Tag Archives: accessible

Minor Update: Lake Merritt


The pedestrian bridge across Lake Merritt at 12th Street is complete and offers a splendid vantage point of the water, downtown, and the distant hills. Other than some broken asphalt near Lakeside and 14th and the need to use the parking lot near Fairyland, the route is now wheelchair friendly.

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Minor update: Earth Day

It couldnt be a better day for a walk near Oakland’s waterfront. The farmer’s market at Jack London Square is in full swing, and though most of the Earth Day service projects were yesterday,  you still have a chance to plant seeds and get gardening tips.

I must go down to the sea again.

I must go down to the sea again.

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No. 53: McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, Emeryville Marina

Emeryville Marina

The Golden Gate Bridge and Angel Island from the Emeryville Marina.

Follow Powell Street west, to the end of the Emeryville peninsula, and you’ll find a lovely cove and fishing pier with a view of San Francisco and Marin County so outstanding, it will feel as if you could reach out and touch Mount Tamalpais. The shoreline of this beckoning finger of land is part of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, which stretches from the Bay Bridge to Point Isabel in Richmond.

A flat, well-maintained paved path makes a 1.5-mile loop from the Emery Go-Round bus shelter at Commodore Drive. On one side are the iconic cranes of the Port of Oakland, looking like a herd of feeding giraffes. On the other, the marina, with its romantic flotilla of sailboats, some of them decorated with holiday lights.

At the tip of the peninsula are benches, picnic tables, small grassy areas being used by toddlers as tumbling mats and a kayak-scale launch ramp with shower facilities, being used this morning by a boxer and its owner, who is hurling a tennis ball into the water for the dog to fetch. (If you do bring a dog, please be aware that some parts of the park are marked as bird sanctuaries.) Next to the ramp is a long fishing pier. Heading out it, I disturb a brown pelican, which takes off ponderously and sails a few feet over my head.

Don’t forget to look down into the water itself — I have spotted the occasional manhole-cover-sized skate flapping its fins lazily beneath the surface in the shallow area near the docks.

Getting there: Powell Street is served by the Emery Go-Round bus. There is timed parking along part of the street, and a public lot at the end of the peninsula.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: Hong Kong East Ocean, at the end of Powell Street, has an unobstructed bay view and delicious dim sum, served all day. The legendary Trader Vic’s chain still maintains an outpost with a view of the marina if you need a Mai Tai after your walk.

More information: Is available from the East Bay Regional Parks District, which maintains the park for the state.

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No. 52: Kaiser Center Roof Garden

The Kaiser Center Roof Garden

The Kaiser Center Roof Garden is only open weekdays.

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.

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No. 49: Laney College

Laney College's small park straddles the estuary that feeds Lake Merritt.

Laney College’s small park straddles the estuary that feeds Lake Merritt.

“It’s beautiful out there, if you just accept the fact that it’s raining,” was how my partner summed up the morning. As the wettest week of the year drew to its close, I sought out a short, paved route: the small park that straddles the estuary feeding Lake Merritt.

Start on 10th Street, between the Laney College tennis courts and the child  care center. The half-mile loop drops below sidewalk level and follows the estuary, snaking past the art center and pool building. Landscaping is casual, but turned bright green by the rain. At Eighth Street, you’ll take a short detour up to street level, cross the estuary, and come down again next to the baseball court.

Several frankly generic pieces of modern sculpture guard the path on this side, and a complex of park benches in a stand of trees would be a shady spot to have lunch or take a break from class. The Lake Merritt trio of seagulls, coots and Canada geese is browsing in the grass; the coots, alarmed by the pedestrian, take off in a group, their stubby wings working frantically.

Once construction on 12th Street is finished, it should be easier to extend this walk along the lake. Future work on the channel will provide a better connection to Estuary Park and the Bay Trail.

Getting there: Laney College is on 10th Street near Oak Street. Bus and BART serve the campus, and street parking is free on Sundays and easily available when class is not in session.

More information: On the Laney College page.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: The Oakland Museum of California is across the street; Chinatown is within easy walking distance.

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No. 45: Mandela Parkway

West End Commons, Mandela Parkway

West End Commons on Mandela Parkway, a neighborhood of townhouses built in 2005, won an award for best live-work design.

