The Oakland Bay Bridge in Oakland, California, is lit up and reflected over the water at dusk

Hidden Gems to Explore in Oakland, California

The Oakland Bay Bridge in Oakland, California, is lit up and reflected over the water at dusk

Hidden Gems to Explore in Oakland, California

Oakland, California is home to great food, culture, and a bustling downtown scene. Here are eight hidden gems to explore on your next visit.


Although some people may leave their hearts in San Francisco, many of the Bay Area’s hipsters, entrepreneurs, and artists prefer calling Oakland home. Situated on the other side of San Francisco Bay, Oakland is a renowned foodie haven that boasts some of the best eats in the area. It’s also home to cultural institutions, a bustling downtown scene, and a few unique offerings that aren’t well known to anyone but the locals. If you find yourself with a little free time in between meetings or in the evening, check out some of these hidden gems in the East Bay.

The sun shines brightly through the buildings of the Oakland, Californina skyline on a bright day with Oakland Bay in the foreground
Source: Shutterstock

The Hidden Lake

Lake Merritt is a big attraction in Oakland, and the city is the only one in the world with a natural saltwater lake contained completely within its boundaries. However, this famous lake isn’t the only body of water in town. If you’re looking for a quiet spot to enjoy your lunch or to get away from it all, visit the reflecting lake on top of the Kaiser Center’s parking structure. The architect built a 3.5-acre rooftop garden and lake, complete with beautiful landscaping and a wooden bridge. The refreshing environment offers some serenity in the middle of a busy city.

"The curved exterior of the Kaiser Center building is reflected off the water in downtown Oakland, California
Source: Shutterstock

Fentons Creamery

This Oakland hotspot ranks high on the list of best ice cream shops in the U.S., according to Thrillist, but if you’re not a local, you might not be aware of the creamy deliciousness that awaits. Featuring more than just ice cream, Fentons Creamery offers a few secret menu options that definitely qualify as hidden gems for foodies. Next time you’re in town, try a vintage-inspired olive salad sandwich, buttery grilled peanut butter and jelly sammies, or the adult version of the cafe’s classic mac and cheese.

Port View Park

Until 2011, Oakland’s Middle Harbor Shoreline Park was one of the city’s best kept secrets. After Mumford & Sons held a concert there, the public park became a much busier venue. If you prefer water views and quiet surroundings, Port View Park, known as “The Park at the End of the World,” delivers on both counts. Located at the end of 7th Street, this small park has its own small history museum and a path that takes you to the outer limits of the city for some of the most unique views of Oak Town.

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

Favored among hikers and nature enthusiasts, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve offers a combination of outdoor recreation and beautiful scenery. One of its notable features, Round Top, formed from the remnants of a volcano that dates back 10 million years.

Sibley is also home to two hidden labyrinths made from rock formations built right into the park’s quarry pits. Find the smaller, heart-shaped labyrinth by following signs for the “Quarry Pit.” Whether you visit to learn more about the region’s volcanic past or to wander one of the labyrinths, the cool factor alone makes it worth the trip.

Ba Le Sandwich Shop

Don’t let the hole-in-the-wall appearance throw you. This Vietnamese sandwich shop serves what many locals call “the best” banh mi (breads). Other local favorites include the meatball and fried egg sandwich, lemongrass pork and grilled chicken sandwich, and steaming bowls of pho. If you’re short on time, Ba Le Sandwich Shop also offers to-go boxes that are ready to go in the cold case.

Hidden Staircases

If you relish the idea of a little workout with your sightseeing, skip the gym in favor of running up and down one of Oakland’s historic hidden staircases. Originally built to provide pedestrians with shortcuts down to streetcar stations, these concrete stairs still exist in many neighborhoods in the city. If you want to tackle one of the city’s longest connected secret stairways, head to the Merriewood Steps on Thornhill and get your cardio workout by climbing more than 630 steps.

Nido

Nestled in an industrial neighborhood, this farm-to-table Mexican restaurant goes beyond your normal taqueria. Nido serves up a variety of what Eater calls “slightly off the beaten path of Mexican food,” including specialties like kale salad with a cotija dressing, Ahi tuna tostaditas, and eggplant enfrijoladas. Chef Jose Ramos, who worked at San Francisco’s Nopalito when it opened, specializes in creating unique takes on classic dishes using seasonal ingredients, humanely raised meats, and family recipes with distinctly California touches.

The Crucible

Get a taste of Oakland’s edgy art scene with a visit to The Crucible. This 56,000-square-foot facility houses studios where artists and professionals practice their crafts and teach classes. The venue offers free guided tours that give visitors an inside look into the kinetic art, blacksmithing, fire performance art, and industrial art created by local artists.

Are you an Oakland native or frequent visitor with great tips on local hotspots? Share your insight with us on Twitter.

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