From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Located on the east side of San Francisco Bay, in California, is the city of Oakland. It’s most known for its fascinating maritime history, bay and cityscape views, a stunning bridge, and an exploding food and wine scene. This large city is almost twice the size of San Francisco and features a scenic lake (Lake Merritt ) smack-bang in the middle of downtown.
With its natural beauty so close to its bustling city, it comes as no surprise that many – especially trendy young couples – like to call Oakland home. Its current population has grown to over 433,000 and counting, while showing no signs of slowing down.
With its fascinating attractions, including state and national parks, museums, galleries, fun parks, and more, Oakland is a wonderful place for families to live in or visit. So, ready to discover the best of Oakland, California? Let’s get started!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
Oakland and its surrounding area are home to multiple desert state parks, helping you to get back to nature and leave behind the hustle and bustle of the city – even if only for a couple of hours. Here are our top picks within the region.
Around an hour’s drive north-east of the city is Mount Diablo State Park, an area popular for its small mountain, low, rolling hills, and broad, flat valleys. A hike to the summit will give you stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Farallon Islands, and numerous other mountain ranges within the region. There’s a visitor center on-site with impressive exhibits, plus you can enjoy outdoor recreational activities such as bicycling, picnicking, camping, and observing the native flora and fauna.
Just moments from Oakland is the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, which is the result of decades of citizen efforts to protect San Francisco Bay as a public open space resource. It’s located in the midst of one of the most highly urbanized areas of California, yet you’ll find recreational activities such as hiking and biking trails that offer stunning bay views.
If you’re willing to take a trip on a private boat or public ferry from San Francisco or Tiburon, then you can access another unique part of this region: Angel Island State Park. It’s the largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay, offering some of the best views you’ll find. Enjoy hiking and biking trails, as well as fishing, boating, guided tours, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, windsurfing, and so much more.
Around a 35-minute drive from Oakland will take you to the Mount Tamalpais State Park, where you can enjoy deep canyons and sweeping hillsides featuring redwood forests, oak woodlands, open grasslands, and more. Activities include hiking, picnicking, wildlife watching, camping, outdoor plays, and astronomy programs. It’s a truly magical place, and one that famous creatives such as Jack Kerouac have written about.
Just a short drive south of the city will take you to McNee Ranch State Park, which features steep mountainside trails for hiking and biking, while offering sweeping views of the Pacific below. The park is especially popular for its tide pools and surf fishing, as well as the fact that it features the only undisturbed Coastal Mountain Habitat found in over 100 miles of coastline.
One of the best ways to truly experience Oakland is by foot, so luckily, there are plenty of hiking trails in or near the city. These are some of our favorites!
This 14.6 kilometer heavily trafficked loop trail is located near Oakland and features a scenic river. You’ll enjoy views of the East Bay hills and surrounding forest, and can also stop at one of the picnic areas along the way to catch your breath. Locals love this hike because, apart from the lovely views, it's also shaded most of the way.
This 5.1 kilometer heavily trafficked loop trail is found within the popular Joaquin Miller Park, around a 10-minute drive from Oakland. Explore the Palo Seco Creek and Cinderella Creek and be sure to keep an eye out for wild deer. You can also enjoy a breathtaking display of wildflowers along your hike.
Whether you’re craving comfort food, fast food, or a fine dining experience, this area has it all. Ready to satisfy those post-hike cravings?
Craving a good ol’ bowl of mac and cheese? Well, luckily for you Oakland is home to the best mac and cheese you’ll ever eat. Introducing Homeroom Mac & Cheese, which offers the tasty and comforting meal in a range of flavors, including meat lovers, vegan, garden pesto, buffalo chicken, and so much more!
Mua is a family-owned and run restaurant. In fact, it was one of the first restaurants to open in what was then known as ‘Auto Row’ in Oakland in 2008. Owners Hi-Suk and San-Ju Dong wanted to shift gears from heavily curated menus to more comfort-based fare, catering to the eclectic and artistic community in Oakland. Today, you’ll find people of all ages and backgrounds are drawn to this unique establishment, from Too Short to Jerry Brown.
