Very few people ever think of visiting Oakland, or East Bay for that matter. This region of the Bay Area is often overshadowed by San Francisco, our neighboring giant.
Oakland, for those of you who aren’t as familiar, is a smaller urban city located in the San Francisco Bay. Over the years, the city has become an up-and-coming destination in its own right.
Oakland is now home to hip hop with a sprinkle of hipster here and there, but has always been the home of activism and social movements. There’s some really fascinating history here.
Diverse, artsy, and even edgy—a day trip or weekend trip to Oakland will serve as an exciting twist to your Bay Area adventures.
To truly appreciate Oakland’s diverse culture, you’ll need to spend some time exploring its many neighborhoods (and no, a day trip to just Jack London Square doesn’t count). I hope you’re ready because there’s a lot of ground to cover in Oakland.
In this post, we’ll give you a quick download of the city as well as feature some of our favorite things to do in Oakland, CA.
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OVERVIEW OF OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA
Before we get into the fun stuff, let’s start with a quick history of Oakland. Both Oakland and SF were a big deal back in the day.
Being close to San Francisco, the area flourished with businesses. Both cities are situated on the bay’s edge, making them the perfect cities for hosting many shipping companies.
Today, the Port of Oakland is the busiest port in the San Francisco Bay Area, the whole of Northern California, and the fifth busiest port in the United States of America.
The city’s population, having reached a peak of about 385,000 in 1950, began to drop, and inner-city areas were beset by poverty and crime. Racial tension grew in Oakland’s African American community and the revolutionary Black Panther Party was founded there in 1966. They became a leading force in the Black power movement.
Fast forward to today: a good amount of the city has been gentrified. Due to an influx of young professionals and the tech boom of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, drawn by the city’s lower rents and diverse culture, many parts of Oakland have been replaced by downtown lofts, luxury condos, coffee bars, art galleries, and hipster cocktail lounges.
However, we should not forget that this is a city renowned for its diversity and deep roots in Black culture. While you’re here, take some time to learn about it. Support Black-owned businesses. Enjoy the street art–it’s really impressive! Go a level deeper than the touristy stuff.
It is worth mentioning that there are some rougher parts of Oakland where crime and drug addiction are prevalent. There are some parts of Oakland where you’ll find debris and trash in the streets. It is what it is. Like anywhere else you travel, please be mindful and respectful and enjoy the city for what it is.
BEST TIME TO VISIT OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA
The weather in Oakland is consistently pleasant throughout the year, making it a year-round destination. It’s mostly dry, so for the most pleasant exploring weather, we recommend any time from April to November.
If you’re looking to spend a lot of time outside, you’ll get the warmest weather in the months of July, August, and September–and even then, it’s not unbearable heat like you’d experience in other parts of the USA! During these warmer months, you can expect an average of 78.1°F (25.6°C).
From the months of December to March, it’s still very possible to explore Oakland and be outdoors. There’s no snow and rarely will there be rain. Just be prepared to wear layers and/or a puffy jacket.
Humidity is usually low in the Bay Area so temperatures will feel very nice most of the year, excluding some abnormally hot weeks in late summer and some cold weeks in the winter (with very low chances of rain or snow throughout the year).
And unlike the weird weather in San Francisco, fog and wind are a lot less prevalent on this side of the bay! So if San Francisco looks foggy and cold, you can’t assume you’ll be getting the same type of weather once you get to Oakland, CA!
HOW TO GET TO OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA
In my opinion, Oakland has one of the best, hassle-free airports in all of California. Not only is it conveniently located to the freeway, accessible by train, and uncrowded inside, but also because of the fact that you can snag some really great travel deals going to and from OAK.
It’s also an international airport so you can get to most places you’ll want to go. Even if you are just trying to visit San Francisco only, the Oakland airport is the way to go!
If you’re debating between flying in from the San Francisco Airport (SFO) or Oakland Airport (OAK), there are many reasons why I recommend OAK.
First, there are less delays from OAK. SFO is always dealing with fog and weather-related delays, but because Oakland doesn’t have any of that, you’re bound to deal with less hassles. It’s also a smaller airport, which means you’ll deal with less traffic congestion both at the airport and as you leave the airport.
You’ll also have the potential to save a lot of money, both on flight prices and car rentals once you land in the Bay Area (in my experience, car rentals from SFO are always at least $50 more than from other Bay Area airports).
If you’re coming to Oakland from San Francisco, simply drive across the Bay Bridge, or hop on our local train, the BART.
The train is super straightforward–the majority of train lines will pass through Oakland. Just make sure you get on the direction that’s Oakland bound. Here’s a map of the BART lines. Before you get on, make sure the train (always specified by its destination city) will pass through Oakland. Easy peasy.
