Don’t put off seeing Oakland Museum’s perma-collections

Oakland Museum displays antique car that was heading for Gold Rush territory. Photo by Woody Weingarten.

When I was five, my dad told me not to worry about finding a round tuit. I could do it later.

“What’s a round tuit?” I asked, having never heard the term.

“It’s anything you keep delaying but finally do,” he said, a huge grin crossing his face.

Seven decades later, I again recognize how smart my father was: I’m still finding round tuits. Case in point — The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA).

My wife, following a neighbor’s recommendation, had repeatedly suggested we take our granddaughter. But one thing or another always got in the way. A couple of weeks ago, voila! — we at last got “around to it.”

And, as might be expected, I ended up feeling foolish for having postponed the visit so long.

The museum’s utterly fantastic — especially its state history exhibit, one of three permanent collections on display. Ranging from regalia-clad manikins of indigenous Klamath River people to today’s progressive developments.

Caution sign, now in Oakland Museum, had warned drivers on Interstate 5 near San Diego of immigrants who’d crossed the border from Mexico. Photo by Woody Weingarten.

Highlights include a Foley booth in which visitors can create their own sound effects; vehicles from bygone eras; reflections of long-forgotten border problems; a TV set with commercials marketing early edition Barbie and Ken dolls (and showing outdated test patterns); and an ancient Wurlitzer juke box with wonderfully nostalgic hits such as the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” Gene Autry’s “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and the Mills Brothers’ novelty tune, “Flat Foot Floogie.”

OMCA’s eclectic art part is also spellbinding.

From a vintage silver ceremonial-presentation trumpet to a series of striking black-and-white photos by Dorothea Lange of her family, neighbors and Berkeley environs rather than her more familiar “people in desperate circumstances — Dust Bowl refugees, victims of racism, and Japanese Americans imprisoned by their own government during World War II.”

The museum’s natural sciences perma-exhibit is likewise mesmerizing. Tons of animal reproductions (depicting habitats, the wild and food-chain confrontations).

The day I visited I was taken by the narrow range of patrons — surprisingly young (including one girl with more nose rings than I could count and a dude carrying a skateboard) — who obviously appreciated the dioramas and antiquities.

I’d expected more white-hairs like me.

The museum’s café, not incidentally, is remarkable. I’ve despised museum eateries all over the world because their prices tend to be high, their food low-mediocre. Here, lunch is exceptionally tasty (with generous portions), the price tag moderate.

Gardens, too, are worth a look-see, if only for a few minutes — as are temporary exhibits (currently J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art & Everyday Life,” through Sept. 9, and “Take Root: Oakland Grows Food,” through Jan. 13).

Over all, the facility provides much too much to experience in a single day. I, in fact, ran short of energy after four-and-a-half hours.

But I vowed to return.

Hence my advice to you: Get thee quickly not to a nunnery but to the Oakland Museum — even if you have plenty of time to get a round tuit.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at or, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →