By Anchal Bibra
One of the first things you’ll notice about the neighborhoods surrounding Oakland’s Lake Merritt is the diverse community of people who live in and spend time in the area. The lake itself is a gathering place for people you normally wouldn’t see together: the speed walkin’ grandmas, the pot smokin’ high schoolers, the running moms pushing babies in strollers, the fitness-obsessed muscle heads, the picnicking extended families, and the rowing crew teams out on the lake itself.
It’s no surprise that since Lake Merritt attracts such a varied demographic, the shops, restaurants, and other amenities in the surrounding neighborhoods are equally diverse. I think that’s why living in Oakland is so wonderful: there's a palpable sense of community and belonging.
Bars & Restaurants
The New Easy
What looks like a seedy dive bar from the outside is a well-designed sports bar on the inside. I love the clientele at the New Easy on Lakeshore Avenue. On any given day you can find sports bros crowding the bar in anticipation of the change in score and middle-aged ladies gossiping in the corner over gin and tonics. More important, the bar is on point – the drink list has some of the most creative cocktails and the bar staff expertly delivers on classic favorites just as well.
Sidebar is a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant on Grand Avenue. It’s very modest looking from the outside, but inside there’s a beautiful copper bar in the center where I love to sit and order a gimlet. The staff are both friendly and knowledgeable, and the menu features amazing seafood dishes, including a mussels special every Monday.
Boot & Shoe Service
Boot & Shoe Service is one of the most popular spots for dinner in Oakland. The pizzas are the big draw at this Grand Avenue restaurant housed in a former shoe cobbler’s building, but the drinks are also especially delicious and the restaurant’s open kitchen, dim lighting, and candlelit tables give it an inviting and cozy feel. The pizza menu changes regularly, but I love the sausage and arugula pizza. This busy restaurant doesn't take reservations, so be sure to get there early to beat the dinner rush.
House of Curries
Don’t let the sparse décor fool you – the food at House of Curries is delicious. The naan here is literally bigger than my head (I have the Instagram picture to prove it). I appreciate that the staff are always friendly and serve free chai while you wait for your meal or takeout. My go-to order: paneer tikka masala, Tandoori chicken, garlic naan, and raita.
Portal is an adorable beer garden on 2nd Avenue, nestled into the Cleveland Heights side of Lake Merritt. Its patio is the place to be on a warm sunny day at the lake. Picture yourself snacking on fried Brussels sprouts or mini burgers with a cool Oaktown Brown Ale in hand. Don’t be surprised to see patrons randomly getting up to play a move on the giant Jenga game set up in the middle of the patio.
Activities & Events
Saturday Farmers’ Market
Every Saturday morning the Grand Lake Farmers’ Market offers not only fresh, local produce, but also amazing food trucks. It’s definitely a great place to do grocery shopping and grab lunch to eat by the lake or sit hillside and people watch. As with most establishments around Lake Merritt, the farmers’ market is a community staple, bringing together all sorts of characters.
Off the Grid at the Oakland Museum
Off the Grid, the popular food truck event, comes to the Oakland Museum of California every Friday night between 5 and 9 p.m. The selection of offerings is awesome, but the real treat is the live music and dancing. Best of all, entrance to museum galleries is half off for adults and free for those 18 and under.
Grand Lake Theater
The Grand Lake Theater is the crown jewel of the lake. It dates back to the 1930s and has a lot of the original architectural and interior features including the awesome rooftop sign that is lit on the weekends, and it even has some old-school cameras and movie reels on display. Seeing a movie here is like taking a step back in time.
This cute little vintage boutique is tucked away on 2nd Avenue in Cleveland Heights. Halmoni Village owner, Natasha Harden, always greets you with a smile. Twice a month she hosts a body-positive clothing swap, where women of all shapes can come and meet other ladies and trade clothes! This shop packs a lot of vintage punch.
Walden Pond Bookstore
Walden Pond Bookstore on Grand Avenue is just a few blocks away from my place. It’s been around since the 1970s and is still a gathering place for people of all ages. It has a great selection of used and new books. If you have kids, you’ll want to check out its children’s selection.
Urban Indigo on Lakeshore Avenue in the Grand Lake neighborhood is my go-to for cool gifts. It features jewelry and accessories made by independent designers, home goods, kids stuff, and other awesome quirky items. I always come away with something fun!
Haddon Hill Cafe
This sweet little coffee shop on Wesley Avenue in Cleveland Heights is owned by two friendly brothers who make you feel right at home. I love that there’s no pretension at this place; it truly feels more like hanging out in your friend’s living room.
Few people know that Arizmendi’s Lakeshore location is actually its first. The cooperative-run bakery originally came out of the Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley. Now a staple in both SF and the East Bay, Arizmendi offers amazing baked goods and has one flavor of pizza per day. The staff here are especially nice and no one seems to mind the crowded space. On Sundays it offers my favorite – fresh frosted cinnamon rolls.
Check out more neighborhoods that we covered in our "Why I Love ..." series here.