Coming from the SF Peninsula and beyond? There is an Amtrak line you can consider taking up to Millbrae BART, but the easiest way to get to Oakland, in this case, is to drive.
Coming from the South Bay (Silicon Valley)? The BART extends to Berryessa/North San Jose, so if you’re in this area, you can hop onto BART. If you’re further south, chances are you will need to rent a car and drive.
If you are taking BART, depending on where you want to start your adventure, the main stops you’ll likely get off at are: 19th St/Oakland, 12th St/Oakland City Center, and Lake Merritt.
GETTING AROUND OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA
Oakland is a big city, so in all honesty, I would recommend visiting with a car. That way, you won’t need to walk miles and miles to get to the next neighborhood/district you want to see.
Oakland is also very central to many of the Bay Area’s most commonly used interstate highways, providing a great base for exploring neighboring cities such as San Francisco and Berkeley, wine regions in Napa and Sonoma County, and Northern California getaways to Tahoe and Yosemite.
If you’re flying into the Bay Area, your best bet is to rent a car straight from the airport. Your most convenient options are OAK, followed by SFO.
We like to rent from Hertz. With their Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program (completely free to join), you’ll get counter-free pickup at select locations, and even mobile alerts with your exact rental car and its location before you arrive.
If you are more the type to compare prices between rental car companies, I definitely recommend using Priceline’s rental car search.
Not only does the Priceline search tool allow you to compare rental car prices between a bunch of rental companies, but most of the time you can book with no prepayment and no cancellation fees. You won’t even be charged if you forget to cancel your reservation!
Having said that, if you plan to just explore urban areas, here are a few other forms of travel available to you:
You can get all over Oakland using transit. BART trains will take you to the general areas in Oakland, and AC Transit buses will get you everywhere else.
Ridesharing anywhere within Oakland is relatively inexpensive (unlike San Francisco). However, if you do end up high in the Oakland Hills for a hike, you could be faced with a lack of phone service which could impact your ability to order that car. Everywhere else, you’ll be just fine!
Biking is a fantastic way to explore Oakland’s many neighborhoods because this city is super bike-friendly. There are plenty of bike lanes to keep you safe from traffic and many places to park your bike. Best of all, you don’t even need to bring your own bike! The Bay Wheels bike share stations are literally everywhere.
The City of Oakland’s bike share program, called Bay Wheels, is operated by Lyft. If you’re traveling to other Bay Area cities, you will only need one membership, because this program and these bikes are also available in the cities of San Francisco, San Jose, Emeryville, and Berkeley.
Yes, electric scooters have popped up like crazy over the past few years. This is a formidable method of traveling throughout Oakland as well! Simply download one of the scooter apps, sign up, unlock the scooter, and have at it.
MAP OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA
30+ BEST THINGS TO DO IN OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA
1. JACK LONDON SQUARE
Jack London Square sits right on the water, offering the best views Oakland has to offer. Not only will you get amazing views of San Francisco across the water, but you’ll also get to enjoy a relaxing maritime vibe.
This historic neighborhood was a stomping ground of famous American author Jack London, who worked at the docks of the Oakland port. Today, Jack London Square is popular a popular spot for dining or strolling along the waterfront trail.
Even locals love it here–I was raised in the Bay and I still enjoy coming here from time to time!
Jack London Square has many inviting waterfront restaurants situated along its European-style walkways. At the entrance to Jack London Square is the famous BBQ joint, Everett & Jones. If you’re feeling tacos, head to Nido. If you fancy a side of live jazz music with dinner, head to Yoshi’s.
Follow your meal with a wine tasting at Rosenblum Cellars (known for their Zinfandels), one of the wineries on the Oakland Urban Wine Trail. There are about a half dozen urban wineries in this arts and entertainment district. Another sweet place to grab a drink is at California’s second oldest bar, Heinold’s First and Last Saloon, first opened in 1883 and is still lit by gas.
Nearby are a few shops worth visiting, including Miette Bakery (old-fashioned candies, cakes, cupcakes, and macarons). Chocolate lovers are also in luck because Barlovento Chocolates is located here and is not to be missed.
Another iconic Bay Area chain you need to try is Blue Bottle Coffee–a must for coffee connoisseurs. Lucky for you, they have multiple locations within Oakland. At Blue Bottle, I recommend the New Orleans Iced Coffee.
Jack London Square also hosts a farmers market on Sundays from 9am to 2pm at Broadway St. and Water St.
