With the lovely San Francisco Bay and skyline on the west, as well as scenic hills to the east, Oakland, California offers a diversity of beautiful landscapes. Besides the more well-known sights of the Bay Area, Oakland features numerous lesser-known places to explore. Situated close to Oakland vacation rentals are fascinating historic buildings, charming family-friendly attractions, and picturesque parks and gardens. Here are the best hidden gems in the city of Oakland.
1. Middle Harbor Shoreline Park
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park offers Oakland’s first public beach and a spectacular view of San Francisco and the bay. To reach this hidden gem, you have to drive through the Port of Oakland. Once you arrive, you encounter a spacious vista, plenty of parking, a fishing pier, and almost 3 miles of pleasant walking and cycling paths. Telescopes allow you close-up views of the surrounding panoramic landscape, and benches help you to relax and observe the shorebirds and passing maritime traffic. Local exhibits offer an interesting look at the history of the area.
2. Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt
The Bonsai Garden lies on the north shore of Lake Merritt in the center of Oakland, just east of the downtown area. The garden features rotating displays of elegant bonsai plants and viewing stones, also known as suiseki. When you arrive, docents offer you an information sheet for a self-guided tour of these magnificently sculpted creations. The collection includes a tree that is estimated to be over 1,600 years old and a historic Daimyo oak tree present to the US ambassador by the Chinese government during Lincoln’s term as president.
3. Children’s Fairyland
Although now dwarfed by larger and more well-known amusement parks, Children’s Fairyland on the shore of Lake Merritt in central Oakland was one of the first storybook theme parks in the United States. Walt Disney used it for inspiration when he created Disneyland. It continues to delight young children and their parents with gentle rides, fantasy gardens, live animals, and puppet shows. Some of the popular storybook settings include Jack and Jill Hill, the Alice in Wonderland Tunnel Maze, the Jolly Roger Pirate Ship from Peter Pan, and Peter Rabbit’s Garden, which features live guinea pigs and rabbits. Among the child-only rides are a train, a carousel, and a mini Ferris wheel.
4. Kaiser Center Roof Garden
The Kaiser Center Roof Garden is a hidden wonder that lies atop a five-story parking garage close to vacation rentals in downtown Oakland. To access it, take any elevator in the Kaiser garage. Spread over three acres, the lovely garden features spacious lawns, tall trees, a pond with fountains, and a charming bridge. Stroll the pleasant walkways lined with beds full of beautiful flowers, or enjoy some quiet contemplation on one of the benches. During the summer, the Kaiser Center schedules free weekly concerts on the Roof Garden.
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5. The Crucible
The Crucible is a unique industrial arts collective located in the neighborhood of West Oakland. The collective offers classes in blacksmithing, ceramics, glass blowing, jewelry making, and many other handicrafts. To facilitate its educational programs, the collective has on-site studio labs and a blacksmith foundry. Guided tours of the facility offer you a fascinating look at blacksmithing, kinetic art, and other aspects of industrial art. The Crucible also schedules periodic extravaganzas that feature flaming sculptures and fire performances.
6. Sibley Volcanic Regional Reserve
The Sibley Volcanic Regional Reserve, which sits on the site of an ancient volcano, lies on the east side of Oakland in Berkeley Hills. Numerous trails throughout the area take you through stands of pine, eucalyptus, bay, and oak trees and are ideal for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding. The summits of the lush green hills offer breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay. A visitor’s center has displays highlighting the geology of the area and brochures pointing out the various trails. The reserve has two fascinating rock labyrinths built into quarry pits. Signs direct you to these enigmatic mazes.
7. Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon
The historic Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, also known as Jack London’s Rendezvous, has stood on the Oakland Waterfront at Jack London Square since 1883. The wooden walls and tables are from whaling vessels, and the bar still retains its original gas lighting, potbellied stove, glassware, and mahogany counter. The floor has been slanted since the 1906 earthquake, which sank some of the pilings upon which the bar is constructed. The memorabilia on the walls include dollar bills that sailors signed before voyages and boxing gloves from famous prizefighters. There are also photos of Jack London, who studied at the bar tables as a schoolboy, drank in the bar with sailors as a young man, and used the bar as background in several of his novels.
8. Chapel of the Chimes
Located in the Piedmont neighborhood of Oakland, the Chapel of the Chimes columbarium is renowned as one of the most beautiful buildings in California. Designed by famous architect Julia Morgan, the interior features labyrinthine passageways with carved stonework, gardens, statues, mosaics, and fountains. The site schedules regular jazz music performances as well as special Garden of Memory events during summer solstice.
9. Morcom Rose Garden
The Morcom Rose Garden lies west of Piedmont Park in central Oakland. This lovely yet little-known park displays over 6,000 rose plants in 300 varieties. Enjoy a pleasant stroll along the beautiful and fragrant winding walkways. Besides the terraces bursting with colorful roses, the park features a reflective pool, a waterfall, a fountain, and an Italian-style pavilion.
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