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Spending the Day at Oakland’s Lake Merritt

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Anyone familiar with California will know all about San Francisco, but few pay attention to the city just across the Bay:  Oakland.  Fondly referred to by locals as “The Town” (as opposed to San Francisco “The City”), Oakland offers a lot to visitors. From a bustling downtown to rolling hills full of trails, there is something for everyone.  For me, the crown jewel of Oakland is Lake Merritt. This urban tidal lake and its surrounding neighborhoods are full of art, culture, and great food. One of my favorite weekend activities is spending a day walking around the lake, stopping at some great places along the way.

© The Commoner

Something for Everyone

Right next to downtown Oakland, Lake Merritt is encircled by a three-mile walking path. A canal connects the San Francisco Bay with Lake Merritt, making it a tidal lake. This brings a unique array of wildlife into this urban oasis. I love bird-watching and commonly see all kinds of Heron, Egrets, and Pelicans on the water. There is even a bird sanctuary in the lake that walkers can visit.

© City of Oakland

On a weekend you can find families flocking to the local Fairyland Amusement Park. Runners circle the lake getting their exercise in. The colonnade at the east end of the lake is loud with drummers as capoeira dancers perform in the middle of their circle. Acrobats practice slacklining and partner yoga on the lawns, while friends gather for picnics overlooking the lake.

No matter you who are, there is something to draw you to this beautiful community center. Join me for a day around Lake Merritt to experience the best this area has to offer.

© Allison Socha

Shop Your Heart Out

While checking out nature at the lake is a highlight for me, I also enjoy experiencing each neighborhood around the lake. The Lakeshore District on the east side of the lake is home to many boutique shops. Pick up some vintage threads at used clothing stores Maribel or Knimble. Stop by Bay Made for art and gifts made exclusively by locals, or come back for one of their art classes. If you are looking for something unique for your home or a one-of-a-kind gift for your hipster friend check out Urban Indigo.

© Allison Socha
© Allison Socha

My favorite store on Lake Merritt is Oaktown Spice Shop, located at 546 Grand Avenue. It looks like an old-timey apothecary and sells every spice you can imagine. I love some of their unique blends like Japanese Curry Powder and Everything Bagel. The intoxicating smell of the shop will follow you for blocks. If you want another specialty retailer, just walk a little further down Grand Avenue to Alchemy Bottle Shop. This store offers artisan bottles of your favorite liquors, as well as a selection of craft beer and wine. Their white walls are lined with beautiful bottles, making this an Instagram-worthy destination.

© Allison Socha
© Allison Socha
© Allison Socha

Bar-Hopping Around the Lake

The best way to walk around Lake Merritt is with friends and what better way to bond than over a few drinks. One of my favorite spots is Heart and Dagger Saloon. Located at 504 Lake Park Avenue, this cash-only biker bar has a quirky back patio that is dog-friendly. I enjoy getting a beer here and soaking up the sun.

On the other side of the lake at 1611 2nd Avenue, you’ll find Portal. Because of its deck and proximity to the lake, this bar and restaurant is a popular stop for locals. Their drink menu is limited to beer and wine, but they have found ways to make cocktails with interesting concoctions like “bourbon style wine”. If you are visiting between mealtimes make sure to order their chips and salsa. The overflowing platter comes with homemade tortilla chips and some delicious red and green salsa.

© Allison Socha

So Many Food Choices

Walking three miles around Lake Merritt you are bound to get hungry. Lucky for us, there are some amazing places to stop and fill your belly. I love to start the day with Brunch – who doesn’t?  My favorite spot near the lake is Lakeshore Cafe, located at 3257 Lakeshore Avenue. This perfect brunch restaurant has an outdoor patio where you can relax while you enjoy a few mimosas. You have to try the Challah French Toast, topped with strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream. It is to die for! Their made-from-scratch lunch selections are mouth-watering. The Sonoma Chicken Sandwich with marinated chicken breast and homemade aioli is a winner.

© Allison Socha
© Allison Socha

If you aren’t in the mood for brunch, hop a few doors down to Arizmendi Bakery. Each day this worker-owned cooperative offers one type of unique vegetarian pizza. They crank out literally hundreds of pizzas each day topped with interesting ingredients like spinach, grilled onions, and goat cheese. Craving something sweet? They also have a tempting selection of baked goods like cookies, pastries, and many kinds of bread.

© Allison Socha

Across the lake, there are even more sweet treats. PieTisserie is a fairly new shop dedicated solely to pie! Located at 1605 2nd Avenue, this shop does have savory pies but is definitely known for their sweet ones. I had the pleasure of trying their raspberry pie with chocolate crust. I have never had anything like it. Make sure you visit early, especially on the weekends, because they sell out quickly!

© Allison Socha

Take in a Sunset to End Your Day

After a day of walking, shopping, eating, and drinking, slow things down and enjoy the views of Lake Merritt at Lake Chalet. This restaurant is located in the Lake Merritt Boathouse at 1520 Lakeside Drive and offers seating on one of the piers during nice weather. On a warm day, sit on the pier or next to one of the four fire pits and watch the sunset. You may hear the singing of the gondoliers who launch their boats from the same building. These gondola rides are a great option for a romantic date night.

As the sky dims, a string of lights illuminates the border of the lake. It is one of the best views in all of Oakland.

As the sky dims, a string of lights illuminates the border of the lake. It is one of the best views in all of Oakland.  While you watch this light show, try some of the specialty cocktails at Lake Chalet and have a delicious seafood meal. I loved the clam chowder and fried calamari.

The next time you visit the Bay Area, do not count Oakland out of your visit. Lake Merritt is a shining example of why Oakland should be your next favorite destination!  ◊














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