18 Things Oakland is Known and Famous For

Across the bay from San Francisco is Oakland’s waterfront. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this diverse city. Oakland may border the bay, but the large city spreads inland, boasting a vibrant downtown bordered by hills and redwood forests. 

While many consider it an outlying city, Oakland residents know better. The city has always had a strong character, culture, and history of its own. There are many reasons Oakland residents are proud of their home. 

Oakland Skyline from Above during Sunset

Oakland is known for beautiful locations such as Lake Merrit, Morcom Rose Garden, and Dr. Aurelia Reinhardt Redwood Park. The city has a vibrant art and music scene with numerous murals, Art Murmur walks, and Brooklyn Basin events. Oakland is famous for being home to the Oakland A’s and the Black Panthers. It is also the birthplace of the Mai Tai cocktail and the popsicle.

With such diversity in landscape, population, and events, it’s not easy to get bored here. Read on to learn what Oakland is famous for and some fun facts about the city! 

1. Lake Merrit

lake merrit oakland

Oakland is known for Lake Merrit, a central landmark in the city. With a circumference of roughly 3.5 miles, many use this lake as a running or walking route.

The area around the lake has regular dancing events, buskers, impromptu jam sessions, and occasional protests. Alternatively, you can explore the water by canoe, kayak, or paddleboat.

During initial Covid lockdowns, many people flocked to this lake as a much-needed refuge, only to discover that two unusual ducks also found sanctuary here.

The ducks, one black and one white, were inseparable and become known as Lake Merrit’s lovebird power couple. They were later discovered to be abandoned, domesticated ducks, and rescued and rehomed.   

2. Murals

Painting Black Lives Matter on 15th Street in downtown Oakland
Editorial credit: Shelly Waldman / Shutterstock.com

Oakland is famous for its murals. The city itself is a walking museum with over 1,000 murals. 

Oakland embraces its culture through art. Supporting local artists and youth-related projects, it boasts several non-profit organizations, such as the Community Rejuvenation Project and the Graffiti Camp for Girls

You could spend an entire day walking the city and absorbing its culture and history through the lens of mesmerizing murals. Check out this long list of Oakland’s murals to get a better picture. 

3. Black History

fist power.

Oakland holds a prominent place in black history and continues to be an epicenter for social justice movements of all kinds.

Oakland lies at the western end of the Transcontinental Railroad, making it a top destination for migration at the end of the Civil War. Many African Americans came to work in the thriving hospitality industry at this time.

Another wave of African American migration occurred in the mid-1900s as many people fled the Jim Crow Laws in the South.

Oakland is the birthplace and home of the Black Panthers. The black power political party was started by college students in 1966. The organization is known for being one of the most influential groups to emerge in the 1960s.

At the core, the organization’s goal was to protect the unprotected and develop community social programs as part of a larger Black Power movement.

4. Music

Crowd at a music festival
Editorial credit: Ian Young Nounpusher / Shutterstock.com

Oakland is famous for its music scene. It has always been an epicenter for creative, experimental music – and it doesn’t limit itself to any one genre. From jazz to metal to underground hip hop, Oakland embraces it all.

Live music can be found any night of the week, whether at a large concert venue, a jazz club, or perhaps your local bar. Buskers are also common, so don’t be shocked to hear some soulful music on a random street corner while walking about town.

5. Morcom Rose Garden

Morcom Rose Garden in Oakland CA

Stop and smell the roses in Oakland! The Morcom Rose Garden is a beautifully landscaped park with over 6,000 bushes of roses. Blooming from May through October, it’s the perfect place to celebrate Mother’s Day at the start of the season.

An aggressive turkey known to attack parkgoers once caused the temporary closure of this beloved garden. The turkey in question, Gerald, has since been safely relocated. So you can rest assured you’ll have a tranquil, rosy visit to Morcom Garden now!

6. Oakland A’s

Matt Joyce right fielder for the Oakland Athletics spring training at Hohokam Stadium
Editorial credit: Keeton Gale / Shutterstock.com

Oakland is famous for its baseball team, the Oakland Athletics. The team has been based in the city since 1968 and has won nine World Series Championships.

The Golden State Warriors and the Raiders were once based in Oakland but have since moved out – leaving the Oakland A’s as the city’s current claim to athletic fame.

7. Cleveland Cascade Steps

Cleveland Cascade Steps

Oakland is known for the Cleveland Cascade Steps. The staircase was built in 1923 and has been refurbished and maintained by a local volunteer organization.

The cascades once hosted Italian-style water fountains. It is now covered in flowing plants and dotted with lights at night.

The top of the stairs is the perfect viewpoint of Lake Merrit. Start your run here by assessing the route from above, or end it here for a serene staircase stretch.

8. The Mai Tai

Homemade Mai Tai Cocktail with Pineapple Cherry and Rum

With such tropical inspiration, it’s hard to imagine the Mai Tai coming from Oakland – but it does!

The rum-based cocktail was invented at Trader Vic’s restaurant in Oakland in 1944. The owner, Victor J Bergeron named the drink after the Tahitian word for “excellence.” 

The Mai Tai has since spread wildly in popularity and can be found at many tiki-themed bars. Remember this fun fact next time you sip on the tasty orange and rum cocktail. Cheers!

