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The 20 Best Things to Do in Oakland, CA for First Timers

Lake Merritt

Located on the east side of San Francisco Bay, Oakland is a large city in California. It is known for its culinary scene, its historic landmarks, and for the Victorian architecture. If you are visiting this city, you will find plenty of things to see and do during your stay. There are activities and attractions for everyone, regardless of age or interests. These range from outdoor activities to tours of historic properties, and from family-fun attractions to cultural venues. To help you plan your vacation itinerary to get the most out of your experience of this city, here are the 20 best things to do in Oakland, CA, for first-timers.

Oakland Urban Wine Trail

20. Enjoy Local Produce on the Oakland Urban Wine Trail

Not everyone realizes that Oakland has a growing wine scene within about a dozen wineries within the city limits, says Money Crashers. If you are a wine connoisseur, or you simply enjoy the occasional glass or two, you can sample some of the local produce when you take the Oakland Urban Wine Trail.

Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve

19. Hike the Nature Trails at Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve

The high ground of the 240-acre Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve means that it has a unique ecosystem. This means that it is home to a native plant community that you will not find anywhere else in the East Bay. There is a 1.7-mile self-guided nature trail that will particularly appeal to those who are interested in botany.

Oakland Aviation Museum

18. Visit the Oakland Aviation Museum

Although there are several museums to visit in Oakland, one of the most interesting is the Oakland Aviation Museum. On display at this museum are decommissioned aircraft, including military aircraft and private passenger planes. The museum hosts open cockpit days when visitors can sit in the cockpits of some of the planes. People of all ages can enjoy this activity, and you should set aside a couple of hours for a visit.

Blue Bottle Coffee Factory & Peerless Coffee Museum

17. Go to Blue Bottle Coffee Factory & Peerless Coffee Museum

One of the most unusual attractions to visit in Oakland is the Blue Bottle Coffee Factory & Peerless Coffee Museum, and this is the ideal activity for coffee lovers. Admission to this attraction is free, although it is likely that you will spend some money on the goods for sale. Visitors will see how this craft coffee company roasts its beans and creates its beverages using vintage equipment and a training lab. After you have taken a tour of the factory, you can try sample the goods and buy some to take home.

U.S.S. Hornet Sea, Air, and Space Museum

16. See the Exhibits at the U.S.S. Hornet Sea, Air, and Space Museum

An interesting attraction to include in your vacation itinerary is the U.S.S. Hornet Sea, Air, and Space Museum. The thing that makes this museum so unusual is that it is built within a decommissioned aircraft carrier. The aircraft carrier is permanently docked in Almeda, which is an island city just off the coast of Oakland. The flight deck houses a collection of aircraft, and there is a flight simulator to ride during a visit. There are more than 10,000 military artifacts to peruse in this museum.

Peralta Hacienda Historical Park

15. Enjoy the Beauty of Peralta Hacienda Historical Park

If you are looking for a free activity to enjoy because you are visiting Oakland on a budget, then head to Peralta Hacienda Historical Park as entry to the park is free. However, there is a small fee to enter the museum that is also located on this site. The park occupies an old ranch, and the aim is to promote the Peralta rancho and the stories of the Fruitvale community. The museum is within the main house, although this is only open for limited hours.

Dunsmuir-Hellman Historic Estate

14. Visit Dunsmuir House at the Dunsmuir-Hellman Historic Estate

There is a fee if you want to take a tour of this mansion, which is a property built in the 1890s in the Neoclassical style. There are 37 rooms in the museum, all of which boast fine artwork and ornate furnishings. It is considered the grandest mansion in Oakland, and it was home to two of the wealthiest families in this city. If you only want to see the mansion from the outside, then you will not need to pay a fee, as it is free to enter the grounds. The property sits in 50 acres of stunning grounds on the edge of Chabot Park.

Mountain View Cemetery

13. Walk Through Mountain View Cemetery

A peaceful activity is taking a walk through Mountain View Cemetery, says Time Out. It is the final resting place of many prominent people from the Bay Area, and it is set in stunning grounds. Not only can you visit the graves of famous people and enjoy the peaceful setting, but you can also admire the spectacular views across the region. Take along your camera to capture these views to commemorate your trip.

University of California Botanical Garden

12. Stroll Around the University of California Botanical Garden

The University of California Botanical Garden is located just outside Oakland, and it is worth making the effort to head out of the city to visit this attraction. Despite its urban location, this garden is a serene and beautiful place. It is home to a beautiful redwood grove, which is rare in urban locations in the Bay Area. There are special exhibitions and events held at this venue throughout the year.

African American Museum & Library

11. Visit the African American Museum & Library

Practical Wanderlust recommends a visit to the African American Museum and Library. This venue is dedicated to the history of African Americans in California and the West. On the second floor of the building, there is a large exhibition space that showcases rotating exhibitions that highlight the culture, history, and art of African Americans. There are approximately 12 thousand books about famous African Americans, along with more than 160 collections that document prominent people, social groups, political organizations, churches, and families.

