francisco: big cities all have their grit, and San Francisco is plenty gritty, even with that Silicon Valley sheen on top. But Oakland’s grit is what makes it Oakland.
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 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.
Oakland’s growth was rooted in hard work. Labor. Docks. Warehouses. Factories. Manufacturing. Oakland was known as the “Detroit of the West” in the 1920’s, during Ford’s heyday, and the comparison holds true today. And while jobs were plentiful, the residents of Oakland were always the laborers. Oakland was home to whites, blacks, and Latinos (immigrated north from Mexico as part of the Bracero program), all working side by side without the influence of Jim Crowe laws for decades.
That is, until World War II, and its manufacturing boom, brought 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 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 their entire lives, expected respectful equality between the races.
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 (“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 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 living in their own homes.
The Oakland you’ll see today has two sides: there’s progress, investment, fancy new buildings and coffee shops and restaurants… and there’s also huge spike in homelessness, displacement, and folks struggling to make ends meet in the city they’ve lived in for decades.
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 impacts your visit and opens your eyes to the beauty, pain, struggle, and vindication of Oakland.
Oakland’s City Center is pretty freakin’ gorgeous, huh?
Oakland, Race, and Social Justice
Let’s just get this out of the way: you cannot talk about Oakland without talking about race. And you cannot love 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. And living here today, while the resurgence of white supremacy overtakes the country and suddenly being a literal Nazi is OK again and Latinx immigrants are considered less than people and subject to being caged… the diverse melting pot of Oakland feels a little bit like a refuge.
Sadly, yes: racially motivated violence does happen here. Regularly. And recently. But those incidents are outmatched and outnumbered by the positivity, love, acceptance, and pride that I see each day here in Oakland. As a white person living in Oakland, married to a white Latinx educator whose students are primarily youth of color, I don’t feel like my whiteness excludes me from appreciating and loving Oakland. I feel like Oakland’s culture, color, and history is a lesson that I learn every day.
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.
If you’re not used to being in a place where whiteness is in the minority, you may feel uncomfortable.
Prepare yourself for that discomfort, and know that what you’re feeling is a product of a racist society that has fed you lines about “gang-bangers” and “hoodlums” your whole life (important news flash: not every brown kid in a hoodie is out to get you. They’re just children. Wearing cozy sweatshirts. Living their lives). Be prepared to face the inner racist you may not have realized you had and swallow some uncomfortable truths.
While you’re in Oakland, keep this in mind: at this moment in time, Latino immigrants and black Americans – Oakland’s majority populations – have real, tangible, life or death reasons to feel afraid of whites. Race relations are crazy right now. So please: smile at people you see on the street. Let your smile send a message.
The Oakland of today feels like a lightning rod for the social justice movements emerging throughout our country, ready to fight. You can see it on screen in movies like Black Panther, Sorry to Bother You, and Blindspotting (YUP, 3 Oakland blockbuster movies this year – we’re totally having a moment, y’all!). You can feel it walking through the streets, admiring the street art, tasting local flavors. The history of Oakland is deeply rooted in social justice, and so is its present day.
OK, now that we’ve got the heavy sh*t out of the way, let’s have fun! Let’s go explore Oakland and some of my FAVORITE things to do in my amazing adopted home.
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 our picks below.
- 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.
- 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. After your walk, stop into The Hive for a drink and some fun, or head to one of the many excellent bars in the area for a fancy cocktail. We love Make Westing, Flora, and Cafe Van Kleef (order a greyhound).
- 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. Save room for dessert at Curbside Creamery, located in adorable Temescal Alley (or as I like to call it, Hipster Alley)! Or, skip the wandering and head straight to the Temescal Farmer’s Market on a Sunday morning.
- 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, head to Wood Tavern for dinner and 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 2, 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!
Psst: If you’re planning to visit multiple parks this year, we recommend picking up an America is Beautiful National Parks Pass. The pass is valid at over 2,000 National Parks and 10% of the sale proceeds are donated to the National Park Foundation, helping to keep our parks beautiful! The average cost of admission to a National Park is $35, which means that the pass quickly pays for itself after just a few visits. AND you are supporting the National Park Foundation. Win/win!
You can pick up a pass online at REI or in person at any National Park
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).
We went to an Oakland A’s game this summer and were delighted to realize that it was Witches and Wizards night, AKA Harry Potter Everything. A guy in a Snitch costume ran around the field. Kids were dressed up in capes and hats and waving wands, like we’d left Oakland and wandered into Universal Studios. MLB even dressed the opposing team (Detroit) up as Dementors on the big screen, and gave the A’s Quidditch uniforms. The announcers made Harry Potter puns (which made us SO HAPPY) and at the end of the night (after Oakland soundly defeated Detroit, sorry, we still love y’all out there! … But we won, so) we all got to climb into the field to sit on the grass and watch an epic fireworks show accompanied by the Harry Potter soundtrack. You guys, it was absolute summer MAGIC.
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!
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, spongy Ethiopian injera bread, sizzling Korean bulgogi, deep fried vegan soul food, and bubbling mac & cheese. Is there any better way to get to know a place?
Jeremy and I have a long list of our favorite places to eat in Oakland, which is a good place to start. We’re still trying to work our way through this list of 100 things to eat in Oakland, and we’ve lived here for nearly 7 years! I guess we’ll just have to start eating out more often… RIP, budget.
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.
- Uptown Oakland Food and Drinks Tour: Start with empanadas and beer at Woods Bar & Brewery, then continue on to taste tacos made with handmade heirloom corn tortillas followed by chocolate-covered bars at a local bakery owned by a former personal chef of Michael Jackson. Next, sample award-winning Two Mile Wines, and then visit Plum Bar by Daniel Patterson, a Michelin-star chef. You’ll also hear about Uptown Oakland’s history and see sights such as the historic Fox Theater.
- 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: 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: this food tour will showcase the best of this lush Oakland neighborhood. If you kinda want a tour that’s just ice cream (no judgment) guess what? There’s one of those, too.
- Temescal Tastes Tour: Tacos from Cholita Linda, an award-winning Breton pastry from a local artisan baker, authentic Ethiopian injera and wot, Korean rice bowls, treats from the trendy 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
Yes, y’all: we have 2 art scenes. Just like we have 2 stunning Art Deco style historic theaters – the Fox and the Paramount. And there’s crossover. We’re not rigid with our art here – just creative and imaginative. 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!
Learn About Oakland’s Rich Cultural History
I started this post talking about why Oakland’s history matters, and I’m ending it with a few ways to dive deeper into that 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. Wait, what? 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., Malcom X, the Black Panther Party, plus Africa in relationship to the African-American experience, genealogy, and California history.
So, now that you’ve learned how totally rad Oakland is, are you ready to make the long, arduous journey across the Bay? Guys, I’m kidding. It’s like, 5 minutes by car or train. Which of these awesome things to do in Oakland is totally up your alley? Drop us a comment below!
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: A Local’s Guide
- The Ultimate Self-Guided Walking Tour of San Francisco: A Local’s Guide
- 30 Things Nobody Tells You About San Francisco: A Mildly Helpful Local’s Guide
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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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