Named after the shady oak trees native to this area, Oakland is the smaller city across the San Francisco Bay that has become a hip, up-and-coming destination in its own right. While Oakland used to be considered a nondescript manufacturing city, nowadays the town has real style, and much of the locally made goods are handcrafted artisanal products. A true melting pot, Oakland is home to a diverse population.
ATTRACTIONS TO VISIT IN Oakland
1. Lake Merritt
Surrounded by luxuriant trees and verdant lawns, Lake Merritt is an idyllic parkland in the heart of the city of Oakland. Because the lake is a tidal lagoon filled with seawater, it is home to a marvelous variety of bird life such as Canadian geese, pelicans, the snowy egret, and black cormorants. Established in 1870, this is also the oldest designated wildlife refuge in the country.
Surrounding the lake is Lakeside Park, where several acres of green space and a 3.2-mile scenic path for walking and jogging encircle the lake. Couples can take a romantic gondola ride across the lake, and the tranquil scenery is also perfect for picnics. To enjoy a more elegant meal, try the Lakeside Chalet, which has gorgeous views of the lake and music concerts on the dock during summertime.
2. Jack London Square
In a picturesque setting on the Oakland estuary, Jack London Square has a relaxing maritime atmosphere. This historic neighborhood was a stomping ground of famous American author Jack London, who worked at the docks of the Oakland port. In the center of the square stands a replica of the log cabin where he lived during a wilderness expedition in Alaska. Today, Jack London Square is popular for dining or strolling along the boardwalk and waterfront trail. The area has many inviting restaurants along the European-style walkways, with waterfront terraces overlooking the marina.
Be sure to see the historic USS Potomac vessel docked at the port (540 Water Street). This was Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidential yacht from 1934 to 1945. Now the Presidential Yacht Potomac offers educational dockside tours and sightseeing tours. The yacht sails past the attractions of the bay such as the Bay Bridge and Angel Island. The Potomac also has romantic sunset cruises, evening cruises with live musical performances, and lunchtime history cruises. Many local companies also offer kayak tours of this area.
3. Oakland Museum of California
The Oakland Museum unveils the rich heritage and culture of California through its engaging exhibits and extensive permanent collection. The museum's galleries include areas dedicated to the natural sciences, California arts, and history of the state. It has a special focus on the Oakland community and often features exhibits related to the city's social justice movements, as well as the history of political activism. Among these is a look at the city's Black Panther movement, and artifacts include leader Huey P. Newton's wicker chair.
Every Friday night from 5pm to 9pm, tourists have a chance to combine a museum visit with entertainment while mingling with the local community. The Friday Nights @ OMCA event includes half-off admission plus "curbside cuisine" (gourmet food trucks), a DJ or live band, dance lessons, games, and family art activities. Visitors are also free to check out the museum's galleries.
4. Children's Fairyland
Adjacent to Lake Merritt's Lakeside Park, Children's Fairyland has been entertaining young children since 1950. This whimsical storybook-themed amusement park is known to have inspired Walt Disney, home to a variety of diversions that bring classic fairy tales to life. In the storybook sets, each tale comes alive and becomes a play space for the imagination, like Alice's rabbit tunnel and a kid-sized Jolly Roger pirate ship out of Peter Pan's world.
There are also an assortment of kiddie rides, a favorite being the Jolly Trolly, a 1954 mini railroad that rides through the park and through a tunnel. Other popular rides include the 1956 Wonder-Go-Round; an Alice In Wonderland-themed carousel; and a mini Ferris wheel called Anansi's Magic Web, named for an African children's tale.
5. Redwood Regional Park
This pristine redwood forest is just a few miles outside of downtown Oakland, and it's worth taking the drive out here to meditate in the redwood groves. Many of the stately coastal redwood trees (sequoia sempervirens) soar to 150 feet. This area was once cleared by logging for timber, but the forest has been replaced and is now protected parkland with hiking trails.