2. EAT IN OLD OAKLAND
Old Oakland might be small, but the area sure packs a punch in terms of restaurant variety. First, start at Swan’s Market, a 100-year old food hall / market offering various fantastic Oakland restaurants and food shops.
Walk around the corner to Cookiebar Creamery for some of the best ice cream in Oakland (try some of the delicious Asian-inspired flavors!). Definitely walk around and explore all the other restaurants in the area before settling on your final choice!
If shopping is more you thing, don’t miss Oaklandish (lifestyle apparel brand spreading local love) and BeastMode (Marshawn Lynch’s clothing store).
3. EXPLORE THE TEMESCAL NEIGHBORHOOD
Oakland’s trendy Temescal neighborhood caters to a diverse group of people including foodies, hipsters, techies, and young families.
Starting on Telegraph Avenue, head to the area around 48th Street to 52nd Street, where you’ll find blocks packed with ethnic restaurants, pizza joints, and charming pedestrian alleyways featuring cute boutiques and artisan shops.
If you’re looking for a spot to eat, I recommend a cozy yet bustling little restaurant called Burma Superstar. In the mood to grab one of the best fried chicken sandwiches in town (with a side of chicken pot pie and strawberry shortcake)? Bakesale Betty is not to be missed!
From there, head to Temescal Alley, a tiny street that’s lined with historic buildings that were once horse stables and carriage houses. You’ll find a quaint ice-cream parlor, various high-end boutiques selling clothing and handcrafted jewelry, and an old-fashioned barbershop.
Temescal also has a popular Sunday farmers market from 9am to 1pm year-round.
4. EXPLORE THE ROCKRIDGE NEIGHBORHOOD
The Rockridge neighborhood is another fun one to stroll around. This clean and adorable neighborhood features many blocks of stylish shops and upscale restaurants along College Avenue, between Florio Street and Bryant Avenue. Don’t miss the artisan coffee shops, casual American-style cafés, trendy Italian restaurants, and casual ethnic eateries.
If you’re looking for a spot to eat here, I’d recommend the local-favorite Chicago-style pizza joint, Zachary’s Chicago Pizza. For something a little fancier, sit down and dine at Belotti Ristorante E Bottega.
For breakfast or brunch, I’d hands-down recommend Kitchen Story (everything is good, but you definitely need to order a side of the Millionaire’s Bacon).
5. GRAND LAKE FARMER’S MARKET
The Grand Lake Farmer’s Market located at Splash Pad Park is undoubtedly the largest farmer’s market in the entire Bay Area (yes, even larger than the one at the Ferry Building in SF). It’s certainly regarded as one of the best in these parts! Located right by the Grand Lake Theatre and by Lake Merritt, you absolutely can’t miss it.
No matter when in the year you go, it’s always bustling with energy and makes for a fun and vibrant way to spend your Saturday morning. There is an excellent selection of fresh produce, along with flowers, meats, fish, and prepared foods.
The Grand Lake Farmer’s Market happens every Saturday from 9am-2pm, rain or shine.
There are lots of restaurants around the area, so if you’ve worked up an appetite on your walk, pop into one of the food joints for a bite to eat.
Pro Tip: If you’re traveling on a budget, head there around 12-12:30pm. At this point in the day, vendors usually want to get rid of surplus products and will begin selling their goods at discounted prices. But if you can swing it, pay full price to support our local farmers!
6. LAKE MERRITT
Lake Merritt has that lazy sunbathing-by-the-lake vibe. The 3.1-mile loop around the lake can be walked, jogged, rowed upon, or gondola-ed. If you want to feel like a tourist that’s been somehow transported to Venice, opt for that Venetian gondola ride and soak in the city from the center of the lake.
One of the coolest things to do here is to check out the Bonsai Garden (curated by Kathy Shaner, the only Japanese-certified bonsai master in the United States). It’s a must-see for plant fanatics. At any given time, there are more than 50 bonsai plants and viewing stones (suiseki) on display. The collection rotates regularly, so visiting several times throughout the year is suggested if you want to see all that this garden holds.
7. TAKE THE KIDS TO CHILDREN’S FAIRYLAND
Did you know there’s a magical theme park right here in the Bay Area? And even cooler, this was the theme park that actually inspired the design and creation of Disneyland!
Children’s Fairyland has been entertaining young children since 1950. This whimsical storybook-themed amusement park houses an assortment of kiddie rides. Popular rides include the Jolly Trolly (railroad-themed roller coaster), Wonder-Go-Round (Alice In Wonderland-themed carousel), and Anansi’s Magic Web (a mini Ferris wheel ride).
Another highlight of Fairyland is the Storybook Puppet Theater, the oldest continuously operating puppet theater in the United States.
