Cheat Sheet: 14 Of The Best Things To Do In Oakland

There’s truly no place like Oakland, California.

Best Things To Do In Oakland
Photo by Sid Verma on Unsplash

San Francisco’s got nothing on this mighty little city across the Bay, which was the founding place of the Black Panther Party, the former home of Tupac Shakur and the beating heart of many social movements and activism which continue on to this day. Oakland’s got soul like no other city in the U.S. because of its active community which has always honored the city’s wide-ranging diversity.

Community is woven into the many activities that Oakland has to offer. Community is what you feel when you go to the city’s numerous local events, spaces and venues. So, it’s time to hop on the Bart and cross the Bay Bridge over to Oakland, where you can experience the most beautiful community in America.

THINGS TO DO

African American Museum and Library at Oakland

659 14th St, Oakland, CA 94612, United States

The African American Museum and Library is a must for anyone living in or passing through Oakland. Housed in the gorgeous historic building which was formerly Carnegie Library, the library features an extensive collection of archives documenting important figures and movements throughout African American history. Visitors can learn about the railroads and migrations from Chicago, the Black Panthers and the Civil Rights Movement. The African American Museum and Library at Oakland is without a doubt one of the best places to learn all about the spirit and history of the city and understand its present identity.

Lake Merritt

Lake Merritt

There’s no overstating how pretty Lake Merritt is. This pretty lagoon located in the center of the city also covers quite a bit of ground, stretching from the edge of Downtown to the foot of Lakeshore. That’s to share, there’s plenty of spots along the lake to jog, bike, picnic and chill. There also a few attractions around the lake itself, including Children’s Fairyland, which is a small amusement park with rides for children, as well as the Bonsai Garden next to it.

Whenever the sun is out, you can bet that everyone will be headed to the lake. Which is why sunny days at Lake Merritt are the best, as there will be lots of people picnicking, selling homemade treats, playing music, dancing and vibing as a community.

Lake Merritt
Lake Merritt. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Lake Merritt views
Lake Merritt views. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Lake Merritt Bonsai garden
Lake Merritt Bonsai garden. PHOTO NADIA CHO

New Parkway Theater

474 24th St, Oakland, CA 94612, United States

The New Parkway Theater is an Oakland institution as well as one of the coolest cinemas you’ll have the pleasure of watching flicks at. The space itself is extremely cool; from the colorful murals and neon signs  at the entrance, to the welcoming industrial screening room filled with vintage chairs, bean bags and more murals. Plus, the pub at the theater offers tasty snacks and entrees, with options for vegans, vegetarians and gluten-free patrons, along with a hefty selection of local beers, wines and cider.

What makes the New Parkway Theater so unique is that it prioritizes being a community-serving space that’s accessible to everyone, where people can come together. The theater has awesome initiatives like Karma Cinema on Wednesdays, when patrons can pay whatever they’d like for their tickets. Plus, the theater hosts fun screenings and events like watching adult cartoons with all-you-can-eat cereal and Drink and Draw.

New Parkway Theater Facebook
New Parkway Theater Facebook.
New Parkway theater community space Facebook
New Parkway theater community space Facebook.

Take a Hike

The East Bay is bursting with gorgeous nature and Oakland has no shortage of awesome hiking trails in the hills for you to explore. Joaquin Miller Park is beloved by locals for its serene patch of sequoia trees, dramatic oaks and sweeping panoramic views of Downtown Oakland. Anthony Chabot Regional Park is a tremendous 3,000+ acre park surrounding Lake Chabot, the former primary water source for the East Bay. With so much nature comes a plethora of activities you can do at Chabot Regional Park including camping, fishing, golfing, biking, horse riding and hiking at up to 17 different trails. Redwood Regional Park is a breathtaking forest of coastal redwood trees. Redwood Regional Park offers you the chance to surround yourself in an otherworldly oasis of majestic redwood trees, which is also inhabited by deer, racoons, rabbits and even golden eagles to add to the magic.

Joaquin Miller sequoias photo credit Alice Pope
Joaquin Miller sequoias. Photo credit Alice Pope.
Joaquin Miller Park trees photo credit Alice Pope
Joaquin Miller Park trees. Photo credit Alice Pope.
Joaquin Miller hikes photo credit Alice Pope
Joaquin Miller hikes. Photo credit Alice Pope.
Redwood Regional forest photo credit Alice Pope
Redwood Regional forest. Photo credit Alice Pope.
Redwood Regional trail photo credit Alice Pope
Redwood Regional trail. Photo credit Alice Pope.

