MORE BAY AREA CITIES-East Bay-Oakland-Lakeside Park/Lake Merritt

Lakeside Park/Lake Merritt

Lakeside Park
Entrance at Grand & Bellevue aves.  Free.  Parking $2-$10. 
Located in the heart of the city, this beautiful expanse of water is the hub of a variety of activities and is encircled in the evening by a lovely necklace of 4,000 glistening lights strung along 126 lampposts.  Fed by both salt water from the bay and fresh water from streams in the hills, it is approximately 18 feet deep.

Lakeside Park/Lake Merritt attractions

Camron-Stanford House 
1418 Lakeside Dr./14th St.  Fee. 
Restored and furnished in period fashion, this 1876 Italianate-style Victorian is on the western edge of Lake Merritt.  Tours begin with a short film on Oakland’s history.

exterior of Camron-Stanford House in Oakland, California
exterior of Camron-Stanford House

Children’s Fairyland  699 Bellevue Ave./Grand Ave.  Fee.  Parking fee (see above).  Designed especially for children age 8 and under, this non-profit facility was the country’s first educational storybook theme park when it opened in 1950.  In fact, Disneyland is patterned after it.  Fairyland was designed to have “no straight lines and a surprise around every corner.”  Mother Goose rhymes and fairy tales come to life in more than 30 fantasy sets, some of which hold live domesticated animals, and a “magic key” unlocks stories and songs (buy a key when you purchase tickets; $3).  As soon as children pass through the Old Lady in the shoe entrance, they run and skip this way and that, not sure what to do first.  A yellow brick road path helps give direction.  I found myself just following the child’s lead.  Among the attractions are an Alice in Wonderland card maze and a variety of slides–including one down a dragon’s back.

I like that rides on the Jolly Trolly and on two mini-carousels (the hands-down favorite with my grandkids) and a mini-Ferris wheel are included with admission.  All ages can view a puppet show at the oldest continuously operating puppet theater in the U.S.   Gardens are well tended, and there are plenty of places for adults to sit.  Mature trees provide shade, and a picnic area, fast-food stand, and packaged birthday party are also available.

No adult is admitted without a child, and no child is admitted without an adult.  Note that the entrance is located near the parking kiosk.  Helpful hint:  A great enticement to leave is the promise to head to another Oakland institution–Fentons Creamery for ice cream.

For the annual Halloween Jack-O-Lantern Jamboree, families are encouraged to come in costume.

entrance to Children's Fairyland in Oakland, California
entrance to Children’s Fairyland

Lake Merritt Boating Center
568 Bellevue Ave./near Grand Ave.  Fee. 
A variety of vessels are for rent, including rowboats, sailboats, and pedal boats.

The Gardens at Lake Merritt   Free.  No dogs.  In addition to rhododendron and succulent gardens, this expansive property includes a Japanese Garden with a koi pond and small waterfall and a Pollinator Garden with a “bee hotel” (there are 1,600 native bee species in California).  You’ll also see mature dawn redwoods, a giant old Angel’s Trumpet tree, and a bunya-bunya tree that dates from the 1915 World’s Fair. 

Bonsai Garden exhibits more than 150 bonsai trees–among them a 400-year-old Japanese black pine that was brought to the U.S. for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and a Dalmyo oak that is the oldest in cultivation in the U.S.  The trees range in age from 30 to 1,000 years old.  An assortment of suiseki viewing stones is also displayed. 

The gardens have been pesticide-free since 1998, and an effort is made to recycle and reuse everything. An adjacent Lawn Bowling area has been here since 1910. 

Japanese Black Pine at Lakeside Gardens at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California
Japanese Black Pine at Lakeside Gardens at Lake Merritt

Wildlife Sanctuary
The wildlife refuge dates to 1870 and is the first and oldest in the country.  Among the birds seen here regularly are egrets, mallards, Canada geese, and herons.  Daily feeding occurs at 3:30 p.m.

Grandpa and grandchild observing the birds at the Wildlife Sanctuary in Oakland, California
Grandpa and grandchild observing the birds at the Wildlife Sanctuary

Wildlife Sanctuary
The wildlife refuge dates to 1870 and is the first and oldest in the country.  Among the birds seen here regularly are egrets, mallards, Canada geese, and herons.  Daily feeding occurs at 3:30 p.m.

Cathedral of Christ the Light 
This spectacular cathedral is just across the street from the park. More description and images.

exterior of Cathedral of Christ the Light as seen from Lake Merritt in Oakland, California
exterior of Cathedral of Christ the Light as seen from Lake Merritt

Lakeside Park/Lake Merritt restaurant

Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill 
1520 Lakeside Dr./17th St. 
Situated within the beautifully repurposed 100-year-old Lake Merritt boat house, this restaurant offers a variety of venues:  outside on a dock with its own bar and menu, inside at an 80-foot-long marble bar, upstairs in a formal dining room with a grand view.  Highlights from past menus include lovely, very green English pea soup with ham hock and crème fraiche, delicate fried Petrale sole picatta served atop Yukon Gold potato puree and steamed watercress, and Liberty Farms duck with a roasted fig sauce.  Barbecued baby back ribs, a half-pound burger, and assorted selections from the raw bar are all generally available.  The fresh Dungeness crab Louie makes a great lunch paired with one of the specialty lemonades–pomenagranate-blackberry (my favorite) or guava-strawberry.  Cocktails, mostly California wines, and the parent restaurant’s hand-crafted Beach Chalet beers (on tap) will quench most thirsts.  Drinks here along with a few apps–perhaps the crispy fried calamari or the so so good Brussels sprouts–is also a good way to go.

exterior of Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill in Oakland, California
exterior of Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill

Celebrating a special occasion?  Consider surprising your dining companion with a romantic gondola ride leaving from the restaurant’s dock.  Romantic authentic Venetian gondolas operated by opera-singing gondoliers are for hire at about half the price they’d go for in Venice through Dolce Vita Gondola.

Gondola Servizio at Lake Merritt in Oajkland, California
Gondola Servizio at Lake Merritt;
image courtesy of venue

Allow time before or after to stroll around lovely Lake Merritt.  In daylight you’ll see a variety of birds (the lake is a bird sanctuary), and from dusk on you’ll be enchanted by the encircling chain of lights.

(www.berkeleyandbeyond2.com; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)