I lived next to Lake Merritt for two years and have lived in the East Bay for 16 since then, but this weekend was my first time taking in Oakland from the vantage point of being on the lake. We rented two canoes for my family of four and paddled against the wind for a bit. If your heart is filled with Oakland Love– and mine is– it's really a spectacular feeling to view the Grand Lake theater sign and the apartment buildings of Lakeshore Drive from that position.
Here are some things to know about renting boats on Lake Merritt:
1) Bring cash. The various types of boats — pedal boats, kayaks, canoes, sunfish, catamarans and more — are pretty affordable, between $10 and $20 per hour, depending on the size of the boat. On top of the hourly fee, a $20 or $30 deposit is required as well, and as of this writing, only cash was accepted for payment.
2) Bring muscles. My canoe was difficult to maneuver by myself (I am a fit 40-year old woman) and my 6-year old passenger was not much help. There were certain sections of the Lake in which the wind was working against us and I felt like I was on a treadmill, rowing in place with all my might. Maybe I'd have been more successful with a teen-age child or just with my husband as a daytime date. When I questioned the staff person who helped me get out of the water, he said that he would not have recommended a canoe for a woman with a child. Okay then. The rental person at the desk did not seem concerned with me going out there. Apparently a kayak or a pedal boat is easier to steer. Now I know.
3) Bring nothing. Your purse or backpack may get a little wet on the floor of your vessel. There is a parking lot at the boathouse, so you can leave your belongings in the car. Life jackets and paddles will be provided. Youth lifejackets have a whistle attached in case you need to summon for help. There was a capsize while we were there. While it's unlikely, who needs to risk their phone going for a swim in the Lake?
The boathouse is accessed by entering through Bellevue Ave, the same road you take into Children's Fairyland. Pay $5.00 at the booth and drive beyond Fairyland until the road curves to the left.
The boating center is open daily during the warm months, weekends during the winter. For hours and details, visit their website.
Make a day of it: Visit the Junior Center for Art & Science to hold animals afterward; Head over to Fairyland; or hit Scarecrow Popcorn for a snack.
Make a date of it: Take a boat out with your partner in the late afternoon and eat at Sidebar on Grand Avenue afterward. (See other date night ideas.)