Top 12 Free Things to Do in Oakland in Jan 2024

While the San Francisco Bay Area city of Oakland dazzles with a celebrated food scene and vibrant arts and entertainment, visitors can still experience top attractions without emptying their wallets.

Oakland overflows with free activities to fill itineraries, especially for nature and outdoor lovers.

Redwood Regional ParkNatural beauty, hiking, picnics
Grizzly PeakCity views, photography
Lake MerrittWalk, cycle, birdwatching
Oakland First FridaysArt Walk, cultural experience
Victorian Home TourHistorical architecture, local history
Jack London SquareWaterfront views, dining, entertainment
Free Museum DaysAccess to local museums
Free Walking ToursGuided tours on history and culture
Bellevue Club SculpturesArtistic sculptures in a lake setting
Cathedral of ChristArchitectural tours
Lake Merritt StadiumTailgating events
City Beauty AppreciationEnjoying urban and natural beauty of Oakland

The city parks offer endless recreation opportunities alongside beautiful scenery. Many museums and galleries also designate free days to view world-class collections and exhibits.

And Oakland icons like Lake Merritt or the Cathedral of Christ the Light see no admission fees. visitors can soak up plenty of Oakland’s highlights through these 12 picks for the best free things to do.

Explore Vast Redwood Regional Park

Name and Location: Redwood Regional Park, located in the Oakland Hills east of Oakland, CA

History and Significance: Part of the East Bay Regional Parks system, Redwood Regional Park protects stands of coast redwood trees. The park was established in 1936 to preserve the redwood groves and provide public access. These majestic old-growth redwoods standing over 300 feet tall are unique to find so close to a major city.

What to Expect: Miles of hiking trails winding through shady redwood groves. Picnic areas are surrounded by the towering trees. Opportunities to spot native plants and wildlife.

Visitor Information: The park is open daily from 5 am to 10 pm. No entrance fees. Restrooms and drinking water are available. Leashed dogs are allowed on trails.

Just a short drive from Oakland in the hills lies stunning Redwood Regional Park, the largest remaining natural stand of coast redwoods in the East Bay. The park allows free access to explore over 1,000 acres of rich forest filled with wildlife, scenic creek trails, and those towering ancient redwood giants California is so famous for.

Wander through the majestic woods on miles of trails great for hiking, biking and horseback riding. For the easiest access, enter via Redwood Gate in the Canyon Meadow Staging Area. Among Oakland’s natural treasures, this secluded escape offers free forest bathing at its best.

See Oakland’s Best Views from Grizzly Peak

Name and Location: Grizzly Peak, located in Berkeley and Oakland, CA. Part of the East Bay Regional Parks.

History and Significance: Grizzly Peak offers spectacular vistas overlooking Oakland, San Francisco Bay, and surrounding areas. It gets its name from the California grizzly bears that once roamed this area.

What to Expect: Panoramic views from overlooks along hike trails and scenic Grizzly Peak Road. Vantage points to take in the Bay Bridge, Oakland skyline, Golden Gate Bridge, and Berkeley. Stunning sunrises and sunsets.

Visitor Information: Free entrance. Parking available at trailheads and turnouts along Grizzly Peak Blvd. Open daily 5am to 10pm.

Get a birds-eye view over Oakland and the Bay from Grizzly Peak. Part of the East Bay Regional Parks system, Grizzly Peak provides panoramic vistas accessible via a short hike or scenic drive.

Hike the 1.6 mile Round Top Loop Trail to reach multiple overlook points, including the tallest spot in the Oakland-Berkeley hills. Gaze out at the San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, downtown Oakland skyline, and surrounding hills dotted with homes.

For a quick vista, take the 10-minute drive up Grizzly Peak Boulevard. Stop at scenic turnouts to admire views of the Bay Bridge and Alcatraz. Sunrise and sunset provide exceptional lighting and colors over the landscape.

With no entrance fees or parking charges, Grizzly Peak lets you take in Oakland’s finest vistas on a budget. Don’t forget your camera!

Stroll or Cycle Lake Merritt Paths

Name and Location: Lake Merritt jogging and cycling path, encircling Lake Merritt in Downtown Oakland.

History and Significance: Lake Merritt was designated as the nation’s first wildlife refuge in 1870 and remains an important stopover for migratory birds. The 3.4 mile recreational path surrounds the lake, offering views of nature, joggers, and downtown Oakland.

What to Expect: Walkers, runners, cyclists and skaters enjoying the flat, paved path. Benches for resting and wildlife viewing. Lakeside lawns for picnics or stretching. Kayak and bike rentals available.

Visitor Information: The path is open daily from 5am to midnight. No cost to access. Public parking lots around the lake.

Get outside with a rejuvenating walk or bike ride along Lake Merritt. This 155-acre tidal lagoon features a 3.4 mile path ideal for stretching your legs. Stroll at your own pace and stop to admire views of Downtown Oakland’s skyline across the lake. Look for birdlife like geese, herons, and egrets along the water’s edge and basking on lakeside lawns.

