Once an outstretched arm of San Francisco Bay, this tidal lagoon is a natural relief from the concrete high-rises of downtown Oakland. Encircled by a string of lights around its wavy shoreline, Lake Merritt is a spot of beauty that local residents treasure for weekend picnics, running, walking the dog, or just puffing on a joint (technically illegal, but it happens all the time) while taking in the scene, which might include drumming circles, dance parties, or outdoor yoga classes.
Environmental restoration of the lake still has a long way to go, though clean-up efforts are ongoing. Meanwhile bird life is abundant here, from migratory Canada geese to California pelicans and gulls. Around the shoreline, you can find shade underneath California buckeyes and live oaks. Kids can learn more about the lake’s ecology at the small Rotary Nature Center on the lake’s northern shore, not far from the much loved Children’s Fairyland amusement park.
Other diversions secreted along the lakeshore include the botanical gardens, with an impressive Japanese-style bonsai collections and the Lake Merritt Boating Center, where you can rent a rowboat, pedal boat, kayak, or canoe when the weather cooperates. Irrepressibly cheesy romantics can make reservations in advance with Gondola Servizio for a private gondola ride for two. For happy hour with a view, swing by the Lake Chalet on the western shore.
Want to know more? If you’re spending all morning or afternoon by the lake, check out our insiders’ itinerary for A Walking Tour of Oakland’s Lake Merritt.
Tip: Two major arteries for dining, drinking, and shopping branch off the lake’s northern shore, which is where you’ll find most of the activity and attractions. Grand Avenue stretches north from lake, starting from the landmark Grand Lake Theater. Farther east, Lakeshore Avenue heads northeast, passing Arizmendi Bakery.
Directions: The south shore of the lake is a little more than a 10-minute walk from the Lake Merritt BART station. The lake’s northern shore is about the same distance from Oakland’s 19th St. BART station. AC Transit buses connect both BART stations with various stops along the lakeshore. For more Transportation details see Oakland and Around (in the yellow bar).