Lake Merritt/Lakeside Park Entrance at Grand & Bellevue aves. Free. Parking $2-$5. Located in the heart of the city, this beautiful expanse of water is the hub of a variety of activities and is encircled in the evening by a lovely necklace of 4,000 glistening lights strung along 126 lampposts. Fed by both salt water from the bay and fresh water from streams in the hills, it is approximately 18 feet deep.
●Camron-Stanford House 1418 Lakeside Dr./14th St. Fee. Restored and furnished in period fashion, this 1876 Italianate-style Victorian is on the western edge of Lake Merritt. Tours begin with a short film on Oakland’s history.
●Children’s Fairyland 699 Bellevue Ave./Grand Ave. Fee. Parking fee (see above). Designed especially for children age 8 and under, this non-profit facility was the country’s first educational storybook theme park when it opened in 1950. In fact, Disneyland is patterned after it. Mother Goose rhymes and fairy tales come to life in more than 30 fantasy sets, some of which hold live domesticated animals, and a “magic key” unlocks stories and songs (buy a key when you purchase tickets; $3). As soon as children pass through the Old Lady in the shoe entrance, they run and skip this way and that, not sure what to do first. A yellow brick road path helps give direction. I found myself just following the child’s lead. Among the attractions are an Alice in Wonderland card maze and a variety of slides--including one down a dragon’s back.
I like that rides on the Jolly Trolly and on two mini-carousels (the hands-down favorite with my grandkids) and a mini-Ferris wheel are included with admission. All ages can view a puppet show at the oldest continuously operating puppet theater in the U.S. Gardens are well tended, and there are plenty of places for adults to sit. Mature trees provide shade, and a picnic area, fast-food stand, and packaged birthday party are also available.
No adult is admitted without a child, and no child is admitted without an adult. Note that the entrance is located near the parking kiosk. Helpful hint: A great enticement to leave is the promise to head to another Oakland institution--Fentons Creamery for ice cream.
For the annual Halloween Jack-O-Lantern Jamboree, families are encouraged to come in costume.
●Lake Merritt Boating Center 568 Bellevue Ave./near Grand Ave. Fee. A variety of vessels are for rent, including rowboats, sailboats, and pedal boats.
●The Gardens at Lake Merritt Free. No dogs. In addition to rhododendron and succulent gardens, this expansive property includes a Japanese Garden with a koi pond and small waterfall and a Pollinator Garden with a “bee hotel” (there are 1,600 native bee species in California). You’ll also see mature dawn redwoods, a giant old Angel’s Trumpet tree, and a bunya-bunya tree that dates from the 1915 World’s Fair.
A Bonsai Garden exhibits more than 150 bonsai trees--among them a 400-year-old Japanese black pine that was brought to the U.S. for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and a Dalmyo oak that is the oldest in cultivation in the U.S. The trees range in age from 30 to 1,000 years old. An assortment of suiseki viewing stones is also displayed. The gardens have been pesticide-free since 1998, and an effort is made to recycle and reuse everything.
●Wildlife Sanctuary The wildlife refuge dates to 1870 and is the first and oldest in the country. Among the birds seen here regularly are egrets, mallards, Canada geese, and herons. Daily feeding occurs at 3:30 p.m.