WHERE TO EAT

Temescal

Temescal is no doubt one of the coolest areas in all of Oakland. It’s a trendy little area that’s packed with hip bars, restaurants, antique shops and boutiques. Many of Oakland´s greatest restaurant hits are all located along this one strip of Telegraph Avenue between 40th and 51st Street.

Temescal cafes
Temescal cafes. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Such hits include Cholita Linda, a crowd-favorite Mexican restaurant which never seems to go out of style. You absolutely must try their Papito Sandwich with tofu, which slaps and their crispy Baja Fish tacos with crema and all the fixings. Burma Superstar is another one that will always stay popular as one of the few Burmese restaurants that’s cool and trendy without losing cultural authenticity. Everyone’s favorite natural wine bar and fermentation-forward eatery, Daytrip, also happens to be located in Temescal. Pop in for some funky experimental bites and delicious natural wines in a chill trippy ambience. There are also tons of yummy Korean restaurants nearby, as this part of Telegraph also stands in as Oakland’s unofficial Koreatown.

Temescal Daytrip
Temescal Daytrip. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Whenever you’re unsure of what to eat, just take a stroll down the hip streets of Temescal, where you’ll be met with nothing but seriously good dining options and some difficult choices to make among them!

Oakland Chinatown

474 24th St, Oakland, CA 94612, United States

Oakland’s Chinatown isn’t the sprawling outdoor tourist bazaar which its counterpart in San Francisco is. Oakland Chinatown is a calm stretch of a few blocks from 6th to 12th street, where you can tell the community elders who are walking around have been doing so forever.

Oakland Chinatown Peony
Oakland Chinatown Peony. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Oakland Chinatown dimsum at Peony
Oakland Chinatown dimsum at Peony. PHOTO NADIA CHO

As expected, there’s tons of noms to be had in the area. Peony is the go-to spot dim sum spot for Oakland locals, located on the 2nd floor of Pacific Renaissance Plaza. It’s a dependable dim sum joint with banquet tables that brings out baskets of dim sum in carts. Whenever you feel like noshing on greasy Chinese food to go, Tao Yuen Pastry not only has pork buns and Chinese pastries, but they also have a full spread of hot dishes like chow mein, garlic eggplant, fried chicken and dumplings that you can order over the counter. Vien Huong is the hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese noodle shop that you can always count on for bomb soup noods, dry noods and stir-friend noods all day every day.

Be sure to walk around Oakland Chinatown to eat, hang out and even walk to Lake Merritt, as it’s the chillest, yummiest way to spend an afternoon.

Palmetto

1900 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612, United States

Palmetto restaurant
Palmetto restaurant. PHOTO NADIA CHO

If there were a popular pretty girl in the Oakland restaurant scene, Palmetto would be the current Queen B. With an unbeatable location across from the Fox Theater and the most adorable tropical pink interior to boot, Palmetto is perfect for date night, girls’ night, family night and everything in between.

The eclectic menu reflects Oakland’s effortless melding of flavors and cultures, with bold colors, flavors and textures. Think escargot with cheesy avocado crema and miso refried pinto beans. Plus, the cocktails are also to die for with an excellent lineup of enticing signature drinks and classy classics. Whenever you want a snazzy but fun restaurant that can also impress, you can never go wrong with Palmetto!

Palmetto gem salad and escargot
Palmetto gem salad and escargot. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Palmetto bar
Palmetto bar. PHOTO NADIA CHO

WHERE TO DRINK

Feelmore Social

1542 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

Feelmore Adult is the most fabulous feminist sex shop in Downtown Oakland which offers sex-positive guidance, toys and resources for people of all genders looking to spice up their sex life. Which is why we were obviously living when the sex shop opened its own bar, Feelmore Social, across the street on Broadway.

Feelmore Social kinky cocktails Facebook
FACEBOOK Feelmore Social kinky cocktails

Feelmore Social is a perfect bar. The entire space is effortlessly sexy and vibey. The dim, intimate bar is decorated in tones of blue velvet with sensual floral notes emanating from Feelmore’s homemade candles. Not only did they nail the ambience, but the drink menu is also perfect, particularly for seasoned cocktail drinkers. Each cocktail on the menu is unbelievably simple and stripped down, mixing only a few elements that perfectly balance and meld together. Our favorite is the Power Bottom (smade with vodka and just the slightest sweet hint of citrus) Whenever you wish to go to a sexy, intimate and vibey bar, look no further than Feelmore Social and we promise it won’t lead you astray!

