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Rosalea's 2012 Staycation Part 2: By the Lake in Oakland, CA

Rosalea’s 2012 Staycation Part 2: A Stroll by the Lake in Oakland, CA

By Rosalea Barker
June 1, 2012

[Click here for Part 1]

The first wildlife refuge created in North America (in 1870) is not in some wilderness; it is in the heart of Oakland, California. A local luminary, Dr Merritt, dammed up an outlet to an estuary on the Bay of San Francisco, creating a brackish lake out of what was once a salt marsh, then convinced the California legislature to pass an Act protecting its fishy and flighty inhabitants.

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“What’s that you say? Roast goose? I don’t think so!” By the time this Canada gosling is fully fledged, hundreds of waterfowl and shore birds will be summering over on Lake Merritt.

The best way to get to Lake Merritt from San Francisco is by taking the NL bus across the Bay Bridge. Which is actually two bridges—three, if you count the new eastern span currently being built and which will open to traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians in 2013. From the bridges, you get a good sense of just how long the Bay is.

Ask to be let off at either Perkins St, on the Lakeside Park side of the lake, or at the Grand Lake cinema end. If you do the latter, be sure to walk across the street to check out the cinema’s marquee in case it has important information for you:

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On Saturdays, the paved area opposite the theatre is home to a huge Farmers Market. According to one of the perforated metal plates providing drainage in that area, the market has been in operation since 1999.

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My little stroll took place on a weekday, so I first had lunch at a delightful Thai restaurant in a courtyard between the theatre and the Post Office. Then I walked down the Lakeshore side of the lake half a mile for dessert. Spicy Thai chicken, tiramisu, and Americano coffee—aah, it’s so good being on vacation!

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In the photo above, Lakeside Park is visible on the opposite shore. The small blue building on the water is the rowing club, one of the many public recreation facilities on that side of the lake. The lamp posts and string of lights go all the way around the lake like an amber and pearl necklace.

My path, however, was along the residential side of the lake, with its mix of old and new apartment buildings:

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Near the beginning of my walk was the beautiful Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic church and, at the end of it, was the perplexingly named Lakeside Temple of Practical Christianity, which looks somewhat more substantial than Our Lady only because I was closer when I took the photograph. (It perplexes me that there is any option other than “practical” Christianity.)

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The walk around the entire perimeter of the lake takes a couple of hours; a lot more if you look in on the Gardens, the Rotary Nature Center, and Children’s Fairyland in Lakeside Park. There’s even a lawn bowling club. Along the way, you’ll find interpretive signs that are part of an art project named “Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After”, which started in 2009. The website for the project has downloadable audio that was originally available on players people could borrow and listen to as they strolled. Some of the signs also serve to orient you to where you are:

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Oakland’s famous daughter Gertrude Stein, said of the city in Everybody’s Autobiography (1937):

“...what was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there.” The “no there there” quote—which I most recently saw on a huge billboard advertising mobile banking, of all things—riles Oaklanders no end. Oaklandish folks beg to differ, as this succinct cut out in the Farmers Market drain attests:


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