Why You Need to Spend Friday Night at Oakland Museum of California

old car in california history gallery at the oakland museum of california
by Anisa // 0 Comments

A museum might not be the first place you would think to spend a Friday night, but the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) has a party that is worth checking out. It’s the perfect combination of music, history, art, and science!

Whether or not you are looking to party, the Oakland Museum galleries are open late on Fridays for browsing. If you can’t make it on Friday, come another time because this museum is worth a visit.

Let me share more about what to expect on a Friday night at the Oakland Museum of California, what to see in the OMCA galleries, and information to help plan your visit whenever you decide to go.

sculpture by the entrance of the Oakland Museum of California
The Oakland Museum has an impressive collection of art, history, and science.

About OMCA

The Oakland Museum of California opened 50 years ago in 1969. Its mission was to “inspire all Californians to create a more vibrant future for themselves and their communities.” The museum’s collection now includes 1.9 million pieces related to art, history, and science. It is rare to find such a diverse collection.

The set up of the museum is also different from many that I have visited. The galleries, shop, and cafe are indoors but everything else is outdoors. The design has a modern yet almost Native-American feel to me.

Friday Nights at the Oakland Museum

Every Friday night from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm OMCA hosts a party! There is a DJ/music, a dance floor, and a bar. There are also family-friendly activities like hands-on art workshops and story time.

dj at the friday nights at the oakland museum
The DJ for our Friday Night Party at OMCA.

We didn’t spend much time on the dance floor (we wanted to see as much as we could of the galleries) but from what I saw the crowd was diverse. A wide variety of ages and dancing abilities. The atmosphere was very casual and laid-back.

If you are going with a group, it is possible to reserve one of the picnic tables for a fee here.

Food Trucks at OMCA

Oakland Museum Friday nights also features food trucks from Off the Grid. There are several rotating food trucks that set up shop on 10th street right next to the museum. Foolishly, we decided to see as much as we could of the exhibits and then pick up food on our way out.

food truck and people outside the Oakland Museum of Calfornia
We took this picture then decided to see more of the gallery before getting any food. We didn’t know they leave early.

We walked out of the museum to get some food at about 8:30 pm. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that the food trucks close before the Museum does! By the time we walked outside, we saw the last food truck driving off. I was heartbroken.

What to See at the Oakland Museum

One of the things that impressed me about the Oakland Museum was the diversity of the collection. They aren’t afraid of tackling controversial topics and made exhibits interactive where possible.

We didn’t have time to see the entire museum. The galleries are bigger than they look on the map! Here is some more information to help you prioritize your time at OMCA.

Burning Man Exhibit

Burning Man is an annual, nine-day gathering in Black Rock City in the Nevada desert that includes artistic performances, installations, and music. At OMCA, you can learn more about the history of Burning Man, the guiding principles behind it, and some of the artwork in the special exhibit: No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, which runs from October 12, 2019 – February 16, 2020.

artwork explaining the principles of burning man
It was interesting to learn about the principles behind Burning Man.

The section of the exhibition starts by telling about the 10 guiding principles of Burning Man and its history. I hadn’t realized that the first Burning Man was held in 1986 at Baker’s Beach in San Francisco. What was originally a small gathering of a few friends is now an annual event with 70,000 attendees.

cosplay costumes from Burning Man
Some people get very creative with their outfits for Burning Man. It was interesting to see a few examples.

The next section aims to show more about what it is like to attend Burning Man. I enjoyed the short film as it was interesting to see how much Burning Man has grown and to get some behind the scenes insight. There are also photographs and artifacts (like keys left after the event) from past years. In the next room is an eccentric mix of art, costumes, and clothing.

The back room of the Burning Man display had several huge art installations. It was overwhelming visually, I did not know where to start. There is a concrete arch, a dragon, a bus-turned movie theater, and neon mushrooms. I heard a noise coming from the brightly-colored giant mushrooms. As I got closer I realized the mushrooms were moving. You step in the green circle and the mushroom moves. I had to try it myself! It was a weird feeling, almost like the floor was moving.

back room in the Burning Man exhibit at the Oakland Museum
I enjoyed the large art installations in the back room of the Burning Man exhibition.

