What should I know about Lake Merrit that I'm afraid to ask?
November 29, 2013 5:12 PM   Subscribe

We'd like to learn everything there is to know about Lake Merritt and the surrounding neighborhoods.

We currently live in the Mission, but have walked dozens of miles throughout Oakland and read every previous thread on East Bay living. Now it's come time to find a home and all signs point to the lake. We want to know all about the cost, culture, and crime of Lake Merritt in the greatest detail possible with no digression spared. This could be a long term move for us, so we're very excited to understand all we can to make sure it's a good one.

Details: Mid-twenties couple comfortable with urban living but looking for a bit of a reprieve. Professional obligations require commutes to San Francisco and Berkeley. Bike to BART okay, but a change in lifestyle. We would like to feel better about our personal safety than we do living on Mission St.

Thanks so much!
posted by nominal to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've lived on Grand Ave in the Grand Lake district for two years, and I absolutely love it! I'm sure someone will provide crime data, but anecdotally, I feel safer in my neighborhood than I ever did out and about in the Mission in SF.

Culturally, it's an awesome, walkable, friendly neighborhood. It feels remarkably age/race/lifestyle diverse to me after 7 years in SF; there are people in their 20s, people with kids, and people in their 60s who have lived here for ages. People are really remarkably nice and devoted to the neighborhood feeling.

There are tons of great restaurants and bars (You'll brunch like kings!), the delightful Grand Lake theater, and the Saturday farmer's market. Combined with the generally lovely weather and the fact that we can afford a 2-bedroom with a washer/dryer and a patio (which was impossible for us in SF) means it's been a big quality of life boost for us.

The only logistic headache for me is we don't have great BART access, but lots of people bike, there are buses, and casual carpool is a very popular option.
posted by mostlymartha at 5:37 PM on November 29, 2013

I lived near the lake for about a year and I still go back to hang out near it. It's beautiful and pleasant (at least on the Grand Avenue/Lakeshore parts) but there aren't that many people out after dark in many parts, which made me feel unsafe as a woman walking around alone after dark. There was a rash of muggings (some at gunpoint) in Adams Point a while ago - not sure if they're still going on as I haven't heard as much recently.

It's been getting more expensive lately - my friend (who makes a good income and doesn't generally have trouble getting approved for apartments) felt lucky to find her 1-BR for $1200 a month a few months ago (no parking spot, and street parking can be difficult on the North side of the lake/Adams Point, where there are mostly apartment buildings.) I think she said $1400 was easier to find.

I don't mean to be a downer - there's a lot of awesome stuff about Lake Merritt and I'd live there again (I don't think where I live now, Temescal, is safer.) But there is some crime, and it's not as cheap as it was a few years ago.

Other resources:
-Facebook group Adams Point Open Discussion
-Lake Neighbors - there's a signup for a listserv on that site
-Cleveland Heights (name of the micro-hood to the East of the lake) Yahoo! listserve.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:05 PM on November 29, 2013

I have a close friend who lives on Oakland Ave., up from the lake. It is a great neighborhood, even when my friend's street is sort of an on-ramp for the freeway up the hill. She has lived there for 30 years, and everything in her house has been brought up stairs from the street. Which is to say that many of the houses around there just have street parking

But still, I have spent some time there and love the area. A BART stop is pretty close to the lake, also.
posted by Danf at 6:33 PM on November 29, 2013

If you're really interested in crime details, take a look at Oakland Crimespotting; you can tweak it to show you all crime, or narrow it down by type, time of day, etc. The upshot: the north/west side of the lake is safer than the south/east side, which fits with it being more desirable/gentrified in general. (There's a Whole Foods at the edge of Adams Point, e.g., and the stretch of Grand from the freeway to Harrison has more and better bars and restaurants than the Lakeshore side.)

As for commuting into SF, you have a bunch of options. Biking down Grand to 19th St. BART takes maybe 10 minutes (and more SF-bound trains go through there), but there's also frequent and quick bus service down Grand. There's also a casual carpool pickup under the freeway between Grand and Lakeshore, and a transbay bus stops right at the Grand Lake Theater and then gets immediately onto the freeway.

One note about housing stock: most of the buildings in Adams Point date from the '60s and '70s, so while it's a pleasant neighborhood it's not really the place to look if you really care about character in your place. If you want an older building (I lived in one around there built in the '20s), you're looking north of the freeway and on the Lakeshore side of the lake.
posted by asterix at 7:43 PM on November 29, 2013

Oh yeah, and a tip for searching for places on Craigslist: "Lake Merritt" is possibly the biggest neighborhood in Oakland if you believe what people assign their places in listings. Anything at the intersection of two numbered streets (e.g., 5th and E. 17th) is south/east of the lake, and probably not a good neighborhood.
posted by asterix at 7:49 PM on November 29, 2013

asterix: "Anything at the intersection of two numbered streets (e.g., 5th and E. 17th) is south/east of the lake, and probably not a good neighborhood."