The best part about the puppet theater? The puppets expose kids to a variety of cultures, utilizing not only classic European hand puppets/marionettes but also Japanese bunraku and Balinese shadow puppets.
I really wish I had a kid right now so I could experience this park for myself.
8. VISIT THE OAKLAND MUSEUM OF CALIFORNIA
The Oakland Museum showcases the rich heritage and culture of California through its engaging exhibits dedicated to the natural sciences, California arts, and history of the state. This museum is special because it focuses on the Oakland community and often features exhibits related to the city’s social justice movements.
As a visitor to Oakland, being able to learn more about the history of your destination is empowering. Not only will you gain a little more culture and knowledge, but you will also have a deeper appreciation for the city (both its highlights and its flaws). If you’re limited on time but still wish to visit, don’t miss the exhibits featuring the city’s Black Panther movement!
Friday nights at the museum are especially fun. The Friday Nights @ OCMA event includes half-off admission and features gourmet food trucks hosted by Off The Grid, local makers selling handcrafted art, a DJ or live band, dance lessons, games, and family art activities. Visitors are also free to check out the museum’s galleries after-hours.
9. EXPLORE THE GRAND LAKE NEIGHBORHOOD
After your relaxing lakeside experience, walk over to nearby Grand Lake for more exploring. Don’t miss the view of Grand Lake Theater, a 1926 masterpiece that literally lights up the neighborhood.
Among many other local shops, Oakland’s largest indie bookstore, Walden Pond Books, is also located here.
If you want a light bite, I’d highly recommend Arizmendi Bakery. Their morning focaccias are to die for, as are their lunch/dinner time pizzas!
10. HANG OUT AT THE HIVE OAKLAND
Hive Oakland is a unique mixed-use gathering place in Oakland’s Uptown District. This spot is yet another hip area of Oakland, featuring some must-try restaurants, boutique fitness studios, and co-working spaces.
The area itself is quite charming, with local businesses housed in historic buildings along the district’s Broadway corridor.
You definitely cannot miss Drake’s Dealership (this used to be a Dodge car dealer space), a 32-tap beer garden and a modern gastropub dining spot. Their brick-oven pizzas are delicious! Follow up your meal with some ice cream at Humphrey Slocombe located right next door.
11. GRAB DRINKS AND DESSERT AT VIRIDIAN
Located just around the corner from Hive is Viridian, one of the hippest new restaurants in Oakland. I mean, just look at the retro interior of the place (doesn’t it totally remind you of the ’90s?). The featured cocktails are innovative, most with an Asian-inspired flair to them, as is the food!
Wondering what to order? Try a bit of everything! The small bites are to die for, and the desserts are all spectacular.
12. EAT IN OAKLAND CHINATOWN
While Oakland’s Chinatown may not be as postcard-perfect as San Francisco’s, Oakland’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in the United States and seeped with history.
You won’t find yourself taking pictures or buying souvenirs here as you would in San Francisco’s Chinatown, but what you will find is good Chinese eats. There are more than 45 restaurants and 9 tea shops to enjoy in Chinatown.
You can find many delis and bakeries in the center area of Chinatown, between 8th to 10th Street, Franklin and Webster Street.
Looking for a quick bite of dim sum? Try Tao Yuen Pastry, serving up quality dim sum at pretty reasonable prices. Looking for hand-pulled noodles? Try Shan Dong Restaurant, famous for its hand-pulled noodles and freshly made dumplings.
If Chinese deli plates and congee are more your thing (think duck, chicken, BBQ pork over rice), don’t miss Gum Kuo Restaurant–my family’s been going there since I was 7! Gum Kuo also serves porridge and other yummy noodle dishes.
And just like San Francisco, there’s a Fortune Cookie Factory here if you’re interested in learning more about how fortune cookies were invented!
13. MORCOM ROSE GARDEN
Put on a comfy pair of shoes and meet a friend at this mighty fine place to take a stroll. Opened in the late 1920s, this eight-acre free public rose garden features more than 6,000 rose bushes of all varieties. It’s a lovely place for strolling, snapping a few pictures, and soaking in the sun. This place really is a hidden little oasis in Oakland.
Bloom season is from late April through October. Please be extra respectful when you visit, because it is located in a residential neighborhood.
14. OAKLAND ZOO
The Oakland Zoo is a great family-friendly outing. The zoo is home to more than 660 native and exotic species residing in their natural habitats. These include an African savanna, a tropical rainforest, and the Australian outback.
Within the zoo, there is the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo, home to a variety of exhibits including bugs, bats, lemurs, river otters, and rabbits. There is also a petting zoo and wildlife theater.