My favorite part of the exhibit is an area I almost skipped because to me it looked like something for kids. There was what I would describe as a giant gumball machine, but it had balls filled with different gifts inside. I took a ball with a gift and gave one to Russell.

When we opened them, I realized the gifts were made by other visitors. Next to the gift machine, there was an area where you could make gifts to add to the pot. There were instructions for how to make origami butterflies, so we both made those.  It was a fun way to experience the Burning Man principle of gifting.

Russell with his origami butterfly
Gifting makes you feel good – both giving and receiving.

Also, don’t miss the corner area that is segregated from the rest of the room by a black curtain. It is a relaxation area. You sit down and look up at the mesmerizing light show on the ceiling choreographed to music. It kept changing so we had to stay for a few songs.

Truth is Beauty Sculpture at OMCA - a wire sculpture of a nude woman
The Truth is Beauty sculpture was impressive, hard to see how big it is in this picture.

In addition to the gallery that has the Burning Man collection, don’t miss the Burning Man installations in the garden of the museum. There is a large wire sculpture of a nude woman, called Truth is Beauty by Marco Cochrane, that is striking but fits in well at the museum. It is modern but has a classic feel at the same time.

Burning Man Temple replica at OMCA
You can (and should) go inside the Temple at the Oakland Museum.

We walked around a little more and caught our first glimpse of the temple. The Temple of Reunion, by David Best, is a replica made for the museum. The Temple has so much detail, not just the wood carving but also all the words that people have written. I encourage you to go inside, read some, and then leave your own message.

close up of a few pieces of Burning Man Temple at OMCA
I enjoyed reading the messages left by other visitors.

We both knew a little bit about Burning Man before visiting the exhibit. While I loved the exhibition, I left comfortable, feeling that the Burning Man event was not something for me. On the other hand, Russell reconfirmed that he is dying to go!

There is an additional charge to see the Burning Man exhibit. Trust me, it is definitely worth it! You should buy the timed-entry tickets in advance here.

California History

I always enjoy learning more about the history of the places I visit because it helps put things in context. While I did know a little bit about California history from studying the history of the United States, I found the exhibit interesting and learned a few new things. There were opportunities for visitors to leave their thoughts and I enjoyed reading what everyone had to say.

The gallery is organized in chronological order and starts with the Native Americans who lived in California and explains more about their culture. Then you learn about how the Spanish came and later there was the Gold Rush.

old car in california history gallery at the oakland museum of california
It was interesting to learn more about California history at OMCA

It wouldn’t be a California History exhibit if it didn’t talk about Hollywood. In addition to telling the story about the early movie-making days, OMCA gives you the opportunity to play around with costume design, animation, and sound effects.

There is also a section about the Black Power Movement. I hadn’t realized that the Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland. Its original purpose was to monitor the behavior of Oakland Police officers and to challenge police brutality in the city.

visitor thoughts at OMCA
I enjoyed reading the thoughts of other museum visitors.

In addition to telling the story of the history of California, OMCA also tackles some controversial topics like the treatment of Native Americans and Immigration. If you are interested in learning more about the history of immigration, consider visiting nearby Angel Island where the former immigration station has been turned into a museum.

California Art

The OMCA’s art gallery contains one of the largest and most comprehensive holdings of California art in the world. The exhibit is organized into three themes: California Land, California People, and California Creativity. The collection contains pieces from the 1800s to the present day.

california art gallery at OMCA
The collection of art at OMCA was diverse.

I was impressed with the variety of types of art on display. There were some lovely landscape paintings, photographs, videos, decorative art, and even furniture. Additionally, there was MEGAMATTERHORN which is a theatrical set that you can walk into.

My favorite part of the California Art Gallery was the contemporary art. There was a section that addressed the question ‘what is art’? It was thought-provoking and we could hear other people around us discussing the same thing. I’m not sure there is an answer to this. Maybe it’s something each person has to come to their own conclusions about.

