Oakland is often overshadowed by its neighbor in the bay, San Francisco, but the city has plenty to offer in its own right. The tourism industry is growing, and over 3 million visitors come to Oakland each year.
Visitors who visit the city have plenty to see. Oakland has many cultural attractions, including the Oakland Museum of California, which has exhibits focusing on the important, organized African American community in the city.
But while this storied city is rich in history and culture, is Oakland safe to visit? Here’s our expert take.
Is Oakland Safe to Visit in 2023?
Yes and no. Oakland has a higher than national average crime rate, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t safe to visit, albeit with caution.
You just have to be careful about avoiding bad neighborhoods and stick to touristy areas since most crime affects locals, not tourists. Also, Oakland is an up-and-coming city, so it’s come a long way since its reputation as a crime-ridden place.
It is true that Oakland has a higher-than-average crime rate. According to City Data, Oakland has a higher crime rate than 98.8% of American cities, making it one of the more dangerous cities in the nation. It has a high violent crime rate and a high property crime rate as well.
However, statistics aren’t enough to tell you what the experience is like on the ground in Oakland. If you look at forum posts and blogs run by locals, they will tell you that they are extremely proud of their city and bristle against the stereotype that it is dangerous.
Many visitors and even residents spend extensive time in Oakland without experiencing crime. Most incidents of violent crime are concentrated in certain neighborhoods, and many incidents of property crime are easily avoided with some precautions.
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Many Oakland residents point out that their city’s reputation as a dangerous city is due, in part, to racial stereotypes. Oakland has a large African American community that built the city going back nearly 200 years.
It was the birthplace of many important activists, including the Black Panthers. However, for decades, Oakland had a problem with entrenched de facto segregation and discrimination that created a deeply stratified, unequal city.
The crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s impoverished already troubled communities further.
Oakland has had a troubled history which affects its current problems, such as the crime rate and gentrification, but the local community is doing its best to create a vibrant city that is welcoming to all. The crime rate does not tell the full story.
Besides crime, it’s important to dedicate a few words to natural disasters in Oakland. Oakland lies on the Hayward Fault, making it prone to earthquakes.
Although it’s been many years since Oakland had a destructive earthquake, one can happen at any time, and more minor tremors are very common. Before visiting Oakland, brush up on earthquake preparedness information and check evacuation routes from your accommodations.
Crime in Oakland
The most common reason people are afraid to visit Oakland is the high crime rate. The numbers don’t lie — Oakland does have a lot of crime incidents occurring annually.
According to Best Places, which ranks cities in the United States on a crime index from 1 to 100, Oakland scores a whopping 75.5 on violent crime and 81.2 on property crime.
That is over three times the national violent crime rate and over twice the national property crime rate. According to a different crime tracking website, Neighborhood Scout, about 82.3% of Oakland’s total crime was property crime.
That means nearly 18% of total crimes committed were violent crimes. Looking at Oakland police data, common violent crimes include felony assault, domestic violence, robbery, and homicide.
Common property crimes include burglaries, motor vehicle break-ins, and motor vehicle theft. Plus, smaller incidents of crime, such as vandalism and drug possession, occur, although this probably won’t affect your experience as a tourist.
The crime statistics are certainly concerning, but it’s important to put them in perspective. First, Oakland’s crime numbers are actually decreasing. In 2022, Oakland actually saw a decrease in violent crime.
Homicides declined by 12%, and shootings declined by 23%. Violent crime numbers are still high — Oakland saw 113 homicides in 2022 — but the improving statistics give hope that the situation in Oakland will get better.
Many violent crime incidents are caused by gang violence — approximately 30% — according to local law enforcement.
Oakland has had a big problem with gangs for the past few decades, a problem which was made even worse by the influx of crack cocaine in the 1980s. This is a problem that many locals, unfortunately, have to deal with for their whole lives.
However, gangs rarely involve tourists in their disputes unless you do something to put yourself on their radar, such as buying or selling illegal drugs or venturing into neighborhoods that are under gang control.
The most worrying crime trend in Oakland is robbery. Robbery is a common violent crime and the one that is most likely to affect tourists.
Robbers will target out-of-towners as they assume they are wealthier and will make an easier target because they lack the street smarts of local Oaklanders. Unfortunately, Oakland has a high rate of guns on the streets, including ghost guns.
That means that it is highly likely that a robber will be armed, since, unfortunately, it is fairly easy for criminals to access weapons. If someone attempts to rob you, don’t try to resist, as even if you have martial arts knowledge, you can’t fight against a weapon.
Your life is more important than your valuables, so comply and focus on getting away as soon as possible. Obviously, the ideal situation is to avoid being in a position where you can get robbed in the first place.