The zoo also has several amusement rides and attractions, including a carousel, a train that chugs around the park, a roller coaster, a jeep safari, and more.
15. GET THE BEST CHICKEN SANDWICH EVER AT WORLD FAMOUS HOTBOYS
World Famous Hotboys is by far my favorite food joint in all of the Bay Area. I’m not even kidding, there was a time when I had just moved back to the Bay where I ate at Hotboys once a week!
It’s better than Howlin Ray’s in Los Angeles and Crack Shack in San Diego. Yep, I said that, loud and proud! They serve up one of the best-flavored hot chicken sandwiches on the planet. I can’t handle spice as well as others can, but the Mild Plus is perfect. (If you like spicy, start at the Medium and work your way up.) Trust me, you won’t regret this meal.
There is always a line, so be sure to place an order online ahead of time.
16. HAVE A DATE NIGHT AT FENTONS CREAMERY
An ice cream haven since 1894, Fentons Creamery knows sundaes. I had to add this to the list because Fentons is near and dear to my heart. I once celebrated my birthday here and it was a sweet and unforgettable experience! I mean, ice cream and classic diner food–need I say more?
This place has great ice cream and is perfect for days when your willpower is nowhere to be found. Be careful though, the one scoop is quite a hefty portion in itself! And if you order a sundae (I recommend the Black and Tan), be very sure to share with one to three other people.
Wondering what else to order? The creamy caramel almond crunch (CCAC) is one of their most popular ice cream flavors.
If you’re looking for a real meal before ice cream, Fentons is a great choice for that. Just be sure to beat the lunch and dinner rush (this place is always crowded). They do have a small parking lot so if you are able to snag a spot, take it.
17. LOIS THE PIE QUEEN
Buttery biscuits, fried chicken, and legendary pies make Lois the Pie Queen an Oakland staple. The pies, the pies are pure perfection. You will be in heaven if you’re a fan of pecan pie, peach cobbler, icebox lemon pie, or sweet potato pie!
Make sure you bring cash and save room for dessert after your meal here.
18. LEARN ABOUT THE CITY WITH A FOOD TOUR
Oakland’s food scene is amazing. It’s certainly as varied, if not more than what you’ll find in SF. Where else can you get iconic fried chicken sandwiches, Taiwanese street snacks, Korean fried chicken, street tacos, soup dumplings, vegan soul food, and finger-licking BBQ? I’ve listed out a few above, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
To sample as much of Oakland’s incredible food scene as possible, we recommend taking an in-depth food tour like this one. You’ll be able to learn about some of the coolest neighborhoods in Oakland and explore the town’s vibrant food scene.
Before you visit Oakland, don’t forget to scout out and try all the amazing coffee spots in the city as well. With all the exploring you’ll be doing, you’re going to need some midday pick-me-ups.
19. HOP ON THE OAKLAND ALE TRAIL
For those of you who like wine or beer, I’m happy to bring you this news. The city doesn’t just have an Urban Wine Trail (as mentioned above)–it also has an ale trail! Who knew there would be so many chances to drink things in Oakland?
The Oakland Ale Trail, developed by Visit Oakland in collaboration with a variety of partners from Oakland’s craft beer industry, celebrates the strength of the Oakland’s craft beer community. These 11+ local breweries pride themselves on some seriously unique flavors. Find out more about the Oakland Ale Trail here.
20. RUMMAGE FOR UNIQUE FINDS AT LANEY COLLEGE FLEA MARKET
This local flea market takes place on Sunday mornings/afternoons on a weekly basis, from 7am-4pm. It’s one of our favorite Sunday morning activities–who doesn’t love a little treasure hunting to start their day off? There is everything you can imagine here: antiques, clothing, toys, collectibles, tools, new kitchen appliances.
Even if you’re not in the market for anything in particular, it’s still a ton of fun to browse. You never know what you’ll find! There are also food stalls serving tamales, burgers, shave ice, etc. There is a $1.50 entry fee.
Address: 510 Fallon St, Oakland, CA 94607
21. GET A MAI TAI WHERE IT WAS INVENTED
Did you know Trader Vic’s, the famous Tiki Bar chain, actually originated in Oakland in 1934? It’s a pretty random fact, but yes, the mai tai cocktail drink was invented right here in the Bay Area!
Now revered as one of the nation’s first Tiki bars and home of the Mai Tai, Trader Vic’s restaurant is currently located in Emeryville, CA.
Back in the 1930s, Vic “The Trader” Bergeron built a cozy little saloon on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, California called Hinky Dinks. After embarking on an adventure to Cuba to refine his skills as a bartender and learn more about rums from around the world, Vic transformed Hinky Dinks into a tiki retreat, named it Trader Vic’s, and put into practice his research on rums.
