The Oakland Museum of California: A Review

Located near the shores of Lake Merritt, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) showcases art, history, and natural science unique to the Golden State. OMCA is a large, low concrete structure with multiple staircases, outdoor spaces, and something for everyone.

Don’t be dissuaded from visiting due to the city’s less-than-stellar reputation; in fact,I recommend giving the museum and neighborhoods a chance to change your mind. Because, despite it’s notorious reputation as a rough city, Oakland has a lot to offer both locals and visitors in the way of high-end coffee, trendy art districts, shopping, and restaurants, as well as parks and cocktail bars. Check out visitoakland.com for more information about all of the great things the city has to offer.

Time Required? With three large main galleries, a garden, cafe, store, and additional smaller, temporary exhibition spaces, 3+ hours could easily be passed solo or with friends and family. The ideal situation would be to come in the morning when the museum opens, see half of the museum, break for lunch, and then visit the remaining half in the afternoon, ending with a trip to the store.

Game Plan? For museums on the larger side, I always recommend heading first to the gallery that interests you the most. That way you’ll be able to focus the maximum level of energy on that particular exhibition, and then move on to those of lesser interest as your stamina wanes and museum fatigue creeps up. Due to time constraints during my visit and keeping this strategy in mind, I began with the Gallery of California Art and briefly popped into an exhibition on ancient animal skeletons at the end. The photos of art in this post are all from that one main gallery. Unfortunately, time ran out before I could visit the Gallery of California History or California Natural Science.

Admission? General admission is $15.95, students and seniors 65+ are $10.95, kids 9-17 are $6.95, and children 8 and under are free. I felt that the admission price was rather steep considering it’s a state museum and the fact that there is an additional cost associated with visiting the special, temporary exhibitions as well as the Great Hall.

Monday & Tuesday CLOSED
Wednesday–Thursday 11 am–5 pm
Friday 11 am–9 pm
Saturday–Sunday 10 am–6 pm

Kid Friendly? Definitely.  The museum is spacious and the galleries are spread out in a way that kids can walk freely without coming into too much danger of touching fragile pieces. There are also historical and scientific exhibitions that would most likely interest them more than paintings and sculptures. Check out the events section on the website for the full list of family-friendly offerings.

Bring a date? Certainly! Especially if your date is more inclined towards art over history and science, or vice versa; there are galleries and interesting exhibitions for everyone. An extra special date would be a visit to the museum on a Friday night (see the Special Events section) and having a dinner/drinks at the food trucks and outdoor bar.

Cafe? Yes. Alas, I did not get a chance to try the food or beverages at the Blue Oak Cafe, but the website states that it features local and seasonal California-inspired dishes and grab-and-go snacks and drinks.

Store? Yes. There’s a decent sized store offering art and jewelry by local California artists, themed items for purchase from the temporary galleries, kids toys, and a great selection of books. There are more “trinket” and touristy things for sale than in most art-only museums, so it makes for good shopping for out-of-towners and families with children. In my opinion, the postcard selection could have been better.

Special Events? Yes! Averaging ten a month, the museum hosts a range of family-friendly events every Friday evening 5-9pm, events on the first Sunday of the month, special holiday events, and guided docent tours. I had the luck of visiting on a Friday and got to enjoy live music, dancing, and food trucks. It certainly had a very casual, party-like feel to it, and there were beer and wine for purchase, special programming, and activities for the kids. Definitely a fun thing to bring your family to or attend with a group of friends.

Stars? I don’t feel that I can properly rate this museum due to the fact that time constraints allowed me to visit only one out of the three main galleries. However, I will say that I enjoyed seeing works by artists local to the state, and the art gallery certainly contained a wide variety of time periods and mediums. I was impressed with the size and spaciousness of the galleries, and the layout was appealing and interesting. Additionally, it didn’t feel over-crowded or loud, which made the visit all the more pleasing.

Anything else I need to know? The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Website? http://museumca.org/

Address? 1000 Oak Street, at 10th Street, in Oakland, California. There is free bike parking, and parking in the car garage is $3/hour or $7 flat-rate for Friday evenings after 5pm. The entrance to the parking garage is on Oak Street between 10th and 12th streets. It can also be easily accessed using the rail or bus system, with the museum located one block away from the Lake Merritt BART station.

Disclaimer: My views are my own and do not reflect the opinion or position of the Oakland Museum of California. I am not getting compensated in any way for this review.

