Located in the Lake Merritt section of the city, the Oakland Museum of California is dedicated to presenting those areas that make the state unique and interesting. The collections are divided into three galleries, one each for California history, California art, and California natural science. As such, one can follow the dictates of one’s inner nerd (or that of one’s offspring) in selecting the area to visit. There’s quite a bit here, and it’s probably not possible to see the entire place in one day; a better idea is to choose a gallery and dig deep.
Many of the exhibits in the Gallery of California History are interactive, making them perfect for children. Adults will be fascinated by the collection of objects amassed by the museum, which is roughly organized around the idea of California as a destination for many cultures and many different tribes. As such, the displays divide by the major foci of California history, including the Native Americans, the Spanish/Mexican colonial period, the Gold Rush, and the development of the state during the 20th century. A highlight is the area devoted to the 1960’s, which takes perspectives from both the counterculture and those living a more traditional life. In each section, the stories of individual Californians are offered, giving the visitor a chance to truly understand what it has meant to live in this state.
The Gallery of California Art incorporates works from the major creative luminaries, such as Albert Bierstadt, Dorothea Lange, and Edward Weston, in addition to other, less well-known artists. Special displays allow the visitor to experience the full impact of these careers; during the summer of 2017, for example, a Dorothea Lange exhibit focused not only on her Dust Bowl photographs but also on those documenting the Japanese internment experience during World War II, as well as extended commentary on her most famous picture, “Migrant Mother, Nipomo, 1935.” The interpretive discussions are extremely well done, and help the viewer to make new connections to the artists and their works.
Unlike many natural history museums, the Gallery of California Natural Sciences is divided by geography rather than by scientific focus. The various areas then look at the ways in which animals and plants interact with each other, and how man’s encroachment has in turn affected the way each ecosystem continues to evolve. The dioramas are impressive, and the reach of the gallery – from the stark desert of the Coachella Valley to the underwater depths of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary – is sure to trigger interesting conversations long after the visit to the museum is concluded.
There is a small coffee shop with both indoor and outdoor seating as well as gardens for strolling. The book/gift store that tends somewhat towards children but does carry unusual and interesting items for adults as well. The Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, with reduced admission for those visiting on Friday nights. The first Sunday of every month offers entrance by donation, so those who can’t quite afford the $15.95 general admission can pay what they can and enjoy the exhibits. The gardens offer free Wi-Fi and are always free.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated in any way with this museum. I paid for my admission with my own funds.
1000 Oak Street, Oakland, (888) 625-6873