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Things To Do, Travel

An Angeleno’s Guide to Fun Things to do in Oakland

March 28, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Oakland is an easy weekend getaway for an angeleno, with flights lasting but an hour and a half. The Bay Area city known for its robust arts scene was recently selected as one of National Geographic‘s top places to go in 2019. It’s also the former home of The Call of the Wild author Jack London, the namesake of Oakland’s Jack London Square, where tourists will find plenty of walkable nightlife options. And, it has one of the coolest museums for learning about all things California.

Tempted to book a trip to Oakland? Below you’ll find a massive list of ideas to fill up your itinerary.

PLACES TO STAY

The Waterfront Hotel Photo: Facebook

Waterfront Hotel

This nautical hotel is located in Jack London Square, meaning it’s both highly walkable and overlooks the San Fransisco Bay, which is great for enjoying coffee on your balcony with a strong breeze. Amenities include a fitness center, heated pool, a cozy lobby with a fireplace, and a complimentary wine and cheese happy hour on weekdays. There is one on-site Italian restaurant, Lungomare, as well as several bars, restaurants, and cafes within a short walk.

Ideal for: A unique hotel in a popular, walkable part of town. 

Best Western Bayside Hotel Photo: Best Western

The Best Western Bayside Hotel

The Best Western Bayside Hotel is affordable and highly-rated by travelers. It has all the standard conveniences one would expect of a modern hotel, including a 24-hour fitness center, complimentary breakfast, an on-site bar, and wifi. Though not as walkable as staying in Jack London Square, you can get around via the free, local shuttle and many rooms come with an ocean view. Ideal for: A trusted, convenient brand close to the water.

Claremont Hotel & Spa Photo: Sharon Hahn Darlin/Flickr

The Claremont Hotel & Spa

The Claremont Hotel & Spa is a historic property built over a century ago as a private home before becoming hotel in 1915, currently owned by the Fairmount Hotel chain. While the so-called”White Castle on the Hill” is considered an Oakland City Historical Landmark, you may technically be in Berkeley depending on where you’re standing on the sprawling property. Amenities include a very large spa with a host of treatments, complimentary champagne daily at 5:30 p.m., multiple on-site dining and cocktail options, multiple pools and tennis courts, a gym and fitness classes, and 22 acres of manicured grounds to wander. Ideal for: A pampered luxury experience in a historic hotel.

THINGS TO DO IN OAKLAND

Michael McMillen’s ‘Aristotle’s Cage,’ an installation at OCMA Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Oakland Museum of California

The sprawling Oakland Museum of California has been divided into three sections: art, history, and natural sciences. Each contains relevant artifacts, displays, and interactive exhibits spanning decades of California history, plus the views from the gardens are great for decompressing between wings.

An ideal time to visit is for Friday Nights at OMCA. From 5 to 9 p.m. visitors enjoy after-hours access, food trucks, a cash bar, artists, family activities, live entertainment, local vendors, and more.

The Oakland Museum of California is located at 1000 Oak Street. General admission starts at $15.95, with discounted rates for members, students, seniors, and children. 

The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment

This museum is an incredible paradise for gamers, especially if tastes run old-school. They have a playable library of over 5,300 new and classic games on platforms including PC, Atari, Playstation 3, and others. A membership may be advisable for locals gamers, but visitors can drop by for just $10 per day and play to their heart’s content.

The M.A.D.E. is located at 3400 Broadway. Open for gaming Friday, noon to midnight; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.

Lake Merritt Photo: Doug Letterman/Flickr

Lake Merritt

Lake Merritt is a tidal lagoon that offers outdoor recreation right in the middle of the city. Guests can jog, bike, or walk the lakeside path, or participate birdwatching, boating, lawn games, or yoga activities. You might even stumble upon one of the area’s many gardens, including the peaceful Bonsai garden.

Jack London’s cabin Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Jack London’s Cabin

Jack London lived in a small cabin in the Klondike in the late 1800s, right before the Gold Rush. Decades later, the abandoned cabin was taken apart and two separate replicas were made with its wood. While one is located in Dawson City in Canada, the other can be found in Oakland’s Jack London Square.

