Here's some advice on sights to see and family-friendly places to stay in this vibrant Bay Area city in northern California.
Sports fans know Oakland in northern California for its teams–baseball’s A’s, basketball’s Warriors and football’s Raiders. Business travellers know Oakland for the Oakland International Airport – the alternative to the more congested airport across San Francisco Bay. More recently, family vacationers visiting the Bay Area have discovered this revitalised city on the East Bay with its quaint ethnically diverse neighborhoods.
Walking (and Boating) Into History
Downtown Oakland is best seen by foot. There are lots of places to walk, so bring comfortable shoes. In fact, the Oakland Tours Program (510/238-3234) offers free 90-minute guided walking tours of many historic points of interest, including everything from art deco architecture to places of worship to political hot-spots.
If you like architecture, be sure to stroll down Preservation Park (510/874-7580) to see sixteen Victorian houses now occupied by non-profit and creative enterprises. The restored Camron-Stanford House (510/874-7802), built in 1876, is the last remaining Victorian home overlooking Lake Merritt. At this salt lake, you can actually board an authentic Venetian gondola operated by Gondola Servizio (866/737-8494), hear an historic guided tour, and be serenaded in Italian. If you like your tours on water, bay cruises are available on the U.S.S. Potomac (510/627-1215), once “The Floating White House” of Franklin D. Roosevelt and later owned by “The King” (Elvis). Your tour will take you around the Port of Oakland, the nation’s fifth busiest container port, and on a clear day you can get a great view of San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge.
Other places to see include Old Oakland, the newly renovated City Hall, and the contrasting modern architecture around City Center. The Pardee Home Museum (510/444-2187), built in the 19th century by former California governor Enoch Pardee, is close to Preservation Park, and the newly opened African American Museum and Library of Oakland (510/637-0200). At the Pardee Home, visitors can tour the main residence’s many rooms and the carriage house. The African American Museum houses a wealth of information about African Americans from this community, including the Black Panthers, a politically left-wing group that created headlines in the 60’s.
Culture, Shopping & Cemetery Strolling
Oakland’s neighborhoods are unique; the city’s bustling Chinatown has grown to include residents from all over Asia. Both Rockridge and Piedmont Avenue offer great shopping for knickknacks, vintage clothes and antiques.
Overlooking Piedmont Avenue is a spectacular cemetery called Mountain View (510/658-2588) topped off by Millionaire’s Row – that’s where the rich folks outdid themselves with over-the-top mausoleums and monuments. The Jewish cemetery at Mountain View attracts visitors with its picturesque setting around a pond.
Getting out on the town and enjoying the performing arts doesn’t even require a visit to neighboring San Francisco. Nightlife in the Oakland area includes the breathtakingly restored Paramount Theatre (510/465-6400), an art deco movie house that still screens classic films when not offering live cultural performances or lectures. In the heart of the Warehouse District is Jack London Square (866/295-9853), named for the famed author who was raised in Oakland. Here, you’ll find Yoshi’s World Class Jazz House (510/238-9200), an intimate nightclub that attracts performers usually found in larger concert halls.
Classical culture is well represented in this city by Oakland’s East Bay Symphony, the Oakland Ballet, Oakland Metro Theater, Opera Piccola and Free Shakespeare in the Park. Nightlife can be found throughout the city at trendy bars and cafÃ©s.
Accommodations in Oakland include Oakland Marriott City Center (510/451-4000) with its dramatic views of the bay. Rollaways and cribs are available upon request at this 484 room property. Other amenities include the City Center Grill Restaurant, a heated outdoor pool, a fitness center, and high-speed internet access.
The Waterfront Plaza Hotel (800/729-3638) overlooks the bay off Jack London Square. In addition to standard rooms with on-demand Nintendo, the Waterfront Plaza features larger luxury suites, many with recliners, fireplaces, and balconies. There’s also a heated pool and fitness center.
The grand, castle-like Claremont Resort & Spa (800/551-7266), perhaps the most family-friendly of all these properties, is situated on the border of Oakland and Berkley with rooms that offer a great view of San Francisco. The award-winning spa at the Claremont contains world-class facilities and offers a wide range of services. There are also three on-property restaurants, a fitness center with special dance classes, and tennis lessons available. The daily Kids Club offers Adventure Day Camp for four to ten-year-olds during the summer and school breaks. Camp includes arts and crafts, swimming, scavenger hunts, and sometimes a local field trip. Every Friday night is Movie Night from 6-8pm, if parents want to catch dinner on their own. The Kids Club does birthday parties as well!
Getting there is easy too. Oakland is a 20-minute drive from San Francisco by car. BART–the rapid transit system, train, bus or ferry, offers alternative transportation in and around Oakland and into San Francisco. Thirteen major domestic and international airlines fly into Oakland International Airport.
All photos by Kathryn Kates.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.