With vibrant galleries, hands-on activities, a free garden, and community events that celebrate and illuminate California—past, present, and even future—the Oakland Museum of California is an exciting cultural hub just a dozen miles from San Francisco.
What to See at the Oakland Museum of California
Established in 1969 as a “museum for the people,” OMCA brings together collections of art, history, and natural science, all wrapped with beautiful, terraced gardens. The Gallery of California Art is organized in a way that is different from a typical art museum. Works are divided into three themes, California Land, California People, and California Creativity, which allow the visitor to view works from different eras and of different types—paintings, new media, photography, and more—side by side. The result is a more inclusive approach, one that encourages interactivity and enables a different perspective on the arc of not only California art but also events and social movements that state has grappled with through the decades.
The Gallery of California History presents different facets of the state’s history viewed through a ”Coming to California” thematic lens. From ancient Native American history through the Spanish explorers, the Gold Rush, and more recent stories of immigration from around the world, this non-fixed-narrative history of the state is presented through artifacts, exhibits, historical ephemera, and art.
Through a series of innovative and often interactive exhibits, the Gallery of California Natural Sciences takes a comprehensive look at not only the vast and varied wildlife, climate, geology, and habitats of the state, as represented by seven different regions, but also how society impacts them. Emerging ecological technologies and the perspectives of environmentally minded citizens and scientists are showcased as well, with the hope that visitors leave with a sense of what roles they can play in preserving our world.
With plantings drawn from five Californian ecoregions, the museum’s terraced gardens are an inviting sanctuary open to the public. Open Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9 p.m. on Fridays and Sundays), admission is free.
When to Visit the Oakland Museum of California
Time your visit for a Friday and your experience gets even better. Friday Nights @ OMCA (5–9 p.m.) are family-friendly outdoor parties, with live music, spontaneous dancing, and Off the Grid–affiliated food trucks offering gourmet eats; local craft beer and wine are also available for sale. At the OMCA Gardens, the museum provides lawn games like giant Jenga and Connect Four, picnic tables, and blankets for kicking back on the grass. Looking to sharpen your artistic skills? Get creative and learn from locals at drop-in art workshops.