Lounge with bees, eat gourmet PB&Js, attend a Hollywood screening. Sounds like a luxurious day, right? You don’t have to be a celeb to enjoy such splendors; you just have to head to the Oakland Museum of California. Steps from historic Chinatown and only two blocks from the Lake Merritt BART station, this unassuming building holds some of California’s greatest treasures. If you’re looking for a place to take the kids that is more field day than field trip, the OMCA will not disappoint. Read on for tips on taking an interactive trip across California at OMCA.


Start Here
OMCA’s main entrance on Oak Street boasts a large chalkboard where patrons and passersby are encouraged to write their response to a topical question, sketch a little work-of-art, or just practice writing their name. Ongoing rotating art displays bring this courtyard to life. Grab some Gallery Hunt Cards at the ticketing desk, and then head into the museum to explore, examine, and have a blast. The museum itself is primarily the three main galleries: History, Art, and Natural Sciences. If you are coming with kids under the age of 5 it’s best to stick to just one or two galleries, and plan to break for lunch in between. If you’re heading over for one of the Family Sundays, don’t forget to check the website for events like arts and crafts and storytelling.

Gold Nugget: If you are coming from BART or even just walking up from the museum’s main Oak St. entrance, look down! Tiny animal paw prints in bright orange lead the way to OMCA! 

omca handAnd Speaking of Lunch
The café offers an awesome array of kid’s options including PB+Blue Chair Jam sandwiches, mac and cheese, and Nieman beef hot dogs. Or take a picnic out to the gardens, with beautiful views of Lake Merritt and the Oakland Hills. Nursing moms looking for a calm, private spot will appreciate the many levels and nooks of the garden. There are restrooms on all levels of the museum, and all offer changing stations in both the men’s and women’s restrooms.

Gold Nugget: There are free, secure lockers to stash your stuff, located just outside the history wing.

omca peace signGallery of California History
Step back in time onto the streets of Victorian San Francisco, play a symphony with objects like typewriters and bells, or learn what it might have felt like to be one of the Sewer People during the Depression Era. Kids will adore the vintage fire truck, and be sure and snap a photo in the Museum Things display. Parents will appreciate the artistic displays of artifacts. Who knew spoons and forks could look so gorgeous?

omca museum signs

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Gallery of California Natural Sciences
Explore seven diverse areas of California and their natural history. Kids will get a chance to be little scientists—with microscopes to examine, art areas to sketch, and dozens of hidden treasures throughout. Sit on the porch of a Yosemite cabin, cozy up on a couch and watch a movie about the Sutter Buttes, or kick it with some whales in the Cordell Bank area lounge—a great place to calm a fussy baby or take a power nap yourself!

Gold Nugget: Keep your eyes out for the small green hands on different exhibits. These mean, “Yes, ok to touch!” and encourage kids and their grown-ups to go beyond just seeing to doing, thinking, and becoming part of the exhibit!

plant ok omcaGallery of California Art
The art collection here easily contends with that of any museum in the Bay Area. A with works by California’s finest artists including Albert Bierstadt, Dorothea Lange, Richard Diebenkorn, and David Ireland, Keep an eye out for the journals to sketch a self-portrait!

Don’t Miss
Kids will love the koi pond, and everyone will enjoy a stop at the museum’s impressive gift shop, where you can find tons of Bay Area and California themed toys, books, and gifts. Nut dish in the shape of Cali, anyone?  Most Sundays are Family Days, offering drop in workshops and other cool happenings for kids. Friday Nights feature cocktails for the grown-ups, free admission for anyone under 18, live music and DJs, and food trucks from Off the Grid.

FridayNights_OMCA (640x427)Getting There
The museum is two blocks from the Lake Merritt BART station. If you’re driving, enter the museum’s parking garage from Oak St. between 10th and 12th. Rates are $1/hr with museum validation or $2.50/hr without. Take your ticket to ticketing booth on Level 2 for validation. Note when coming in from the parking garage you will enter directly onto Level 2 near the gift shop.

Location: 1000 Oak Street, Oakland, CA 94607

Hours: Open Wed. –Th., 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Thurs., Sat., & Sun., 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Fridays open late: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. for Friday Nights.

Cost: $15/adults; $10/seniors and students w ID; $6 children 9-17; Free for children 8 and under. First Sundays are free. Friday Nights admission is half-off after 5 p.m. for all adults and free for anyone 18 and under.

Online: museumca.org

Have you been to OMCA with your kids? What gallery did you enjoy? Let us know in the comments below!

–Amber Guetebier

Photos: A. Guetebier; Friday Nights photo credit to Shaun Roberts courtesy Oakland Museum of California