48 Hours In Oakland: Things To Do

OAKLAND | For many tourists, a visit to the Bay Area starts and ends in San Francisco. Perhaps there’s a Napa Valley/Sonoma jaunt on the side. They’re missing out by not crossing over to the ‘sunny side of the bay’, however.

There are a lot of reasons to visit Oakland. Its local community feel, rich African-American and immigrant culture, brilliant food and drink scene, thought-provoking street art, architecture, and more. The last time I found myself in the Bay Area, I based myself in Oakland. I loved scratching deeper under the surface of this fascinating city.

If you’re looking for things to do in Oakland, my Oakland city guide is a great place to start. Have you been to Oakland before? What are your favourite things to do there?


Admire Art Deco Architecture

Oakland was booming in the 1920s, and the architecture of downtown Oakland reflects this. Built between the 1920s and 1940s, Oakland’s Art Deco buildings are plentiful. It has the second largest number of Art Deco buildings of any city in the world, just behind Chicago.

It’s not just the city’s grand Art Deco buildings that impress, either. Walk through the part of downtown north of 14th and Broadway, and you’ll notice plenty of unassuming buildings with art deco entrances, window detailing, and the like.

Notable buildings worth checking out are the Fox Oakland Theatre, built in 1928 with Hollywood-inspired Indian, Moorish and Medieval influences; the cobalt blue terracotta-tiled Oakland Floral Depot from 1931; and the Paramount Theatre, also built in 1931.

Not Art Deco, but unmistakable and beautiful parts of Oakland’s skyline, are the Romanesque Revival Tribune Tower, built in 1906; and Oakland City Hall, a Beaux-Arts building dating back to 1910. Meanwhile you can walk through the old part of downtown near the waterfront, and find several examples of the city’s early Victorian architecture.

Bar Hop Through Town

Oakland has a vibrant scene for lovers of good beer, wine, and spirits. It’s a city where you can pop into a variety of bars, from upmarket spots that could fit into any major city, to quirky local’s bars that reflect the character of the city.

A few of my favourites include dive bar Merchant’s Saloon; craft brewery and pizzeria, Cellarmaker House of Pizza; Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, which dates back to 1883; Sante Adairius Rustic Ales; and kitschy cocktail spot, Cafe Van Kleef.

Catch A Movie Or A Show

The Fox Oakland Theatre and Paramount Theatre aren’t just worth walking by to admire their beautifully restored Art Deco exteriors. Their heritage listed interiors are also intact, and worth checking out.

The Fox Oakland Theatre hosts live gigs by large and small bands. The Paramount Theatre, on the other hand, is now used a cinema which screen independent and cult movies. If you can, grab a ticket to something that interests you, and head inside.

Discover The Origins Of The Black Panther Party

The Black Panther Party was founded by college students Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton in October 1966 in Oakland. Active until 1982, the Black Panther Party, which advocated for class struggle, were one of the most important organisations of the Black power movement. They advocated for class struggle, created social programs, education programs, and community health clinics.

There are many sites around Oakland today that are of historical significance to the Black Panther Party. THese include the site of the original headquarters, and the Women of The Black Panther Party Mural and Mini Museum in West Oakland. Historical walking tours are run regularly by former members of the Black Panther Party.

Do A Self-Guided Street Art Tour

Throughout downtown Oakland, and further out in its neighbourhoods, you’ll find murals large and small, with a strong essence on the local community. Oakland’s cultural diversity is reflected in its street art. People’s hopes and dreams, fears, and issues of social justice feature prominently.

Oakland’s street art tends to be front and centre on the main streets. It’s not a city that you’ll need to wander down side street and alleyways to find the best pieces. Of course, there’s lots of street art to be found in those places too.

If you want to know where to find the best street art in Oakland, check out my Oakland Street Art Guide.

Enjoy Multicultural Cuisine

Oakland is a diverse, multicultural city, that’s welcomed people from all over the world to call it home. Over 125 languages are spoken in the city today, with a vibrant food scene that reflects this diversity.

Black-owned restaurants serve soul food classics, and you can find region cuisines from across China and the wider region in Chinatown. Oakland has sizeable Pacific Island, East and South Asian communities, with particularly good Filipino and Vietnamese food to be found. There’s also Afro-Brazilian dishes, Latin, and Ethiopian cuisine.

Europe and elsewhere is well represented too. Bottom line, you can find good versions of almost any cuisine that you might feel like eating in Oakland. My suggestion is to expand your horizons and try something new. A few recommendations are Champa Garden for Thai, Vientian for Laotian, Teni East for Burmese, Parche for Colombian. If you want something a bit fancy, check out Bombera for contemporary Mexican-Californian.

Explore Chinatown

Settled after the gold rush in the 1850s, Oakland’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in the US. It’s been a important area for Chinese, and other Asian immigrants in Oakland, and continues to be so today. This isn’t a touristy Chinatown, but a vibrant, working neighbourhood.

You can enjoy authentic cuisine from across Asia here, as well as shop for fresh produce, Asian groceries, and more. Oakland Asian Cultural Center has changing exhibitions year round to showcase arts and cultures in Asia. Performances and programs are scheduled during evenings and weekends.

Go For A Stroll

Oakland contains lots of scenic urban walks and bike trails, and great places to hike and explore nature just outside of the city. One of my favourite Oakland walks/bike trails is the Bay Bridge Trail. It’s a 9.0km walk that takes you from Oakland’s waterfront, to Yerba Buena Island and back. You’re treated to great views of Oakland, the bay, and nature.

Just a few kilometres of the city, there’s areas to explore and walk through. Two great options are hidden redwood forest, Redwood Regional Park; and the lush redwood groves and oak woodlands, creeks, and meadows of Joaquin Miller Park.

Visit A Museum

There are lots of museums in Oakland, large and small. They focus on a variety of things, and there’s probably one that will appeal to you. The Oakland Museum of California (“OMOC”) is one of the city’s premier cultural institutions. It explores the big ideas that shape California lives, focusing on the stories of the people behind them.

Also worth a visit is The African American Museum and Library at Oakland. It’s dedicated to the discovery, preservation, interpretation, and sharing of historical and cultural experiences of African Americans in California and the West.

The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment is a must visit for those with an interest in video games. It delves into the history of video games and current technology. And yes, there are video games to play. Those interested in space and science meanwhile, should check out the Chabot Space & Science Center.

If you have an interest in US Naval history, pay a visit to the USS Potomac (AG-25). It’s the former presidential yacht of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and one of only two remaining presidential yachts.

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