Built to replace a double-decked freeway that infamously collapsed in the 1989 earthquake, Mandela Parkway is a broad boulevard with a landscaped central strip that features a paved, accessible path. Running about 1.5 miles, from 34th Avenue to the West Oakland BART station on Seventh Street, the parkway passes modern live-work projects, artist studios, working industrial businesses and a few derelict lots.

Starting on the 34th Avenue end, you’ll soon pass the West End Commons, a group of townhomes whose European style and urban feel are typical of new construction in the area. A few blocks later, you pass Brown Sugar Kitchen, an upscale “New Soul” restaurant known for its comfort-food breakfasts. Even at 2 p.m. on a weekend, a dozen people are waiting on the sunny sidewalk for a table.

The Parkway itself is landscaped in ceanothus, toyon and various kinds of young oaks. It’s open and sunny — very sunny, so choose an overcast or brisk day for your walk.

Peralta Junction

Peralta Junction

I got sidetracked at the corner of West Grand Avenue and Mandela, where a group of artists that includes members of the Burning Man Project and the Crucible have set up a post-apocalyptic midway called the Peralta Junction (running Thursday-Sunday through Dec. 15, 2012).  In a triangular lot next to the Peralta Studios (more live-work space), a temporary village of craft stalls, food trucks, and carnival-style attractions surrounds an elaborate stage featuring live music.

Getting there: Mandela Parkway can be accessed from Seventh Street or from Hollis Avenue in Emeryville.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: There are a surprising number of circus-related schools in West Oakland. Trapeze Arts at Ninth and Pine streets has been teaching people to fly for almost 20 years.

More information: About archaeological finds while building the parkway from Sonoma State University.

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No. 44: Mills College

Mills College

Mills College was established by Christian missionaries at the end of the 19th century.

The first women’s college west of the Rockies, Mills has a small but spectacularly beautiful campus. The bell tower, library, student union and administration building were designed by Julia Morgan; the central alley, framed by double rows of enormous sycamores, looks like an idealized vision of campus life.

Fu dog at Mills College museum

Fu dog outside the Mills art museum.

Although the grounds are private, the campus offers several opportunities for the community to visit. The art museum is open daily except Mondays. In conjunction with its exhibit of dance-themed works by Karen Kilimnik, it is sponsoring a “Monday Night Tights” festival of films about ballet through Dec. 3. The music department, which has a tradition of supporting experimental musical forms, offers frequent concerts and lectures. And the aquatics center is open to “Friends of the College” (anyone from the community) during lap and recreational swim times, for a daily fee.

Walking along Richards avenue from the MacArthur Boulevard gate, you pass the chapel, designed in the 1960s by Warren Callister. Its wood-and-concrete exterior blends into the surrounding grove of trees; inside, it is a soaring, 14-sided space that manages to update yet echo the classic California Craftsman style.

On the same side of the street is concert hall, with its tile roof and intricate Spanish Mission details. Continue toward the end of the street and you’ll find the shockingly modern graduate business school, whose environmentally friendly features include a drought-tolerant native fescue lawn.

Turn left on Kapiolani Road to find the art museum, with its courtyard flanked by massive fu dog sculptures. Leona Creek runs through the grove of trees nearby.

Getting there: Mills College is at 5000 MacArthur Boulevard, near Highway 13.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: The Laurel District, along MacArthur Boulevard between High Street and 35th Avenue, has a number of cafes, restaurants, a bookstore, toy shop and hardware store.

More information: A campus map is available on the Mills website.

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No. 42: Uptown and Old Oakland Architecture

Fox Theater, Oakland

The Fox Theater is now home to Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe and the Oakland School for the Arts.

This two-mile figure-eight loop takes you past some of the most distinguished commercial architecture in Oakland, as well as some of the hippest dining and nightclubbing neighborhoods. Times being what they are, you are also likely to see a few abandoned storefronts and street people.

If you want the route to yourself, walk early on a weekend morning. If you want to see the area at its liveliest, visit on a First Fridays Art Walk evening, when galleries between Broadway and Telegraph Avenue are open late, the bars are full of music, and the streets are full of people strolling from venue to venue. A daytime route will give you a chance to appreciate the finer architectural details, but the neon comes to life at night.

Starting at West Grand Avenue, walk down Broadway past the pale green Breuner Building, which has a classic Deco facade and a relief of two workers building a chair over the door. Since the furniture company abandoned it in the 1970s, it’s been used as office space for smaller concerns, including the California Genealogical Society.