Craving some traditional and mouth-watering Chinese food? Shandong Restaurant is a local favorite for popular dishes such as dumplings, stir fries, soups, and more. They also offer vegetarian dishes, meaning no one has to miss out!
Fancy some of the best Mediterranean and Spanish cuisine that Oakland has to offer? Look no further than Shakewell, which is known for its handcrafted cocktails, tapas style small plates, and wood-fired oven, which is responsible for making popular menu items such as bomba rice paellas, flatbread, and whole-roasted fish.
Situated in a historic landmark lighthouse built in 1890, Quinn’s Lighthouse restaurant serves an eclectic mix of traditional American cuisine, ethnic specialties, and award-winning seafood specials from both coasts. Enjoy fresh mussels and clams, famous burgers and seafood, pasta, meats, and so much more.
An Oakland staple in Rockridge since 2007, expect American comfort food with a gourmet twist in a cozy yet avant garde environment at The Wood Tavern. The butcher block and cheese boards are well-curated and local, or you could always start with an order of gnocchi with Dungeness crab. On a recent visit, I ordered the grilled ribeye steak and pan-roasted half chicken to share, and took home leftovers. PS: The warm chocolate cake is to die for.
If you and your boo have different food preferences, Swan's Market is definitely the must-attend destination. Located in Old Oakland, Swan's Market has tons of food options; everything from personal favorite Miss Ollie’s to great Mexican food at Cosecha Cafe (try the Tostadas) and wine on tap at Deep Roots Oakland. Another great thing? Most of the restaurants located in the market have pretty good daily deals, making this place a cost-effective option. Also, Swan's Market is centrally located, so after eating dinner, why not get a drink at The District across the street?
A tiny Oakland diner that hasn’t changed since the '60s with to-die-for pies, the picture wall chockablock with celebrities and public figures behind the bar looks like taking a trip through time. I love the frozen lemon icebox pie, and they also serve classic diner-style lunch and dinner weekly, plus weekend brunch. I usually come for Sunday chicken and waffles and share a piece of pie for dessert.
After feasting and enjoying all that nature has to offer, you may be wondering: “what next?” Well, when it comes to Oakland’s attractions and activities, you’re only just getting started. Here are some of the most fun things on offer in and around the city!
Looking for some fun activities to do with children? Look no further! The following attractions are sure to satisfy even the smallest humans for hours on end.
Oakland Zoo is home to more than 750 native and exotic animals, including elephants, lions, black bears, camels, chimpanzees, zebras, jaguars, and so much more. You can watch on as the rangers feed the animals, as well as learn about each unique species. The newest attraction, California Trail, features a stunning Gondola ride, 8 animal habitats, The Landing Café with sweeping views of the Bay Area, and more!
With close to 60 storybook sets, kid-size rides, friendly animals, and 10 acres of gardens, Children’s Fairyland is designed to delight visitors of all ages, but especially those under age 8. It has been in operation for over 70 years, making it a mainstay within the Oakland region, and features everything a child – or adult – needs to have a whimsical and fun day.
Whether it’s date-night or you simply find yourself wandering around the city long after the sun has gone down – here are our top activities to enjoy in Oakland during the darker hours.
Sure, you can visit the USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum during the day to learn all about Oakland’s military past, but for something after dark, why not partake in a spooky, mystery tour? Many believe the USS Hornet is haunted, with experiences of paranormal activity within the vessel. Come along one night to find out for yourself!
If you’re looking to enjoy a night out in Oakland, Jack London Square is the place to go. It’s Oakland’s only publicly accessible mixed-use waterfront area and has been a well-known landmark since the mid-1800s. In fact, it’s Bay Area’s premier recreational, dining and commercial district, so there’s sure to be something here for everyone to enjoy.
