Just the facts
Main strips: Grand & Lakeshore avenues >> Who dwells here: Avid runners, young families, musicians, students, professionals >> Population: 4,650 >> Founded: 1860s >> Main architecture: Art Deco to 1950s flats >> Neighborhood giants: Lake Merritt and Grand Lake Theater >> Best slice: Boot & Shoe Service >> Where to mingle with locals: Lakeside Park, the Saturday farmers market, and, at night, The Alley
Do you know those French impressionist paintings from the turn of the century? Lake Merritt could be a model for a 21st-century version. It has that Saturday-by-the-lake relaxed vibe. Geese quack, joggers loop the perimeter and rowers plunk their oars into the water. Add to that a pretty Lake Chalet bar and grill, salsa dancing and sun bathing at Lakeside Park. The only thing that can steal the thunder from the glittery water is Grand Lake Theater, a 1926 masterpiece that literally lights up the neighborhood. Oakland’s largest indie bookstore, just around the corner, carries works by regional authors. While Uptown may be the fastest growing neighborhood, Lake Merritt is not far behind.
The inside inside scoop
This is Visit Oakland’s version of Believe it or Not. But believe this. Lake Merritt was the United States’ first official wildlife refuge (in 1870).
If you only have three hours
The 3.1-mile Lake Merritt can be walked, jogged, padded, peddled or gondola-ed. A favorite is the authentic Venetian gondolas for two or more. Looking for a lakeside guide? The audio historic tour, “Once upon a time, happily ever after,” can be downloaded online, starting at the Rotary Nature Center.
Swing by the 1930s-era Morcom Rose Garden, where you’ll find seven acres and 5,000 rose bushes of blooming bliss, thanks to the care of tie-dye bearing volunteers called Deadheaders.
Splash Pad Park (redone by famed landscape architect Walter Hood) is not only the spot for the weekly farmers market, but is also the location of its kid-friendly fountain. Nearby is Children’s Fairyland, a storybook theme park that was the inspiration for THE theme park giant—Disneyland.
Thirsty after all that touring? Grab a pint at Heart and Dagger, the areas’ divey lakeside saloon. The outdoor patio is a destination in itself.
How to get here
Freeway exit: From I-580 E, the Grand Ave/Lakeshore exit; from I-580 W, the Grand Ave. exit
BART stop: 19th St/Oakland for Grand Ave. (though you’ll still need to take a bus, or walk about two miles to access the heart of Grand Ave.)
Bus lines: NL, 12, 58L, 75, 805 (all-nighter)