Oakland’s Jewel Shines Again: Lake Merritt Gets Clean


Lake Merritt rocks! And that’s something that none of us has really been able to say for too long.

Oakland’s Lake Merritt is what many consider to be the heart of Oakland. 155 acres of sanctuary in the midst of this bustling city, with 3.4 miles of perimeter to walk, skip, or jog. And those waves are cleaner than they’ve been in years!

Clearly the city’s multi-million dollar ($198M to be exact) commitment to clean up the gem of the city has paid off. Started back in 2002, the clean up has brought forth a wealth of activities, people, sights, and fabulous new condos and restored homes.

View of Oakland from Lake Merritt

View of Oakland from Lake Merritt

Of all of the pollutants, trash has been the worst offender. Volunteers from many organizations work with the Lake Merritt Institute and the City of Oakland to remove up to 5,000lbs of trash a month!

In addition to the organized removal of trash, Lake Merritt has had other upgrades, like the 750 foot “channel” completed in 2013. The channel includes a paved trail, a walking bridge, and a restored tidal marsh to help circulate more clean water into the lake from the San Francisco Bay.

It’s kind of interesting to note that the original clean up started in 1868 when the mayor at the time, Dr. Samuel Merritt, decided to turn a large wetland area into a beautiful lake. The project took 7 years and involved re-directing streams, rivers and the city’s sewage system.

Lake Merritt is undoubtedly more beautiful today than ever before. Not only is it a sanctuary to city-dwellers, but also to a variety of exotic birds, fish and plants. This tidal lagoon has regained its life force and maintained its title as the oldest wildlife refuge in the United States thanks to local volunteers.

The clean, soft waves coming in from the San Francisco Bay cultivate the perfect atmosphere for people of all ages, ethnicities, and cultures to enjoy family barbeques, impromptu DJs, capaoiera, tightrope walking, or playing in the parks—to name a few of the plethora of activities around Lake Merritt.

There is even one of the most unique parks for children I’ve ever come across. When I first heard about Children’s Fairyland, the theme park with “whimsical storybook sets, gentle rides, friendly animals, and inspired live entertainment,” I was afraid it would be a little creepy. I’m weird like that. But once I visited, I realized why it’s been charming children and grown-ups alike since 1950. It’s interesting and unexpected—and even the puppet shows (another thing I’m uneasy with, much like mimes, as a rule), are uncynical and sweet.

Lake Merritt's Children's Fairyland

Lake Merritt’s Children’s Fairyland

On a daily basis you’ll see groups of people running on the path around the lake on their own or as part of a larger race for a great cause. Others take in the beauty at a slower pace while walking with their dogs or children in strollers.

Within the last few years, the city of Oakland has seen the growth of its entrepreneurial spirit with more than 200 new restaurants and other exciting businesses. The neighborhood around Lake Merritt, in particular, has become an amazing place with a popular farmer’s market, shops, the Grand Lake Theatre—new restaurants and old standbys, too.

Whether it’s morning, noon, or night, Lake Merritt has something to grab your attention. Because of the clean up, you can now enjoy a gondola ride and watch as the sun tucks in for the night, then gaze as the necklace of lights surrounds and illuminates the area.

I am so happy that once again the center of Oakland is as incredible and beautiful as the city itself. And just like everything else in the East Bay, we get to enjoy it all in some of the best weather in the world!

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