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.