Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Day trip to Lake Merritt

One of the best parts of living in Northern California is the availability of fresh, locally grown produce. It seems like you can't find a city in the Bay Area that doesn't have at least one Farmer's Market (if not multiple markets held several days a week). Much like the neighborhoods they are held in, each market has it's own unique vibe and variety of vendors, which makes visiting each market a special treat. The Grand Lake Farmer's Market has been on my list for a while, and with so much to do in the area, it is easy to make a day trip out of the visit.

We parked at the Oakland Museum of California, and started the morning with a 1.5 mile walk along the eastern edge of Lake Merritt to get to the Grand Lake Farmer's Market. The walk is really beautiful, with well maintained paths and landscaping, as well as plenty of spots to stop and take in the views.

View from the south end of Lake Merritt.
Storm drains and 8 local creeks feed the large tidal lagoon known as Lake Merritt, which connects with the SF Bay.

The lake is a popular spot for runners, as well as those wanting to enjoy a leisurely stroll, and is occasionally home to small tree-huggers like the one pictured above.

When you reach the north end of the lake, there is a large grass area (pictured above) and park for the kids, and just beyond that is the Grand Lake Farmers Market. The market is represented by over 40 local farms, 30 specialty food purveyors and a number of local artisans. There is something for everyone, whether you're looking for fresh flower arrangements, organic fruits and vegetables, artisan cheese, local honey...the list goes on and on. My only complaint was that the market is a bit crowded and therefore hard to manuever with small kids and a stroller.

After picking up some treats for the road (mandarins and apples are a favorite with the kids right now) we walked around the corner to Arizmendi Bakery on Lakeshore Avenue. This local favorite offers a wide variety of baked goodies as well as their daily pizza, which is made with fresh seasonal vegetables and organic sourdough crust. We ordered a half pizza, which was plenty to fill us all up, and got a couple of cookies for the road.

Pizza of the day: Roasted yams, red onions, poblano peppers, feta cheese, lime-garlic oil and parmesan cheese. The selection of baked goods was amazing, and very difficult to leave with only a few cookies!

With our tummies full, we continued our walk along the western edge of the lake. This stretch was a bit longer at 2.2 miles - but you can shave about half a mile off, if you stay on Grand Avenue until it meets back up with the lake (instead of walking the lake-front path). One of my favorite parts of the lake is what is referred to as the Necklace of Lights; 126 lampposts and 3,400 "pearly bulbs" that encompass the lake.

Our final stop for the day was the Oakland Museum of California. The museum is normally $15 for adults, with discounted rates for youth, however there are a number of opportunities to see the exhibits for free! We were able to get a free family pass through the Discover and Go program at our local library. I encourage everyone to check and see if their local library participates (most libraries in the Bay Area offer the program!). It's very easy and you get free access to a ton of Bay Area venues. The museum also offers free admission on the first Sunday of every month, as well as discounted admission on Friday evenings.

Street-view of the museum. Each of the 3 levels has a beautiful outdoor terrace with art installations and places to relax and have a picnic. The outdoor gardens are FREE to the public, so you don't have to visit the museum to enjoy the lovely outdoor space and beautiful views of the lake.

The museum walks you through the history of California with imaginative and interactive exhibits and was a huge hit with the whole family.  There were a number of stations where kids can draw pictures, crawl through tunnels, and even make a short animated video!

In addition to the museum exhibits, there are 3 levels of outdoor garden space (free to the public) that provide amazing views of the lake as well as a beautiful retreat from the surrounding city streets.

What are your favorite museums for kids?

The details: Lake Merritt is located a few blocks east of downtown Oakland, and is easily accessible both by car and public transportation. The Grand Lake Farmers Market is open year-round on Saturdays from 9-2. 

The facts: Half Pizza at Arizmendi: $10, 2 cookies at Arizmendi: $2.25 (they charge by the lb, so price varies depending on size of cookie, ours were about $1 each). The Oakland Museum of California: free admission with a Discover and Go pass, otherwise $15 for adults (free for children under 8). 

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