Tag Archives: city parks

Instead of Wildflowers




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.

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Update: Balancing Rocks and Falling Bridges

Balancing rocks, Bridgeview Trail

Rocks balanced on a flood control wall on the Bridgeview Trail above Dimond Canyon.

I had hoped that a few warm days and a rainy night would bring some signs of spring, but there was nothing showing along the Bridgeview Trail this morning except a few spots of yellow on a thorny broom bush.


Trails are closed under the Leimert Bridge.

Signs at the trailhead still warn of trail closures under the Leimert bridge. A chunk of concrete fell  from the underside of the bridge into Sausal Creek on Nov. 31, and although Oakland Public Works plans to make some repairs, no date has been set for their completion. I haven’t found my walks to be circumscribed — you can get pretty far from the El Centro trailhead before you hit Leimert, and none of the Bridgeview Trail goes under the bridge.

Although flowers aren’t out, a rock-balancing artist has arranged a gallery of work along a graffiti-covered flood-control wall. These things tend to be ephemeral, so if you want to see them, head out for a walk right away. The best videos I’ve seen of this kind of work are on the Gravity Glue website, although it appears our best-known local artist is Bill Dan.

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No. 41: Dimond Canyon Park, Old Canyon Trail and Dimond Canyon Trail

Old Canyon Trail, Dimond Canyon Park

The view into Dimond Canyon from Old Canyon Trail.

In the dry season, it’s possible to make a loop through Dimond Canyon Park by using the Old Cañon Trail. Starting at the El Centro trailhead, walk uphill a short steep block to Benevides Avenue. At the end of the cul-de-sac of well-kept bungalows, the Old Cañon trail starts just past the rough-hewn log bench.

The vista along the first few hundred yards of the hard-packed, narrow trail is mostly ivy, with glimpses of other Glenview bungalows through the trees. But you will pass two enormous agaves. Where their masts have fallen across the trail, they have been sawn across to preserve access.

Sausal Creek is a distant murmur below, obscured by undergrowth. The trail continues, rising only slightly, till you reach the underpinnings of the Leimert Boulevard bridge, which are covered with bright graffiti. From this point, the climb feels a little more noticeable.

Sausal Creek

The creekbed is your trail.

Should you wish to return via Park Boulevard, a steep cutoff to the left is just before a stainless steel drainage pipe crosses the path. But if you continue, you will reach a sharp descent to the right that takes you to the creek, which passes through a culvert at this point. Follow the trail downstream, along the top of the culvert, until Sausal Creek reappears at the other end.

At this point, your trail is the creekbed. You’ll want shoes with good soles and, perhaps, a hiking stick. But after months of drought, the water was so low that even crossing and recrossing the stream, I never got a splash through my Keen sandals.

That doesn’t mean you won’t feel the intrepid adventurer as you pick your way across the rocks and small check dams, finding the best path around the occasional fallen tree. Eventually, you see a retaining wall to your left and can start looking for the Leimert spillway, which is your cue to clamber back up to the maintained portion of the Dimond Canyon Trail, which takes you back to El Centro.

Getting there: The corner of El Centro and Benevides avenues is only two blocks from Park Boulevard. Or you can extend your walk through Dimond Park to the Fruitvale Transit Center at Fruitvale Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: Park Boulevard below El Centro has become home to a number of snazzy restaurants, including Bellanico, Rumbo al Sur and Blackberry Bistro. There’s also a cafe, pizza parlor and small market in the neighborhood.

More information: The best trail map is from Friends of Sausal Creek.

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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. 39: Morcom Amphitheater of Roses

Hybrid tea rose "Gentle Giant"

The hybrid tea rose “Gentle Giant” has saucer-sized blooms.

“Roses are beauty, but I never see/ those blood drops from the burning heart of June/ glowing like thought upon the living tree/ without a pity that they die so soon.” —John Masefield, 1878-1967.

The Bay Area may be cruel to rose lovers in some respects: The same gentle climate that rarely sends the canes into true dormancy can also be kind to diseases like blight and rust. On the other hand, with  modern varieties, rosarians easily extend June’s burning heart through late summer.

And even though the first day of fall was Thursday, the Morcom Amphitheater roses were still glowing like thought today. The formal beds are grouped by kind and color, which can range from the traditional yellows, whites and reds to a pale orchid-pink with bronze-edged buds (“Love Potion”). My favorites are the more showy mixtures — like “Gentle Giant” or “First Kiss.”

Mother of the Year walk

Tree roses and formal beds flank the Mother of the Year Walk.

I made a figure eight through the garden, taking in both the lower beds and those at the head of the cascade. You could extend your walk along Jean Street and Wildwood Avenue, or climb the stairs to the rear of the amphitheater and walk along Monte Vista Avenue.

Getting there: The amphitheater is at 700 Jean Street, about a block from Grand Avenue.

Cool stuff nearby: The Grand Lake Ace Hardware garden center, at Jean and Grand, has a nice selection of native plants. There are also numerous restaurants, cafes and businesses along Grand.

