Oakland does not come to mind as a prime travel destination. It has a bit of a sour reputation and it does not have the postcard perfect beauty and appeal as other locations in San Francisco Bay Area. However, I think it would be unfair to dismiss Oakland from your travel plans completely. It has pockets of good old-fashioned family fun which should not be overlooked and which could be a good destination for a 1 day family trip.
When I started thinking about Oakland I looked at the map to figure out where I would want to go and Lake Merritt and its surrounding seemed like a nice area to start with. I brief disclaimer: if you go to Lake Merritt now, there is a lot of construction going on around it so it won’t look pretty at first sight. But there are two great attractions on its banks that are perfect for families: The Gardens at Lake Merritt and Children’s Fairyland.
THE GARDENS AT LAKE MERRITT
The Gardens at Merritt are botanical gardens that are divided into several themed areas. The gardens are not as big as its cousin across the bay and are easily doable with kids. In all honesty, we were never able to see the complete Botanical Gardens in San Francisco in one visit, they are huge, but these gardens in Oakland are just the perfect size. And best of all – they are FREE of charge!
The themed areas of the Gardens are:
Palms garden (Palmetum)
Succulent and Cacti garden
Dahlia Garden (with some roses too) – best visited in the second half of summer, when in bloom
Bonsai garden (please, note that Bonsai garden opens later than the rest of the garden, typically around 11 am or 12 pm, depending on the day of the week and it is entirely closed on Mondays, while the rest of the garden is open)
The Gardens are clean, peaceful and very beautiful. It took us about 1,5 hours to explore it in its entirety which was perfect amount of time to keep kids’ attention in focus.
This is a small amusement park located just a short walk from the botanical gardens. It is dedicated to various children’s storybooks. It is best for younger kids up to the age of 8, I would say. The park offers:
Four rides. The rides are designed for younger crowd, low on excitement scale but perfect for the age group I mentioned above.
Storybook sets. Some of the sets are static, just to look at, others are designed so that a child can explore, climb, slide, or run around). In addition there are a couple of sets where you can listen to part of a story IF you buy a special key with your tickets. The key is $3 but when we visited not all “talking” stations worked so I am not sure it is a good investment of money, especially if you have more than 1 child and each of them wants his/her own key.
Daily performances. There are usually several different performances during the day, all are pretty good. Our favorite one was the puppet theater. The photo below is from Fairyland’s website – it is really hard to make a good shot behind the heads of dozens of super excited kids :-))
There are also about a dozen farm animals at the Park but their enclosures are not set up as petting zoo, you can’t go in. You can watch them and may be pet them if they come to the fences.
Fairyland organizes several special annual events throughout the year which you can check out on their website (Halloween and Christmas events are among those). The Park has picnic tables for you to enjoy your lunch or snack time. Our overall impression about the park was very good, though it needed a little TLC.
With both attractions put together you will have a nice day out. Please, note that there is limited parking around Lake Merritt so the earlier you arrive, the better chance you have of finding a good spot. If you found this family trip itinerary useful, please do me a little favor and share this information with others, for there’s a good chance that it will help them with their travel plans. 🙂