Jack London’s Cabin is located at 1-199 Webster Street Tube, Jack London Square.

Marcus Books Oakland

Marcus Books features literature by black authors and is, in fact, the oldest black bookstore in the country; the original location in San Fransisco dates back to 1960. Books span a variety of subjects, ranging from children’s books to autobiographies, history, cooking, art, and fiction. If you want to support writers of color and locally owned bookstores instead of internet giants, give Marcus Books a visit.

Marcus Books is located at 3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way

Children’s Fairyland

It was Oakland entrepreneur Arthur Navlet who suggested the building of a fairytale-themed children’s park after seeing a smaller, but similar park in Detroit. The result was Children’s Fairyland, which opened in 1950 and featured costumed characters, rides, and whimsical sets taken from classic children’s stories. The popular attraction drew numerous visitors, including an inspiration-seeking Walt Disney who would open Disneyland in Anaheim in 1955.

Today, the 10-acre park operates as a nonprofit year-round (hours vary depending on the season). Adult visitors are typically not permitted without children, but the park does offer an annual adults-only event.

Children’s Fairyland is located at 699 Bellevue Avenue. Tickets are $12.

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Chapel of the Chimes Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Chapel of the Chimes

One might not put a columbarium at the top of their vacation list, but the Chapel of the Chimes is truly breathtaking. It owes its beauty to famed architect Julia Morgan, notable for designing the Hearst Castle, who redesigned the Chapel in 1928. One can meander through among numerous sunny courtyards and cloisters, some opening to gardens and fountains. You might even find a pair of rescued birds, chirping in their fern-flanked cages. Urns shaped like books are displayed in cases, the names of those whose ashes they hold written on the spines. Chapel of the Chimes hosts the occasional musical performance, and historical, guided tours are available. It is located next to the Mountain View Cemetery, notable for its many monuments and bucolic paths. Morgan herself is buried here, as well as numerous California and Oakland politicians. The cemetery is also the final resting place of Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia.

The Chapel of the Chimes is located at 4499 Piedmont Avenue.

Morcom Rose Garden Photo: Friends of the Morcom Rose Garden

Morcom Rose Garden

If you’ve been advised to stop and smell the roses, the Morcom Rose Garden has thousands of them. This seven-acre garden dates back to the 1930s and as part a WPA project and is maintained today by volunteers. Wander along winding walkways to view the plants and water features. You might even cross paths with the resident family of turkeys.

The Morcom Rose Garden is located at 700 Jean Street. Admission is free, but feel free to donate to the garden’s upkeep.

The Oakland Asian Cultural Center

The Oakland Cultural Center (OACC) is located in Chinatown and offers a variety of cultural events, including performances, art shows, film screenings, workshops, lectures, and classes including calligraphy, Chinese folk dance, and Kung Fu. While in the neighborhood, you can grab a bite at Baby Cafe or Shandong Restaurant.

The Oakland Asian Cultural Center is located at 388 9th Street, #290.

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve Photo: Mike Linksvayer/Flickr

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

The volcano in question at this 928-acre park is a long-extinct one known as Round Top. Several trails are available, and those in the know may seek out the park’s stone labyrinths. According to Friends of the Labyrinth, one of them was created by Montclair artists Helena Mazzariello who considered her work “a gift to the world.”

Pardee Home Museum Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Pardee Home Museum

The Pardee Home was built by Enoch Pardee in the 1860s. Pardee originally moved to California for the Gold Rush, but later became an eye doctor and politician, serving as Oakland’s mayor from 1876 to 1878. His son, George, would serve as mayor from 1893 to 1895, and became California’s 21st governor in 1902. The historic home is full of artifacts, many of them collected by George’s wife, Helen. Docent-led tours of the villa, from its gardens all the way to the cupola, are available year-round. Guests can also reserve high tea or a dessert tea in the Pardee home’s elegant dining room.

