Fun Things to Do in Oakland California on a Visit to the East Bay

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Things to do in Oakland CA, the Coliseum
The Oakland A’s are still playing at the Coliseum for the rest of the 2023 season and at least one more. Even if the team leaves, Oakland, California, still will be loaded with fun things to do. Photo credit: Judy Antell

When my daughter was at Berkeley Law School, we discovered what East Bay residents already know: Oakland is happening. It is particularly well-suited for foodies, friends and families. Fun things to do in Oakland California include scores of outdoor activities, from hiking to kayaking,  charming children’s attractions and easy access to San Francisco.

Its setting overlooking San Francisco Bay, is an excellent climate that makes Oakland a very green city, with blooms everywhere you look. It is also green in other ways: Compost bins are on most corners and restaurants showcase the excellent Northern California produce.

Things to do in Oakland CA, some of Oakland's beautiful plants.
The moderate Oakland climate is a boon to flora. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Bay Area Hiking

On our recent getaway to the East Bay, our first day included heavy rains. But by evening, the sun peeked out and we were able to plan local hikes.

Redwood Regional Park, part of the East Bay Regional Parks District, includes the largest remaining natural stand of coastal redwood trees in the East Bay.

We hiked the French Trail, the Bridle Trail and the Stream Trail, which has some elevation, great views of the Bay Area and picnic tables in the middle where you can have lunch. You go through a redwood forest on this hike.

SheBuys Travel Tip: This is one of the free things to do in Oakland. Parking fees ($5) are only charged on weekends and major holidays from April through October, and only at the Redwood Gate entrance. People often park on the streets near the entrance and walk in.

Things to do in Oakland CA, hiking trail in a redwood forest.
Hike in a redwood forest in Oakland. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Joaquin Miller Park

We also hiked the Sunset Trail in Joaquin Miller Park. This park, in the Oakland Hills, is home to a second-growth redwood forest, which means the redwood trees are smaller here.

Lake Merritt

Lake Merritt, part of the San Francisco Bay, is a salt water marsh that is great for bird watching. It is also ideal for running or biking, with a 3.4-mile circumference.

Rotary Nature Center, the oldest designated wildlife refuge in North America, has a museum with a working observation beehive. Much of the refuge is outdoors, and includes freshwater viewing ponds and a geodesic dome for injured birds.

Lake Merritt Boating Center rents kayaks, canoes and paddleboats.

Jack London Square

The waterfront Jack London Square has a place where you can rent a kayak, stand up paddleboard or pedal kayak. There are free movies on Saturday nights in summer, live music on select nights and a Sunday farmers market.

Jack London Square has a ferry to Alameda and San Francisco. There are also several places to eat in the area.

Near Jack London Square, you can take a cruise on the USS Potomac, a National Historic Landmark. The ship was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential yacht from 1936 to 1945.

There are also guided tours of the USS Potomac dockside.

Old Oakland: Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon

Combine a trip to Jack London Square with a drink at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, a National Historic Landmark. This is no dive bar, though. Last Chance Saloon has draft beer from local breweries, wine from Napa and craft Alameda Soda.

Things to do in Oakland CA, the Grand Lakes Farmers Market
The Grand Lakes Farmers Market. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Grand Lake Farmers Market

The Saturday Grand Lake Farmers Market is the place to get provisions to make a great meal or to eat fresh prepared food. Half the market has local produce, plus flowers, cheese and even artisanal flour.

The other half of the farmers market has dozens of places to get food to eat right there. Bicycle Coffee brings in vats of coffee on a cargo bike, and there are bagels, tamales, tacos and dim sum among other goodies.

Plus, there’s live music at the farmers market, making it one of my top Oakland attractions.

Things to do in Oakland CA, Vegan BBQ and Soulfood at Vegan Mob
Do yourself a favor: Get takeout from Vegan Mob. You’re welcome. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Uptown Oakland

Right next to Grand Lake, uptown Oakland has boutiques, lots of locally owned restaurants and the art deco Fox Theater. This former movie palace now showcases live music.

But my family of vegetarians went to Uptown for a mob scene, specifically Vegan Mob. This take-out-only plant-based food mecca is not out to fool meat eaters, but it offers such outrageously delicious riffs on barbecue and soul food that carnivores could be converted.