Oh, phooey. This sounds like an echo of that piece KQED posted earlier that implied that the only decent places in Oakland are Piedmont Ave, Montclair, Temescal… and Berkeley. (Locals did not appreciate the sentiment.)

I've lived in Oakland for about twenty-one years now; my husband and I have lived south/east of the lake — real estate types call it Eastlake; neighbors call it Funktown — for about twelve. We've also been car-free for six and a half years now, during which time I've walked, taken the bus, and ridden my bike through the neighborhood from early morning to late at night. My husband is a catering bartender and often comes home in the wee, wee hours (3:00-4:00 am).

Between us, my husband and I have spent 38 years living in Oakland and although we've experienced our reasonable share of property crime — if you park on the street, you'd better budget for at least one broken window a year, even if you leave absolutely nothing visible in the car — we've had only one experience of interpersonal crime, when I got held up and had my phone and bag stolen at the end of September. But that kind of thing is happening all over town and in SF, so it's not like it's something unique to Funktown.

We love it here. We periodically have conversations about how screwed up Oakland is (seriously, as a city, if there's a way to shoot ourselves in the foot, Oakland will find it) and how we want warmer summers (but on the other hand today was November 29 and we were walking around in shirtsleeves in the sun) but when it actually comes down to it, we'd be happy to stay here in Funktown until we die. (Assuming we can afford to. Argh.)

If you'd like a walking tour of the neighborhood, drop me a MeMail and let's see if we can coordinate schedules. There are all kinds of great little spots that you might not find out about otherwise, but which we'd be glad to show you, both in Funktown and elsewhere near the lake.
posted by Lexica at 8:57 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

My Oakland BFF insists I link you to the Lake Merritt page at oaklandwiki. In particular, there are a bunch of useful community/related links at the end of the page.
posted by ktkt at 9:31 PM on November 29, 2013

This sounds like an echo of that piece KQED posted earlier that implied that the only decent places in Oakland are Piedmont Ave, Montclair, Temescal… and Berkeley.

Not my intention! I meant to say, there are a bunch of things to like about that side of the lake; Portal's awesome, the Oakland Museum of California is right there, and if you move to Oakland you have to eat at Merritt Bakery at least once.
posted by asterix at 10:29 PM on November 29, 2013

Lived in Funktown for a year (last year) and am sad that we had to move out of state. There was a lot of competition for rental housing (we were looking all around the lake just like you) but we ended up finding an amazing 2bedroom with giant living room AND dining room for $1400 because the landlord didn't post a photo with the ad (my theory). This side of the lake has a lot of architectural gems and charming older multiunit places (some rundown), as opposed to Adams Point which as someone mentioned tends to be larger 60s-70s apartment buildings.

This area is poised to become more popular/gentrified (as opposed to Adams Point and Grand Lake which already are) especially since the landscaping and renovation of the paths/street/parkland around the bottom of the lake (12th st.) is finished. It is so pleasant to spend time at the lake and such an amazing diversity of people out using the new green spaces. It's also poised, I think, to become a lot more pedestrian-friendly and safer-feeling to walk/bike between Lake Merritt and the Laney/Peralta College Area, Oakland Museum (you can hang out in their sculpture garden for free! + off-the-grid party every week) and Lake Merritt BART. It took me 20-30 minutes on foot to get from my Funktown place to nearest BART which was Lake Merritt. Downsides were that Lake Merritt BART does feel somewhat "sketchier" than downtown and trains come less frequently.