The Pardee Home Museum is located at 672 11th Street. Tours are a suggested donation of $10. High Tea is $35 and Desert Tea is $25 (tour included). Advance reservation required.

Oaktown Spice Shop

For many weekend travelers, shopping can be somewhat blasé. After all, every city has its indie and boutique shops. (Oakland, btw, has several in Temescal Alley if you do love shopping.) The Oaktown Spice Shop is something special, though, in that it has pretty much every spice on your list and then some you’ve never even heard of. They’ve got blends, rubs, salts, herbs, aromatics, tonic water kits, and more. Guests are free to pick up a basket, then fill it with bottles and baggies of spices. It goes without saying, the shop smells delicious.

Oaktown Spice Shop is located at 546 Grand Avenue.

The Chabot Space and Science Center

For those who are fascinated by space exploration, a visit to the Chabot Space & Science Center is a must. Here, you can catch a show in the planetarium and view a rotating collection of interactive exhibits on science and outer space. The Center also has three telescopes—named Leah, Rachel, and Nellie—on the observatory deck, which are free to use on Friday and Saturday evenings or with general admission. A cafe and gift shop are located on site.

The Chabot Space & Science Center is located at 10000 Skyline Boulevard. General admission is $18.

EAT & DRINK

Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Heinhold’s First and Last Chance Saloon

Just steps away from Jack London’s cabin is a tiny, dark, lop-sided dive where the author was said to be a regular. Opened in 1883, Heinold’s First and Last Chance was built out of a whaling vessel. Its name comes from original owner John Heinold and its proximity to the port; it was both the first and last place a departing or incoming sailor could get a drink. When Heinold’s was first built, it had a level floor. Since the earthquake of 1906, it hasn’t. Yes, that’s right: everything in this bar is on a slant. Those curious to learn more about the bar’s history can pick up a printed handout with their drink.

Heinold’s First and Last Chance is located at 48 Webster Street.

Ratto’s Market & Deli

According to Berkeleyside, Ratto’s is one of Oakland’s oldest restaurants (possibly the oldest, if you’ll consider a delicatessen a restaurant). The specialty market and deli was founded by Italian immigrant Giovanni Battista Ratto in 1897, and the shop’s been operated by the Ratto family ever since. Stop by for sandwiches, soups, salads, and all manner of pantry staples.

Ratto’s is located at 821 Washington Street.

White Horse Inn

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White Horse Inn has been open since at least 1933, possibly earlier, though there were no records kept through Prohibition. This makes the White Ho’, as it is occasionally called, one of the oldest gay bars in the country. The bar’s own robust history page, complete with interviews from long-time regulars, is worth a read.

Today, the White Horse continues to be a neighborhood LGBTQ bar. They host karaoke, drag shows, and dance nights, in addition to other special fundraisers and events.

6551 Telegraph Avenue

Fenton’s Creamery and Restaurant

Fenton’s Creamery dates back to 1894 and claims to have invented popular ice cream flavor rocky road. It’s an often-bustling diner with American fare, but many come just for the ice cream, which comes in many year-round and seasonal flavors. You could get a simple scoop or shake, but they also make massive ice cream sundaes and banana splits.

Fenton’s Creamery is located at 4226 Piedmont Avenue.

The Avenue

You know how CVS always has a bunch of plastic and foam skulls on clearance the day after Halloween? The Avenue may have bought them all for the last decade. This dark dive is just covered in skulls, and the ceilings are hung with foam stalactites. And if you think they’ve just left their Halloween decorations up year-round, then just wait until it’s actually Halloween. Skulls aside, The Avenue is a friendly enough spot for affordable drinks and making new friends. They’ve also got a pool table and a photo booth.

The Avenue is located at 4822 Telegraph Avenue.

Cosecha Kitchen Photo: Facebook

Swans Market

Swan’s Market is a food hall full of options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch (though they’re closed on Sundays). It dates back to 1917, operating as a market until its closure in the 1980s. It’s since been restored and re-opened, offering about 10 different places to try. They include Mexican restaurant Cosecha Café, The Cook and Her Farmer for oysters and wine, Rosamunde Sausage Grill, Miss Ollie’s Carribean soul food, and izakaya at AS B-Dama.