9. The Popsicle

Group of Kids Eating Colorful Frozen Popsicles in the Summer

A little-known fun fact is that Oakland is the birthplace of popsicles.

Frank Epperson, an 11-year-old boy, left a stick in his fruit soda on a freezing day circa 1905. When the liquid stuck to the stick, he cleverly named it an ep-sicle after himself. 

The trend caught on and evolved into the popsicle we know and love today. Leave it up to kids to invent the best-tasting treats!   

10. Coffee

Latte art and a pair of button pins from Blue Bottle Coffee, Inc., a coffee roaster founded and headquartered in Oakland, California.
Editorial credit: Leonel Calara / Shutterstock.com

Oakland is known for good coffee and trendy cafes. The famous Blue Bottle Coffee was invented here with their flagship store still standing. Awaken Cafe combines coffee, beer & wine, and events for the ultimate hipster hot spot. 

With such diversity in cafes, roasters, and barista specialties, you are sure to find that unique cup of coffee that tastes juuuust right to you.

11. Jack London Square

Oakland Jack London Square in the Evening
Editorial credit: SnapASkyline / Shutterstock.com

A center for recreation and transport, Jack London Square sits on the waterfront in Oakland. Its name naturally stems from the author Jack London, whose Klondike cabin was relocated to this area.

Explore the retail shops and restaurants dotting the port, or come for the Sunday morning farmer’s market. To venture outside the city, board a ferry to San Francisco, or hop on an Amtrak train to explore the greater Northern California region.

12. Temescal Alley

Friends, black and Latin people, eating ramen noodle soup in Japanese Restaurant

Oakland is known for Temescal Alley, a hip section full of eateries, cafes, and retailers. It originally drew recent art grads and immigrants for the low cost of living, but is now a sought-after neighborhood. 

Stroll down this alley for all things hipster — concept stores, boutique jewelry, a barbershop, and even an apothecary.

You can find cuisines including Ethiopian, Korean, or more niche spots serving up gourmet mac n cheese or fried chicken off ironing boards. Take a tour with Edible Excursions to taste it all!   

13. Redwood Parks

Beautiful day at Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, California

In the hills of East Oakland lie the redwood forests of Dr. Aurelia Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park. While unusual to have such parks inland, it creates a coastal-like microclimate here.

It’s the perfect place to stroll on a warm day, with the trees and cool breeze in the surrounding area. With over 40 miles of trails, it’s a great place to hike, ride horses, practice archery, or enjoy a picnic.

14. Homeless People

Dominique Walker, a member of Moms 4 Housing and group spokeswoman, speaking in front of City Hall about their movement that housing should be a human right in California.
Editorial credit: Sheila Fitzgerald / Shutterstock.com

Oakland’s homeless crisis is spurred by economic inequality, a housing shortage, and the rising cost of living in the area. It is estimated that the number of homeless people in Oakland has doubled in the past decade.

The city has executed emergency measures in an attempt to respond to the surge, including building temporary housing units. However, the lack of affordable housing and resources continues to affect the city’s most vulnerable populations.

15. Oakland International Airport

A Southwest Airlines airplane departs Oakland International Aiport
Editorial credit: TierneyMJ / Shutterstock.com

Oakland is known for its international airport. Flights are generally cheaper than the neighboring San Francisco airport.

Aptly abbreviated as OAK, the airport is well connected to the intercity transit system and less than ten miles to downtown Oakland.

If you’re flying into the bay area, don’t forget to check flights into Oakland as well!

16. Slang

Slang

Oakland is famous for its slang. A handful of common Northern California phrases were born right here in Oakland. Some might be known internationally, others not so much!

Hella is used to intensify any adjective. That sandwich shop is hella good! I highly recommend it. 

Hyphy was born out of hip hip culture and roughly means “hyperactive”.  The club was hyphy last night!

While a bit outdated now, ghost riding the whip was a term created and popularized by Oakland rappers. It entails putting your car in neutral, hopping on the hood, and dancing to music blaring from the car’s speakers.

17. Brooklyn Basin

Dusk comes to Oakland California washing the harbor to the mountains in golden light

Brooklyn Basin is a waterfront area with housing, parks, and recreational activities. Originally a shipping hub, the port had been reenvisioned. It’s been decades in the making and continues to expand.

With sweeping views of San Francisco, the bay, and the inland hills, Brooklyn Basin is increasing the value – and real estate prices – of this district. 

Check out live events from comedy shows to social dances in the open-air space during summer. Grab some snacks at Rocky’s Market and listen to live music or even the Oakland Symphony.

18. Art Murmur

Young woman in modern art gallery

Oakland Art Murmur is all about art and empowerment. Showcasing local artists from various backgrounds, the organization puts on several public events per month.

The First Art Walk is a free public event held on the first Friday of every month, allowing artists to display their work. The Saturday Stroll connects many venues that open their space for free and host cultural events such as presentations, readings, and performances.

Oakland Tribune Tower with Red Lighting in front of Oakland Skyline
Editorial credit: SnapASkyline / Shutterstock.com

Oakland feels alive – it’s complex, vibrant, and constantly growing and changing. Yet, there’s something about Oakland that remains true to its core. There’s no city quite like it. And anyone that’s lived here or visited knows what I mean.

Maybe you learned something new from this list, or maybe you have something to add! If so, feel free to share more about Oakland below.

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