Feelmore Social Facebook
FACEBOOK Feelmore Social

Sobre Mesa

1618 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94612

Celebrity chef, Nelson German’s Afro-Latino cocktail bar is one of the hottest places in town to eat, drink and party. Located right in the heart of downtown, Sobre Mesa is always bumping with reggaeton and Oakland’s trendiest denizens sipping on fabulous cocktails.

Sobre Mesa lounge
Sobre Mesa lounge. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Sobre Mesa cocktails (2)
Sobre Mesa cocktails. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Sobre Mesa serves Afro-Latino tapas inspired by Chef German’s West African and Dominican roots. There are too many bomb tapas to choose from including the plantains stuffed with impossible meat ragu and soy chorizo, chicharrones de pollo and fried pork belly and yucca. And you can’t miss out on the Roasted Bone Marrow, which, after consuming the marrow, you can do luge shots of brandy through the fatty bone.

The cocktails at Sobre Mesa are aromatic and balanced elixirs which conjure the scents and images of the Caribbean. Expect tantalizing (but not too sweet) notes of hibiscus, passionfruit, ginger, coconut, nutmeg, graptefruit and more. Sobre Mesa is highly conscious of the spirits brands they partner with, choosing to highlight the work of artisan distillers from around the world. On any given day, the bar can recommend you a high-end spirit brand that you’ve probably never heard of before that’s produced by small-batch, family distillers.

Sobre Mesa is a one-stop shop for vibrant drinks, food, music and a good time!

Sobre Mesa Afro Latino cocktails and tapas
Sobre Mesa Afro Latino cocktails and tapas. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Crybaby

1928 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612

When it’s that time of the evening to get sexy and hit the dancefloor, it’s time to head over to Crybaby. This lounge in Uptown has a dancefloor that’s always hot with DJs spinning hip hop, RnB and reggaeton. There are events and themed music nights from Thursday to Saturday. Being more of an event venue, the bar sticks mostly to well drinks and basic cocktails. But you can always count on there being lots of baddies coming to bump and grind and get down at everybody’s favorite dancefloor in town.

Crybaby
Crybaby. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Crybaby patio
Crybaby patio. PHOTO NADIA CHO

COMMUNITY EVENTS

Oakland First Friday

2633 Telegraph Ave Ste 109, Oakland, CA 94612

Oakland’s First Friday is the city’s most iconic event, which was created to promote Oakland’s small businesses and artists. On the first Friday of every month, everyone heads down to Telegraph Avenue for a vibrant night of art, culture, food and community. Oakland’s First Friday is bigger than similar art walk events in other cities, as the streets get packed and then turn into a block party. The block of Telegraph from 22nd to 27th Street is lined up with booths selling art, crafts and food made by talented local artisans. Oakland First Friday is always a joyous event and a must-see for anyone who wants to witness the love and creativity of Oakland’s local community.

FACEBOOK Oakland First Fridays
FACEBOOK Oakland First Fridays

Mahjong Night at Baba’s House

410 15th St, Oakland, CA 94612, United States

Baba’s House is an Asian snack shop and community center which hosts tons of cool events centered around Oakland’s AAPI community. One of the space’s most popular events is Mahjong Night, which takes place on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month. Mahjong Night is the perfect opportunity for newbies to learn how to play mahjong from friendly community leaders. More experienced and advanced players also come through to play rounds of mahjong and simply hang out. It’s an awesome event where members of the community can come by to get to know each other and bond over a tactile game which connects us to our roots. Plus, there are tons of tasty imported snacks and beverages (alcohol included) to keep you happy while you’re there.

Mahjong tiles Baba's House
Mahjong tiles Baba’s House. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Mahjong Night Baba's House
Mahjong Night Baba’s House. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Mahjong Community Night Baba's House
Mahjong Community Night Baba’s House. PHOTO NADIA CHO

East Bay Bike Party

East Bay Bike Party is a monthly community event for bikers. My close friend and Oakland local, Carli Baker, is a habitual participant of these events and we thought it’d be best to share her own words about why East Bay Bike Party is the bomb dot com.