Anytime of any day, the Lake Merritt neighborhood is one of the most lively places in Oakland. Whether you’re by Lakeshore or Downtown, you’re guaranteed to find something that matches your vibe. This neighborhood has a little bit of everything, from beautiful parks, gardens and murals, to up-and-coming restaurants, boutiques and galleries. On the weekends, you can find some of the best street food in Oakland on the grass at Pine Knoll Park and along Sunset Cove.
There’s actually so many things to do around Lake Merritt that it can feel overwhelming to pick what to do so we’ve picked a few of our favorite places and parks to share to share with you. Each of these places are cool enough to spend a whole day checking out, but if you were to start from the Pergola near the Grand Lake Theatre and ride around the lake on a lime scooter, you could probably hit all of these spots in one day
Find outdoorsy, brunch vibes at:
Grand Lake Kitchen
Grand Lake Kitchen is arguably the best brunch spot in the neighborhood, you can smell the French toast, bacon and eggs cooking from a block away in either direction! You’ll definitely want to stop and fuel up here before you start to make your way around the lake. We recommend the Savory French toast with two eggs (poached), wild mushrooms, parmesan, arugula, herb oil, and a side of prosciutto.
Find chill, sunset vibes at:
The Pergola at Lake Merritt
The Pergola is always popping whether it’s a drum circle, a slacklining get together, or a group of capoeiristas practicing their moves. At any time, something interesting is going on here and it’s also the easiest place to find a lime scooter to start making your way around the lake!
Find local, authentic vibes at:
The Grand Express
The Grand Express convenience store is owned by a family that lives in the community, and has always been the spot to grab snacks and picnic supplies by the lake while avoiding the more crowded stores such as Trader Joe’s or Walgreens. The market is also known for a Nipsey Hussle mural in the parking lot that people frequent to take photos and to pay their respects. You can’t miss it as you walk into the store.
Find sunny, aquatic vibes at:
Picnic in Empowerment Park
From Grand Express, it’s just a 1 block walk down Elita Ave to Empowerment park where you can set up to have a picnic on the grass with a beautiful view of the lake and Downtown Oakland. If you feel like exploring after you eat, the Lake Merritt labyrinth (not actually a huge maze, but still cool!) and the Rotary Nature Center are right in the park!
Find floral, fun vibes at:
The Gardens at Lake Merritt
The Gardens at Lake Merritt may not look huge from the street, but there is actually a hidden oasis of nature at Adams point. With over 10 gardens tucked into this little park, each one is more beautiful than the next. Our favorites are the firescape garden, the bee hotel garden, the bonsai garden, and the dragonfly habitat garden but you should make sure to check them all out if you go! This is the spot to be if you’re looking for peaceful vibes.
Find iconic, buzzing vibes at:
Grand Lake Theatre
The Grand Lake Theatre has been around since 1926 and is one of the most beloved landmarks in the area. As of the time this is being written, theatres are still closed due to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean you can’t check out this historical landmark. Come by in the evening to see the beautiful lights under the front awning, or read the activist statements posted on the billboard as you drive by. Once COVID has passed or been controlled, the 3 theatres inside are a must see if you’re in oakland. With ornate gilded decorations and a live pipe organ performance before shows on weekends, the Grand Lake Theatre has some serious old school vibes.
Find old school, game vibes at:
Oakland Lawn Bowling club and Oakland Croquet Club
Whether you’re there to watch, to play, or just to admire the perfectly maintained grass, the Croquet Club by Lake Merritt is a hidden gem and only a 2 minute walk in either direction to the Rotary Nature Center and Fairyland. This is another dope spot to find some old school vibes.
Find music, travel vibes at:
Lake Merritt BART
If you’ve made it to the Amphitheatre and feel like what you need next is a change of scenery, you’re in luck! The Lake Merritt BART station is only a 3 block walk away from the lake on Oak St. and can take you anywhere else in the Bay. Maybe you’ll head over to Rockridge, maybe you want to zip up to City Center in SF. Wherever you end up going, you can use Vibemap to find more places that match your vibe.
Find popular, local vibes at:
Tacos mi Rancho
Some say that Tacos Mi Rancho has the best tacos in the bay, but the only way to know is to try for yourself. Open till 2:30 am on Sundays and till midnight the rest of the week, you can always get your late night ‘al pastor’ fix here. Go to tacos me rancho for some authentic Oakland vibes.
Find hidden, athletic vibes at:
The Cleveland Cascade
The Cleveland Cascade is an iconic Oakland workout spot that every athlete in the Town has battled with at some point. The stairs in this terraced park are almost like Oakland’s own version of what the Rocky steps are to Philadelphia.
If you’re feeling a more chill vibe instead there are pop-up food stands at the lake from the bottom of the Cleveland Cascade all the way back to the Pergola.
Oaktown Spice Shop
Looking to spice up your afternoon: Named one of the world's best spice shops by Food & Wine Magazine, Oaktown Spice Shop offers the freshest, most delicious, high-quality spices and hand-mixed spice blends in the Bay Area. It's made in Oakland and conveniently located on Grand Street.