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.