15 Free Things to Do in Oakland, CA

Oakland, CA
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As the largest city in the East Bay Region, Oakland in Alameda County is a powerhouse for tourist attractions.

It’s home to many unique destinations, including natural landscapes, historic sites, and lively districts.

Before all that, Oakland had been an important settlement with its convenient location nearby Lake Merritt.

It became an official town in 1852, gaining more residents until it became a proud city in 1854.

Whether artworks, a simple environment, or old-fashioned buildings, there are many sights to see in the city.

You also don’t need to spend money to enjoy what Oakland offers!

The city has a vibrant culture, from sweeping views and beautiful gardens to diverse parks and breathtaking architecture.

This list provides you with some of the free things to do in Oakland, California.

Explore Dr. Aurelia Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park

Trail at Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park
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The Dr. Aurelia Reinhart Redwood Regional Park is a beautiful haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

Along Redwood Road, this natural oasis boasts mystical forests, unique native species, and well-marked trails.

It was named in honor of Dr. Aurelia Henry Reinhardt, who contributed significantly to the park’s establishment and development.

In the 18th century, a considerable chunk of the wood had to be cut down for construction materials within the San Francisco Bay area.

Tree roots along Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park's trail
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Since then, volunteers have worked to replant the empty areas, bringing them back to their original form.

The natural allure of the environment will captivate your senses at the Dr. Aurelia Reinhart Redwood Regional Park.

Popular activities include hiking, biking, camping, horseback riding, and more!

Plants at Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park
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Meet the Locals at Jack London Square

Entryway of Jack London Square
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Jack London Square serves breathtaking sights for people who stroll along its premises.

It doubles as a marina and waterfront plaza open to the public.

Lined up along the square, you’ll see an array of lively restaurants, local shops, and outdoor facilities.

There’s a bowling alley, a movie theater, ferries, and other entertaining activities.

Night scene at Jack London Square
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You don’t need money to enjoy the cozy atmosphere and vibrant community of Jack London Square.

At the same time, you get a gorgeous backdrop of the scenic San Francisco Bay!

Along Water Street, this place has become a thriving destination since the mid-18th century.

If you ever want to see the local hangouts in Oakland, Jack London Square is one of the places you should visit.

A restaurant at Jack London Square
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Admire the Architecture of Swan’s Market

Exterior of Swan’s Market
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Bring your family or friends to Swan’s Market to see the local community in action.

Located at 9th Street, this huge building has served as the town’s leading source of groceries and food items since 1917.

Many architects contributed to the style and decor of Swan’s Market, using white-glazed bricks and terracotta medallions.

Until today, those materials give the historic building a unified appearance even after other renovations.

It eventually won the 2001 Rudy Bruner Silver Medal Award for Excellence in Urban Design.

Even without buying any products, visitors can still admire the solid architectural styles in Swan’s Market.

It’s a great place to stroll around and unwind with a little glimpse into what Oakland looked like in the past.

Go Window-Shopping in the Antique Center

Set inside an old-school barn, the Antique Center is perfect for a casual window-shopping experience.

This place has a wide assortment of unique vintage goods and worthwhile antiques at affordable prices.

Located on Telegraph Avenue, you can explore the shelves of the Antique Center and see some of its products.

From wooden furniture and home decor to stuffed toys and collectibles, this store offers a little bit of everything.

Remember that there’s no pressure to buy any item!

You can always roam around and browse their inventory.

Depending on the holidays and season, their collection can change to fit the current needs.

Check out the Antique Center in Oakland!

Try Water Recreation at Lake Merritt

The waters of Lake Merritt
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Lake Merritt embodies a tranquil atmosphere, making it perfect for those seeking a reprieve.

Go east of Downtown Oakland to discover the wonders of the scenic lake.

It’s also the United State’s first official wildlife refuge!

Some of its best features include grassy shores and artificial islands, marking it as a natural habitat for many species of animals.

People walking at Lake Merritt's trail
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For those who prefer lively activities, you can try various kinds of water recreation at Lake Merritt.

They also host community events, such as concerts and firework displays, along the banks of Lake Merritt.

Previously, Lake Merritt had been a part of San Francisco Bay.

Sailboats on Lake Merritt
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See the Sunset at Port View Park

Sunset over San Fernando skyline from Port View Park
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Thanks to its splendid features, Port View Park has become one of the most popular hangout spots in the city.

This park was redesigned and expanded in 1995, a few years after a massive earthquake damaged it.

At 7th Street, several stony tables and chairs are scattered around the premises.

The best part, however, is the endlessly beautiful views.

Port View Park is conveniently positioned to offer clear backdrops of the San Francisco Bay and the San Francisco Skyline.

You can also see maritime ships and boats traversing the blue waters.

Spanning 4.5 acres, you can stroll around the park, picnic, or relax at one of its designated benches.

They also provide public access to fishing opportunities!

Discover Asian Culture at Oakland Chinatown

Building at Oakland Chinatown
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In the 1850s, Oakland Chinatown was a refuge for Chinese survivors of the San Francisco earthquake.

It made the area a lively, vibrant space for Asian culture, arts, and cuisines!

The district thrived under those conditions, eventually becoming a staple destination for people who want to experience Asian culture.

From food and drinks to decor and aesthetics, Oakland Chinatown showcases the authentic Chinese lifestyle.

Pastry shop at Oakland Chinatown
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Quaint tea shops, original Asian restaurants, and delis make up many of the area’s attractions.

A stroll around the place also offers unique architectural sights!