A block away is the 3000-seat Paramount Theater, a lovingly restored picture palace built in 1931. Originally rescued by the Oakland Symphony in the 1970s, it now shows classic movies and hosts concerts and other special events. Although the outside is impressive — especially lit up at night — it is the inside that is truly astonishing. Almost next door is the I. Magnin building, a jewel box of brilliant green terra cotta and black marble.

Art Deco Clock. The Oaksterdam mural was painted over in December 2012.

Art Deco clock and the Oaksterdam mural, recently painted over.

Keep heading downtown and you pass through Oaksterdam, a neighborhood of medical marijuana dispensaries. Even on a Sunday morning, you might notice a slightly skunky smell. The Art Deco street clock at 16th and Broadway was recently restored, and makes a humorous counterpoint to the brilliantly-colored modernist mural across the street. (Update: The “Oaksterdam” mural was painted over in December 2012.)

Look up frequently, as most of the finest architectural details are above eye level:  glazed terra-cotta tiling, brickwork and elegant reliefs. Some shops have homely window displays and fading awnings beneath brilliant cornices and moldings.

After passing the remarkable Cathedral Building, a Gothic Revival sliver at the narrow vee of Telegraph and Broadway, you can catch a glimpse of Oakland’s Beaux-Arts City Hall through a gap between the Rotunda Building and the Lionel Wilson government office building. All three were built after the 1906 earthquake and had to be heavily renovated after Loma Prieta in 1989.

Continuing down Broadway past DeLauer’s Super News Stand, turn right on 11th Street into Old Oakland. These Victorians were part of the original downtown, when Seventh Street was the terminus of the Central Pacific. The ones on this block have an unusual courtyard below sidewalk level, protected by black iron fences and bridged by walkways to their front doors. The effect is very New York-ish.

Going right on Clay Street, you pass the back side of Swan’s Market, built as a regional shopping destination between World Wars I and II. It now houses several very good restaurants and the Museum of Children’s Art. Clay also takes you past some of Oakland’s newer architectural landmarks, including the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building. When it was finished in 1994, the public could visit the sky bridge between the twin 18-story towers. Security concerns now limit casual visitors to the rotunda.

Oakland City Hall

Oakland City Hall

Turn right again on 14th street, and walk through Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall. The enormous oak tree and lawn are recovering nicely from the effects of the Occupy Oakland protests. Continuing left up Telegraph, you re-enter Uptown and pass the Fox Theater with its lovely, intricate brick facade showing a Moorish influence. Like the Paramount, it is a venue for concerts and special events. It also houses the Oakland School for the Arts, a public magnet school. Across from the Fox is the Flower Mart building, dramatically tiled in midnight blue terra cotta with silver accents. The Uptown Nightclub has matched the facade with a vintage-looking neon sign in the shape of a guitar neck.

The next stretch of Telegraph includes a variety of new, refurbished, and built-new-to-look-old apartment buildings. Jerry Brown’s goal during his mayoralty in the early 2000s was to create living spaces for 10,000 new residents downtown. While there is still debate over how much credit Brown can claim, these new urban living spaces have had an indisputable effect in reviving the area.

It’s worth mentioning — and noticing — the 1911 brick YMCA Building, also known as the Hamilton Hotel, which was renovated into studio apartments in the 1990s.  And finally, at 22nd and Telegraph, the Romanesque First Baptist Church building. Damaged in the 1906 earthquake, it was renovated by Julia Morgan and is now in use by a Burmese congregation.

Getting there: Street parking is available but may be scarce during Art Murmur or other big events; two BART stations and a number of bus stops are on this route.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: Besides everything mentioned above, there are dozens of galleries between Telegraph and Broadway (listed at the Art Murmur site). Chinatown (which starts at 8th and Broadway) and Auto Row (Broadway above 27th) also have some interesting architecture and restaurants.

More information: About guided tours through Oakland Heritage Alliance here. About self-guided tours using a Chamber of Commerce map here.

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No. 40: The Gardens at Lake Merritt

Sensory garden, Lake Merritt

The sensory garden is planted with drought-tolerant Mediterraneans like lavender, rosemary, sage and citrus. The torii gate in the background was given by Oakland’s sister city, Fukuoka, in 1969.

This demonstration garden is worth a separate visit from your tour around the lake. Right now, the bee-and-butterfly garden is in full bloom and the edible and community gardens, just about ready for harvest.  (But please, if you didn’t plant them, don’t eat them!)  Photography students are everywhere, and easily finding  targets for their lenses.

