It is the only LDS temple built with a modern five-spire design and exhibits an Oriental motif. Its architect was Harold W. Burton. The exterior of the temple is reinforced concrete faced with sierra white granite from Raymond, California. On the north and south faces of the temple are two decorative friezes; it is the last LDS temple to have such. The back (south side) is a depiction of Christ descending from heaven to the people of the American continent soon after his resurrection in the Holy Land. The front illustrates Christ preaching his gospel to the people. Within the front garden courtyard there is a statue of children in front of a bronze plaque bearing a scripture from 3 Nephi chapter 17, from the Book of Mormon, relating how Christ blessed the children during his visit to the people of ancient America.
The temple sits on a prominent site in the Oakland hills and has become a local landmark. Through the front courtyard are stairways which lead to the temple terrace situated above the ground floor of the temple. From the temple grounds and terrace are spectacular views of the Bay Area, including downtown Oakland, the Bay Bridge, Yerba Buena Island, downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. The grounds are accented by flowers, palm trees, and a formal-style man-made river running from one fountain to the other.
The temple was built on an 18.3-acre plot, has four ordinance rooms, seven sealing rooms, and has a total floor area of 95,000 square feet.The visitors' center has free tours around the grounds and atop the temple daily
The building of the Oakland Temple, as well as other temples in California was planned as early as 1847. The Mormons who had traveled by ship around Cape Horn to California were told by Brigham Young that in the process of time, the shores of the Pacific may yet be overlooked from the Temple of the Lord.
The site where the Oakland Temple now stands was inspected by David O. McKay, then second counselor in the First Presidency, in 1942. The 14.5 acres were purchased by the church on January 28, 1943. Ground was broken for the temple in 1962.
In the nearby Interstake Center, local members performed a pageant (an annual theatrical production) for many years. The pageant, commonly known as the Temple Pageant, was a musical stage production rehearsing the history and legacy of the LDS Church. It was one of only a few temple pageants around the country; others include the Easter Pageant in Mesa, Arizona, and the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah. Until its retirement, it was the only such pageant performed indoors as well as the only one to be fully accompanied by a live orchestra. Initially, the pageant consisted of three acts performed over three consecutive nights; however, it was eventually shortened to an hour and a half. In November 2007, a letter sent to stake and mission presidents in the region from D. Todd Christofferson, then of the Presidency of the Seventy, indicated that the pageant would no longer be held.
The temple is not the oldest building of the LDS Church at the site. The Interstake Center dates from the 1950s. This building was originally referred to as the Tristake Center, serving the needs of the San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley stakes. This building includes two chapels for sacrament meetings, an auditorium, a gymnasium and several classrooms and offices.
The auditorium seats 1,600 people and has a 60-foot stage. Besides the three resident organizations and the temple pageant, many Brigham Young University performing arts groups have performed in the auditorium.
The site has a visitors center that was opened in 1992. There is also a Family History Center, an LDS Employment Center, an LDS Distribution Center and the headquarters of the California Oakland–San Francisco Mission. In addition, a small memorial to the Brooklyn is located to the side of the property.