Years ahead of its time, Trader Vic’s quickly became one of America’s first fusion restaurant concepts. The Emeryville, CA location (the one you see today) replaced the Oakland one in 1973.
Come grab a Mai Tai where it was invented and say you did it! Their other specialty tiki drinks are also equally as creative and delicious. The interior of this restaurant must be experienced for yourself–it’ll transport you right into your Polynesian dreams.
22. FIRST FRIDAYS ART MURMUR
First Fridays is a free monthly event featuring art, food, street vendors, musicians, dancers, poets, and DJs. You can always find us there because it’s so much fun and the energy this event brings is unparalleled!
By definition, First Fridays is the Oakland Art Murmur gallery walk, held on the first Friday of every month. More than 30 galleries in West Oakland and Jack London Square participate in Art Murmur by opening its doors to the public from 6pm to 9pm.
It’s a great experience, and if you happen to be visiting on that first Friday of the month, you’re in for a treat. In fact, you can turn it into a whole night excursion. You can easily grab dinner at a few of the many food trucks featured, then spend a few hours exploring the art galleries. After the event, the most logical thing to do is go bar hopping in the area!
To get there, take BART to 19th St/Oakland, stroll a few blocks up Broadway to West Grand and turn left, the main entrance is two blocks down at Telegraph Avenue.
23. TAKE A SELF-GUIDED ART WALK
Not going to make it for First Fridays? You can still take a self-guided walking tour of Oakland’s public artworks. Check out this free resource from Oakland Art Murmur. If you’re looking for a place to start, take a walk in Downtown Oakland (around 15th Street & Webster) where you’ll encounter countless art galleries featuring unique works by Oakland locals.
What you’ll end up finding inn Oakland? There is amazing street art everywhere you turn. If you love murals, check out this mural guide.
24. EXPLORE DOWNTOWN OAKLAND
Downtown Oakland is home to some really down-to-earth nightlife options, as well as some really cool architecture. Don’t miss the Fox Theater, the historic theater that was closed in 1966 but reopened in 2009, now featuring the same unique Art Deco interior. This venue will really give you a taste of what the Roaring 20’s was like! And if you can, try to catch a show or concert here. Such a cool place to spend a night out.
Aside from the Fox Theater, you’ll have the chance to see plenty of other Art Deco elements throughout Oakland (Paramount Theatres in Downtown and Grand Lake Theatre next to Lake Merritt are also ornate as heck).
The area’s Victorian and Art Deco storefronts have also recently been renovated and lit up with cool shops like Umami (selling Japanese barware) and Oaklandish (selling gear that will allow you to proudly represent Oakland).
If you’re a true gamer (or are traveling with someone who is), I’m pleased to announce there is a museum here perfect for you. The MADE (Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment)!
25. CATCH A MOVIE AT THE NEW PARKWAY THEATER
The New Parkway is open 360 days a year, serving up popular and independent movies, yummy diner fare, and a heavy dose of community. And if you’re picturing a movie accompanied by just popcorn and candy, think again!
In terms of food, they offer wings, loco moco, Korean tacos, popcorn, nachos, pizza–the list goes on and on! They also have pitchers of beer and sangria for sale. And instead of customary movie theater-style seating, they have full-on couches to sit on (primarily in Theater 2), so you and your date can sit together and be as comfortable as you would be in your own homes.
Before you go check out their event calendar for themed movie nights. This place is seriously so unique and embodies the diverse culture of the Bay Area. My only regret is not visiting this spot sooner!
26. NIBBLE ON ASIAN-INSPIRED PASTRIES
People in the Bay Area love pastries, that is no secret. And one of the perks of being in the Bay Area is getting to experience the diverse culture that permeates through every aspect of life here, including bakeries!
Two of my favorite bakeries in Oakland are Bake Sum and Sunday Bakeshop, both offering creative and delicious pastries with a funky Asian twist!
Bake Sum always has a line, and for good reason. Everything is perfectly crispy and flaky where it needs to be, which are all great signs of a great bakery! Expect delicious flavors of black sesame, matcha, green onion, okonomiyaki, red bean, halo halo, and more! If you’re visiting for your first time, do not miss the green onion croissant, croissubi (Spam and Croissant), and loco moco danish.
Sunday Bakeshop is the pastry branch of the Sunday Family Hospitality Group, which includes other established businesses in San Francisco such as Sunday Gather (Hawaiian-themed BBQ joint), Sunday at the Museum (located inside the Asian Art Museum), and Sunday Social (ice cream shop located in the Dogpatch neighborhood).
