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Oakland Museum of California

Posted by Christopher Hall on March 06, 2014
  • aerial of Oakland Museum of California, image
    Photo caption
    An aerial of the museum shows greenery and outdoor sculpture.
  • entrance of Oakland Museum of California, image
    Photo caption
    The museum's open and colorful entrance on 10th Street in downtown Oakland greets visitors.
  • Figure on a Porch (1959), painting by Richard Diebenkorn, image
    Photo caption
    A detail from Richard Diebenkorn's oil painting Figure on a Porch (1959), part of the museum's collection.

Road Journals Blog—I'm not a boastful sort of guy, but there's one museum that makes me want to shout from the rooftops that I'm a native son of the Golden State.

The Oakland Museum of California is a fabulous showcase of the state. Whether it's the art or history of California, or its natural science, the museum illuminates the state through permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as an active roster of community programs. Everything is fodder for the curators—not just the cultural and natural riches of California, but the problems that confront one of the most fascinating and complex states in the union. And with a collection of 1.8 million objects, the curators have a lot to choose from.

The building was hailed as innovative mid-century design when it opened in 1969, a then-unique blend of architecture and landscaping with terraced roof gardens as well as gardens on each of the three levels of galleries. A recently completed $62 million renovation freshened the existing art and history galleries, and added new space—the refurbished natural science galleries, which reopened in June 2013, compete with the cast of a mastodon skeleton found in 1997 in Modoc County.

In the art galleries, you'll find everything from evocative portraits of California pioneers and a transcendent 1868 view of Yosemite by the painter Albert Bierstadt, to California ceramics and works by a who's who of American photographers. Among my personal must-sees is the premier collection of works by Bay Area figurative painters like Richard Diebenkorn. The museum is also home to Dorothea Lange's large personal archive.

The history galleries show a huge range of artifacts—amazing feathered baskets by the Pomo and Wintu peoples, eye-popping vintage silver vessels from the San Francisco firm Shreve and Company, and bold, colorful fruit crate labels from old-time growers. There's even an entire kitchen from an 1850s house that, I guarantee, will give you a deep, newfound appreciation for your dishwasher.

Photography courtesy of Oakland Museum of California (entrance and aerial); Copyright The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation (painting, Figure on a Porch)

This blog post was first published in March 2014. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.