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8 Best Things to Do in Oakland, California

While the city of Oakland, Calif., is often overshadowed by its glamorous neighbor across the bay, San Francisco, in recent years it’s become a fabulous destination to visit in its own right. In fact, some have called it one of the most intriguing cities in the entire nation. You’ll find many things to experience in the East Bay’s largest city, including these top things to do.

Take a Gondola Cruise on Lake Merritt The Gondola Servizio at Lake Merritt
Credit: The Gondola Servizio at Lake Merritt by The Gondola Servizio at Lake Merritt

Take a Gondola Cruise on Lake Merritt

Did you know you can enjoy a bit of Italy right here in Oakland? Lake Merritt, a large tidal lagoon surrounded by lush parkland right in the center of the city, offers gondola cruises in a traditional Venetian gondola. While it may be a bit touristy, gliding across the water is always a fun thing to do. You can even bring a bottle of wine to sip while taking in the view. The lake is home to a number of artificial islands that house a variety of bird species. Afterwards, you can enjoy a stroll around the heart-shaped body of water, along its grass-lined shores.

Catch a Game at the Oakland Coliseum Home game at the Oakland Coliseum
Credit: Home game at the Oakland Coliseum by Wikimedia

Catch a Game at the Oakland Coliseum

The Oakland Coliseum may be the one of the oldest of its kind in existence in the country, but it always makes for a good time, whether you come to catch an Oakland Athletics game or a Raiders game. Both teams have some of their leagues’ top superfans, and they definitely know how to have a good time, so even if you’re not into the sport, it can be lots of fun. There are trivia, contests and games to play on the Jumbotron, music and choreographed dances, and much more. Tailgating before a Raiders game is especially unforgettable, with the chance to join in or just check out all of the elaborate costumes, as well as indulge in a wide range of tasty cuisine or do some grilling yourself.

Take in a Show at the Fox Theater Fox Theater, Oakland
Credit: Fox Theater, Oakland by Fox Theater- Oakland

Take in a Show at the Fox Theater

The 1928 Fox Theater was sadly shut down in 1966, and for over 40 years it remained in the dark before it was finally renovated and reopened in 2009. It retains its stunning Art Deco interior, gilded ornate glamour and magnificent facade it had back in the Roaring ‘20s. No matter what you come to see, with such a wide range of music performances from classic and indie rock to blues and hip-hop, just be sure to catch a show here. You may even want to splurge a little and get VIP access for the ultimate experience.

Experience Jack London Square Jack London Square entrance
Credit: Jack London Square entrance by Wikimedia Commons

Experience Jack London Square

Jack London Square is the city’s waterfront area, and has been called the iconic symbol of Oakland’s resurgence. This waterside area where author Jack London worked as a fisherman in the late 19th century is still a popular place, but primarily for the many restaurants around the docks. There are lots of fabulous fine dining options with menus featuring fish-focused fare, like Scott’s Seafood Grill & Bar. Wine enthusiasts can head to Rosenblum Cellars too, one of 10 independent producers on the Oakland Urban Wine Trail. Several tours on the water depart from here too, including boat excursions and cruises, as well as guided kayak, canoe and paddleboard tours.

Visit the Oakland Zoo Oakland Zoo, Oakland, California
Credit: Oakland Zoo, Oakland, California by Oakland Zoo

Visit the Oakland Zoo

The Oakland Zoo showcases some 440 animals, and is nationally renowned for its elephant exhibit, where the magnificent creatures roam freely. There are many interactive displays and educational programs for visitors to learn about the zoo’s inhabitants. It also hosts the popular Valley Children’s Zoo, which offers interactive play structures for the kids as well as animals like ring-tailed lemurs, over 100-year-old Aldabra tortoises, pot-bellied pigs, and bats. The zoo also has a Bug Room and the Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Room, a big hit with younger visitors.

Watch a Sunset from Grizzly Peak Sunset view over the Bay Area from the Oakland Hills
Credit: Sunset view over the Bay Area from the Oakland Hills by Wikimedia Commons

Watch a Sunset from Grizzly Peak

Grizzly Peak is technically in Berkeley, but sits near the Oakland border in the Oakland Hills. While there are no grizzlies here, it was named for the California grizzly bear that roamed the area until the late 19th century. Today, the park offers picnic areas and other activities, but it’s most popular for its scenic lookout. It’s one of the best places in the Bay Area to watch a sunset while taking in views of the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Mount Tamalpais before darkness falls and the dazzling lights of the world below come into view.

Oakland Museum of California Art at the Oakland Museum of California
Credit: Art at the Oakland Museum of California by Oakland Museum of California

Oakland Museum of California

The Oakland Museum of California is located near Lake Merritt downtown, and focuses on “telling the story of California.” It showcases some 2 million objects based on the history, art and natural science of the state. For anyone who has an interest in California, this is definitely the place to go to uncover its story –from Hollywood films and immigration to flower power and technology. Some of the highlights include the interactive exhibits where you can draw your own self-portrait and silent movies where sound effects have been added. On Friday nights, you can join in on the museum’s Friday Nights @ OMCA festivities. It includes half-off the admission price as well as food trucks, a live DJ and dancing.

Take a Cruise on the USS Potomac USS Potomac, Oakland
Credit: USS Potomac, Oakland by Wikimedia Commons

Take a Cruise on the USS Potomac

The “Floating White House,” as the USS Potomac is often called, served as the official presidential yacht for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the nation’s most influential presidents. Today it’s a National Historic Landmark, and one of just three presidential yachts that still exist. This memorial also offers guided cruises to various islands throughout the bay, including Angel Island. Along the way you’ll learn about the history of San Francisco Bay and the key role Roosevelt had in its development, as well as in the U.S. as a whole.

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