Within the park's 1,830 forested acres are deer, rabbits, and squirrels, as well as rare species like the golden eagle and the Alameda striped racer. The park has restrooms, water fountains, reservable picnic tables, and sites for overnight camping. Well-groomed paths invite visitors to amble through the redwoods, and detailed trail maps are available.
6. Oakland Zoo
Inside the 490-acre Knowland Park, the Oakland Zoo is home to more than 660 native and exotic species residing in natural habitats, including an African savanna, tropical rain forest, and the Australian outback. For younger visitors and those who love to get up close, the children's zoo is home to a variety of exhibits including bats, lemurs, river otters, a petting zoo, and wildlife theater. The zoo is also home to several native species including gray wolves, mountain lions, and both black and grizzly bears.
Park visitors can get a bird's-eye view of the California Trail educational area and its herd of bison as they ride a gondola from the park entrance to Adventure Landing, where you can also hop on the Sky Ride gondola that stretches over the African savanna, home to giraffes and elephants. The zoo also has several amusement rides and adventures, including a carousel, a train that meanders through the park, a roller coaster, jeep safari, and more.
7. Dining & Shopping in Rockridge & Temescal
Oakland's trendy Temescal neighborhood caters to a diverse crowd of foodies, hipsters, techies, and young families. The main drag of Temescal is Telegraph Avenue, and the happening area is from around 48 Street to 52nd Street, which is packed with excellent ethnic restaurants and pizza places. Just off Telegraph Avenue on 49th Street are two charming pedestrian alleyways with locally owned specialty boutiques and artisan shops.
Temescal Alley is lined with historic buildings that were once horse stables and carriage houses. Visitors who stroll this alley will find a favorite ice-cream parlor, stylish clothing stores, boutiques selling handcrafted jewelry, and an old-fashioned barber shop. Temescal Alley has a popular Sunday farmers market from 9am to 1pm year-round. It's also worth strolling over to Alley 49, a tiny side street with quaint shops; be sure to show up early if you want to get fresh-baked donuts at Doughnut Dolly's — they sell out fast.
8. Morcom (Oakland) Rose Garden
Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood, the city-owned Oakland Rose Garden is an enchanting spot that is especially delightful in spring and early summer. The garden is planted with thousands of roses in all different colors and varieties. Peak seasons run from the end of May through the end of July, and the beginning of August through mid-September.
Visitors may take a stroll through the gardens, admiring the landscaping around the stairways and walkways, however on weekends, you may find that some areas are in use; the Oakland Rose Garden is sometimes rented out as a venue for weddings and special events. With its profusion of fragrant roses, the garden scenery makes for lovely photo opportunities.
9. Chabot Space and Science Center
This state-of-the-art space and science center is full of exhibits and interactive labs where all ages can learn and explore, educating visitors about the solar system and the galaxies. The center's Planetarium has a 70-foot full dome, which presents shows using digital projection for stunning, seamless images, along with top-notch digital sound. Audiences will enjoy an engaging stargazing experience, with the sense of being immersed in the night sky.
In addition to the simulated experience in the planetarium, the center has several observatories, which visitors can use to peer into the sky, all manned with knowledgeable docents. Exhibits include an exploration of near space, including the properties of the sun and a trip to the moon, as well as a look at the expansive universe beyond our perception.
10. Black Panther Tours
Black Panther Tours offers a unique bus tour of Oakland, focused on the history of the Black Panther Party. This special thematic tour is a must-do experience for anyone who is interested in social justice, the civil rights movement, and African-American history.
The Black Panther Party for Self Defense was founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale to protect African Americans from police brutality. The party later adopted a Ten Point Program with the goal of empowering disenfranchised blacks and created "Survival Programs" to provide community support such as education, transportation, and a free breakfast program for children. The small Oakland-based organization grew into an international group with chapters in 48 states, as well as support groups overseas.