Any time is the perfect time to explore Oakland’s museums—as richly diverse in history and heritage, arts and culture, knowledge and new frontiers as the distinctive neighborhoods that make up this dynamic East Bay city. From viewing ancient artifacts and distant planets to taking the controls of mind-bending interactive games and displays, visitors of all ages will unearth a treasure trove of experiences and enjoyment at Oakland’s world-class cultural attractions.
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Art, history and natural science converge at the Oakland Museum of California, a massive mid-century modern architectural gem featuring three levels of galleries, gardens, and collections totaling 1.9 million objects. Throughout the year, the museum’s halls and walls come alive with world-class immersive exhibitions and programs, celebrating every facet of California.
Highlights in 2019 include Queer California: Untold Stories, a major exhibition running through August 11 that explores California’s LGBTQ+ culture and history. And, you don’t have to travel to Black Rock City to see the fantastical art installations you’ve heard so much about. The much-anticipated No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man makes its debut at OCMA on October 12, 2019 and runs through February 16, 2020.
Head over to the museum on any Friday night.You’ll get a real feel for Oakland with festivities that include food trucks, live music, DJs and dance lessons, and free hands-on art workshops for all ages.
When you want the best view of Oakland and stars beyond, visit the Chabot Space and Science Center, a super cosmic experience at any age, in the Oakland Hills among the Redwoods. Chabot’s three historic telescopes and scenic observatory overlooking the Bay offer incredible daytime and evening viewing; enjoy complimentary admission to the viewing area Friday and Saturday nights until 10:30 pm. While state-of-the-art optics put on a fantastic laser-animation sound show in the Planetarium, a variety of exhibits spotlight man’s exploration of space with interactive and hands-on activities. Be sure to check out the Sky Portal where you can actually reconstruct the constellation pattern from the day you were born.
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This ever-changing, vibrant museum hosts traveling and original exhibitions that highlight the art, history, and culture of African Americans in California and the West. AAMLO’s extensive archive features interviews with local civil rights activists, educators, writers and musicians while the reference library is a wealth of riches for history buffs with a collection that consists of about 12,000 volumes by or about African Americans. The Saturday public tours provide a great introduction to the library, museum and Oakland’s African American community.
Don’t miss an adventure sailing on one of Oakland’s most remarkable historic attractions—the USS Potomac, once U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s cherished “Floating White House” and now a national historic landmark. The 32nd POTUS spent his weekends on the 165-foot vessel until World War II when German U-boats began prowling the Atlantic Coast putting boating at peril. Embark on a two- or three-hour (with lunch) narrated public cruise for a panoramic sail around San Francisco Bay’s famous bridges and landmarks.
Insider’s Tip: Take a docent-led tour, either dockside or while sailing, to see the restored quarters and hear fascinating anecdotes about FDR’s life and days aboard ship.
For an intriguing immersion into Asian culture, the Oakland Asian Cultural Center is a must on any itinerary. This multifaceted center, located in the heart of Chinatown, showcases Asian Pacific Islander arts and culture with rotating month-long exhibitions, weekly classes ranging from Taiko Drumming to Mongolian Language and Dance, and Artist-In-Residence Program.
The center also presents a diverse calendar of community and special events, including film screenings, culinary workshops, speakers, and the Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival in May.
The very airfield where the museum stands lays claim to one of aviation’s most famous mysteries—Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan took off from here before disappearing without a trace in the Pacific Ocean. Located in the historic Boeing School of Aeronautics hangar, the Oakland Aviation Museum contains an extensive display of aviation memorabilia and aircraft. Hop in a flight simulator and see what it’s like to be in the cockpit of an FA18 Hornet, A3 Skywarrior or S2F or test your piloting abilities on interactive exhibits like the Carrier Skills game. Be sure to check out the Solent III Flying Boat—there are only two of these left in the world.
Billed as the “only all-playable video game museum in the world,” the MADE is a gamer’s dream featuring over 5,300 playable video games, from the classics to the latest releases. You’ll also find free programming classes for kids, tournaments, lectures, comedy nights, and community events.
From exquisitely detailed architecture to abundant 19th century accessories and decor, this stately mansion is a stunningly restored example of the Victorian era, and the last of its kind surrounding Lake Merritt. In addition to house tours and rotating exhibitions, the “Lady of the Lake” offers public themed tea parties and is also available for private tea parties, receptions and weddings.
Situated on a two-block parcel in downtown Oakland, this fascinating Victorian neighborhood recreates late 1800’s ambiance with 16 restored buildings and facades surrounded by turn-of-the-century street lamps and landscaping. The park features flexible meeting and event space for a truly unique gathering.