For a longer workout, cycle the Lake Merritt path. Rent a bike from Lake Merritt Boating Center for $25 per hour, or bring your own. Pedal the flat, paved path circling the lake and take breaks on benches to appreciate the urban oasis. See the County Courthouse, Cathedral of Christ the Light, and Laney College while circling Lake Merritt.

With no cost to access the path, Lake Merritt provides the ultimate free leisure activity for Oakland visitors. Enjoy a meditative stroll or active bike ride along this urban escape.

Explore Oakland First Fridays Art Walk

Name and Location: Oakland First Fridays, located along Telegraph Avenue from West Grand Avenue to 27th Street.

History and Significance: Launched in 2006, First Fridays celebrates Oakland’s art and culture on the first Friday evening of every month. Local artists, performers, businesses, and restaurants participate in this lively street festival.

What to Expect: Art displays, live music, pop-up shops, food trucks, special discounts at stores and galleries. Festive atmosphere attracting thousands monthly.

Visitor Information: Free to attend. Event runs from 5-9pm. Detailed maps available online.

With over a decade running, Oakland First Fridays represent a treasured East Bay tradition when art venues on Telegraph Avenue stay open late hosting special events perfect for free arts appreciation.

On the first Friday evening monthly, all are welcome to randomly wander pedestrian-only streets popping into myriad galleries showcasing opening and community exhibits.

Beyond world-class art displays, streets fill with live music, art cars, craft vendors, performers and food trucks encouraging lingering discovery until late with lively neighbors.

Tour Historic Victorian Homes

Name and Location: Preservation Park, located between 12th, 14th, Castro and Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Downtown Oakland.

History and Significance: This National Register Historic District features restored Victorian homes built between 1872 and 1884. Self-guided and docent-led tours allow you to explore Oakland’s 19th century residential architecture.

What to Expect: Ornate details on restored Victorian exteriors. Period furnishings inside select open houses. Gardens with heritage roses and shrubs. Insight into early Oakland history from passionate volunteer guides.

Visitor Information: Free 1-hour docent-led tours are offered the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month from 12-4pm. Self-guided tours anytime during park open hours.

Step back into Oakland’s past with a free walking tour of restored Victorian homes. Volunteer docents lead free tours on the first and third Sundays of each month in Downtown Oakland’s Preservation Park.

Wander the shady brick sidewalks to admire ornate details on restored 19th century homes. Soak up stories from docents about each home’s unique history and original residents. See beautifully maintained interiors on select house tours that provide a glimpse into Victorian life in the 1870s.

Preservation Park provides a shady urban oasis surrounded by looming Victorian homes. Grab a park map to follow the self-guided portion of the tour any time. The volunteer-led docent tours run from 12 pm to 4 pm on scheduled Sundays.

With intriguing historic architecture and insightful guides, a Victorian home tour transports you to Oakland’s elegant early days. Don’t forget your camera to capture their timeless facades.

Visit Jack London Square

Name and Location: Jack London Square, located along the Oakland Estuary waterfront.

History and Significance: Named for Oakland native Jack London, this historic district once operated as a busy maritime port. Today it offers dining, shopping and recreation with a nod to its past.

What to Expect: Waterfront walking paths, art galleries, Sunday farmer’s market, live music, and restaurants. Educational exhibits on Jack London and Oakland’s maritime and ferry history.

Visitor Information: Free to visit. Some paid parking lots. Farmer’s market Sundays 9am-2pm. Free walking tours Wed & Sat at 11am.

Tansport back to Oakland’s bustling maritime days with a visit to Jack London Square. Named for the Oakland-born author, this waterfront district retains its historic charm mixed with lively shops and restaurants.

Stroll the waterfront promenade for views of sailboats bobbing on the estuary, framed by the Bay Bridge. Gaze out at the Oakland-Alameda Ferry Terminal, the third busiest ferry port in the United States. Spot maritime relics like mooring bollards lining the shore, leftover from Oakland’s shipping heyday.

Pick up a brochure inside the Visitor Center to follow a self-guided walking tour of Jack London Square. Or, join a free docent-led tour on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 11am to dive into the area’s rich history.

With no admission fees required, Jack London Square invites you to immerse yourself in Oakland’s storied past.

Sample Free Museum Days

Name and Location: Oakland Museum of California, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, USS Potomac, and others.

History and Significance: Oakland is home to acclaimed museums covering topics from art and history to science and culture. Many offer free or discounted admission days.

What to Expect: Engaging, interactive exhibits at facilities like the Oakland Museum of California, USS Potomac presidential yacht, African American Museum and more. Chance to experience them for free or at reduced rates on certain days.

Visitor Information: Check individual museum websites for free day schedules. Some require advance tickets.

Oakland serves up culture and creativity through its lineup of acclaimed museums. Many offer free admission days or suggested donation entry to ensure these gems are accessible to all.

The Oakland Museum of California always provides free general admission to Oakland residents, while out of town visitors can name their own price on Fridays from 5-9 pm. Don’t miss excellent exhibits on California art, history and natural sciences inside this distinctive terracotta tiled building.