When in Oakland, stick to neighborhoods that you know are safe and ask a local before going exploring in unfamiliar areas. Don’t go down deserted alleyways or side streets, especially at night, as robbers rarely operate in well-lit, well-trafficked streets.
Keep your valuables concealed and walk with purpose instead of staring at your smartphone. Other forms of theft are also common throughout Oakland.
As elsewhere in the country, vehicle break-ins and motor vehicle thefts are two of the fastest-increasing crimes. Never leave your valuables in plain sight in the car; always store them in a glove compartment or trunk or take them with you.
Make sure that your car doors are locked and the windows are closed when you park. Park in a secure place—many Oakland hotels have parking garages with around-the-clock security.
Of course, you won’t have to worry about motor vehicle theft or break-ins at all if you don’t have a car with you. Oakland has excellent public transportation and BART connections with the rest of the Bay Area, including San Francisco and Berkeley, so you don’t even need a car.
The rate of gun violence in Oakland, as in many American cities, is staggering. After a nine-day stretch with daily gun-related homicides in September 2022, Oakland police vowed to crack down on gun violence.
Guns are behind most violent crimes in Oakland, including homicides, attempted murders, robberies, and assaults. Often guns are involved in robberies, leading to events that escalate and impact not only murder victims but also passers-by or even those trying to intervene.
Most gun violence deaths remain unsolved, leading to growing community frustration with the police. Local gun violence rates, although tragic, primarily affect Oakland locals.
Most incidents of gun violence are concentrated in certain neighborhoods, especially the high percentage of those incidents that are gang-related. While random shootings can occur anywhere in Oakland, if you stick to touristy areas, you will probably have a safe time in Oakland.
Plus, the Oakland government and community are doing their best to try to stop gun violence. Local activists are working within their community using techniques such as early intervention and violence interrupting to try to prevent gun violence before it occurs.
Avoiding Bad Areas
As mentioned above, the Oakland crime rate varies drastically from place to place. Most crime occurs in certain Oakland neighborhoods, driving the overall city average up.
As a visitor, knowing which neighborhoods to avoid is important to helping you stay safe. As a general rule of thumb, neighborhoods further up in the hills are safer, while those closer to the harbor tend to be seedier.
East and West Oakland have higher crime rates, while downtown and the more central regions have lower crime rates. In West Oakland, be careful in the area around the West Oakland BART as it is still seedier.
Fruitvale has a fairly high crime rate, although it is also a popular tourist destination thanks to its many cultural offerings.
Be careful in the area directly around the Fruitvale Station BART. International Boulevard is a dangerous street, especially at night, and many criminals operate there for carjacking and drive-by shootings.
Other neighborhoods to avoid in Oakland include:
- Acorn Industrial
Things to Consider
Here are a few things to keep in mind before visiting Oakland:
- It’s okay to ask locals for safety tips, but don’t start every conversation with your concerns about the crime rate. Oakland locals are proud of their city and don’t take kindly to visitors implying that it’s some kind of criminal wasteland.
- Avoid flashing your valuables, as you don’t want to make yourself a target.
- Oakland’s weather is milder than San Francisco’s and less rainy but not as balmy as Los Angeles’s weather. Bring layers, but it won’t be as chilly as across the bay.
- Tensions between the Oakland police force and community members tend to be high. If you feel that a police officer discriminated against you, you can report that to the city government.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other questions people wanted to know about Oakland:
Is Oakland safer than San Francisco?
No, Oakland has a much higher crime rate than San Francisco. However, it is a city with a stronger community feeling as most of the locals have not been priced out yet.
Is it safe to walk around Downtown Oakland?
Yes, Downtown Oakland is one of the safest parts of the city and is very walkable, making it great to walk around. You can even walk around at night as long as you stick to well-lit areas and well-traveled streets.
Which part of Oakland is safe?
As mentioned above, downtown Oakland is pretty safe. Other safe neighborhoods include Temescal, Panoramic Hill, and Forestland.
Is Oakland safer than LA?
Oakland is slightly more dangerous than Los Angeles as it has a higher crime rate. However, the crime rate in Los Angeles is not much better, showing that there are some dangerous things hidden behind the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
Is it safe to stay near Oakland Airport?
The area near Oakland Airport is safe to stay in as it is fairly out of the way. It is definitely convenient if you are flying in late at night or catching a flight early in the morning, and there is a BART train stop near the airport.
However, keep in mind that Oakland Airport is further away from Oakland and an even longer traveling distance away from San Francisco, so the inconvenience of staying there might not be worth the feeling of safety.
So, Is Oakland Safe to Visit?
Oakland does have a high crime rate and a tumultuous recent past, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t visit. As long as you know which neighborhoods to avoid, you can have a great time in Oakland. Happy travels!