Plenty of families call Oakland, California, home, while others live in Alameda, an island with a retro 20th-century atmosphere that’s just across the water (take the tunnel or one of three bridges) from Oakland. So it should be no surprise at all that you can have a great day or weekend exploring the East Bay with your kids. Here’s our best advice for having a fantastic city, hills, and bayside adventure with your family.
Having a car helps immensely, since parking isn’t as difficult or expensive here as in San Francisco. BART trains are fast, but you won’t be using them much, if at all to get to most of the places recommended in this itinerary. Public AC Transit buses can be slow and infrequent or else require walks that are too long for little legs to reach some family-friendly spots in the Oakland Hills, such as Redwood Regional Park. For more Transportation details see Oakland and Around (in the yellow bar).
Wake up next to San Francisco Bay at the cheerful Waterfront Hotel, which welcomes families next to Jack London Square. The hotel also caters to your four-legged friends, who get their own dog bed, water bowl and treats. It’s a 10-minute drive to the northeastern tip of Lake Merritt, where the kid-welcoming Grand Lake Kitchen serves egg scrambles, Mexican chilaquiles, and French toast sweet or savory.
If your kids geek out over science and space exploration, then head up into the Oakland Hills to the Chabot Space and Science Center, which has its own planetarium and telescope observatories. Otherwise, pay a visit to the Oakland Museum of California, near Chinatown. There’s so much for families to do at this museum, especially on Family Sundays. Any day of the week, you can explore the interactive art and life sciences galleries or check out a blanket and a book to go relax in the gardens.
On Piedmont Ave., north of Lake Merritt and Uptown, have lunch at beloved Fentons Creamery. Scooping up ice-cream sundaes since 1894, Fentons’ sit-down family restaurant has a kids menu of grilled cheese and PB&J sandwiches and chicken corn dogs. Tip: Fentons offers cool, inexpensive behind-the-scenes “Arctic Tours” that show kids (ages six and up) the ice-cream production room and the blast freezer. Tours are offered daily, starting just before lunch; advance reservations are required.
If the weather is cooperating (and it usually is, although some winter days in Oakland can be rainy and cold), dart back south to Lake Merritt. Young kids will light up with delight inside the Children’s Fairyland, a storybook-themed amusement park with tame rides. At the shoreline Lake Merritt Boating Center, you can rent a pedal boat or rowboat for the whole family, or teach teens how to paddle a kayak or canoe.
Another option for an afternoon outdoors is to drive up into the Oakland Hills, where you’ll find several East Bay Regional Parks interlaced by hiking trails. The local favorite is Tilden Regional Park, which has a nature area with a farm petting zoo, a merry-go-round, train rides, and a lake for seasonal swimming. Another perfect destination for an afternoon nature walk with kids is shady Redwood Regional Park.
For dinner near Lake Merritt, The Star on Grand does deep-dish pizza. Farther north in Temescal, Homeroom is all about good ol’ mac ‘n’ cheese (for adults, too!). Over in Old Oakland, historical Swan’s Market has open seating at big tables and a half dozen different food stalls to order meals from, so everyone in your family can eat exactly what they want.
Have a classic movie night at Oakland’s landmark Grand Lake Theater, a short walk down the street from The Star on Grand. Otherwise, hop in the car and drive through the Webster tunnel to the island of Alameda, where you can drop by the Pacific Pinball Museum and Subpar Miniature Golf or go bowling near the South Shore Center.