San Francisco may get all of the glory, but the city of Oakland just across the bay has plenty to offer family travelers as well. World-class museums, an up-and-coming food scene, and outdoor adventures make it a worthy stop on a trip to the Bay Area or even an adventure all on its own. Get an East Bay local’s take on visiting Oakland, California with kids.
Often overshadowed by its neighbor across the bay, the city of Oakland, California may not seem like an obvious destination for family travelers. I’ll let you in on a local’s secret. There is a reason that so many Bay Area locals move to the East Bay after starting families. Oakland and the surrounding areas East Bay towns of Alameda, Berkeley, and beyond are incredibly kid-friendly. While nothing in the San Francisco Bay Area is cheap, activities and entertainment in Oakland offer significantly more bang for your buck while still offering big city quality experiences.
Here are a some of the top family-friendly things to do and places to eat in Oakland.
Things to Do in Oakland California with Kids
1. Children’s Fairyland
A visit to this miniature theme park is like being transported back in time. Children’s Fairyland near Oakland’s Lake Merritt was founded in 1950 with the mission of providing family fun for visitors with young children. When Walt Disney was planning Disneyland, he visited Fairyland to use it as a model. The park is filled with storybook scenes come to life, puppet shows, play spaces, and low-tech rides perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. The execution is simple, but it makes the destination charming and unique.
2. Oakland Aviation Museum
Many locals don’t know the Oakland Aviation Museum even exists, making it one of the least crowded and best kept secrets in the East Bay. You’ll find it tucked behind the rental car center of the Oakland International Airport. The museum houses a collection of historic commercial and military aircraft. It doesn’t have the budget to be as bright and shiny as some of the nation’s more well-known aviation museums. But it makes up for that in history and passion for flight.
Little kids will love exploring the planes outdoors or climbing in their very own miniature war plane, complete with intimidating nose art. Older children can brush up on their aviation history like the story of Amelia Earhart whose historic but doomed flight departed from Oakland.
3. Oakland Museum of California
The Oakland Museum of California offers families an easy way to explore the entire state of California without ever leaving downtown Oakland. The museum has three galleries featuring the art, history, and natural science of the Golden State. Younger children will find the natural science gallery the most interactive and impressive. They can explore the wide variety of habitats the state has while coming face-to-face some of its more unusual animals. Older kids who know more about the culture and history of the state will enjoy seeing eras like Old Hollywood or San Francisco’s Summer of Love come alive in the California history gallery. Friday nights at the museum are the ultimate family-friendly evening out, with food trucks, music, and dance lessons taking over museum grounds.
4. Fentons Creamery
If the Fentons sign looks a little familiar, that’s because this creamery and restaurant was made famous by an appearance in the Pixar movie Up. And it deserves every bit of that fame. With sundaes big enough for an entire family to share with plenty left over, Fentons is pretty much a child’s dream come true.
Come for a dinner of diner favorites or just a scoop as you are strolling the nearby shops of Piedmont Avenue. Fentons also offers tours of its ice cream making facilities on-site for kids ages 6 and up. Call ahead to reserve.
5. Chabot Space and Science Center
Located in the Oakland Hills, the Chabot Space and Science Center is a STEM-focused museum, planetarium, and working observatory. Children can learn all about the cosmos while just having fun playing astronaut. The planetarium shows are a highlight, with different movies playing throughout the day geared at a wide variety of ages.
6. Oakland A’s Baseball Games
The Oakland Athletics is one of baseball’s most fascinating franchises. The A’s are famous for doing more with less. The team had a number of successful seasons over the past decade and a half with the smallest budget in baseball. If you’ve read Moneyball or seen its movie interpretation, you probably know the story.
But why families should care is that the A’s shoestring budget makes their games a highly affordable outing with kids. A day out with the A’s doesn’t cost an arm and a leg like it does at most baseball stadiums around the country. Tickets start at $5 per seat during some promotions. And the atmosphere at A’s games is incredibly kid-friendly. The players are young, scrappy, and hungry, with a sense of humor and a love of the fans that is unmatched.
7. Oakland Zoo
The Oakland Zoo is nationally known for its elephant exhibit, but it also offers a wide variety of animal experiences and encounters. The zoo also has a skyway, a train, and a small set of amusement park rides outside the gates for a full day of family-friendly fun. The zoo is currently undergoing a major expansion called the California Trail that will add a number of open range animal habitats on the surrounding hillsides. A large gondola will soar over the exhibits offering amazing views.
8. Homeroom Mac & Cheese
Oakland’s food scene has been giving San Francisco a run for its money in recent years. What Oakland does especially well is combine its roots in soul and comfort food with the fresh ingredients that make California cuisine so popular. The combination is magical. It also makes the food a little more accessible to many kids who might be picky eaters. Few places strike this balance better than Homeroom, a restaurant in Oakland that specializes in macaroni and cheese served a dozen different ways. While your little ones can chow down on the classic dish, parents can go a bit bolder with a version topped with Sriracha or a Hawaiian variety with pineapples, scallions, and ham.
9. Tilden Regional Park
Tilden Regional Park in the Oakland Hills is chock full of kid-friendly adventures and things to do. The park spans the border of Oakland and Berkeley, and has numerous hiking and biking trails. Families flock to it to ride aboard the historic steam trains as well as to take a few spins on the Tilden Merry-Go-Round. Don’t miss Tilden Little Farm for a kid-friendly petting zoo experience.
10. USS Potomac
A visit to the USS Potomac in Jack London Square offers a chance to brush up on your own Depression and World War II era history while offering a history lesson to school aged kids. The Potomac served as FDR’s presidential yacht and is devoted to educating visitors about his legacy. Dockside tours are available several days a week or book a bay cruise for a longer adventure. After a visit, take some time to explore the shops and restaurants of Jack London Square.