You can mainly find Chinatown Oakland along 8th to 10th Street, but it extends up to Franklin and Webster Street.

A restaurant at Oakland Chinatown
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Joyce Gordon Gallery displays masterful artworks with a moving social purpose.

At 14th Street, this place offers a space for artists focusing on cultural diversity within the San Francisco Bay region.

Everything is curated to impact current social themes, whether it's a painting, sculpture, or even a photograph.

The exhibits often change, so frequent visitors can see something new every once in a while.

Other than that, the art center hosts events that can spice up your visit to the gallery!

If you’re into art, give this place a shot!

While it may not be the largest art center, the works in Joyce Gordon Gallery might surprise you.

Smell the Flowers in Morcom Rose Garden

Flowers at Morcom Rose Garden
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Along the lengths of Jean Street, you can enjoy the beautiful vision of Morcom Rose Garden.

Since the late 1920s, this leisure destination has opened to the public.

Built in the aftermath of the Great Depression, the garden features expensive roses within a natural, rugged landscape.

Visit the garden when the flowers bloom from late April to October.

A bird at Morcom Rose Garden
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Likewise, Morcom Rose Garden treats you to the sight of more than 6,000 rose bushes that vary in shape, color, and size.

It’s a stunning view to remember!

There’s also a winding walkway, a reflecting pool, intricate stairways, and well-built fountains.

If you appreciate the beauty of roses, you can’t miss out on this attraction.

Learn History in the African American Museum & Library at Oakland

Interior of the African American Museum & Library at Oakland
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You can trace the collections inside the African American Museum & Library at Oakland back in 1946.

It began when a few activists decided to compile documents and other pieces of African-American history in California.

The activists aimed to preserve, collect and spread information about the lives and stories of African-American people in the region.

You’ll find exhibits, informative brochures, and authentic artifacts related to the museum’s theme.

Exhibit in the African American Museum & Library at Oakland
Almonroth, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum also offers guided tours by appointment, but guests can freely roam around on their own.

At 14th Street, the African American Museum & Library at Oakland offers a valuable learning experience.

For history buffs and those curious about history, the African American Museum & Library at Oakland can be exciting!

Enter the Mystical Woodlands of Joaquin Miller Park

Aerial view of Joaquin Miller Park
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Joaquin Miller Park takes you on a tranquil journey away from all the distracting noise of the city.

With about 500 acres of land, the park immerses its visitors in a mystical woodland area.

It’s filled with redwood trees and groves of oak amid lush meadows and misty creeksides.

Joaquin Miller Park is also home to an abundance of animal wildlife that treats the place as their natural habitat.

The cascades at Joaquin Miller Park
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You can drop by the park ranger station if you’d like to learn more.

They’ll teach you more about the park’s history and showcase a variety of animal exhibits.

Located at Joaquin Miller Road, this place is often called the “jewel in the redwoods.”

Welcome sign of Joaquin Miller Park
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Experience the Local Lifestyle at Temescal Farmer’s Market

Many markets are scattered around Oakland, but Temescal Farmers Market stands out.

This place has so much to offer, from agricultural products and homemade pastries to non-edible items.

The best part is that they’re all made and sourced from local growers and artisans, making each item unique.

If you’re on a budget, there’s no need to purchase any of their items!

Just roam the premises, see the local vendors, and immerse in the warmth of Oakland’s community.

You can find Temescal Farmers Market along Claremont Avenue.

See the Fusion of Past and Future at Old Oakland

Buildings along Old Oakland
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Combine the subtle charm of historical buildings with modern entertainment to get Old Oakland.

The district starts along the northwest side of Broadway, extending to the middle of the City Center complex and Jack London Square.

This area has a vibrant community filled with local businesses, lively events, and welcoming people.

It’s a cultural place that attracts visitors from across the region.

Old Oakland boasts of a unique fusion between history and modern entertainment.

From ghost streets in the 1800s, Old Oakland has come a long way into becoming a popular destination.

Now, you’ll rarely see its premises without any customers!

Feel the Wind at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park

Bench overlooking the waters at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park
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What separates Middle Harbor Shoreline Park from other parks in the city?

It’s home to Oakland’s first public beach, making it the perfect summer destination when the heat kicks in.

There are also viewing scopes on the pier side that can help you see the city through different lenses.

With shallow bays and shorelines, many animals have begun to see the park as their home.

Trail at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park
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These animals include crabs, flatfishes, anchovies, and many bird species.

Middle Harbor Shoreline Park also holds an interesting story.

The park was once the Oakland Naval Supply Depot, an essential source of supplies during World War II.

Take a walk down the historic, relaxing Middle Harbor Shoreline Park at Middle Harbor Road.

The grounds of Middle Harbor Shoreline Park
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Get Lost in the Gardens at Lake Merritt

A bird at The Gardens at Lake Merritt
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Treat your eyes to the pleasing visuals of the Gardens at Lake Merritt.

This place specializes in gorgeous designs of lush, flowery landscapes along Bellevue Avenue.

It spans about seven acres, featuring more than eight themed gardens to immerse yourself in.

Some themes include a Japanese garden, a Palm garden, and an Edible garden, among others.

Torii memorial at The Gardens at Lake Merritt
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The Gardens at Lake Merritt is a paradise that entices guests from across the country.

It’s one of the most popular attractions in Oakland!

If you’re ever nearby, don’t miss out on the loveliness of these tranquil gardens.

Final Thoughts

Oakland is the largest city in the Golden State for a reason!

You’ll always see something new with each passing destination.

Plan your budget-friendly trip today and discover the free things to do in Oakland, California!

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