I was born and raised in Oakland. I am the daughter of a retired 4th grade teacher who taught California History. For these reasons, I am ashamed that it has taken me this long to visit the Oakland Museum of California as an adult. I am not someone who frequently attends museums, visits have been reserved for notable ones that I have been lucky to experience on a vacation here and there. When taking time for myself locally, a great meal or some time spent outdoors are typically what I strive for. However, last Friday I was able to bring all three together in one lovely afternoon.
Oakland Museum of California, commonly referred to as OMCA, came to be in 1969 when collections from 3 predecessor museums were brought together in a environmentally innovative mid-century modern structure designed by architect Kevin Roche and landscape designer Dan Kiley. In reading a few things online since my visit I found it interesting to learn a bit about the prior institutions. The Oakland Public Museum was opened in 1910 and was located in the nearby Camron-Stanford house which sits alongside Lake Merritt. The Oakland Art Gallery was housed on the 3rd floor of the Oakland Municipal Auditorium, now the Kaiser Convention Center.
The 3rd contributor to OMCA’s beginning was The Snow Museum of Natural History, opened in 1922, which was also located along Lake Merritt and was housed in the Cutting Mansion which no longer stands. The advocate behind the start of the Snow Museum was Henry Snow, a local adventure seeker and hunter who wanted a place to showcase his large collection of specimens. If you ever are out on a walk around the lake, you will notice Snow Park, which sits near the corner of Lakeside Drive and Harrison. This is where the mansion and museum once stood.
OMCA underwent a major renovation from 2009-2013 to correct some of the logistical and spacial challenges of Roche’s design. What was already a unique and innovative lakefront icon became an enhanced, light filled, and functionally flowing version of its prior self.
I spent my time at OMCA wandering the grounds, enjoying the tiered galleries and outdoor spaces, and having a delicious bite to eat in the Blue Oak Cafe. A true representation of mid-century design, connecting man-made structure and natures elements together, the concrete nooks and crannies of OMCA’s outdoor corridors offer spaces to explore and spots to sit as you move between galleries.
Bringing California’s art, history, and nature into one space that is separated into 3 galleries on varying tiers, OMCA offers visitors a chance to appreciate all the diverse facets of our Golden State; those natural and wild, those that have happened and been experienced, and those that have been created by the artistic community that inhabits our borders.
Rather than attempt to recap and bog you down with details and facts, I hope that the images below inspire you to visit OMCA in your own time.
I hope you take an afternoon, either for yourself or with family and friends, to wander the galleries and gardens of OMCA. It is truly an Oakland treasure, one that we, and our wonderful state, are lucky to have. As noted in their tagline and felt within their galleries, OMCA is “The museum of us.”
Additional notes from a “momma” perspective: my children are still young so I have not taken them, but it was clear to me that my almost 4-year-old would really enjoy the exhibits and interactive experiences of the natural science gallery. I personally think he is still too young for the history and art galleries. Its also worth noting that if you are looking to enjoy a quiet afternoon in the museum, a lot of school age children and groups are also in attendance, so please don’t expect a “quiet experience” :o)
Lastly, I am sure most folks know of Friday Nights @ OMCA, but I wanted to reiterate it here because it is SO MUCH FUN. A great selection of food trucks, music, beer garden, art workshops for kids, and more. Not to mention that gallery admission is half price, with kids under 18 entering for FREE. We have not been in awhile but are looking forward to starting the tradition back up as the weather warms a bit. More details on the OMCA website here.
Oakland Museum of California
1000 Oak Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Museum hours and admission details are listed here. It is worth noting that they are closed on Monday & Tuesdays.
Enjoy your trip to OMCA!
All photos by Adrienne Schell