When you think of the Bay Area in California, San Francisco is probably the first city that pops into your brain. And there are a lot of things to do in San Francisco but another fun thing to do in the Bay Area is visit Oakland.
San Francisco gets a lot of attention but the East Bay area is a great place to visit too.
It’s easy to get to Oakland from San Francisco on public transportation with BART, which stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit.
What to Do in Oakland
Theres’s no shortage of things to do in East Bay area of Northern California. One of the great things about Oakland is that you can get around without a car.
There are buses, rapid transit, bicycle rentals, scooters, and ride share services.
You can also walk your way around a lot of the neighborhoods in Oakland. I stayed in north Oakland so it was easy to walk to Temescal neighborhood or up to Berkeley.
Let’s look at some of the cool things to do in Oakland.
Jack London Cabin at Jack London Square
You’ll want to head over to Jack London Square in Oakland for people watching, hanging out by the waterfront, and sampling some of the food and drink offerings in Oakland.
While you’re at Jack London Square you must visit Jack London’s cabin! I didn’t know about it until I walked around the square in search of a beer joint. It’s one of the coolest things you’ll see in Oakland.
Before Jack London found his stride as an author (Call of the Wild, White Fang, To Build a Fire) he tried to strike it rich during the gold rush of the late 1800’s in the Klondike region.
Years later, trappers found a cabin with his name written on one of the walls.
What?! They hauled his cabin all the way from the Yukon in northern Canada to Oakland’s waterfront?! Not exactly, but about half of the cabin in Oakland is made from the original logs of the Klondike Gold Rush era cabin in the Yukon Territory.
Because the cabin is of significance to both Oakland and Yukon, back in 1965 the original cabin was taken apart. And then a coin-toss to see who got to keep it and put it together again? Not quite.
Two cabins were constructed – each containing half of the original logs. One stayed in Dawson City and one moved down to Jack London’s hometown of Oakland.
The cabin has a lovely roof top garden.
Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon
You’re probably a bit thirsty after walking around the waterfront and visiting Jack London’s cabin so you’ll be happy to know that right next door to the cabin is the place you should plant yourself for a pint or two.
The First and Last Chance Saloon is a groovy little place where you can enjoy an adult beverage and look at all the paraphernalia plastered around the place.
Oakland Harbor Tours – FREE
In 2019 the Oakland Harbor Tours took place from May through October. Currently there is no information on the Oakland Harbor website about 2020 tours. But check the Port of Oakland website for updates.
The tours are free, and the Port of Oakland will post a link for tickets soon.
Tall Ship Sailing is occasionally an option. As of this writing no tall ship sailings are scheduled for 2020. Watch for updates on the Historical Seaport website.
Even if you can’t do a tour it’s fun to walk around the harbor and look at all the boats.
Something that is fun and free in Oakland, and not too far from downtown, is the beautiful Lake Merritt and 140 acres of parkland. This is the perfect place to chill out or bring the kids to have some outdoor fun.
You can walk, bike, or rollerblade the 3.1 miles around Lake Merritt.
Another option is booking a reservation for a Venetian gondola ride on the lake, complete with a serenading gondolier. Sounds like a romantic date night idea.
For solo travelers I recommend lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants along the water, then a walk around the lake.
I loved the twisted trees alongside Lake Merritt, tea trees (Leptospermum scoparium), with lovely sculptural shapes.
African American Museum and Library
About a mile from Lake Merritt is the African American Museum and Library of Oakland – open Monday thru Saturday. The museum is on the second floor and hosts exhibits highlighting the art, history, and culture of African Americans.
Check the Oakland Library for upcoming events, including tours of the library.
You could also spend hours pouring over the reference library materials, around 12,000 volumes by or about African Americans.
Chapel of the Chimes
Visiting a funeral home is something you’ll not often find on a bucket list. Some people may find this is one of the more bizarre things to do in the Bay Area.
But it’s not really.
We’re all going to go sometime. And lots of people like visiting cemeteries….I’m not really one of those people.
