I love walking around the lake. I love the cathedral at edge of the lake. I love the botanical garden, and Fairyland. But one of my best times was the gondola ride. You have to book ahead, and as my husband's luck would have it, they were full except they just had a cancellation. So we went out at 5 in the late December dusk. We saw some beautiful birds and then we saw Lake Merritt's and surrounding beautiful lights. We learned the history of lake, and we got to hear some beautiful Italian songs. So if you want to feel like you are in Europe, but you have only one night, this is the way to go. http://www.gondolaservizio.com/lakeMerritt.htm
Lake Merritt is also near some excellent restaurants, and it's near Grand Avenue and Piedmont with more excellent restaurants! The Lake Chalet is hit or miss, but it's a fun place to eat.
Oakland is my favorite city in the Bay Area right now, and Lake Merritt and its surroundings has a lot to to do with my love for the place. I could have titled this review, "this place has gone to the birds", because there are so many birds here.
I don't live in Oakland, nor do I have any affiliation to the Gondola Service.