Lakefest at Lake Merritt

Lake Merritt
View of Lakefest from across the lake

Today was Lakefest at Lake Merritt in Oakland. I’d never been to this festival before and decided to go take a look.

Lakefest is a free street festival outside the boat house at the north side of the lake. There’s your typical street food vendors, artists, and local businesses with booths. Walking over from the 19th St. BART station the first two booths I encountered were Oakland Police recruiters, followed by “The 90’s Experience,” which is apparently something like the Museum of Ice Cream. I couldn’t help but to chuckle when I noticed everyone promoting it was too young to have any nostalgia for the 90’s.

Wandering past all the food vendors I spotted another area behind them that wasn’t at all obvious how to get to. I snuck between a couple of food trucks and found a large booth selling Bud Light. I was about to turn away until I noticed they also had a frozen margarita machine. Wasn’t the best margarita, but given the heat I was happy to part with ten dollars and suffer from brain freeze to cool down a little in the hot weather.

At the other end of Lakefest were some kid friendly activities like carnival games, a little “train” ride, and an inflatable slide thing. These attractions had a shared ticket booth.

Lower down towards the lake was another area with a music stage set up, a second Bud Light/margarita bar, and various clothing vendors. If you wanted any type of t-shirt with “510” or some variation of the Oakland city logo, that was the place to get one.

Lake Merritt

In some places the event was listed as the “2nd Annual” Lakefest, which isn’t exactly true since there was a similar festival at Lake Merritt of the same name back in 2008 and 2009. While I wasn’t there, my understanding is it was at a different location. Further back in time there was an annual event called Festival at the Lake in the 80’s and 90’s.

It’s worth pointing out that Lake Merritt began attracting increased attention two years ago when the racist “BBQ Becky” incident made national news, and quickly became an internet meme. Whether that incident spurred the organizers to resurrect Lakefest or it was just a coincidence, it’s a great example of the old saying about making lemonade when life gives you lemons.

After leaving Lakefest I went for a walk around the lake. It was easily the busiest I’d ever seen it. Aside from the usual joggers and the drum circle that’s somehow always under the pergola, there seemed to be a record number of picnics taking place around Lake Merritt — including plenty of black picnickers with BBQ grills.

My recommendation: I don’t know if they’ll do Lakefest again next year, but if you live in the area or want an excuse to visit Lake Merritt it’s worth checking out. There’s something for kids and adults alike at Lakefest, but of course the same can be said of Lake Merritt itself.