There is plenty to enjoy at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), even for little kids, because outdoor spaces and hallways are inherently fun to explore. There are also galleries with California art, history, and natural sciences to explore, plus rotating exhibitions about local artists and influential recent history.
Exhibit halls are filled with interactive elements
The museum has three main exhibit halls: California Art, California History and Natural Science, plus a special exhibit area. Each hall has engaging features that invite children to touch, explore, listen or watch. Create an animation; color a map of the bay; crawl through a lava tube; walk into a painting; examine a crab under a microscope; dress up as a gold miner; step into a railcar; or, listen to stories from across the state.
The activities appeal to kids 2-8 years old. Many areas have more than one interactive station that allow various ages to play near each other, making it easier to monitor multiple children at once. Green “OK to touch” signs help children and adults know when to jump in and explore.
The exhibits present the good and bad of California’s past, present and future. Parents can use the visit as a way to educate children about topics such as climate change, being water smart, colonization of indigenous lands, keeping the Bay healthy, Black history and more. However, these topics will likely go over younger children’s heads if you want to save those discussions for another time or place.
Top picks at OMCA from a 2-year-old and 5-year-old
My kids (2 and 5 years old) had a blast at the museum. We visited on a weekday afternoon and basically had the museum to ourselves. There was plenty of space to move around and zero waiting in the interactive areas. My kids spent the most time in the following sections:
Kid Favorites at the OMCA Natural Science Hall
- The You Are Here: California Stories on the Map exhibit – the magnifying glasses were a big hit!
- Exploring animals, seeds and leaves under the microscopes
- Make your animation station
- Ocean area in the back of the hall
- Crawling through the lava tubes and into the Redwood stump
- Watching all the videos
Kid Favorites at the OMCA California History Hall
- Dressing up in the gold miner area
- Unpacking the treasure chest in the Spanish exploration area
- Playing the piano in the Sound of Things exhibit
- Using the phones to listen to stories told by California’s native peoples
Kid Favorites at the OMCA California Art Gallery
- Walking through the MEGAMATTERHORN
- Lounging in the Eames chairs
Kid Favorites at the OMCA Garden and Outdoor Space (free to all)
- Running around the lawn
- Watching the fish in the Koi Pond
- Exploring the sculptures
- Taking in the beautiful views of Lake Merritt
The Free Outdoor Space at OMCA is worth a visit on its own
The OMCA gardens are beautiful, newly re-landscaped, and super kid-friendly. In the center of the gardens is a large and lush lawn that’s perfect for picnics or burning off some energy. Stairs, ramps, and various levels encourage exploration and movement. Native plants and unique sculptures fill the space. Plus, there are picnic tables for enjoying a meal or snack from the museum’s restaurant, Town Fare Cafe (or your own meals and snacks that you bring with you). The cafe serves pretty good options for the whole family including popcorn, mac and cheese, sandwiches, and wine.
Although the gardens are on the museum’s grounds, entry to the gardens is free and open to the public. Families can take advantage of this beautiful green space during museum hours. It’s a great destination for a picnic, peaceful rest, or bathroom break (restrooms are uber family-friendly, too!) if you’re in downtown Oakland or spending time around Lake Merritt. Plus on weekends, the museum hosts free event series for the public—Lunchtime Sessions: Music, Dance, and Storytelling in the Garden. Families are welcome to join and the performances occasionally feature kid-friendly entertainment such as dancing or music. Check the schedule before you go >
Plan your visit to OMCA:
Location: 1000 Oak St, Oakland
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Price: Children 12 & under: FREE | Youth 13-17: $7 | Seniors: $11 | Adults: $16
Remember the gardens are free to access with or without your paid admission.