The Bold Italic has published an illustrated guide to Lake Merritt that is as attractive as it is comprehensive. I agree with the commenter who says this would make a great poster.
So far this year, most of the flowers I’ve seen trailside are the ones we usually consider weeds: broom, vinca and sorrel. Maybe it’s the unusually dry winter. In any case, the cultivated blooms at the Morcom Amphitheater of Roses are putting on a spectacular show. Wistaria is out, like this one that covers the Morcom pergola. Dogwood trees are also in bloom –I find them most frequently in the Rockridge neighborhood and, more rarely, in Glenview.
An enormous eucalyptus, near the Lake Chalet, that blew down during last week’s windstorm has become a local celebrity. Family groups pose for portraits near its imposing root ball, and its massive trunk has become a climbing gym for those willing to ignore the posted warnings.
The lake itself was covered with a raft of cormorants. We spotted a few goldeneyes and eared grebes. The water near the channel is now clear enough to follow the grebes as they hunted underwater.
I went back and forth on whether to post about this path, which is maintained by a Homeowners Association I Won’t Name and is technically a private park. So I’m making this deliberately vague: If you are near this walk and you see these steps, follow them uphill to a shady, well-maintained path. The buckeyes and berry bushes are in bloom right now, and I watched a chickadee feeding its baby. When the trail ends, under a fragrant rose bower on a residential street, turn left, then left again to return to your starting place.
The story goes that, when industrialist Henry J. Kaiser considered the view from his new office in downtown Oakland, he said he didn’t want to look at the bare rooftop of a parking garage. So the Kaiser Center Roof Garden was created, using lightweight soil and strategically placing trees over the pillars in the garage below.
The garden, which covers a surprising 3.5 acres, still has a vintage Sunset Western Garden feel — the composite walks wind beneath olives, oaks and magnolia trees. Broad crescents of well-tended grass flank shallow reflecting pools and planters filled with seasonal annuals. Even on a windy winter day, people were using the garden for lunchtime walks or to read on a relatively protected bench.
The only entrances to the garden are inside the Kaiser Center garage (choose floor RG) or via the second-floor pedestrian bridge from the Kaiser Center itself, so you can only visit it when the building is open (7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday). The garden may also be reserved for private functions or weddings.
Across the street, you can also walk through the plaza of the new Catholic Cathedral of Christ the Light, an open space bordered by a row of young redwoods, a cafe and gift shop, and the cathedral itself, with its dramatic modern shape.
A few steps away are the shores of Lake Merritt, with its necklace of lights. It’s puzzling why old Henry J. didn’t just ask for an office on this side of the building, but it’s just as well for downtown that he didn’t.
Getting there: The Kaiser Center is at 300 Lakeside Drive. Buses and BART run nearby.
Cool stuff in the neighborhood: Besides the cathedral, the Kaiser Center is within walking distance of Uptown. The city has set up a parklet in the street outside Farley’s East and Vo’s Restaurant, at Grand Avenue and Webster Street.
More information: About the Kaiser Center.
Pass through the stately white pillars marking Rockridge Boulevard, and you quickly come to Rockridge Park, a green triangle randomly planted and with few amenities to welcome the passerby. The neighborhood around it, however, is full of interesting architecture and pedestrian-friendly — if aerobic — steps.
Head up Rockridge Boulevard South, and you will soon see the Prospect Steps on your left, up what looks like an extended driveway. An early morning jogger is already using them to climb the hill. Unlike the Oakmore Steps, these haven’t been rebuilt in a while, and their treads tilt crazily where the bare trees are flexing their roots.
After the steps cross Margarido Drive, you should turn around from time to time, to catch your breath as well as the panoramic view across the city. The steps change their name to West Lane as they continue past Manchester Drive, and as you come over the top of the ridge, you have a second vista across the valley of Temescal Creek toward the Montclair Hills.
Turn right on Ocean View Drive, and right again on Alpine Terrace. At the very end of Alpine is the Locarno Path, which will take you down to Acacia Avenue. Mindful of their Italian namesake, someone has planted artichokes at the foot of the first flight of steps.
Turning right on Acacia, you pass the occasional newer home or fenced-off empty lot reminds you that the 1991 firestorm touched this neighborhood. But for the most part, the homes are in the traditional styles of the mid-20th century or earlier, and as Acacia drops down the hill, you again catch a glimpse of the view their residents get to enjoy every day.
You will have to step into the street at this point, as the sidewalk disappears, but there is plenty of room for cars to pass safely. Turn right on Margarido, step back onto the sidewalk, and admire the large outcropping of chert on the left side. The owners of the house beneath are using it to hold up part of an extensive wistaria arbor.
At the end of the block, Margarido curves to the right, and by looking sharply near the antique-style light post, you will spot the unmarked pedestrian way that will return you to Rockridge Park. The entire loop is just under a mile.
Cool stuff in the neighborhood: The area around the Rockridge BART station is full of cafes and restaurants, from the elegant Oliveto to the popular Zachary’s Pizza and Cactus Taqueria. Shoppers can also peruse a number of boutiques and Pendragon Books.
More information: About the hunt for the original “Rock Ridge” and the Margarido boulder from the Oakland Geology blog. A four-mile walk that starts at Rockridge BART and includes part of this route is described on the Oakland Urban Paths blog.
After Leimert Boulevard crosses Dimond Canyon, it enters a neighborhood of twisty little streets climbing the hills. The Oakmore Highlands, developed in the 1920s, were designed to offer homeowners spectacular views but convenient pedestrian access to the streetcar line that ran across the Leimert bridge. Four stairways offer these links and make for a short but steep route with some panoramic vistas across the city.
Start at the small commercial area on Leimert and walk up Arden Place. A green sign tells you when you’ve reached a public stairway. The first set of steps is utilitarian and short, but after crossing Bridgeview Drive, you begin a more serious climb up past steeply terraced yards. The neighbors have made an effort to make the stairs welcoming, with the occasional geranium or seasonal decoration marking their gates.
At the top of this second stair, you find Leimert Boulevard again. Turn and appreciate the view; a sliver of downtown Oakland and the port can be seen through a keyhole in the trees. Turn right on Leimert and look for the next public stair sign, which will be on your left around the sharp curve in the street.
This third set of steps is wooden, with a rustic feel. Be sure to look back again at the top for a panorama of Oakland and the San Francisco hills across the bay. Then turn right on Oakview Drive and walk to the end of the court. The final set of steps descends to your right beneath a heavy canopy of trees. Turning right on Hoover at the bottom of the steps, you have an easy walk downhill to Leimert.
Most of the homes in the Oakmore Highlands neighborhood are in the Mediterranean style, but some have fantastic details — ornate ironwork or Hobbit-style arches over their gates; Storybook touches like portholes in the brickwork.
It’s worth noting that as recently as 10 years ago, these steps were in such bad disrepair, they could hardly be used. The neighborhood took up their cause and persuaded the city to repair them in 2004.
Getting there: The closest bus service is to Park Boulevard, a short walk along Leimert Boulevard to Arden Place. Metered parking is available in the small neighborhood commercial area around Leimert and Arden.
Cool stuff in the neighborhood: Red Boy Pizza and Thai Bistro, at the corner of Arden Place and Leimert Boulevard, offer sit-down dining. Rocky’s Market, near the Leimert bridge, has cold drinks and a small selection of groceries.
More information: About the history of the Oakmore Steps and the neighborhood from the Oakmore Homes Association. Oakland Urban Paths led a five-mile walk that incorporated most of this route. Description and link to a map can be found on Oakland Local.