Not quite 36 hours in Oakland: Lake Merritt

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Zainab Ali/File

While I’m all for adventure and accidentally stumbling upon a cool bar, boutique or bookstore, sometimes, we all need a little nudge in the right direction. Instead of the NYT model of 36 hours, I’m going to provide several ideas for how to spend a few quick hours (a study break of sorts) right here in Berkeley. Whether it’s the best deals, good eats, hip study spots or engaging group activities, I’ll share with you what’s happening in our very own backyard. This week, we’re leaving Berkeley and spending the weekend by the lovely Lake Merritt in Oakland.

The first time I went to Lake Merritt was when my parents moved me in freshman year. In my moment of distress, uncertainty and, if I’m being real with myself, utter fear of moving to college, I hardly noticed the beauty of this waterfront neighborhood. Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, thank you for your patience and unconditional love. Since my apparent peak at the start of freshman year, Lake Merritt has become one of my go-to spots to take visitors, “exercise” (read: walk slowly around the lake) and escape for a few hours. Lined with adorable boutiques and some of Oakland’s most critically acclaimed restaurants, Grand Avenue is a really special place to spend a Saturday sipping or a Sunday strolling.

Set sail on Friday afternoon: Lake Merritt Boating Center

Location: 568 Bellevue Ave., Oakland, CA 94610

I don’t usually consider myself to be much of a boat person, but there’s something incredibly romantic about spending an afternoon sailing. From pedal boats, rowboats and kayaks to real sailboats, the Lake Merritt Boating Center offers an array of options for your maritime adventures. Rentals are only available between 10:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., but you’re only going to want to be on the water while the sun is up, anyway. Bring a date, catch up with a friend or, hey, enjoy some solo time with your own thoughts on the wide open… lake. But actually, go around 3:30, sail into the sunset and grab dinner somewhere in Oakland afterward for what is sure to be a fabulous Friday.

Note: Boat rentals are cash only, so be sure to run to an ATM beforehand!

Sampling spirits on a Saturday: Alchemy Bottle Shop free tasting

Location: 3256 Grand Ave., Oakland, CA 94610

When I turned 21, I promised myself that I would ditch the shitty poison I allowed my underclassman self to consume. As it turns out, we get older, we might even get wiser, but until our financial situation changes, we remain creatures of our disgusting habits. I do, however, still enjoy a nice cocktail and have a soft spot for a tasting of any kind. From Costco to that olive oil shop in the Ferry Building, I live for a good sample. Especially when they’re free!

Every Saturday afternoon, Alchemy Bottle Shop, an independent specialty liquor store owned by husband and wife Peter and Tova Mustacich, offers a free tasting with a featured distiller, producer or brand ambassador. The tasting changes each week but is always incredibly informative, interesting and usually delicious. No RSVP is required and there’s really no expectation of buying anything after. The shop genuinely cares about supporting its producers and providing a quality experience for its customers. Uber or have a friend DD for a fun afternoon. This counts as an educational activity, right?

Bonus: The Lake Merritt farmer’s market is every Saturday morning just down the street! Take your tasting room buzz to the farmer’s market and support local produce!

Sunday morning savory French toast: Grand Lake Kitchen

Location: 576 Grand Ave., Oakland, CA 94610 

I have never been one of those girls who squeals at the thought of a bottomless mimosa brunch… or a girl who squeals, ever. That said, breakfast is undeniably my favorite meal to eat out. Incredibly casual and usually filled with conversation from the previous night’s adventures, breakfast offers dessert, booze and poached eggs all in one meal! Before noon! What kind of wicked genius came up with this idea?!

Grand Lake Kitchen undoubtedly serves the best breakfast I’ve had in the Bay Area. I’m usually skeptical when someone claims that “everything on the menu is amazing,” but, this really holds true at GLK. I will say, though, that the savory French toast is one of the best plates of food I’ve ever been served in my life. And this is coming from a strictly pancake person! Dipped in Porcini batter and served with two poached eggs, sautéed truffle mushrooms, arugula and shavings of salty parmesan, this breakfast is so insanely savory. You are given the option to add prosciutto, and unless your rabbi would excommunicate you if they found out, you should definitely, 1000 percent add that, too. Convince your friend to order the classic French toast, made with thick sourdough bread, seasonal fruit and warm maple syrup and alternate between the salty and sweet. You will feel sickly full after (in a good way), so consider going for a lap or two around the lake to kick-start the digestion process.

Contact Natalie Abber at [email protected].

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