Are you visiting Oakland for the first time? While I think of myself as a resident of the suburbs, I was born and lived a small part of my youth in Oakland, California. Dryers Grand Ice Cream, based in Oakland, California, is what I think of when you mention Grand Avenue. Locals to the area will know what I’m talking about. Enjoy this list of “Insider Tips” for things to see and do in Oakland, California.
When I have a visitor from out of town, I take them to a concert at one of our Art Deco theaters. The Fox Theater is a popular spot for indie rock acts and the Paramount Theatre is a great place to catch a performance from top musicians and comedians. The Grand Lake Theater is also a fun spot for a movie, followed by a trip to Fentons for the best ice cream in town. My personal Fentons favorite – the Black and Tan sundae.
Growing up in the suburbs of Moraga – through the Caldecott Tunnel, I often rode my horse into the Redwood groves in the Oakland hills. Although you’re only a few minutes from the bustling city, you’ll feel hours away in this serene atmosphere. For a list of parks, visit East Bay Regional Park District.
When you come to Oakland, get your picture taken with the iconic cranes on the waterfront. You’ll see them in artwork, on t-shirts and wine labels throughout the city. They are said to be an inspiration for the All Terrain Armored Transport, or AT-AT, featured in the Star Wars classics The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Dining in Oakland, California
As one of the most diverse cities in the country, Oakland is known for having a bit of every type of cuisine. The city takes pride in its wide-ranging culinary options.
The best item on the menu at Bakesale Betty is the Fried Chicken Sandwich. In fact, most times it’s the only item on the menu. Patrons line up around the block to order the famous sandwich.
Fruitvale taco trucks are the place to go for cheap food in Oakland. Located along International Blvd., you’ll find a plethora of vendors ready to serve up some fresh selections, including al pastor (spicy pork), carne asada (steak), or lengua (beef tongue). Culinary journalists such as Anthony Bourdain have even taken note of the excellent options in Oakland.
For an upscale, quality meal, go to Flora and splurge on a creative cocktail in a restaurant reminiscent of the prohibition-era. Or head to Pican, serving up some of the best authentic southern eats – the fried chicken and mac and cheese are my personal favorites.
Oakland Trivia – did you know that Movie Star Tom Hanks was a graduate of Skyline High School? If you walk to the top of Skyline Boulevard, you’ll be rewarded with a great view; you can see the entire San Francisco Bay on the peak of the hills.
If you are visiting Oakland, you’ll want to hike, bike, horseback ride, walk, sail or go kayaking – it’s all available here. Oakland is a popular destination for recreational activities.
Looking for a little exercise? Walk along Lake Merritt, the nation’s largest urban lake, with a three-mile path around the perimeter. Take a stroll or jog or snag a spot on the lawn. Perfect for picnicking with friends, enjoying the sunshine and watching the action in the area.
If you are a museum lover, head to the Oakland Museum of California. Explore a collection of art, people and natural sciences from California. The Museum also hosts late night events with live music, food and activities, bringing visitors and community members together to experience arts and culture.
Enjoy a night out on the town? For a night of dancing, head to Luka’s Taproom. In the evening, this restaurant is full of diners, but after hours, groove to disco, soul and more. On first Fridays, make sure to head to Uptown for Art Murmur, art walks held on the first Friday of every month.
Oakland has a lot of different neighborhoods. While it is true that not all neighborhood are charming and unique, Oakland neighborhoods show visitors different flavors of the city.
There are plenty of activities to keep you entertained in Oakland. In the spring you may attend the Oakland Running Festival, Oakland International Film Festival, Strictly Sail Pacific Boat Show or the Oakland Greek Festival - all wonderful events.
In Oakland – take the kids
In the summer, take the kids and head to Chabot Space & Science Center for an overnight stay. Sleep under the stars at this observatory, teaching students and adults of all ages about the Universe and Planet Earth.
Don’t miss Children’s Fairyland if you have kids traveling with you. Set on the shores of Lake Merritt, this park brings nursery rhymes to life. Fairyland was even an inspiration for Walt’s Disneyland. True confessions – I had a magical birthday party at Children’s Fairyland. The Oakland Zoo is also a must-see for families. The zoo houses more than 440 native and exotic animals. If our paths ever cross in person, ask me about the time I was chased by an animal at the Children’s petting zoo. Insider Tip: drop the ice cream cone filled with feed pellets when an animal is chasing you!
Insider Tip: You don’t have to make the trek to Napa or Sonoma to taste award-winning California wines. Oakland’s urban vintners bring in varietal grapes from regions throughout Northern California. Hop on a bike with East Bay Winery Bike Tours for an urban wine tasting experience.
Have you been to Oakland? What are your favorite things to do in Oakland, California?
For more up-to-date happenings in Oakland, follow Visit Oakland on Twitter and like their page on Facebook. For all things travel related, follow Travel Expert Nancy D. Brown on Twitter.
Thanks to Lindsay Wright of Visit Oakland for assistance with this post.