Visit the USS Potomac on the second Tuesday morning of each month for free tours of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential yacht. Or explore contemporary and traditional African art at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland for free on Wednesdays.

These museums and others offer free or low cost admission on certain days to uncover Oakland’s diverse stories. Check museum websites for the most up to date free day schedules.

Join a Free Walking Tour

Name and Location: Tours setting off from Downtown Oakland, offered by Visit Oakland.

History and Significance: Volunteer guides lead-free walking tours on various cultural themes to showcase Oakland’s vibrant neighborhoods and history.

What to Expect: Weekend tours like Uptown Funk music tour, Black Arts Movement Business District, and Oakland history strolls. Friendly guides with insider knowledge. Advance registration is required.

Visitor Information: Schedules and registration at Tours run 1-2 hours on select weekend days based on demand. Groups can book private tours.

Get your steps in while exploring Oakland’s culture on a free walking tour. The Visit Oakland Tourism Bureau offers expert-guided tours through different neighborhoods.

Learn about Oakland’s music history on the Uptown Funk tour each Saturday at 10:30 am. The Black Arts Movement Business District tour runs each Sunday at 1:30 pm, sharing the influence of artists on Oakland’s culture.

Other themes highlight Oakland’s Chinatown, downtown urban art, and more. Tours run 1-2 hours and require advanced online registration. Private group tours are also available to book.

With passionate local guides, walking tours double as a workout and enriching look into Oakland’s communities. They run on select weekend days based on demand. Check Experience Oakland’s calendar ahead of your trip for upcoming dates.

See Surreal Sculptures at Bellevue Club Lake

Name and Location: Bellevue Club Lake, in the Lakeshore neighborhood of Oakland.

History and Significance: Since the 1960s, artist Frank Ozereko has added whimsical sculpture installations to this small neighborhood lake.

What to Expect: A walking path loops the lake, with bright and imaginative sculptures dotting the shoreline and water. Feels like stepping into an unexpected secret art garden.

Visitor Information: Free and open to explore anytime. Located at 565 Bellevue Ave, Oakland.

Nestled within Oakland’s Lakeside Park neighborhood hides a beloved respite called Bellevue Club Lake, a peaceful oasis decorated in whimsical sculptures surrounding a calm pond.

Enter under blossoming archways to find unique art installations like footprints carved into stone, a circle of mystical standing stones, or metal silhouettes of maidens encircling granite orb sculptures engraved with cryptic symbols and ancient languages.

As a designated wildlife area, the lake also attracts vibrant bird species to enjoy amidst the dream-like waterside setting.

Tour Cathedral of Christ the Light

Name and Location: Cathedral of Christ the Light, located at 2121 Harrison Street, Oakland.

History and Significance: This contemporary Roman Catholic cathedral completed in 2008 features striking modern architecture and design.

What to Expect: Soaring sanctuary with angel sculpture suspended from ceiling. Intricately etched glass walls. Tranquil outdoor plaza and labyrinth. Insight into architectural details on free tours.

Visitor Information: Self-guided visits daily 7 am-6 pm. Free docent-led tours Monday-Saturday at 1 pm.

Regardless of faith, Oakland’s contemporary Cathedral of Christ the Light proves architecturally striking as the world’s first cathedral conceived in the 21st century.

Designed by renowned architect Craig Hartman, the soaring transparent glass and steel structure was built to specifically use natural light as symbolic divinity.

Visitors can freely walk through to admire the futuristic church and sanctuary design, accentuated by beautiful Biblical etchings, tapestries and religious paraphernalia. The otherworldly grace and artistry alone radiate spiritual awe.

Tailgate at Lake Merritt Stadium

Name and Location: Lake Merritt Amphitheater, at 1 Kaiser Plaza in Downtown Oakland.

History and Significance: Natural amphitheater hosting free concerts, movie nights, and events with views of the lake. A popular spot for Oakland residents to gather.

What to Expect: Local music performances, and films on an inflatable screen. Space to spread out blankets and chairs on the grassy lawn. Nearby food trucks.

Visitor Information: Free to attend. Event schedule at Parking is available nearby and public transit is accessible.

Sports fans and community members alike can soak up Oakland’s athletics spirit at the historic Lake Merritt Stadium completely gratis through fun tailgates accompanying local high school football games.

Grab some lawn chairs to join blanket-clad families in cheering on the Oakland Athletic League varsity teams battling beneath bright stadium lights most autumn Friday evenings through cheering crowds. Arrive early to snag prime lawn spots for enjoying the camaraderie, cool evening breezes, and cheer sessions before game kickoffs.


While known for sticker-shocking rent, Oakland overflows with freely accessible recreation areas, parks, artistic spaces, events, and more allowing visitors to still enjoy the city’s beauty and attractions untethered.

Imbibe Oakland’s scenic natural landscapes, sample its diverse neighborhoods, appreciate vibrant arts, and engage with passionate communities over sports, food, and public gatherings across this creative hive.

From lakeside picnics to forest strolls to moonlit events, savoring Oakland authentically need not break budgets. Oakland’s everyday magic and beauty unfolds gratis.

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