top of page

Lake Merritt is a large tidal lagoon in central Oakland , California, just east of downtown. It is surrounded by parkland and the neighborhoods of the city. It is historically significant as the first official wildlife refuge in the United States, designated in 1870, and has been listed as a National Historic Landmark since 1963, and as a National Historic Places Register since 1966. The lake features grassy shores; several artificial islands intended as bird sanctuaries; an interpretive center called the Rotary Nature Center at Lakeside Park; a boating center where sailboats, canoes and rowing boats can be rented and classes are held; and a fairy tale theme amusement park called the Children's Fairyland. A popular walking and jogging trail runs along its perimeter. The circumference of the lake is 3.4 miles (5.5 km) and the area is 155 acres.


The shoreline of Lake Merritt and the Lakeside Park have many plants and trees of interest, but the highlight of the lake's plant life is in the gardens, which include the magnificent Bonsai Garden, the Community / Edible Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Mediterranean Garden, the Lakeside Palmetum, the Rhododendron Garden, the Sensory Garden, the Succulent Garden, the Vireya Display Garden, the Pollinator Garden and the Bay Friendly Demonstration Garden.


The "necklace of lights" surrounds Merritt Lake. With 126 lampposts and 3,400 "pearly bulbs," the necklace was first lit in 1925. In 1941, the lights were removed in order to comply with World War II blackout conditions. After a decade-long campaign by the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, the lights were illuminated again in 1987. The city replaces white bulbs with multicolored bulbs during Oakland 's annual gay pride celebration.


Because storm drains in downtown Oakland and surrounding areas drain directly into the lake, trash and nutrient pollution have become the biggest problems affecting Lake Merritt. Increased levels of chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphorus cause algae to bloom, which deplete oxygen water. Aeration fountains, financed by donations, have been installed to help with this problem. "Water quality in an area of about one acre around each unit is improved by the transfer of oxygen from the air and by the mixing of the upper and lower layers of the lake." The proposed aeration system has never been approved by the City of Oakland.


Disposal of trash is coordinated by the non-profit Lake Merritt Institute under a contract with the City of Oakland. The Institute is sponsoring cleaning-ups five days a week during the school year and four days a week during the summer. Individuals can also work on their own using the four "U-Clean-It" boxes maintained by the Institute. One way volunteers clean up the lake is by using long-handled nets. Approximately 1,000 to 6,000 pounds of trash is removed every month. Of particular note are those who have been cleaning the trash since 1997: regular Saturday and Tuesday volunteers, Peralta Service Corporation (part of the Unity Council), St. Paul 's Episcopal School, Grade 6 and HandsOn Bay Area.

This amazing landmark is just one of the many must-see sights you don’t want to miss in Oakland, California:

  • Angel Island

  • Jack London Square

  • Tilden Regional Park

  • Oakland Zoo

  • Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park

  • Chabot Space & Science Center

  • USS Hornet - Sea, Air and Space Museum  

  • Children's Fairyland

All of these wonderful attractions are located just a short distance from our location located at 555 12th Street, on the 5th Floor 
in Oakland! Stop by for a visit anytime!

bottom of page