Unbeknownst to many, you can actually boat across the lake itself. Lake Merritt Boating Center offers boat rentals for individuals and groups alike, including pedal boats, rowboats, kayaks, and canoes. Come prepared – boat rentals are cash only. The company also offers a variety of youth and community boating programs, giving locals a chance to learn the skills behind sailing and muscle-powered boating. Another boating option on Lake Merritt is Gondola Servizio, a company that has been providing authentic Venetian gondola rides across the lake since 1999, complete with experienced gondoliers and Italian melodies.
Surrounding the 3.4-mile circumference of the lake is a whole lot of nature, housed and protected by several organizations. The Rotary Nature Center and Waterfowl Refuge is an organization that provides maintenance and protection for the lake, offering natural science presentations, environmental education, and summer camps for youth. There, you can explore an interpretive museum featuring educational exhibits, a working observation beehive, freshwater viewing ponds, five habitat islands, a geodesic dome for injured birds, and the Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge, which is home to a variety of animals. Next, check out the Lakeside Park and Garden Center, featuring grassy knolls, a small beach area, and more. Be sure to also stop by The Bonsai Garden, which houses some of the coolest (and cutest) tiny trees in country.
Children’s Fairyland is the perfect place to bring kids and features magical storybook sets, rides, animals, live entertainment, and ten acres of gardens. Check out the Jolly Trolly, a kid-sized train; the Wonder-Go-Round, a carousel featuring Alice in Wonderland characters; Anansi’s Magic Web, a mini ferris wheel designed to look like a spider web; and the Flecto Carousel, upon which no adults are allowed. Let your children run free in this whimsical wonderland, where kids can create, imagine, and play for hours.
The Grand Lake Theatre has been around since 1926 and opened originally as a vaudeville show and silent movie theater. Over time, it has maintained its historic charm while being named one of the top ten vintage theaters in the nation. It regularly wins the East Bay Express Reader‘s annual Best Movie Theater poll and screens great movies at affordable prices. Visit the theater and enjoy its grand architecture and ambiance, and take advantage of one of its special programs, including 3D features, discount Tuesdays, and free popcorn Wednesdays.
While Lake Merritt was once surrounded by gorgeous 19th-century mansions, today, only the Camron-Stanford House remains standing. The building once housed five families that played key roles in the development of Oakland and the entire state of California. It was saved from destruction in 1971 by what would soon become the Camron-Stanford House Preservation Association, which turned it into the first museum in Oakland and initiated a decades-long renovation. Today, you can walk through the house to see the recreated rooms and restored gardens, with tours offered every Sunday.
Across the street from the lake, the Cathedral of Christ the Light stands tall and luminescent. The building has been dubbed ‘A Cathedral for the Centuries,’ built to last for ages. Aside from religious services, the cathedral has a lot to offer visitors. Explore the building’s public plaza and garden, admire the gorgeous architecture, browse through the Cathedral Shop, and walk through the Cathedral Mausoleum – you can even take an official tour. The building also hosts a variety of concerts and events that visitors can attend, so be sure to check out the cathedral calendar before planning your visit.