As San Francisco is the most famous city by the bay area of Northern California, many visitors make the mistake of overlooking Oakland. With a modern hip flair that resembles a smaller and quieter Sam Fran without the fog, Oakland is a charming destination with a wide range of appeal. From astonishing architecture, to a thriving nightlife, to the best urban parks in the country, this city has many exciting things to offer.

01Visit one of the most extravagant cathedrals in America

The inside of the Cathedral Thomas Winz / Getty Images

Whether you're religious or are a fan of innovative architecture, The Cathedral of Christ the Light is an essential Oakland stop. The Cathedral casts an imposing air over its surroundings, with its colossal scale and unique conical design that turns the internal support beams into part of the artistic design. The interior is furnished with gorgeous old oak wood and intricate, modern artistic designs.

02Unwind by the Oakland Bonsai Garden

Image of stepping stones pathway in garden featuring Japanese elements, featuring granite lanterns, bamboo, pebbles, bonsai and Japanese maples (acers)

Bonsai artist Kathy Shaner uses her skills to bless Oakland with one the most lovingly tended, beautiful collections of bonsai trees in America. The Oakland Bonsai Garden is home to over fifty of these trees, and the garden itself is remade in an authentic Japanese architectural style. What’s more, it has a great location alongside Lake Merritt.

03Take a peaceful stroll by the lake

Lake Merritt

Lake Merritt is one of the best spots for a nice walk or a picnic in Oakland. You’ll enjoy a beautiful view of the city's neighborhoods and the parkland that surrounds this three-mile lake. If you want to get in, you can rent a kayak, canoe or a pedal boat to enjoy the water, which also happens to be the perfect spot for bird watching. What could be more romantic than a picnic and an afternoon boat ride on the lake while listening to the birds sing?

04Take snapshots of the protectors of the Bay Bridge

The Oakland Bay Bridge DianeBentleyRaymond / Getty Images

A local artist and some repair workers inconspicuously welded a steel troll to the underside of the San Francisco Bay bridge. By the time the authorities found out, it was too late to remove it. The locals quickly grew to love the troll, and some believe that it protects the bridge, which has escaped any damages ever since the little steel creature made its home under it. Officials eventually embraced the Bay Bridge Troll and even commissioned a second one when they had to temporarily remove the original one to perform routine repairs. Go under and see if you can spot the pair of trolls who guard this famous bridge!

05Enjoy live music at the Oakland Metro Operahouse

A classic opera house luoman / Getty Images

The Oakland Metro Operahouse is a live performance venue that hosts shows of all kinds, though it's particularly famous for its rock and metal shows. It was built into an old opera house, which gives it a haunting vibe that locals and music fans enjoy seeing and exploring. The venue is also a non-profit art space and home to the Oakland Opera. It comes equipped with a theatrical lighting system and a full bar.

06Wander the trails of Oakland’s Redwood Regional Park

Towering redwoods Tomsmith585 / Getty Images

The Redwood Regional Park is something of a local secret. It’s a great place to go and get lost in nature, and the gentle inclines and light underbrush make it extremely walkable. Unfortunately, the area once suffered heavy logging, so most redwoods are new growth. However, there’s a single old-growth redwood you have to see to believe. This massive tree is approximately five hundred years old and defiantly grows out of a steep, rocky slope. Local conservationists affectionately call it ‘Grandfather.’

07Visit a steampunk collective


Kinetic Steam Works is a group of passionate people from the Bay Area who mix technology and artistry to restore old steam engines and other kinds of steam-powered tech. They use their restored equipment and inventions to put on performances and promote steam power to the general public. These volunteers are even happy to induct outsiders and teach them how to restore and maintain the venerable industrial works of art. You can find them at Oakland public events such as Best of West, Maker Faire, and Best of the West.

08Explore California’s History

The Oakland skyline zorazhuang / Getty Images

The Oakland Museum of California—or the OMCA—is a museum dedicated to the art, natural science, and history of California and its people. With its 110,000 square feet of gallery space and more than 1.9 million objects, the OMCA creates a space that brings Californians together through its exhibits and cultural events, often through first-person accounts of the people who shaped the state's cultural heritage. The museum is also recognized as one of the top interdisciplinary museums in the San Francisco Bay area. Whether you're a history buff or just want to have a great time, the OMCA should be in your Oakland itinerary.

09Tour the Chapel of the Chimes

 The Chapel of the Chimes in the Moorish-Gothic revival style designed by Julia Morgan for this 1928 building at 5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA, USA

The famous, eccentric architect Julia Morgan turned a simple resting place for the local dead into an amazing artistic site. The Chapel of the Chimes is filled with a collection of souvenirs and artifacts from Europe and North Africa. Its unique architectural design blends Gothic style and Moorish revival influences, which fosters a strong, eerie atmosphere. The local community quickly deemed the Chapel to be too special to serve only as a crematory, so it eventually became a favorite spot for Oakland’s performing arts.

10Visit the accidental Buddhist shrine of Oakland


A local citizen was frustrated by the littering and troublemaking on his street, so he installed a simple Buddha statue from Ace Hardware to ward off potential vandals. This decision became a happy accident in the history of Oakland, as Vietnamese immigrants and war refugees turned the spot into a place of worship. Volunteers put up a shrine for the statue and built a rain shelter over it. Locals know the site as Phap Duyen Tu, and it’s become a focal point for cultural exchange and understanding in Oakland.