More information: From the Friends of the Morcom Rose Garden.

Accessibility note: The bottom of the Rose Garden bowl is paved and accessible from Jean Street. Access to the upper tiers involves steps or steep grades.

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No. 38: Joaquin Miller Park, Friends of Sausal Creek Native Plant Nursery

Friends of Sausal Creek Native Plant Nursery

The Friends of Sausal Creek grow natives to replant damaged areas and sell at fundraisers.

On previous Creek to Bay Days, I have hacked blackberry, French broom and vinca out of Dimond Park and waded in Sausal Creek to corral plastic yogurt lids and soda bottles. Feeling a little more sedate this year, I volunteered at the Native Plant Nursery transplanting seedlings.

Native Plant Nursery sign

The sign by the gate.

The walk to the nursery itself is a short-but-pleasant one: Following Sanborn Road past the Joaquin Miller Ranger Station, you take the fire road to the right, past the locked yellow gate. The nursery is about a quarter-mile down the road behind a cyclone fence.

Under the shade canopy, we pulled apart inch-high seedlings of snakeroot, columbine and sedge grass, repotting some for October’s native plant sale and others to help restoration efforts along Sausal Creek or its tributaries. A red-tailed hawk passed overhead, screaming angrily, and a hummingbird joined us under the canopy, taking a quick washcloth-bath on the damp leaves of a native grape.

Volunteers can work in the nursery most Saturdays of the month; it’s not physically difficult, but feels very rewarding. We all wished we could “sign” our seedlings and see how many survive to be set out in Oakland’s parks.

Getting there: Sanborn Road intersects Joaquin Miller Drive east of Highway 13.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: The Woodminster Amphitheatre is running a community production of “Cats” right now.

More information: About the October plant sale and about volunteer opportunities can be found on the Friends of Sausal Creek website.

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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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No. 35: Joaquin Miller Park, Big Trees Trail and Sequoia-Bayview Trail

Big Trees Trail, Joaquin Miller Park

The Big Trees Trail in Joaquin Miller Park is a quiet alternative to the crowded Sequoia Bayview Trail.

By noon, the Sequoia Bayview trailhead was parked full from one blind curve to the next. So I continued along Skyline another half-mile to the poorly-marked Big Trees/Orchard trailhead. (Look for two green trash bins and a message board.) The first hundred yards or so of the trail heading north are badly maintained asphalt, but the unpaved Big Trees Trail swerves to the left.

At first, it is broad and well-marked, but it quickly shrinks to a single track and descends to the Sequoia-Bayview Trail in a series of gentle switchbacks. Even in its diminished state, it is possible for a pair of mountain bikers to pass me comfortably.

The more-popular trail is, as usual, full of runners, dog-walkers and a father herding a flock of toddlers. The air is crisp and has a hint of fall — and of grilling hot dogs. The ferns and berries along the trail are shrouded in dust kicked up over the course of a dry summer.

About a mile along, at the Sequoia trailhead, the Big Trees Trail heads left and up a moderate hill. This stretch, although the least-traveled by walkers, is only about 15 feet away from  Skyline Boulevard, and the swish of passing cars may be reassuring or annoying, depending on the mood of the observer. When you pass through the abandoned group picnic site, you’re close to home. The full loop is about two miles long.

Getting there: The Big Trees/Orchard trailhead is on Skyline Boulevard, between the entrance to Roberts Regional Recreation Area and the Sequoia Horse Arena.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: The Chabot Space and Science Center.

More information: The Friends of Sausal Creek trail map.

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No. 33: Leona Heights Park, York Trail

The York Trail, Leona Heights Park

Rustic wooden bridges lead the York Trail on a zig-zag route across a year-round creek.

This lovely, if challenging, route may be the loneliest trail in Oakland. Even though it was a gorgeous day and the York Trail offered a shady climb next to a year-round creek, I saw not another soul.

The trail starts in a gated area below Leona Lodge. Crossing the creek on a rustic wooden bridge and flight of stairs, you pass into a beautiful, shaded canyon of redwood and laurel. Blackberry vines are everywhere.

Although the grade is not as steep as Claremont Canyon, the trail is more difficult, shrinking from a one-and-a-half-track to a narrow footpath after you cross the fourth wooden bridge.

The fifth creek crossing is a weathered two-by-four at the low-water mark — more secure than I expected, but not likely to be passable after a heavy rain. After this point, the question of where to turn around depends on how agile and how stubborn you are.

I scrambled up some boulders, edged past some steep drop-offs, ducked under a fallen trunk, and wound my way through a pretty grove of young laurels. But I had to call it quits at the spot where a many-trunked redwood had fallen across the trail. I had been so intent watching my steps, I lost track of time, but I think the round-trip can be done in under an hour.

Is it worth it? I have to agree with Ann Juell and Janaka Ruiz of the Davenport Neighborhood newsletter: Yes. I only wish the trail were a little better maintained, so that it was a clear route up to Merritt College. But unlike some other walkers, I saw no litter and hardly any graffiti — most of the spray paint is actually marking the trail.

