Visiting Oakland - What to See and Do
(Oakland International Airport OAK, USA)
It might be just across the bay from San Francisco
, but Oakland
couldn't be more different. This is a working man's city, built on the back of the transcontinental railroad and the port shipping that followed soon after. Oakland remains one of America's busiest container ports, but the city itself has been enjoying a spot of Renaissance in recent years.
Though not as chic as San Francisco, there is a certain gritty appeal about the city's center. It is very ethnically diverse, reasonably affordable to eat, drink and sleep, and contains a handful of pleasant attractions like Lake Merritt and the Oakland Museum.
The waterfront area is great for a stroll, especially since the bay's fog seems to stay at arm's length. Check out Jack London Square to see what all the hoopla is about with this modest version of Fisherman's Wharf. There are also fun water activities on Lake Merritt such as boating, and San Francisco itself is just a short train ride away.
Ten things you must do in Oakland
- Take a boat ride on Lake Merritt if the weather is agreeable. This watery landmark of the city is nearly four 4 miles / 6 km round, and a popular stopover for migrating birds. The Lakeside Park covers three sides of the lake, offering a place to sit, feed the ducks and watch the boats sail by. You can rent sailboats, canoes, paddle boats or kayaks to explore the lake, or let the gondola guys ferry you around for an hour.
- The Oakland Museum of California is the premier cultural attraction in the city. Just two blocks from Lake Merritt, visitors get three museums in one. There is a huge collection of historic artifacts, a series of recreated Californian habitats and a collection of Californian artists. The low-slung modern building is filled with terraces and gardens, creating a very pleasant space where you can learn more about the history and heritage of California.
- Jack London Square is the tourist hub of Oakland, sitting along the harbor where the author himself once hung out as a child. The boat-filled harbor scenery is actually very attractive, despite the obtuse references to Jack London at every turn. A clutch of tourist shops and restaurants provide consumer diversion, along with a handful of gems, like Yoshi's Jazz Club, one of America's top jazz clubs.
- One of the highlights of Jack London Square is Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon, a bar that is been serving a host of crazy characters for nearly a century. Jack London himself wrote and drank here, and you are sure to enjoy the atmosphere if you like funky bars.
- Oakland's Paramount Theater ranks amongst the top music venues in the state. Its Art Deco style architecture was constructed in 1931 and this is now a beautiful National Historic Landmark. Seeing a show here is an absolute treat, but you can also tour the old theater on a few specific days each month with a guide, who will tell you all the great stories about the place.
- It is unlikely that you will miss the chance to hop over to San Francisco at some point during your visit to Oakland. The BART rapid transit train makes it incredibly quick and easy to reach the downtown core of San Francisco, where attractions like Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz await.
- The USS Potomac was the presidential yacht of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which he lovingly referred to as his 'Floating White House'. After 12 years of restoration, the 41-meter / 136-foot yacht is open to the public. Head down to FDR Pier, where you can either tour the boat or embark on a two-hour cruise around Alcatraz and Treasure Island to teach you a bit of local history.
- Catch a professional sports game in Oakland. The city has three top-tier teams - the Oakland Raiders play NFL football at the Oakland County Coliseum, the Oakland A's play baseball at the McAfee Coliseum, and the Golden State Warriors play NBA basketball games at the Oracle Arena.
- There is superb food in the city, not only Asian fare but also incredible Latin restaurants. Prices are very affordable, with lots of places to choose from, including upscale options. The Piedmont Avenue neighborhood and Grand Lake neighborhood are two excellent areas to begin exploring the wealth of dining establishments that the city has to offer.
- You can actually walk among old-growth redwood trees in this part of California, just by going down to the Joaquin Miller Park. This beautiful free public park is located in the Oakland Hills, and was named after local poet Joaquin Miller whose estate makes up part of the land. The hiking and biking here is fantastic, but the highlight is walking through a grove of redwoods, a real rarity in the East Bay.