It’s the architecture at Chapel of the Chimes that gets my attention.
Chapel of the Chimes is a crematory and columbarium, a beautiful and serene space. You’ll see some famous names, like John Lee Hooker. You’ll be amazed at the elegant fountains, mosaics, and urns.
The outstanding architect Julia Morgan (also designed Hearst Castle) orchestrated Chapel of the Chimes redesign in 1928.
Music events are held each year during the winter and summer solstice at Chapel of the Chimes.
Redwood Regional Park
Did you know you can hike among California redwoods in Oakland? Surprisingly easy to get to (okay, not during rush hour from San Francisco) and ample parking available, Redwood Regional Park is a gem in Oakland.
There is no fee to use the park but there is a parking fee of $5 per vehicle at the Redwood Gate entrance only.
Enjoy hiking and a picnic lunch surrounded by nature, a wonderful escape from hectic city life, without leaving the city.
Bonus, in winter you can take the ladybug hike at Redwood park. It’s cool to see so many ladybugs (some people call them ladybirds) all in one place.
In wintertime, thousands of ladybugs pack up their suitcases and head to Oakland California for a couple of months. Get all the details in my ladybug hike blog post here.
OMG the food in Oakland is outstanding! You have so many choices for where to eat, what type of cuisine to eat in Oakland, and there’s something for every budget.
Telegraph Avenue in the Temescal neighborhood is a good starting point for exploring Oakland’s food scene.
In Oakland you can take your taste buds on a trip around the world via the many restaurants. Here are some of my favorite places to eat in Oakland…
Mariposa Baking Company – gluten free bakery with delicious pastries and lunch options
Earthly Coffee and Tea – excellent coffee, pastries, sandwiches
Aunt Mary’s Café has great breakfast and brunch with a Southern spin. Craving grits, or biscuits and gravy, then Aunt Mary’s is your go-to place.
Cafe Eritrea D’Afrique – take you tastes buds on a journey to Africa at this casual eatery on Telegraph Ave.
Cholita Linda has amazing fish tacos and other tasty south of the border offerings
Bowl’d BBQ for Korean barbeque. When my order arrived at the table it included 12 (not a typo) little side dishes with a delicious assortment of Korean veggie side dishes. These are known as ‘banchan’ and include a variety of kimchi. Just thinking about this meal makes me want to go to Oakland!
Burma Superstar on Telegraph Ave for exceptional Burmese food in Oakland. The food and service at Burma Superstar is top notch, another place that makes me crave a trip to Oakland.
Scott’s Seafood at Jack London Square is an upscale restaurant with lovely views of Oakland’s waterfront. Although if you’re on a budget this is not a good option.
If you are traveling on a budget to Oakland and want to prepare your own meals, then you have a lot options for grocery stores. I shopped at several grocers including Whole Foods, the neighborhood shops Temescal Produce Market and Koreana Plaza Market which has excellent produce and a great selection of kimchi.
By far the best grocery store in the Bay Area is Berkeley Bowl at 2020 Oregon St. This is a full grocery store, but the star attraction is the produce section.
It is out of this world fantastic.
It is gigantic.
As an example, I counted 9 different types of eggplant. If you love fresh fruits and veggies, then you must go to Berkeley Bowl. It’s about a mile from North Oakland. I walked there but there is a parking lot if you are driving.
This 2,800 seat concert hall and former movie theatre showcases great live performances in art deco style architecture. Alas, I did not get to attend any happenings at the Fox Theater, next time I visit Oakland I will review the event calendar before my trip.
If you want tickets to an event at the Fox, then check TheFoxOakland.com at least a couple months before. For instance, at the first of the year a lot of the January shows were already sold out.
Murals in Oakland
Another one of the free things to do in Oakland is go walking around the neighborhoods and find some of the cool street art around town.
I love walking around new places when I travel. I’ve discovered some amazing restaurants and cafes while wandering the streets.
It’s good exercise and you will see things that you otherwise miss when you are in a car or on public transit.
Enjoy all these things to do in Oakland CA and have fun exploring the Bay Area!
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