Want to hit the town without it costing you a small fortune? Oakland is full of fun and interesting attractions, including those that cost just a few dollars for you to enjoy. Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy the city “on the cheap”.
Is there anything more relaxing than a stroll through a botanical garden? The University of California Botanical Garden is more than your average garden, as it’s one of the most diverse landscapes in the world, featuring over 10,000 types of plants including many rare and endangered species. Enjoy programs, workshops, events, exhibitions, summer concerts, and more.
If you’re a fan of all things science-related, and are after a cheap way to spend a day, then head to the Chabot Space and Science Center. Here, you can enjoy things such as planetarium shows, interactive exhibits, telescope viewing, a discovery lab, and more. Guests of all ages love this center!
Looking to get the most out of your time spent within the city of Oakland? Whether you want a fun way to waste away a Sunday afternoon or a date idea that won’t break the budget – here are our most recommended things to do in Oakland that won’t cost you a cent.
Lake Merritt is a large tidal lagoon in the center of Oakland. This tidal lagoon is home to the United States' oldest designated wildlife refuge dating back to 1870. Recreational opportunities here include boating, biking, croquet, lawn bowling, running, and acro-yoga. The area also holds popular events from time-to-time, such as lakeside bird walks and weed warrior programs, making it a wonderful – and free – way to pass the time.
Through historic structures, museum collections, interpretive exhibits, and programs, the Rosie the Riveter national historic park tells the diverse and fascinating story of the WWII home front. Inside the Visitor Center you will find exhibits highlighting both local and the national WWII Home Front history, as well as some museum artifacts. While here, visit the Red Oak Victory Ship and the Rosie the Riveter Memorial.
Alright, by now you’ve probably been on your feet all day exploring the sights and delights that Oakland has to offer. If you’re craving some rest and relaxation, or even a bit of pampering, these are two of the best spas in the region.
Dreaming of soaking in a hot tub, or enjoying a sauna, massage, or skin care treatment? Piedmont Springs is the go-to spa for many Oakland locals, as it’s been in operation since 1981. It aims to offer a rustic urban oasis where you can briefly escape, relax, or rejuvenate yourself.
Fancy a float? If you’ve never experienced the deep rest and relaxation, improved work performance, holistic wellness, and creativity boost that comes from floating, then you need to try Oakland Floats. They have a number of chambers offering different floating experiences, depending on your needs.
If rejuvenation for you is less about deep relaxation and more about sweating it out, then you’re in luck. Oakland is home to some of the highest-rated gyms and yoga studios within the region.
The popular Fitness SF was born out of a desire for a more local, community-driven approach towards health, fitness and overall wellness. Their mission is to lift up the local community and make the San Francisco Bay Area a happier, healthier place to live. They offer everything from a full cardio deck and weight floor, to unlimited group classes. Oh, and they’re dog-friendly too!
Nest Yoga offers over 20 different types of classes, including Hatha yoga, Vinyasa flow yoga, restorative yoga, Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra, special needs yoga for people with disabilities, yoga for parkinson’s disease, and meditation. Which will you choose?
Looking to fulfill your wanderlust by heading outside of the region for a day? You could spend decades within Oakland without barely scratching the surface of all there is to do in this large city, but consider these day trips next time you fancy a new adventure.
At just over a 3.5-hour drive from Oakland, the world-famous Yosemite National Park is a must-visit! It features almost 1,200 square miles of high cliffs and outcroppings, waterfalls, ancient sequoias, and wilderness, while you can partake in activities such as hiking, paddling, cross-country skiing, tubing, ice skating, and more.
The famous wine region of Napa Valley is just an hour’s drive north of Oakland. It’s one of the world's famous regions for wine tasting, wine tours, eating at Michelin star restaurants, and staying in breathtaking accommodation. Check out Oxbow Public Market, the Castello di Amorosa, and the Old Faithful Geyser of California while you’re here.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Oakland that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Oakland? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.