The Phillips Collection: A Review

Touted as America’s “First Museum of Modern Art,” the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. is a worthy competitor to its larger counterparts on the National Mall, and can be enjoyed by both tourists, locals, and art aficionados alike.

Most famous piece in the museum? Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Photo above. Purchased by Duncan Phillips in 1923, for the sum of $125,000 (equivalent to $1.8 million today), this particular piece is just gorgeous. Even if you only have a few minutes, and can’t visit the other galleries in the museum, stop by this painting on the second floor, spend a few moments relaxing on the bench provided and appreciate the mastery of Renoir. While you’re there, see if you can spot Renoir’s crush and future wife.

Time Required? 1-2 hours. If you’re one of those people who like to read all of the placards, then give yourself a bit more time to peruse the galleries. However, if you prefer to move at a rapid clip, then you can easily get through the Phillips Collection in an hour or less.

Game Plan? After getting your ticket and checking your bag/coat, head up the stairs to your right and visit the galleries on the first and second floors. Depending on the calendar, the third floor may be hosting a visiting or temporary exhibition, or closed for the transition between exhibitions. After you’re done upstairs, walk back down to the lobby and visit the two galleries to the right of the cafe. From there, I’d recommend taking a short coffee, snack, or bathroom break if you need it, before visiting the permanent galleries in the older part of the museum to the left of the bookstore. Before you leave, be sure to pop into the bookstore for a quick browse, and don’t miss the art on the walls of the lobby.  If you have some extra time, there are interesting art books on the coffee tables that I’d recommend spending a few minutes perusing while relaxing on one of the couches.

Admission? Tuesday-Friday, it’s free! On weekends, admission for adults is $10; seniors/students are $8, members and kids under 18 are free. Visiting and temporary ticketed exhibitions, such as Nordic Impressions, claim a slightly higher price of $12 and $10, respectively.

Kid Friendly? Surprisingly, yes. There is a family reading room on the lower level of the museum, child-friendly art pieces at kids’ eye-level along with accompanying conversation prompts, and events throughout the year, all geared towards youngsters. More info here. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, other visitors are understanding and compassionate towards families with kids. At the Phillips, one finds magnificent art with minimal snobbery and very little side-eye.

Bring a date? By all means. The Phillips Collection is small and quiet enough to lend a relaxing nature to a first, second, or tenth date. You won’t feel overwhelmed by the size of the museum or break the bank if you visit during the week. It’s also not one of the most well-known museums in the city, so you may end up inadvertently impressing your date by demonstrating superior cultural knowledge of D.C.

Cafe? Tryst at the Phillips Collection is cozy, warm, and a great spot to re-energize between galleries. I love their cappuccinos and the quiche is scrumptious and filing. When the weather is nice, pop outside to the sculpture garden and enjoy a cool drink in the fresh Dupont air. For those of you looking to do some work there, free wi-fi is provided.

Store? With a wide range of post cards, posters, notebooks, jewelry, scarves, art supplies, and books, as well as a rotating offering of objects for purchase relating to the temporary exhibitions, the Phillips Collection store is a delight. For example, on my last visit, I found an excellent pencil sharpener at a very affordable price. In addition, the clerks are very upbeat and helpful, and it’s large enough to not feel cramped or claustrophobic.

Special Events? So many! From concerts on Sunday afternoons, to Phillips after 5 parties, to artist talks and family events, the team at the Phillips Collection is constantly churning out high quality, affordable cultural experiences. It is so much more than a museum, it is a team of individuals that aims to make art approachable and fun. Follow the museum on social media, or join the mailing list to stay updated with all of the wonderful offerings.

Stars? 4/5. I’m a huge fan of small museums that pack a punch, and this one has nailed the formula for providing a high quality experience that brings visitors back again and again. Between its fresh temporary exhibitions, to the rotating pieces in its permanent collection, to the Rothkho room, and then topping it all of with its cozy cafe and well-stocked bookstore, this is a museum that can’t be missed.

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Reykjavik (1991) Richard Serra

Anything else I need to know? There is a free coat check to the right of the check-in desk and a place to store umbrellas. Also, free wi-fi is available throughout the museum.

Website? https://www.phillipscollection.org/ 

Address? 1600 21st Street NW Washington, D.C.  Via public transportation, the museum is about a five minute walk from the Dupont Circle metro station. There is also on-street parking available (if you can find it), but I’d recommend taking the metro.

Disclaimer: My views are my own and do not reflect the opinion or position of the Phillips Collection. I am not getting compensated in any way for this review.