Why I’ve Fallen In Love With Lake Merritt
When I was little, I didn’t spend a lot of time at Lake Merritt. I would play with friends in my part of Oakland and rarely venture outside of it. Lake Merritt felt far away. In reality, it was only 3 miles away, but I seldom went. I was always visiting my family in San Francisco or my grandparents in Concord. When we wanted to do something fun in the 510, it was Telegraph in Berkeley or the College Ave area in Oakland. Lake Merritt just wasn’t a huge part of my childhood.
It wasn’t until recently I started to understand why people love the lake so much.
Lake Merritt essentially functions as Oakland’s compass and unites people from all walks of life.
Lake Merritt essentially functions as Oakland’s compass and unites people from all walks of life. Oakland, much like many of America’s major cities, is heavily segregated by class and racial lines. There are few places where you’ll see people from the Oakland Hills or Piedmont coexisting or exercising alongside people from East or West Oakland.
This is what makes Lake Merritt beautiful. There’s a certain tranquility in the contrast. This feels like the only place in Oakland that isn’t divided. It doesn’t matter what part of the city you’re from, everyone likes Lake Merritt.
The lake has become part of my daily routine. Sometimes I walk early in the morning, and have the lake all to myself. I watch the fog settle on the Oakland Hills and obscure my view of the Mormon Temple while listening to music.
If I walk the lake in the afternoon, it feels like everyone in the world is there and every part of Oakland is represented. There are people jogging. There are people sitting in cars, smoking weed while the sound of bass shakes the shit out of their windows. There are couples laying on blankets beside the lake having picnics. There are graffiti kids tagging on plywood. Vendors are selling weird shit. There’s even a dude on rollerblades selling magic mushrooms out of a fanny pack.
The lake at night has a very specific glow to it. There’s a beauty to the way the light of downtown Oakland’s skyscrapers reflect off of the water as you walk. Even after 8 PM the lake is lively and a ton of people are outside. While there are fewer people exercising, the lake takes on more of a party atmosphere. People are drinking, smoking and socializing after work.
No matter what time of day you go, Lake Merritt is undeniably one of Oakland’s greatest assets. It feels safe, but it doesn’t feel gentrified. While there are large luxury condos overlooking the lake and businesses that cater to a wealthier clientele, it’s not overpowering like it is in other parts of the Bay Area.
I guess what I like most about Lake Merritt is that there are truly no outsiders there. Everyone kind of just belongs. No one stands out, and that’s kind of outstanding. The Bay Area is full of invisible lines obscured by progressive rhetoric, but disparate realities. Those invisible lines converge at Lake Merritt and if just for a few minutes, become meaningless.
Which means a lot, especially these days.