Lake Temescal Recreation Area

10. Go to Lake Temescal Recreation Area

Just three miles outside downtown Oakland, you will find the Lake Temescal Recreation Area. This nature site is a popular spot for hiking and picnicking. If you visit between April and October, the beach is open, and you can swim. There are trails that vary from easy paved trails to ones that are longer and have terrain that is more challenging. You will find plenty to explore in these picturesque surroundings, no matter what time of year you visit.

Chabot Space and Science Center

9.Have an Educational Experience at Chabot Space and Science Center

Visitors of all ages will find something to enjoy at the Chabot Space and Science Center. There are many interesting exhibits, and visitors can get involved with the displays in the interactive labs. These activities help visitors to learn about the solar system and galaxies. One of the highlights of a visit to this attraction is the Planetarium, which is a 70-foot dome that uses digital projection to create a stunning show filled with lights and sounds. There are also several observatories.

Morcom Rose Garden

8. Visit Morcom Rose Garden

A peaceful activity to enjoy in Oakland is taking a stroll around the Morcom Rose Garden. This is best visited during the spring or summer when the garden comes alive with the vibrant colors of the thousands of roses. Take your time as you stroll around to enjoy the different species on display, and make sure to take some deep breaths to fully appreciate the aromas.

Children’s Fairyland

7. Take the Kids to the Children’s Fairyland

If you are visiting Oakland with young children, then one of the top attractions to keep them entertained is the Children’s Fairyland. There, you will find an array of fun children’s rides, including a mini railroad, a carousel, and a mini Ferris wheel. For many children, the highlight of this attraction is the Storybook Puppet Theater, which is the oldest continuously operating puppet theater in the United States. The puppet shows are hugely entertaining for children, and it is the only place in Oakland where they can enjoy this type of entertainment.

Rockridge Neighborhood

6. Indulge in Some Retail Therapy in the Rockridge Neighborhood

Those who want to indulge in some retail therapy during their trip to Oakland should head to the Rockridge neighborhood where there is a variety of boutique shops. In this neighborhood, you will also find lots of coffee shops and some outstanding Italian restaurants. Therefore, shopping, dining out, and enjoying people-watching with a hot drink are all things to enjoy in this neighborhood.

Temescal Neighborhood

5. Try New Cuisine in the Temescal Neighborhood

Oakland has a growing culinary scene that reflects the diversity of the communities living in this city, with everything from Italian to Ethiopian food available. The best area to try the cuisine available in Oakland is the Temescal neighborhood as this is where there is a high density of the best restaurants. This is also where you will find the Temescal Farmers’ Market, which is hosted every Sunday morning on Temescal Alley. You can visit this neighborhood every day of your stay and eat all three meals in this location, and you will still have only sampled a small selection of the cuisine available.

Oakland Zoo

4. Go to Oakland Zoo

A top family attraction in this city is Oakland Zoo. It is located within Knowland Park, and it is home to more than 660 native and exotic species from around the globe. If you have children with you, then make sure you go to the children’s oo section, as there is a wildlife theater, bats, lemurs, river otters, and a petting zoo. Visitors can ride the Sky gondola over the African savanna section or get a bird’s eye view of the California Trail. There are also some amusements and rides to enjoy at the zoo.

Redwood Regional Park

3. Enjoy the Outdoors at Redwood Regional Park

Just outside downtown Oakland, you will find Redwood Regional Park. This is a protected parkland with beautiful redwood groves that cover 1,839 acres. It is home to an array of wildlife including squirrels, rabbits, and deer. If you are lucky, you may also see the Almeda striped racer and golden eagles. There are miles of hiking trails to explore, picnic tables, and water fountains. You can also choose to spend the night at this park as there are several campsites with amenities. This will give you a completely different expereince of the area than staying in a hotel.

Oakland Museum of California

2. Visit the Oakland Museum of California

The heritage and culture of California are the highlights of the Oakland Museum in California, and there are both temporary and permanent exhibitions. These are separated into sections according to the topic, such as California arts, natural sciences, and the history of the state. One of the exhibits focuses on the city’s Black Panther movement. The best time to visit is on Friday evenings when admission is half price, there is live music or performers, and you can enjoy a bite to eat from one of the gourmet food trucks. It is a fantastic night out when you can enjoy interesting art, unusual exhibits, great entertainment, and fantastic food.

Lake Merritt

1. Spend Time at Lake Merritt

According to Planetware, one of the best things to do in Oakland is to spend some time at Lake Merritt. This is an idyllic parkland in the center of Oakland, the main feature of which is the lake. The lake is a tidal lagoon that is filled with seawater. It is the oldest designated wildlife refuge in the country as it was established in 1870. It is home to many species of birds, including pelicans, black cormorants, Canadian geese, and the snowy egret. Around the lake, there is a 3.2-mile scenic path that is ideal for walking, jogging, and cycling. A popular activity at this attraction is taking a gondola ride across the lake. On the edge of Lake Merritt, there are 7-acres of gardens to ere during your visit.

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Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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