10 Things to Do and See in Oakland, California

Oakland is quirky, colorful and overflowing with fun things to do and see
Oakland is quirky, colorful and overflowing with fun things to do and see | © Sheila Fitzgerald / Alamy Stock Photo
Aviva Schmitz

Oakland is one of the nation’s most diverse cities, which makes it a delight to visit. With so many activities to choose from, Culture Trip’s list of top attractions will keep you busy in the City by the Bay in California.

1. Chabot Space and Science Center


Telescope and domes at the Chabot Observatory and Science Center in Oakland, CA.
© Phillip Bond / Alamy Stock Photo
Ignite your sense of wonder with a trip to Chabot Space and Science Center. Learn about the stars and planets through a variety of hands-on exhibits, or view through them through the museum’s three telescopes, named Nellie, Rachel and Leah. Nellie is a research-quality telescope that offers 180-degree views, and Rachel is the biggest telescope of its kind in the western United States. But if telescopes aren’t your style, you can watch the planets glide across a 21-m (70-ft) planetarium screen. You can even rent out the entire space for private weddings, birthday parties and other special occasions.

2. Mountain View Cemetery

Cemetery, Park

Although most of us think of cemeteries as places we’d rather avoid, Mountain View Cemetery is one you won’t want to miss. On its 223 acres (90ha) you’ll spot some famous graves – such as those of architect Julia Morgan and rapper Mac Dre – but it’s the beautifully designed grounds that make it seem more like a park than a cemetery, and well worth a visit. On sunny days you’ll see locals lounging in the grass with a book, tossing a frisbee or walking to the top of the hill for magnificent views of The Bay.

3. Tara’s Organic Ice Cream

Ice Cream Parlour, Ice Cream

If you’re looking for a unique treat, head to Tara’s Organic Ice Cream. At Tara’s, you’ll find a large assortment of ice creams and sorbets, and you’ll want to taste them all. If you’re feeling traditional, you might want to go for a scoop of the cinnamon or chocolate peanut butter swirl. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try the basil, beet balsamic or chipotle options.

5. Café Colucci

Cafe, Ethiopian

For people who don’t mind eating with their hands, Café Colucci is a go-to dinner spot. Offering authentic Ethiopian dishes served with spongy injera (flatbread), always prepared that day, Colucci is perfect for meat lovers and vegetarians alike. Order a platter so you can try a variety of menu items, including Begue Wot (spicy lamb stewed in an onion and garlic sauce), and Gomen (collard greens sautéed with onions, garlic and tomatoes). When you’ve finished, top it off with some tiramisu or baklava.

6. Portal

Restaurant, Beer

Oakland is home to many open-air beer gardens, but none are quite like Portal. Although we;d heartily recommend the craft beer and bottomless mimosas, those under 21 won’t be disappointed, because at Portal, the food takes center stage. Stand-out weekday brunch offerings include a challah-bread French toast, each slice stuffed to bursting with ricotta cheese, and a spicy garlic meatball sub. On the weekends, the wait for brunch is at least 30 minutes, but it’s worth it to get the Portal Benedict with grilled polenta, roasted tomatoes and crispy potatoes.

7. Children’s Fairyland

Amusement Park

Clildren play near Noahs Ark in Fairyland
© M2 Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Don’t let the name deceive you – those of all ages will be entertained by Children’s Fairyland. The historic park, which became the nation’s first themed amusement park in 1950, offers whimsical fun at every turn. Children can explore the Old West Junction, which includes a stable, bank and jail; climb aboard the Jolly Roger Pirate Ship; or navigate a maze with an Alice and Wonderland motif. Parents and kids alike can delight in puppet shows, train rides and a menagerie of live animals, which includes ponies, goats and even an alpaca.

8. Oakland Museum of California

Market, Museum

Get a history lesson with a visit to the Oakland Museum of California. With a variety of temporary exhibits alongside permanent exhibits on Californian history, art and natural science, a trip to the museum is sure to change the way you look at the city that Oakland has become. Wander the museum on your own or join a free tour to get the insider scoop. Later, head to the museum’s gardens to relax among modern sculptures and flowering trees. What’s more, you can visit the museum on a budget – admission is free on the first Sunday of every month.

9. Grand Lake Farmers' Market

Farmers' Market, American

If you’re looking to pick up some fresh, seasonal local produce, there’s no better place than the Grand Lake Farmers Market. As one of the Bay Area’s best farmers’ markets, here you’ll find more than 40 farmers, 30 specialty food producers and many crafters, all eager to offer you samples as you stroll past their white tents. When you finish shopping, sit in the grass by the magnificent Lake Merritt to enjoy your purchases, or explore the rest of the lively Grand Lake District, located just a few blocks away.

10. Paramount Theater of the Arts

Cinema, Theater

Stage and interior at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California
© Michael Halberstadt / Alamy Stock Photo
The Paramount Theater of the Arts is widely recognized as being among the best movie theaters in Oakland, and both the Oakland Symphony and the Oakland Ballet regularly perform here. But even if you can’t catch a showing of The Nutcracker or Rachmaninoff, the Paramount is a show in and of itself. Built in 1931, the theater is one of the United States’ best examples of art deco architecture. Join a tour to get a behind-the-scenes look at this incredible space.
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