The Visitor's Guide to Oakland: Plan the Perfect Visit With Tips and Suggestions from an Oakland Native!

Oakland. Oaktown. San Francisco’s Brooklyn. Whatever you want to call it, Oakland is one of the most diverse and fun cities in theUnited States. It’s been named one of the top 20 “coolest” cities by Forbes, and was named the most exciting city in the U.S. by Movoto. With its up-and-coming music and arts scene, bustling downtown, scenic parks, and various restaurants, Oakland has something to offer for people of all ages.

What to do in Oakland

Whether you’re Downtown or near the Hills, there’s always something fun to do in Oakland!

Must See Attractions in Oakland

Lake Merritt

Lake Merritt is one of the most iconic parts of Oakland. Located near downtown, it provides everything! Get on the paddle boats, rent a kayak for the day, or take a romantic gondola ride. Or, if you want to stay dry, take a walk around the lake! Flanked by parks and wetlands on one side, and by downtown on the other, Lake Merritt offers all types of beautiful scenery. Enjoy a picnic, feed the birds, and take in the sunshine!

Bus Lines: NL, 58L, 12, 26, 14

Nearest Bart Station: Lake Merritt

Jack London Square

If you’re looking for one area to do lots of things, day or night, Jack London Square is the place to be! It’s right near the water, in a location not too far from downtown. Stop by the Farmer’s Market on Saturday or learn to Salsa on Friday nights. Home to several different music, food, and craft events every year, and many restaurants all around, you’re sure to find something fun at Jack London Square!

Bus Lines: 58L, 72, 72M, B shuttle

Nearest BART Station: 12th Street Oakland City Center

Oakland Museum of California

The Oakland Museum is an art, history, and natural sciences museum, all in one! It has super interesting exhibits that focus specifically on California history, past and present. There are many educational programs that are offered, and the food is great too!

Bus Lines: 88, 11, 62, 1, 14, 18, 40

Nearest BART Station: Lake Merritt

Area: Downtown

Visiting Oakland with Kids


Ever wonder where Walt Disney got his inspiration for Disneyland? Look no further than Fairyland! Located near Lake Merritt, this whimsical storybook-themed park offers rides, a petting zoo, and shows for children.

Bus Lines: 12, 58L, NL

Nearest BART Station: 19th Street Oakland

Area: Lake Merritt

Chabot Space & Science Center

Located in the Oakland Hills, Chabot offers a wide variety of science-themed exhibits. You can be immersed in a planetarium show, learn what it takes to be an astronaut, or even look at the stars in the observatory. Chabot has many special events throughout the year, so there’s bound to be something that will spark your interest

Bus Lines: 339 (does not run often)

Area: Oakland Hills

Oakland Zoo

The Oakland Zoo is small compared to Oakland’s size, but it packs a big punch. See all different kinds of animals, from birds to bats and from monkeys to lizards. Take a ride in the ski lift and see the giraffes and lions from above, all while getting a magnificent view of the city. There’s also a special kids section with rides and exhibits themed just for them!

Bus Lines: 46

Area: Oakland Hills

Oakland Nightlife and Entertainment


Yoshi’s is your place for great jazz music and tasty Japanese food. Here, you can listen to live performances from jazz musicians in a nightclub setting while enjoying delicious appetizers, or have a meal in the sit-down restaurant section. Either way, it’s sure to be a good time!

Bus Lines: 72R, 72, 72M, 58L, B shuttle

Nearest BART Station: 12th Street Oakland City Center

Area: Jack London Square

Grand Lake Theater

Catch the latest movies in this historic movie theater located near Lake Merritt! With beautiful art-deco style architecture, you can enjoy both past and present for a good price! Go on Tuesday for $5 tickets or Wednesday for free popcorn!

Bus Lines: 12, 57, NL, 58L

Nearest BART Station: 19th Street Oakland

Area: Lake Merritt

Paramount Theatre

If you’re looking for a place with a wide-variety of shows, The Paramount is the place to go. This art-deco style theater hosts concerts, ballets, symphonies, and movies! Or, if you don’t feel like seeing a show, take in the rich history of the theater! There are tours on the first and third Saturday of each month.

Bus Lines: 1, 18, 72, 72M, 72R, 12, 51A, 58L, NL, B shuttle Nearest BART Station: 19th Street Oakland

Area: Downtown

Oakland Outdoor Attractions

Robert’s Park and Joaquin Miller Park

Take a hike or bike the trails at Robert’s Park and Joaquin Miller Park! Filled with tons of native plant and animal wildlife, these regional parks bring out the explorer in anyone!

Bus Lines: 39 and 339 (Does not run often)

Area: Oakland Hills

Morcom Rose Garden

Need to relax? Take a break and explore this beautiful rose garden! Kept up mainly by volunteers, Morcom Rose Garden has become a popular spot for a photoshoot or to enjoy a quiet moment with the flowers.

Bus Lines: 11, 12 Area: Piedmont

Oakland For Sports Fans

Oakland’s Pro Teams: Oakland Athletics, Oakland Raiders, and Golden State Warriors ( Coliseum and Oracle Arena)

Come see the local sports teams in action! The A’s, Raiders, and Warriors are the professional baseball, football, and basketball teams, respectively, of Oakland. Grab a hot dog and watch the A’s on $2 ticket (for some sections) Wednesday! Brace yourself for a wild time at the Raiders game! Or immerse yourself into DubNation as you cheer on the Warriors at “Roaracle” Arena!