Things to do in Oakland CA, downtown Oakland
Gleaming buildings in downtown Oakland. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Downtown Oakland

Another time visiting the East Bay, we stayed in downtown Oakland. We were right near Chinatown, and walking distance to Lake Merritt. On our recent visit, we ate at a hot new Afro-Caribbean restaurant, Sobre Mesa.

Things to do in Oakland CA, early electric vehicle at the Oakland Museum of California.
Early electric vehicle at the Oakland Museum of California. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Oakland Museum of California

If you are in downtown Oakland, be sure to check out the Oakland Museum of California. This spot includes an art museum that showcases Black history and a natural science museum. And it has a lovely garden to boot.

The Oakland Museum of California has a very early electric car – a 1913 Cadillac!

The museum has First Friday celebrations every month, with food trucks and dancing.

Things to do in Oakland CA, Piedmont Park
Piedmont Park in Oakland. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Piedmont Park

We tried to go to Mountain View Cemetery, in the East Bay Hills, but it was closed to pedestrian traffic the day we went. So we went to the verdant Piedmont Park, in full bloom and with views of the bay.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Mountain View Cemetery says it is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but read further: It’s only open to recreational visits Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Early blooms at Morcom Rose Garden. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Morcom Rose Garden

The free Morcom Rose Garden allows you to stroll around the garden with your dog. Peak season is April to October. The rose garden, in the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland, can be combined with a visit to the Grand Lake Farmers Market.

Bay Area Biking

We used Bay Wheels, the bike sharing program in Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco. If the Oakland Hills seem too daunting, there are pedal assist e-bikes.

Around downtown Oakland, Temescal and Jack London Square, all of which are much flatter, there are plenty of protected bike lanes.

We particularly enjoyed biking along Telegraph Avenue, which goes from Oakland to Berkeley, and is filled with great places to eat and drink. You can bike early in the evening and then Uber back if you’ve enjoyed too much evening cheer.

SheBuysTravel Tip: When biking to Morcom Rose Garden or Mountain View Cemetery you will realize that the Oakland Hills have some serious elevation. Choose the e-bikes if you think you’ll need the assist!

Things to do in Oakland CA, Temescal Brewing
Temescal Brewing for East Bay brews. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Oakland Breweries

Temescal Brewing happened to be right near our daughter’s apartment. It has a large outdoor patio, where dogs and babies are welcome. We might have been the only table without one or the other. Most groups had at least one from each category.

The signature Temescal Hazy is the way to go, a hazy, juicy IPA with West Coast hops. There are several other IPAs, hazy and not, a delicious WIT beer, Pilsners and just about everything a beer lover could desire.

The low-key brewery has different food trucks in rotation so you can pick up a bite to eat with your beer.

Discover more local breweries along the Visit Oakland Ale Trail.

Chabot Space and Science Center

During the day,  the Chabot Space and Science Center is a great place to take kids and teens for interactive natural science exhibits and a planetarium.

But nighttime shines in a different way. Chabot astronomers take to the Observatory Deck every Friday and Saturday night, weather permitting, for free telescope viewing. Chabot’s three telescopes, named Nellie, Rachel and Leah, give you views of the bay and the night sky.

We didn’t avoid San Francisco entirely on this trip to Northern California. Jet Blue used to fly non-stop into Oakland International Airport but now only Spirit flies nonstop from NYC.

Children’s Fairyland

Our daughter has promised us that when she has children, she will move back to NYC. We plan to hold her to that. But if she doesn’t, we will visit and take her kids to Children’s Fairyland.

This amusement park on Lake Merritt has a carousel and other kiddie rides, a petting zoo and gardens. Storybook sets include an Alice in Wonderland tunnel and a giant whale.

Oakland Zoo

Again, this is in my back pocket for future grandchildren. The Oakland Zoo has a gondola ride, a children’s zoo and animals native to San Francisco Bay Area. It’s on our list as one of the best zoos in the USA.

Judy Antell is an empty-nester mother of 3 who spends a lot of time visiting her daughters. Why don’t they live in Brooklyn? Judy and her husband love to travel, by bike, car, or plane, whether to see their kids or have friend or couple adventures, mostly centered around vegetarian food.
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