The Oakland Museum Reopens with A New Look

Esme and Anu Cairo pose for a photo at the top of the stairs into the museum.

Arlie Sarnicola, Staff Photographer

OAKLAND, Calif. – The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) reopened on June 18 after its pandemic-related closure on March 13, 2020.

The reopening offered a first look at the $15 million renovations the seven-acre outdoor grounds underwent.
Before the renovations, the museum’s outdoor area was a meandering concrete maze, interjected by the occasional sculpture installation; its Brutalist architecture softened by the many trees and greenery throughout the terraces.
A highlight of the outdoor spaces of the museum was the transformation of the Oak Street Plaza into a dance party at Oakland’s First Fridays, a massive monthly block party that celebrates the city’s art community.
The renovations gave the gardens a much-needed facelift and made the outside spaces feel like a cohesive part of a whole. The new lawn is a gorgeous addition to the main plaza for an attractive setting for future community gatherings. A new awning at the front of the lawn gave it a focal point for future events.
The new landscaping plans brought about removing many of the original trees, which worked to make a clear line of sight to the lawn from nearly anywhere in the terraces. Now, events taking place there can be enjoyed from all levels of the gardens. The old trees posed a risk to visitors and needed to be removed for safety reasons, according to the museum.
OMCA’s website explained the renovations were designed to help the museum “Expand its role as a public gathering space, offering even more amenities… these improvements will also create improved ease of access to the gardens, cafe, and galleries through additional ADA-accessible ramps and campus wayfinding.”
The museum came alive as a community hub during First Fridays. The renovations enhanced the museum’s status as a neighborhood anchor during the monthly block party. With its three new entrances that lead directly out to the lake on the 12th street side, ensuring more accessibility during community events.
The museum cafe also underwent changes. Now headed by celebrated local chef and restaurateur Tanya Holland, Town Fare offers plant-based, seasonal soul food in a fast-casual environment. At the moment, the restaurant is not offering sit-down dining.
Eventually, Town Fare will be open to the public even outside of the OMCA’s business hours so that visitors can enjoy a meal anytime.
The museum “Was super cool to come back to. All their signage about continuing to wear masks was well placed around the buildings, and I felt safe returning to somewhat normal,” Bay Area local Kelsey Johe said.
Johe said she was most excited about the new outdoor space and is looking forward to enjoying the Off the Grid food trucks that park outside monthly, “So every first Friday can feel like a block party again!”

At the moment, visitors interested in touring the gardens will need to check in at the ticket desk to receive a free, timed entry.
The museum will eventually make the outdoor spaces open to the public in the future, even outside operating hours. Tickets will not be required.
To visit the museum, visitors are encouraged to purchase tickets ahead of time online on the museum’s website for a specified time slot. Masks are required, regardless of vaccination status. The museum is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.