12 Things To Do With Family in Oakland, California

Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Emily Johnson


Oakland is a vibrant city located in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area. With its rich culture and diversity, attractive waterfront views, and exciting urban attractions, Oakland has so much to offer for families visiting the region. From museums and educational activities to outdoor recreation and amusement parks, Oakland caters to all ages and interests.

Families can easily fill their itinerary with unique and memorable experiences that allow them to bond over new adventures while creating lasting memories together. When visiting Oakland with your family, be sure to try some or all of these top 12 things to see, do and explore!

Oakland Museum of California


Spanning 10 acres, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is one of the Bay Area’s largest museums and a must-see attraction when visiting Oakland with kids. The museum features permanent exhibits focusing on the art, history, and natural sciences of California through interactive displays both children and adults will find interesting.

Families can tour full-scale replicas of a Yurok redwood canoe or a full Miwok village, learn about California’s diverse ecosystems in the natural sciences hall, and marvel at stunning artworks depicting California’s landscape from the 19th century onwards. With special family backpacks available to borrow, the Oakland Museum of California makes learning about the region’s culture an immersive, engaging experience for visitors of all ages.

Chabot Space & Science Center


For budding astronauts and star-gazers, Chabot Space & Science Center is an out-of-this-world activity perfect for kids and parents. Spanning over 8 acres, the center features indoor/outdoor exhibits displaying spacecrafts, telescopes, and a digital planetarium with shows about space exploration and astronomy.

Families can view celestial objects through telescopes at the observatory, explore hands-on science experiments in the physics lab, and take simulated space missions to Mars, the Moon, and beyond. Chabot also offers specialized programs just for kids like Future Scientist workshops, overnight camping adventures, and live animatronic shows. With so much to discover, families with an interest in science and space will find a full day’s worth of educational fun at this stellar center.


Oakland Zoo


From tiny meerkats to mighty tigers, Oakland Zoo is home to over 750 native and exotic species roaming lush natural habitats. Families can easily spend an entire day visiting the zoo’s different zones, including the African Savanna habitat with giraffes, zebras and rhinos, the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo with farm animals kids can pet and feed, and the Arroyo Dog Park where the whole family – including dogs! – can take a hike.

Be sure to hop on the aerial gondola for a bird’s-eye view of various exhibits and stick around for one of the informative wildlife presentations at the zoo’s amphitheater. With spacious outdoor enclosures, shaded walking paths perfect for strollers, and both kid-friendly dining options and gourmet fare for adults, Oakland Zoo entertains visitors of all ages for a full day out.

Fairyland

Located right on the shores of Lake Merritt, Fairyland is an enchanting 10-acre theme park that has delighted East Bay families since 1950. Designed especially for children ages 10 and under, Fairyland brings fantasy and folklore to life through play structures, gentle rides, storybook sets, and live puppet performances.

Families can explore areas themed around Mother Goose, Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood and more, say hello to the resident goats, chickens and rabbits in the petting farm, and take a ride onFairylnd’s train, carousel and dragon rollercoaster. With affordable admission prices, plenty of shaded areas for parents, and magical memories guaranteed for kids, Fairyland is a one-of-a-kind amusement park experience young children will love.


Lake Merritt Boating Center


Beautiful Lake Merritt offers families the chance to take boating adventures into their own hands! Located lakeside, the Lake Merritt Boating Center allows visitors to rent a variety of boats by the hour including kayaks, canoes, rowboats, pedal boats, sailboats and popular stand-up paddleboards.

Paddling along Lake Merritt lets families take in pretty views of lakeside gardens, bird sanctuaries, bonsai groves, and Oakland’s downtown skyline all while enjoying quality time together on the water. The center offers free beginner kayaking and stand-up paddleboard lessons on summer Sundays – perfect for trying out something new as a family! With convenient rentals and pleasant waters, spending an afternoon messing around with boats on Lake Merritt is splashing good fun.

USS Potomac


Also located dockside on Lake Merritt is the USS Potomac, FDR’s famous presidential yacht now serving as a floating museum. Families can step back in time to the 1930s by touring this grand ship once nicknamed the “Floating White House” with its stately main deck, nautical artifacts, and exhibits on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration.

Getting out on the water aboard the Potomac itself during regular Sunday brunch and sunset cruises is also a special way to see Lake Merritt and Oakland’s waterfront from a unique vantage point not easily forgotten.