Sunday Bakeshop combines classic baked goods with nostalgic Asian flavors, candies and snacks to make some of the most photogenic and mouth-watering treats in existence!
27. HIKE OR JOG AT REDWOOD REGIONAL PARK
This pristine redwood forest is just a few miles outside of downtown Oakland, and it’s so worth taking the drive out there to hike or trail run among the redwood groves.
Since my discovery of this regional park back in 2015, I’ve been back at least ten times! It’s my go-to East Bay hiking spot, so when I say you should visit, I mean it.
Since there is an East Ridge Trail and a West Ridge Trail, it’s super easy to forge your own path and not get lost. Simply take the East or West Ridge trail into the park, take one of the many connector trails to the other ridge, and head back to the parking lot.
If you’re starting at the Skyline Gate Staging Area and looking for a hike recommendation, my favorite day hike loop is: East Ridge – Prince Trail – French Trail – West Trail.
If you’re visiting in the wintertime, don’t miss the incredible (though somewhat overwhelming of a view) ladybug migration that happens each winter!
28. HIKE OR BIKE AT JOAQUIN MILLER PARK
Joaquin Miller Park is another great option if you’re looking for hiking trails, trail running trails, mountain biking trails and picnic areas. One of the best hikes here would have to be the 3.2-mile Sunset, Sequoia Bayview, Cinderella, and Sinawik Loop.
However, try to hike at this park on weekdays because on weekends, the trails will be filled with mountain bikers (which sort of takes away from the peace and serenity of the place).
Redwood Regional Park and Joaquin Miller Park are technically two separate parks, but they actually connect, providing a sprawling network of hiking trails that offer neverending views of redwood and rolling hills.
It still baffles me to this day that such a magical world of redwoods exists here in the East Bay! If you are looking for a little peace and quiet, do reserve a few hours to explore one of these parks.
29. CHABOT SPACE AND SCIENCE CENTER
This state-of-the-art space and science center is full of interactive exhibits, perfect for visitors of all ages. It’s especially fun for people who want to learn all about the solar system and galaxies.
Another highlight of the science center? The 70-foot full-dome planetarium, which presents stunning shows using digital projection along with top-notch digital sound. The planetarium will provide you with one of the most immersive stargazing experiences, you won’t believe it’s not real.
If you’re not interested in science, you should still come to catch a show at the planetarium. I’m a huge fan of immersive dome shows and think everyone should experience them at least once in their lives!
30. TAKE A DAY TRIP TO BERKELEY
Renowned for its prestigious university, diverse culture, and Bohemian spirit that heavily flourished in the 1960s, the city of Berkeley sure is unique. If you can imagine beautiful parks/outdoor spaces, interactive museums, and a bustling food scene, then you’re thinking about Berkeley right. All of these factors make it a super fun place to visit for a day trip from Oakland!
Once you pass the city line and enter Berkeley, expect a unique blend of Berkeleyan culture–you’ll begin to understand this culture once you begin exploring. It’s a melting pot of students, philosophers, environmentalists, and bread/cheese-lovers.
You can start your exploration with a walk around the UC Berkeley campus. From there, head to Telegraph Avenue and enjoy the hippie culture, vintage shops, and deliciously cheap eats in the area. For foodies, don’t miss Northside (North Berkeley), known for its culinary culture–think Chez Panisse, The Cheeseboard Collective, and Grégoire’s.
While in Berkeley, you can go bike riding, explore the marina, try a few breweries, and even visit a sake museum!
31. HAVE A PICNIC AT LAKE TEMESCAL
Lake Temescal is a little piece of paradise near the Oakland Hills. It’s a picturesque park with paved paths, natural paths, and plenty of green pastures and picnic areas. It’s certainly one of my favorite places to walk, exercise, and relax!
Come for a walk in the morning and you just might catch locals doing yoga, meditating, and fishing in the lake. Walking around the entire lake takes only around 20 minutes (great for multiple loops around the lake if jogging).
It’s such a nice place to pack a picnic basket, and honestly, it’s unbelievable that it’s just a few minutes away from Downtown Oakland. If you have time to visit, you won’t be disappointed by this little oasis tucked in Oakland and Berkeley Hills! Don’t forget to bring a picnic blanket, snacks, and a frisbee/football!
Parking fees apply from April to October ($5/car).
32. TRY CHINESE DESSERTS
Sometimes, ice cream just won’t hit the spot. If you’re looking to add some sweetness to your day, head to UC Dessert in Chinatown. UC Dessert specializes in making Hong Kong-style desserts.
Try egg puff waffles, crepe cakes, black sesame dessert with rice balls, Taiwanese shaved ice, boba, and more! This is one of my favorite post-dinner spots in the Bay.