Portrait of Carolyn Singer with a checkered background
This artwork caught my eye, maybe it was the checkered background? It’s Portrait of Carolyn Singer by Joan Brown

Note: If you enjoy modern art as we do, be sure to also visit the SFMOMA across the bay in San Francisco.

California Natural Sciences

The Natural Sciences Gallery features seven places that depict California’s environmental diversity. It also presents current research and contemporary issues through immersive habitat installations, dioramas, and technology.

The gallery is not just about nature, though. It also delves into the Oakland environment by taking a look at what foods are grown in the city (exhibit at OMCA through January 5, 2020) and how humans impact the ecosystem. There is also a new area, called the Nature Studio, where you can make an altar using natural materials, mix a soundscape from OMCA’s California Library of Natural Sounds, and more.

Unfortunately, we did not have time to see the California Natural Sciences gallery because we spent so much time in the Burning Man exhibition.

Oakland Museum Tours

The museum offers docent-led tours Friday through Sunday. Most tours are included with your admission. Check here for the schedule of tours.

road signs changed for artistic purposes - i.e. start written on a stop sign
This adjusted road signs from the Burning Man galleries make you think twice.

Note: The tours are led by volunteers so the schedule can change. The day we visited the OMCA Highlights tour was canceled.

Blue Oak Cafe at the OMCA

If you get hungry or would like to take a break from the exhibits to have a drink, there is a cafe at the Oakland Museum. The Blue Oak Cafe features many seasonal and local ingredients with a menu that changes frequently. The cafe has indoor and outdoor seating so it’s perfect for lunch, a snack, coffee, or if you are in the mood – some California wine.

How Long Does it Take to Visit the Oakland Museum?

Based on my experience, if you want to see all the galleries at the Oakland Museum of California, it’s best to allow at least four hours. You could easily spend a whole day! We spent four hours at OMCA, but didn’t have time to see the Natural Sciences Gallery. This does include some time listening to the music from the Friday Night Party.

How to Get to the Oakland Museum

OMCA is located at 1000 Oak Street, at 10th Street. It’s probably easiest to use public transportation to get to the museum since it is only one block away from the Lake Merritt BART station. If you are driving, the museum does have a parking garage (that costs extra).

Oakland Museum of California Operating Hours

OMCA is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. They stay open until 9:00 pm on Fridays for the party.

Oakland Museum Admission

General Admission for the OMCA is $16 or $21 including entrance to the Burning Man exhibit. Rates are discounted for seniors, students, and those under 18 years old.

mural that is part of the OMCA Burning Man exhibit
Another part of the Burning Man exhibit, this piece of art is located close to the Oakland Museum entrance.

If you are on a tight budget, try to time your visit for the first Sunday of the month when admission to the museum is free!

OMCA Review

We enjoyed our visit to the Oakland Museum of California. I was impressed with how much there was to see. The exhibits werewell-presented for all ages. Both children and adults will enjoy the interactive aspects.

The Burning Man exhibit was one of the best special exhibits I have ever visited. It was interesting to learn more about the event and the artwork was so unique. Photographs can’t quite do it justice!

I wish we would have had more time to spend at OMCA. Have you been to the Oakland Museum?


Expert Tips for Visiting OMCA

  • Don’t wait too late on Friday night to visit the food trucks! They close up earlier than the museum.
  • The museum has lockers where you can store belongings for free.
  • Try to get to OMCA before the Burning Man exhibit ends – February 16, 2020
  • If possible allow at least four hours to see the whole museum, the galleries are bigger than you might expect.
  • Some of the wineries on the Oakland Wine Urban Trail are located within walking distance of the museum.

Thanks to Visit Oakland for sponsoring our visit.   As always, all opinions are our own.

Last Updated on September 24, 2020

About the Author

Anisa is an experienced international traveler with extra pages in her passport and stamps from 41 different countries across 5 continents (and counting). She was born and raised in Texas. After a 13 year stint in NYC, she moved to England to live with her husband.