Swans Market is located at 510 9th Street.

The Fat Lady

The Fat Lady is certainly arresting, with sheet music pasted to the ceiling, stained glass lamps, an ancient cash register behind the bar, and cozy, red-draped booths. They’re open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, serving steakhouse fare and seafood.

It’s unclear how the restaurant, open since 1970, got its name. One story states that original owner Louis Shaterian named the establishment after a painting, which hangs near the bar. The other story claims the building was once a brothel and the eponymous woman was its madam. Choose your own origin story as you will.

The Fat Lady is located at 201 Washington Street.

Dyafa

Arabic restaurant Dyafa is helmed by Chef Reem Assil, Thrillst’s 2018 chef of the year. The menu is divided into hot and cold mezze (share plates), breads for scooping up dips, and a handful of large plates. One standout among those is the maklouba, a flavorful, layered dish of rice, vegetables and crispy, thin potatoes that translates to “upside-down.” The cocktail menu is also lovely, especially the Dark-Skinned Nightingale made with Coruba rum, Medjool dates, almond, coconut, and egg white.

Dyafa is located at 44 Webster Street

The Trappist

The Trappist is split into a front and back bar, both inspired by the beer bars of Belgium and the Netherlands. They offer some 25 Belgium and specialty beers on tap and four times as many in bottles, resulting in several unique finds including interesting stouts, porters, fruit beers, and seasonal offerings. They also have a very small wine menu if you happen to be with someone who doesn’t do beer, plus snacks, sandwiches, cheese, and charcuterie.

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The Trappist is located at 460 8th Street.

Kona Club

Oakland has a few tiki bars, including The Kon-Tiki on 14th Street and Forbidden Island on Alameda. Kona Club is located on Piedmont, in between (and not far from) Fenton’s Creamery and Chapel of the Chimes. The decor is as expected, with lots of palm thatching, light up puffer fish, and even an animatronic hula dancer. The drinks are appropriately tropical and include their signature blended macadamia chi chi. The music, however, strays from island tunes via a jukebox that stocks plenty of rock, hip-hop, and punk. Open daily from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., it’s easy to fit Kona Club into a busy weekend.

Kona Club is located at 4401 Piedmont Avenue

Beauty’s Bagels, the classic to-go Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Beauty’s Bagel Shop

Beauty’s Bagel Shop was suggested to me by a former New Yorker, whose bagel opinions I tend to trust, though these wood-fired bagels are Montreal-style: chewy, slightly sweet, and charred on the outside. There are two shops—one in Temescal and a newer one downtown—where you can get bagel sandwiches, bagels and spreads, and a few other breakfast items. Bagel sandwiches include the classic with smoked salmon, cream cheese, red onion, and capers, and a fried chicken sandwich with beet slaw. Beauty’s can be packed, so either order ahead or be prepared to wait in line.

Beauty’s Bagels is located at 3838 Telegraph Avenue and one at 1700 Franklin Street.

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Cafe Van Kleef

Cafe Van Kleef is covered in a seemingly endless assortment of random art and collectibles, in the way that some of the best neighborhood watering holes are. The bar features live music most nights and their signature drink is a greyhound, a grapefruit freshly squeezed into each one, a massive wedge then plunked on the glass.

Cafe Van Kleef is located at 1621 Telegraph Avenue.

Lois the Pie Queen

Lois the Pie Queen is a cash-only diner founded by Lois Davis over 50 years ago and now run by her son, Chris. They’re open for breakfast and lunch, during which they serve Southern and American diner fare and, of course, pie. Flavors can rotate seasonally but might include lemon icebox, key lime, pecan, sweet potato, or banana cream. Much like Dale Cooper, you’d be happy to order a slice with a cup of hot coffee.

Lois the Pie Queen is located at 851 60th Street.

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