I’ve lived in the Bay Area for a decade, but I’d never visited the Oakland Museum of California, much less taken my three kids there.
With a heat wave hitting the Bay Area, I finally took the family there, and it was a great experience.
Here are all the details you need to know about taking your kids to the Oakland Museum.
Oakland Museum Basics
The Oakland Museum of California (often called OMCA) is located in the heart of downtown Oakland, California. It showcases the history and art of California. One neat thing about the museum is that it shows both the natural history of California and its culture.
Address: 1000 Oak St, Oakland, CA 94607
With any museum in an urban location, parking can be a big challenge. I love the Asian Art Museum in S.F., but it doesn’t have its own garage, so you have to park several blocks away.
At the OMCA, though, there’s a modern underground lot. On my visit, parking cost $10. There’s an easy stroller ramp that takes you right into the museum’s entrance.
It’s a super easy experience and something I appreciate a lot, especially when lugging around a triple stroller!
Tickets and Prices
Another nice thing about the Oakland Museum is that kids 12 and under get in for free. Adult tickets are a little pricey, and they don’t have reciprocal access with any Bay Area kids museums.
Still, when you average the ticket prices over a whole family, it makes bringing along several kids very reasonable.
- Adults (18-64): $19
- Seniors (65+): $16
- Youth (13-17), Educators, Students: $12
- Kids 12 and under: FREE
- EBT Card Holders: $1
What to See
Let’s get this on the table right off the bat: the Oakland Museum isn’t exclusively a children’s museum. Many of the exhibits feature art and history, and there are lots of things that kids can’t touch.
That said, there are still plenty of parts of the museum that my little kids (6, 3 and 2) loved. And with bigger kids or teens, there’s a lot of great learning to do here, too.
Natural History Section
For the littlest kids, I recommend starting off in the Natural History section on the lowest level. You’ll find a very kid-friendly area that features a train table, books, hands-on activities, a fish wall, and even a (very tiny) infant area.
We finished our trip in that section, which was a mistake. We should have started there, as it was the most kid-friendly section of the museum!
There are also exhibits about classic California spots like Yosemite National Park and Tahoe. There’s a pretend cabin with rocking chairs where your kids can hang out, as well as stuffed bears and other examples of California’s flora and fauna.
California History Section
In the history section on the main floor, there are also a lot of things your kids can do an interact with. Throughout the exhibit, the museum has thoughtfully added little green fingers indicating things that it’s okay to touch.
There’s a section of railroad track they can lift into place, a big section of an old DC10 airplane they can sit inside, and towards the back, a cool interactive installation built with an Arduino board.
The Chevron gallery in the far back is a great place for kids too. There’s a giant, gleaming steam fire truck from 1898, as well as interactive sound exhibits that are hands-on.
Somewhat older kids will enjoy the stories of California history, both the good and the bad. You get to learn about the glamour of San Francisco in the Gilded Age, but also the shameful history of Japanese internment camps.
This is a popular place for kids’ field trips and I can see why. There’s a lot of local knowledge and California-specific facts served up in a relatively small space.
The California History section is organized chronologically, with the earliest Native American history near the entrance, and the most recent history of the Internet and tech towards the back.
I liked that the museum emphasizes the culture of tech more than the specifics of different companies. We have the computer museum in Mountain View to get into the technical side—the Oakland Museum is more about human stories.
Rooftop Garden and Lawn
The Oakland Museum also has a unique rooftop area that’s built into the museum’s cavernous building. The rooftop is like a secret garden with a big stretch of grassy lawn, views of the city, and stairs and planters with various flora.
The roof is a great, safe place for your kids to run around a bit and burn off some energy. Especially in an urban environment with lots of cars, it’s nice to have this quiet rooftop oasis.
Gallery of California Art
The Gallery of California Art features artworks by prominent CA artists like Dorothea Lange and Hung Liu.
Heads up, though: if you’re visiting with little kids, you’ll probably want to switch off and visit this section of the museum kid-free.
There are lots of unguarded, priceless statues to bump into or knock over. I didn’t bring my kids in here, and I wouldn’t recommend taking children unless they’re older and you can be sure they won’t accidentally destroy anything.
In addition to its permanent collection, the Oakland Museum also hosts visiting and special exhibits. These are generally billed separately from admission to the main museum.
Some of these will be kid-friendly and some won’t. When I visited, the museum had a contemporary art exhibit that I didn’t think the kids would enjoy. But depending on the season, you might find something more family friendly.
Town Fare: Food at the Oakland Museum
If you visit anywhere with your kids, you’re going to have to feed them! Luckily, the Oakland Museum of California makes this easy with its onsite restaurant Town Fare.
Town Fare is amazingly good for a restaurant at a museum. It serves Southern soul food that’s every bit as good as what I remember eating when I lived in Baltimore, south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Town Fare’s fried chicken is the best I’ve had in the Bay Area. And I love fried chicken, so I’ve tried a lot of places!
For the kids, they also have some absolutely amazing Mac and cheese. I don’t know what they put in this stuff to make it so tasty, but it’s absolutely superb.
I ended up eating about half of my son’s Mac and cheese along with my own fried chicken entree.
Town Fare is not exactly a casual restaurant. The inside is classy and upscale. It’s counter service, but you’ll still have glasses, real silverware and the like.
That can make it a little challenging to visit with really young kids. Still, the food is worth it!
The Museum Building
You might be wondering whether a 60+ year old museum is easy to get around with kids. The answer is: “not exactly.”
The Oakland Museum’s building is on the older side (built in the 1960s), even if it doesn’t date back to the museum’s founding. That means some of the facilities aren’t the most up-to-date.
There’s only one main elevator, for example, and it’s small and slow. If you’re visiting with a stroller, be prepared to wait when you want to change levels.
The hallways are also cavernous and concrete. It’s not a modern building like the Cal Academy in San Francisco, but it is a cool example of Mid-century modern architecture.
That’s not a deal breaker for families. But again, it’s something to keep in mind, especially for families with really young kids in tow.
We had a great time at the Oakland Museum of California. I definitely recommend visiting with your young kids. Just be prepared to find the parts of the museum that are designed for them.
And maybe fill them up with some of that amazing mac and cheese before you start exploring.