Many random thoughts:
--Street parking got really really old really fast, not preferred.
--If you like community gardens, the Funktown Community Garden behind the smaller building belonging to Regeneration Church is a fun and semi-functional one.
--We LOVED being able to walk to delicious Lao and Vietnamese food on International. Cam Huong was our hands down favorite for bahn mi and stuff from steam trays. Champa Garden is the best lao/thai food I have ever ever eaten.
--Groceries: We did a fair amount of shopping at the asian groceries on international and the one on 12th & 5th. Whole Foods is convenient to Adams Point. Trader Joes up at Lakeshore and Grand. Safeway further up Grand. Lucky is gross but convenient for staples if you're in Funktown. If you have a car my very special secret was to go to Farmer Joe's in Dimond District (I would take Macarthur to get there) for a big shopping trip periodically: cheaper than whole foods, better selection than trader joes, higher quality than safeway, monumentally less crowded and easier to get to than Berkeley Bowl (which I had formerly frequented because I worked in Berkeley).
--Living near International Blvd. there were a fair amount of sirens throughout day and night flying by between downtown and east oakland. If you want a reprieve from a busy urban street (like mission) you might not want to live right by International. Grand and Lakeshore neighborhoods (moving toward the hills) obviously feel more relaxed and less urban.
--One area I was intrigued by was "Bella Vista" (according to google maps). Think the rectangle east of the lake, bordered by 18th st-Park Ave. -580-14th ave. You are a bit up on a hill which always seems nice to me, and you feel like you're far away from downtown and the hustle and bustle. I don't know about rentals in this area, but it seemed like a good mix of modest, well-kept up homes. I believe this was where the Borax Smith estate was located, consult the aforelinked OaklandWiki for great history.
--I was never the victim of any crime nor were my roommates, never had an issue with my car parked on the street. I felt totally fine walking all over during the day and mostly at night, though it's not a big late night area so can feel deserted. There was a shooting at Lucky grocery store parking lot one night. My roommates girlfriends brother was mugged at gunpoint in Adams Point last year.

Conclusion: If I could make a long-term move anywhere in the US, Lake Merritt would be one of my first choices!
posted by dahliachewswell at 12:23 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

We just moved away from the southwest side of the lake to Longfellow, and miss it very much. Transportation for my city job was excellent, neighbors were great, and it felt like a great progression to see it change over the 8 years we spent there.

I was robbed once in 2007 but have not otherwise directly experienced crime. We looked at the southeast side of the lake to move earlier this year and it was very promising. Over the past year I remember hearing a lot more typically "SF" conversations at the corner store than I remember (tech and money b.s.) so it may not be a shock to leave mission.
posted by migurski at 12:53 AM on November 30, 2013

Anecdotally, our landlord doubled the rent on our place when we moved out.
posted by migurski at 12:56 AM on November 30, 2013

Are you planning on having kids? I grew up right around the lake and went to Lakeview Elementary (which I think is closed now?) Many an afternoon was spent at the Grand Lake Theater with my friends and my big sister as our chaperone - also collecting tadpoles in the park, walking Grand Avenue with a few bucks in my pocket, and checking out the boats and the holiday lights on the lake. My mom jogged Lake Merritt daily for 20-something years and probably still does occasionally. We lived in a high-rise apartment building, it was such a different experience than going to my grandma's house in the country.

Can't speak to current crime stats, but there are certainly rougher parts of Oakland.
posted by polly_dactyl at 6:18 AM on November 30, 2013

If you don't have off-street parking then make sure to get a residential parking permit if your block needs one. It's an $82 ticket if you get caught without the right one. (FYI, if you need to choose the lesser of two evils then a street sweeping ticket is about $60.)

If you're planning on biking to BART then remember that you can't take a non-folding bike on the trains during rush hours in the normal SF commute direction. Some stations have rentable bike lockers, but that's all I know about them.
posted by clorox at 8:20 AM on November 30, 2013

remember that you can't take a non-folding bike on the trains during rush hours in the normal SF commute direction

No longer true!
posted by asterix at 9:09 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've lived around the lake for about 5 years on all sides, all of it is very safe, especially compared to the Mission if that is your primary concern. Without a car, I would say you should look in the downtown side of the lake and near the Lake Merritt BART. Quick access to SF, but also walking distance from uptown bars/restaurants and huge new park space on that end of the lake. If you go Adam's Point, Grand-Lake, or the east side of the lake you will be a significant distance from BART (I mean, a few minutes on bike, which for me was never a big deal, but if you prefer to walk it will feel far).
posted by bradbane at 9:30 AM on November 30, 2013

The Lake is awesome. I would live happily on any side of it. Crime in Oakland is down this year over last, except for robberies- i.e. iPhones. So don't bumble around with your head in your phone and no awareness of your surroundings.

Culturally, all sorts of people live around the lake. Really mixed demographics which I think is great. For a long-term place, I would avoid moving next to or across the street from apartments that are not well taken care of. Check out your potential neighborhood at night and make sure you feel okay about it. We were trying to buy a house at the intersection of two numbered streets east of the lake, so take that advice with a grain of salt.

If you need access to BART, the Lakeside neighborhood is ideal. it's between Lake Merritt BART and 12th/19th street BARTS. It's getting known and pricier though, but it's a great neighborhood with a organic food store, cafe, decent liquor stores, and everything downtown is of course within walking distance. Great, friendly neighbors, though Oakland is a friendly place in general. We didn't have crime issues though our apartment was on the first floor facing the street, but we do have a dog.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:40 PM on November 30, 2013

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