Oakland First Fridays


Occurring on the first Friday evening of every month, Oakland First Fridays offers families a lively street festival atmosphere right in the heart of Downtown Oakland. Over 20 city blocks fill with food trucks, vibrant street performers, interactive art installations, craft vendors, gallery openings, live music acts, and more for visitors to enjoy.

Families can easily walk around discovering new sights, sounds, eats and beats at their own pace at this free monthly event. Many of Oakland’s best bars, restaurants and cultural venues also stay open late during First Fridays, making it both a family-friendly and fun adult night out.

Jack London Square


Right along Oakland’s picturesque waterfront, Jack London Square offers no shortage of sights, entertainment, and dining options perfect for families. Named after the iconic American author who once resided nearby, the square features a replica cabin of Jack London’s Klondike adventures, pretty outdoor seating areas, a seasonal Sunday farmer’s market, and free movie nights in summer.

Catch a baseball game across the water at the Oakland A’s stadium, explore hands-on science lessons aboard the USS Potomac or get funky browsing Oaklandish’s locally-inspired clothing and gifts. Whatever you choose, Jack London Square’s vibrant, walkable atmosphere lined with restaurants, shops and regular special events gives families plenty to enjoy together.

Camino Restaurant


With a seasonally focused menu crafted around house-made ingredients and open-fire cooking, Camino restaurant pairs gourmet cuisine with a laidback vibe perfect for foodie families. Kids will marvel at dishes wood-roasted in Camino’s huge hearth oven while parents appreciate the refined yet rustic fare like hearth bread, pork roasts and creative veggie sides masterfully executed by Chef Russell Moore.

While service can be slower, the friendly staff and intimate atmosphere of this 40-seat eatery make lingering over exquisite flavors a virtue. With most dishes under $30 a plate, Camino offers fine dining without the fuss for parents while showing kids innovative cooking techniques in action.

Rosamunde Sausage Grill

No family food tour through Oakland is complete without a stop for loaded gourmet hot dogs and sausages from Rosamunde Sausage Grill. With 3 locations around town grilling up free-range, sustainable meats since 2011, Rosamunde has earned a diehard following of local devotees – including a lot of little ones crazy for its crispy fries!

The sausage menu ranges from classic wiener dogs to fusion flavors like duck sausage with orange ginger, with myriad toppings to pile high on hearty buns. Rosamunde’s craft beer roster spotlights Northern California’s amazing microbrew scene, while the kids can sip on ginger ale floats or chocolate phosphates. Affordably priced at just $6-9 per loaded dog, this hip hangout proves families, friends and artisan sausages make perfect company.


Children’s Fairyland

No family visit to Oakland would be complete without making magical memories at Children’s Fairyland, an enchanting lakeside theme park custom-built for kids ages 10 and under. First opened in 1950, Fairyland brings beloved storybooks and nursery rhymes to life through play lands themed around Mother Goose, Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood and more.

Families adore touring the young children’s museum, riding the Circus Train rollercoaster, and greeting the petting zoo goats while parents appreciate the park size fit for little legs. With storybook sets, gentle carnival rides, arts and crafts and live puppet shows, Children’s Fairyland fosters hours of wholesome fun on the shores of Lake Merritt that families return to generation after generation.

Lakeside Park

Adjacent to the Lake Merritt Boating Center, Lakeside Park stretches over 20 acres offering green spaces for families to picnic, play and admire dazzling lake views. Especially on weekends, Lakeside Park bustles with joggers circling the 3 mile loop past palm trees, families barbecuing on lawn circles, friends playing beach volleyball on sand courts and kids climbing the Jesse James pirate ship playground.

Rent a four-person surrey bike for the ultimate relaxing group ride along the lake perimeter and snap selfies by the Singing Tower musical fountain. From paddleboarding and pedal boating to biking and simply relaxing on picnic blankets, Lakeside Park frames Lake Merritt’s natural beauty in an u

Conclusion


With its vibrant culture, diversity, rich history and bounty of family-friendly attractions, Oakland provides visitors endless options for making meaningful memories together. From hands-on museums and educational centers to amusement parks, zoos and lake adventures tailored for kids’ delight, Oakland offers interactive activities guaranteed to engage children’s growing minds and bodies.

The city’s walkable downtown neighborhoods dotted with kid-approved eateries satisfy families’ need for balanced fun and fuel. Gorgeous open green spaces like Lakeside Park connect families to the peaceful allure of iconic Lake Merritt through boating, biking and play.

Whenever visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, families should dedicate ample time to exploring Oakland and discovering first-hand why locals love their friendly, thriving city they’re proud to call home.

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