Bus Lines: 45, 46, 73, 98

Nearest BART Station: Oakland Coliseum

Area: Coliseum Industrial

Where to Eat in Oakland

Oakland’s diverse population means that you can find just about any food from around the country and around the world. Here are the best places to find some grub

Oakland Favorites

Zachary’s Pizza

This is THE place to get pizza! This local favorite serves up delicious Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, as well as many thin-crust favorites. It’s been voted the best pizza place year after year, and it shows by the line out the door! Don’t miss out, because it’s the best Chicago pizza outside of Chicago!

Bus Lines: 51A, 51B, 49

Nearest BART Station: Rockridge

Area: Rockridge

Bakesale Betty

This very popular little shop makes one of the best fried chicken sandwiches you will ever have! Desserts such as strawberry shortcake and lamingtons (sponge cake bars coated in chocolate sauce and coconut, with jam) round out the menu. Lines are normally very long, but expect a freebie such as a cold lemon ice drink if you’re waiting for a while.

Bus Lines: 12, 1, 1R

Nearest BART Station: MacArthur

Area: Temescal

Fentons Creamery

This classic creamery and restaurant is a go-to for a lot of Oakland Residents. The birthplace of rocky road ice cream, Fentons is a must for those who want delicious handmade ice cream and ice cream sundaes. They also offer delicious sandwiches and burgers. And if you want to see how the ice cream is made, there are tours too!

Bus Lines: 12

Area: Piedmont

Everett and Jones Barbeque

Ribs, barbeque chicken, hot links, and a whole lot of sides! Everett and Jones is Oakland’s favorite barbeque restaurant. Juicy meat smothered in E&J’s special sauce and huge portions makes it an Oakland favorite!

Bus Lines: 58L, 72, 72M, B shuttle

Nearest BART Station: 12th Street Oakland City Center

Area: Jack London Square

Comfort Food in Oakland

Top Dog

A quirky little hot dog shop that serves a wide variety of hot dogs and sausages. Everything from Chicken Apple to Hot Links, there’s a hot dog for every taste!

Bus Lines: 57, NL, 58L, 26

Nearest BART Station: 19th Street Oakland

Area: Lake Merritt


Macaroni and Cheese galore! But this isn’t your average mac & cheese: You can get crazy toppings and add-ins such as chorizo, walnuts, or buffalo chicken! So many different flavors, but all are still delicious!

Bus Lines: 57

Nearest BART Station: MacArthur

Area: Broadway/Telegraph

Nice Sit-Down Restaurants in Oakland

Lake Chalet

Lake Chalet is a beautiful seafood restaurant overlooking Lake Merritt. Come for brunch!

Bus Lines: 26

Nearest BART Station: Lake Merritt

Area: Lake Merritt

Le Cheval

A Vietnamese restaurant in downtown serving delicious noodles and soups!

Bus Lines: 12, 31, 14, 20, 40, 88

Nearest BART Station: 12th Street City Center

Area: Downtown

Where to Stay in Oakland

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of the recommended spots are all in a similar area. Most likely, you are going to want to stay downtown, or in the Jack London Square area. There are tons of restaurants around, and there is ample public transportation to activities that are a little farther away.

Browse Oakland Rentals Now!

Getting Around in Oakland

Driving in Oakland

Try to avoid the 880 and 580 freeways during rush hour. It is snail’s pace slow. College Avenue, MacArthur Boulevard, and Broadway are very busy streets, so be prepared for lots of stoplights and traffic! Parking is fairly easy to find, even downtown. Just make sure you have money in the parking meter because the meter maids in Oakland are always on top of it!

Oakland Public Transportation

AC Transit

AC Transit is the bus system in Oakland and many other cities in the East Bay. The main lines to take note of are the NL, 58L, 72 and the 51 (A and B). If you know you’re going to be doing a lot of travelling in one day, get a day pass for $5. There’s also a free shuttle that goes through downtown to Jack London Square called the B, so take advantage of that as well!

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)

BART is the Bay Area’s underground/overground light rail system. Oakland has 8 BART Stations: Rockridge, MacArthur, 19th Street, 12th Street, West Oakland, Lake Merritt, Fruitvale, and Oakland Coliseum. Though it is a little more expensive, it will get you to and from major areas quickly and efficiently.

Oakland Transportation Tips

  • If possible, avoid certain areas of West Oakland and East Oakland. Unfortunately, people only seem to know Oakland for crime and violence, but in reality it is mostly concentrated in these two areas.
  • Within the day, the weather can vary a lot. One hour it might be foggy, and the next hour it might be scorching hot. Especially in the summer, it will be very cold in the morning, but very hot in the afternoon and evening. So make sure to have a jacket and layer when you go out.
  • If you don’t have a car, public transportation will be your very best friend. It will get you almost anywhere in the city. Be prepared though, it can be slow: If you’re going on College Avenue or through downtown on the bus, brace yourself for a slow ride. BART trains also don’t run that frequently, so if you miss a train, you could be waiting 15-20 minutes for the next one.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Oakland residents are some of the nicest people you will meet and are always willing to point you in the right direction!

Cities Near Oakland to Explore:

Santa Cruz Sonoma
San Francisco Napa Petaluma

This article was written by Mosekola Yoloye.