East Bay Conservation Corps

Time to ask the EBCC to return?

Getting there: Leona Heights Park is next to Leona Lodge, 4444 Mountain Boulevard. There is no regular bus service and the lodge parking lot has a 15-minute limit, but there are a very few parking places along Mountain between the lodge and Berneves Court.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: The Ethiopian Orthodox Cathedral and Lincoln Square Shopping Center, which has a pretty good Chinese restaurant, Hunan Yuan, a Red Boy Pizza, and a coffee shop. Lincoln Square Liquors has old-style Coke from Mexico, made with cane sugar and in glass bottles.

More information: Is hard to find. If you search “York Trail” online, most of your results will link to the Leona Canyon Open Space instead of the city park. Oakland’s park website doesn’t even list this area, but only has information about Leona Lodge.

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No. 31: Lake Merritt

The pergola at Lake Merritt

The pergola at the northeast corner of Lake Merritt provides one of the postcard views of Oakland.

The heart of Oakland, physically and spiritually, is Lake Merritt. If you’ve watched the humorous Youtube video “S*** Oakland Says,” you’ve noticed how much time filmmakers Kathreen Kavari and Jaevon Marshall spend talking about and hanging out by its side. The full circuit of the lake is about three miles, and you’ll know you are in great shape when you can walk it in under an hour.

Start at the pergola, at the corner of Lakeshore Avenue and El Embarcadero. You may see someone practicing tai chi or shadow boxing under its central dome or in the formal alley of polled sycamores nearby. Walk clockwise, along Lakeshore, where the path was recently repaired and landscaped with native plants.You’ll probably see long-necked cormorants and compact, black coots floating carelessly nearby.

But spare a glance, from time to time, for the elegant apartment buildings facing the lake. A few blocks past the pergola, on the side of the street facing the lake, is the Cleveland Cascade, a pleasant side trip or a chance to work on your quads by sprinting up the flights of steps. Neighbors are still restoring this water feature to its original glory, but even now, it offers a nice view of the lake and a shady spot to sit.

After you pass the surprisingly gaudy fishing pier near Lakeshore and East 18th Street, you enter a stretch where the major restoration project is still under way. The “lake” is really a tidal estuary, and the heavy equipment at East 12th Street is opening up its mouth to create a more natural flow and better conditions. The brand-new bridge and path across the channel replaced what once was the “world’s shortest freeway,” 12 lanes of pedestrian-unfriendly, uncontrolled traffic. (Update: The renovations between the 18th Street Pier and 12th Avenue are complete and make this end of the lake spectacular. are almost complete. As of Jan. 6, 2013, the sidewalk path is open and benches and landscaping are being installed. The wheelchair-accessible bridge across the estuary still hasn’t opened, however.)

Turning onto Lakeside Drive, you pass the Lake Chalet, a renovated boat house that is now downtown’s chic spot to stop for cocktails. To your left, across the street, you will see the massive and ornate Scottish Rite Temple, site of the Christmas Revels. Lakeside becomes Harrison as you pass the unusual, modern Catholic Cathedral of Christ the Light. The glass sanctuary is designed to use sunlight to paint a picture of Christ above the altar.

As you turn on Grand Avenue and enter the home stretch, you have some choices to make. If you stay on the street, you shorten your trip and pass a number of restaurants and cafes. If you keep to the shoreline path, you pass through Lakeside Park. Besides Children’s Fairyland, a delightfully non-commercial storybook park aimed at preschoolers, this area contains the Gardens at Lake Merritt Lakeside Demonstration Gardens, the Sailboat House (rentals and lessons available) and the Rotary Nature Center, one of the oldest wildlife sanctuaries in the country.

The totem pole outside the Rotary Nature Center

Totem pole outside the nature center.

You are likely to see night herons in the trees nearby, more cormorants nesting on the man-made islands offshore, and depending on the season, a variety of scaups, petrels, seagulls and ducks. If you have kids, bring some birdseed to feed the pigeons and spend some time at the Rotary Playground next door. Local artist Harkin Lucero carved the totem pole outside the nature center in the late 1990s.

The final landmark, along the shoreline path between the playground and the pergola, is an earthen labyrinth. Less mysterious than the ones in Sibley park, this one was installed as part of a public arts project in 1992.

Getting there: Although I started my walk at the pergola, various parts of Lake Merritt are accessible by car, bike, BART and bus.

Cool stuff nearby: In addition to the features mentioned in this post, there is a farmer’s market on Saturday mornings in Splash Pad Park at Grand Avenue and Lake Park Avenue, about two blocks from the pergola. The Grand Lake Theater is a classic picture palace that offers pre-movie organ concerts in the main theater on Friday and Saturday nights. Lakeshore and Grand Avenue offer a number of retail shops and restaurants.

More information: About Lakeside Park from the Oakland Parks and Recreation Department.

Accessibility note: The sidewalk on the newly renovated east side of the lake is accessible and in good repair. As construction on the 12th Avenue crossover is completed, the rest of the route should also become clear.

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