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Lake Merritt historic rose arbor
Lake Merritt historic rose arbor | cdrin/Shutterstock
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The Best Things To See & Do Around Lake Merritt, Oakland

Picture of Courtney Holcomb
Updated: 12 January 2018
If you’ve ever explored the streets of Oakland, chances are you’re familiar with Lake Merritt. One of the city’s most popular attractions, this landmark is surrounded by entertainment for everyone. After you take a stroll around the lake’s perimeter, be sure make a day of it by checking out one of our favorite things to do nearby.

Go Boating

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.

Lake Merritt Boating Center, 568 Bellevue Ave, Oakland, CA, USA

Gondola Servizio, 1520 Lakeside Drive, Oakland, CA, USA

Boating on Lake Merritt
Boating on Lake Merritt | © John Martinez Pavliga/Flickr

Explore the Nature

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.

Bonsai Garden
Bonsai Garden | © Sage Ross/Wikipedia
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Play at Children’s Fairyland

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.

Children’s Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Ave, Oakland, CA, USA

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Visit the Grand Lake Theatre

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.

Grand Lake Theatre, 3200 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA, USA

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Explore the Oakland Museum of California

The Oakland Museum of California has been around for more than 40 years and celebrates the many facets of California by combining subjects like art, history, and natural science under one roof. With a mission to ‘inspire all Californians to create a more vibrant future for themselves and their communities,’ the museum houses nearly two million pieces, including artworks, historical artifacts, ethnographic objects, natural specimens, and photographs. The collections are filled with interpretive tools and interactive features, and the museum also offers a variety of educational and outreach programs and events for the community.

Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St, Oakland, CA, USA

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See the Camron-Stanford House

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.

Camron-Stanford House, 1418 Lakeside Dr, Oakland, CA, USA

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Visit the Cathedral of Christ the Light

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.

Cathedral of Christ the Light, 2121 Harrison St, Oakland, CA, USA