Butterfly attractors

Butterfly attractors.

The garden is divided into sections, including a drought-tolerant sensory garden, Bay-friendly landscape, rhododendron, vireya, and palmetum. In the center, next to a series of cascades and pools, is a striking torii gate donated by the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Fukuoka, Japan — Oakland’s sister city. The best picnic spot in the garden is nearby, claimed by two young families.

Behind the torii gate is a shady citrus garden and a splendid crescent of succulents and cacti. Turn a corner, and you are suddenly in a formal Italian-style garden that complements the cherub-covered Easterbrook Fountain. The landscaping is such that the garden seems larger than it actually is, a series of outdoor rooms, each with its own personality.



Unfortunately, the bonsai garden has shorter weekend hours and was still locked up during my morning visit. A number of us pressed our eyes to cracks in the fence to try to get a glimpse anyway.

On Oct. 13, the Autumn Lights Festival fundraiser will fill the garden with fire, light and sound works by local artists. It being the Bay Area, food trucks will provide refreshments.

Getting there: The Gardens at Lake Merritt are at 666 Bellevue Avenue, near Children’s Fairyland and the Lake Merritt Boating Center. The 20th Street BART station is a moderate walk away.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: This is a very family-friendly corner of the lake: Besides Fairyland, the Rotary Nature Center and playground are nearby. Grand Avenue is lined with cafes and restaurants; Los Cantaros restaurant and taqueria and Bacheeso’s are within walking distance and offer views of the park.

More information: About the festival and the gardens from the Gardens at Lake Merritt volunteer organization.

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No. 37: Glen Echo Park to Oak Glen Park, Monte Vista Avenue, Piedmont Avenue and Richmond Boulevard

Glen Echo Park

Glen Echo Park is an inconspicuous pocket of native plants alongside Glen Echo Creek.

When Oakland was under development, most of its creeks were seen as nuisances to be diverted into culverts and buried underground. In the last half of the 20th century, Oaklanders started to realize that preserving the creeks was a way to protect natural diversity as well as enhance our neighborhoods.

Hundreds of residents will turn out for Creek to Bay Day  on the third Saturday of September — Sept. 15 this year — cleaning up trash, pulling invasive weeds and planting natives along the city’s creeks. On the list of work sites are some parks so small, they may have escaped notice of anyone not living in the area.

Glen Echo Park, for example, is less than two blocks long, straddling Monte Vista Avenue just east of Piedmont Avenue. To the north, it’s a well-maintained grove of natives with a few rough-hewn stones that could serve as stools for watching the creek. To the south, the park narrows still further to just a trail under some young redwoods.

glecnechooakglenAnother section of Glen Echo Creek is open just a few blocks away, but to reach it, you’ll have to return to Piedmont Avenue, cross MacArthur Boulevard, and jog left one short block to Richmond Boulevard. Oak Glen Park is a wide median of laurel and oak trees that actually passes under Interstate 580. Unfortunately, there is no way to actually walk through most of the park — the exception being a wood-chip lot under the freeway that serves as an unfenced dog park, and a surprisingly lovely pergola and concrete bridge at Croxton Avenue that allow you to linger over the creek. This park may seem more lush than Glen Echo, but that’s because invasive vines are choking out the natives. One hopes volunteers will be taking care of that in a week.

The walk between Glen Echo and Oak Glen gets a B- for esthetics — the lower end of Piedmont, which passes the Kaiser Hospital garage, is interesting, but not particularly attractive. If you want a prettier walk, follow Monte Vista uphill from Glen Echo, past some lovely, large Victorian and Mediterranean houses and some architecturally undistinguished modern apartment buildings. A block past the crest of the hill, you’ll find the Morcom Rose Garden, which is now in full bloom.

Getting there: Glen Echo Park is at Piedmont and Monte Vista Avenues. Oak Glen Park is on Richmond Boulevard between Warren and Randwick Avenues. Piedmont Avenue is well-served by public transit.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: Want a hot soak, a sauna or a massage? Piedmont Springs is nearby. You also can get an ice cream cone from Fenton’s Creamery (made famous by the movie “Up”) or dine with the carnivores at Bay Wolf, home of the prix fixe “whole hog” dinner.

More information: About Glen Echo Creek and the parks is available from the Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Improvement League.

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