Tag Archives: Lake Merritt

If a tree falls in the city…


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.

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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. 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. 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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No. 29: Trestle Glen Road, Grosvenor Place and Sunnyhills Road

Trestle Glen Road

Typical homes along Trestle Glen Road are spacious and formal, in styles ranging from Tudor to Colonial.

A lacy, wrought-iron arch near Lakeshore Avenue marks the boundary of Trestle Glen. This elegant neighborhood was built in the 1920s around a Key Route streetcar line and takes its name from a 19th century trestle that carried picnickers across the gulch to a park.

Mystery tree

Can anyone identify this tree?

Starting on Trestle Glen Road, head up the street along what once was a creek that fed into nearby Lake Merritt. Compared with Temescal or Glenview, the houses here are larger and more formal — two story Renaissance, Tudor and Colonial homes with lush green lawns. The landscaping tends to be more formal, too, with neat rows of tree roses, beds of papyrus or peacock lilies and other handsome exotics. One house has a strictly geometric layout of succulents, paving stones and river rocks that looks ready for the cover of Sunset magazine.

A shady pocket park on the right-hand side of the street offers a bench and a history lesson about the area. Continuing past Sunnyhills, turn left on Grosvenor. As you climb the moderately steep hill, the houses become narrower and taller, set back from the street up cunning flights of stone stairs. At the first stop sign, you meet Sunnyhills again. Turn left and loop back down to Trestle Glen Road.

Getting there: Trestle Glen Road intersects Lakeshore Avenue just east of Interstate 580.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: Lakeshore offers a number of restaurants and cafes, including the worker-owned Arizmendi Bakery, YaYu Ethiopian, and a Peet’s Coffee. There are also a number of clothing and accessory boutiques.

More information: About Trestle Glen in this Sam Whiting article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

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