Oakland Museum of California 1000 Oak St./10th St.; downtown. Fee. This beautifully designed tri-level museum is the only one in the state focusing on the art, natural sciences, and history of California. Opened in 1969 and renovated and expanded in 2010, it is recognized for both its innovative shows and its architecture featuring terraced gardens and a center courtyard. In the Gallery of California History, Dorothea Lange’s Depression images are projected on the windshield of a Model T Ford and--in the museum’s spirit of providing thoughtful experiences and making clever use of artifacts--you can curl up in a real pipe from the infamous Pipe City and dance in a jukebox lounge. The museum is the largest repository of California art anywhere, and The Gallery of California Art offers interactive ways to heighten your sensitivity to the pieces being observed. City meets country in the newly opened Gallery of Natural Sciences. You’ll see taxidermied wildlife, and there are plenty of places for kids and adults to sit, listen, and observe—a redwood forest, a replica vintage Yosemite Camp Curry cabin with rocking chairs, a California Coast Lounge with beanbag “rocks” and an underwater video wall. Visitors can rest inside on a surprisingly comfortable circular sculpture fashioned from a large slice of a giant redwood burl, and view colorful koi in a lily pond outside. An airy cafe features reasonably priced lunches and snacks and has huge picture windows overlooking the gardens.
Each March, the museum is benefited by a White Elephant Sale. This truly mammoth rummage sale offers just about anything imaginable, as well as many things unimaginable. In April or May, volunteers collect fresh specimens for display at the annual California Wildflower Show, and in December, the annual Fungus Fair celebrates the beauty of fungi with a display of more than 1,000 local specimens. Off the Grid food trucks gather here on Friday evenings.