LOCAL/ANNUAL EVENTS IN OAKLAND, CA
- Oakland Restaurant Week (January)
- Chinatown Lunar New Year Bazaar (February)
- Black Joy Parade (February)
- Oakland Running Festival (March)
- Oakland Museum White Elephant Sale (May)
- Taste of Temescal (May)
- Art & Soul Festival (July)
- Pedalfest (August)
- Chinatown Street Festival (August)
- Oaktown Half Marathon (August)
- Laurel StreetFair World Music Festival (August)
- Oakland Pride Parade & Festival (September)
- Rolling Loud Music Festival (September)
- Hiero Day (September)
- Eat Real Festival (September)
- Oakland Cocktail Week (September)
- Oakland Black Cowboy Parade (October)
- Oaktoberfest in the Dimond (October)
- Oakland Greek Festival (October)
- Autumn Lights Festival (October)
WHERE TO STAY IN OAKLAND, CA
- Moxy Oakland Downtown – Located in Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood, this hotel features ultra-modern and contemporary furnishings. Other hotel amenities include a healthy continental breakfast, an evening bar featuring wines by the glass, and local brews.
- Waterfront Hotel – Celebrating the spirit of Jack London Square, the Waterfront Hotel blends the unique atmosphere of the Oakland waterfront with a vibrant, nautical decor. Rooms are comfortable, modern, and stylish. Amenities include complimentary weekday shuttle service to downtown Oakland, weekday wine and cheese social, an outdoor heated pool, and valet parking.
- Broadway Motel – This hotel is close to the Temescal and Piedmont neighborhoods, featuring very affordable yet bright, modern, and stylish rooms. Great option for budget travelers!
- The Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel – The ultimate luxe hotel in Berkeley! This iconic hotel features 22 acres of landscaped gardens and a rejuvenating spa. The hotel also features 4 on-site dining options, 2 heated pools, a children’s pool, and 10 tennis courts. The University of California Berkeley is a 10 minutes drive away. Great option for luxe travelers!
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TIPS FOR OAKLAND, CA
- Oakland is about 78 square miles, almost twice the size of San Francisco. I recommend driving on this side of the Bay rather than trying to get around with public transportation. You’ll save a lot of time that way, which means more time for exploring.
- If you’ve only visited San Francisco, then you haven’t experienced the full Bay Area yet. Although Oakland and San Francisco are neighbors, separated just by a body of water, the two cities could not be more different. Oakland has its own distinct history, social movements, and culture (the city is deeply rooted in social justice and anti-racism, and is still at the forefront of it all today). When you’re here, you’ll likely see two sides of the city. On the one hand, there are high rises, luxury apartments, hipster coffee shops, and bustling restaurants. On the other hand, there will also be homelessness and a world where residents are struggling to make ends meet due to the increased cost of living here. Please acknowledge it now so when you visit, you’re prepared.
- Oakland is in the midst of battling gentrification. The tech boom of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley is making its way into Oakland, bringing a variety of economic and housing problems to local residents. As such, you may experience areas of homelessness. While you’re here, please make an effort to be kind, come with an open mind, and support locally owned businesses.
- If you’re flying, the best way to get to Oakland is by flying into the Oakland International Airport (OAK). You can get to the heart of Oakland by BART train.
- Coming to Oakland from San Francisco? Simply hop on a BART train headed into Oakland. It’s a lot easier than you may think!
- If you have a car, Oakland is a 30-minute drive from the San Francisco. If you’re driving during rush hour, you might need an entire hour to get there.
- Oakland is warmer and sunnier than San Francisco. Unlike San Francisco, you will almost never find fog here in Oakland and the East Bay. Still, I always recommend carrying a light packable windbreaker with you just in case! Summer nights in the Bay Area can still be chilly. Don’t forget to bring a sunhat to combat the morning/afternoon sun.
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST: THE SF BAY AREA
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk!
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | If hiking, make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Puffy Jacket | If you’re traveling in the fall or wintertime, you’re going to need layers in the Bay Area, which tends to get pretty cool nights. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of adventuring!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Osprey Daylite Daypack. Even when I’m not hiking! It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Sunhat | Sun protection is key for any California destination.
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike or bike ride but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures… the last thing you want is to be driving along with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
Having moved back to the Bay Area from Los Angeles recently (we’re living in Berkeley now), we’re still rediscovering Oakland. So much has changed over the years since I last lived here, when I attended college at UC Berkeley. There’s really so much to see and explore in this incredibly diverse city! What are some of your favorite spots in Oakland or the East Bay?
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