Oakland, CA, is rumored to be the epicenter of DIY and arts culture. That means its residents are all about creating good times and community activities that don’t cost much or, in this case, are free. So now that you’ve settled into your new home and are ready to meet the community, here’s a list of free activities to do in Oakland to get you started.
Lake Merritt is home to a pretty fantastic botanical garden
Seven acres of fantastic gardens, to be precise. There are pollinator gardens, Japanese gardens, an edible garden, and a sensory garden that invites you to smell, touch, and even put your hands in the granite fountain feature. It’s everything you’re not allowed to do in most botanical gardens, all in one. Become a volunteer and help maintain the gardens, or just stop by for a stroll around the grounds whenever you need some respite from the day. And hey, with Oakland’s fantastic weather, almost every day is a perfect day in the gardens.
The California Center for Natural History offers free nature walks and classes
Learn about the birds of Lake Merritt, visit a “pop-up aquarium” at Jack London Square, or take the whole family to learn about animal tracking on one of the CCNH’s free events in and around the city. If you’re living in Oakland, don’t you think you should get to know all of the neighbors — including the winged ones, the crawly ones, the swimming ones… Not all of the Center’s events are free, like the guided camping trips, but with this community-focused organization, there are often scholarships available.
You don’t have to go far to see the majestic Redwoods of Redwood Regional Park
In fact, you don’t even have to cross the bridge. Just over the ridge from downtown, you can duck in among massive coastal Redwoods and a host of resident animals to escape the city buzz for a minute, an afternoon, or a whole day. Trails wind through the park, there are group picnic areas available for public use, and there are activities offered to the public daily — including Toddler Time at the farm, participating in animal feeding time, or taking a guided bird walk.
Ride your bike and get your groove on at the East Bay Bike Party every second Friday
These cyclists know how to have a good time! With themed rides, well-organized meetup times, and established rules that include “Don’t Hate!” and “Ride straight”, the ride always starts and ends at a BART stop to facilitate easy access and is led by a volunteer leader with a flag. There are designated Music Bikes, and revelers are asked to bring their adult beverages in cans, not bottles… perhaps you can guess why.
Oakland does First Friday right with Art Murmur
Think your previous hometown did First Fridays the best? Think again. Oakland’s vibrant art scene means that touring the galleries isn’t just an excuse to snack on free pretzels, but is truly a spectacle and an event. Galleries are collectively open from 6-9pm, and the street festival in Uptown — along Telegraph Ave, between Grand-27th — is a great place to get out and socialize for those moving to Oakland. Visit the Art Murmur website for a venue guide to see which galleries are hosting openings each month.
Mountain View Cemetery is actually quite lovely
A historic Olmstead-designed cemetery, the 223-acre grounds of this hillside cemetery are open for you to walk and take in the view. Free tours are offered the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, led by a docent who will explain the historical aspects of the grounds — or choose a themed tour exploring the architecture, the decorative tree species, or the symbolism of grave sites. Holidays like Memorial Day include things like Civil War grave tours, stories of the past, and even live guitar music.
Stop and smell the roses at Morcom Rose Garden
There are over 6,000 rose bushes spread over 7 acres of these gardens, designed in the classically romantic 1930’s style. There are winding walkways, a reflecting pool, and a cascading fountain — so if you’re looking to channel a little Jane Austen, or perhaps woo your new date, these gardens are about as romantic as it gets. And? The gardens are centrally located in Oakland, so they’re easily accessed by the locals.
The Pacific is notoriously cold in this part of the country, meaning summertime dips might land you with blue toes. Fret not for your summer fun, because Lake Temescal has plenty of swimming, fishing, and picnicking along its shores. The lake was originally constructed as a holding pond for the city’s drinking water but is now used solely for recreational purposes. There is a parking fee to enter the park, but if you anticipate visiting the parks a lot, $30 will get you an annual parking pass from Destination Oakland.
Now that you have a sense of all of the free activities in Oakland, maybe it’s time to put some energy into decorating your new home. Here’s our blog post on a DIY crash course in interior design!