Jack London Square, an inviting mixed-use waterfront area perched on the edge of San Francisco Bay in Oakland, offers outdoor fun with indoor diversions. Shopping and dining amidst the bobbing boats in the marina, taking advantage of some of the water activities that are offered, or just relaxing in the wide-open palm-studded plazas are excellent ways to while away the day.
When the sun’s up and shining, paddle a kayak around the adjacent Oakland Estuary, especially lively during the fall bird migration. You’ll also get great views of the oddly creature-like dock cranes used to load cargo ships. Urban legend says the cranes inspired local filmmaker George Lucas to create the ominous AT-AT Walkers in Star Wars; true or not, the cranes do resemble the movie’s creepy four-legged tanks.
Post paddle, stroll the square—their website has a good map—to visit shops, or tour two historic vessels: the Lightship Relief, a floating lighthouse which aided navigation along various U.S. coastlines from 1951 to 1974, and the USS Potomac, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s historic yacht (ask about bay cruises). Dine at inviting options like Baia for organic pasta, or have crab cake benedict for brunch at Oakland Grill. Overlooking the waterfront in the square is also Plank, a restaurant and sprawling beer garden where you can bowl and play bocce; Yoshi’s, a music venue and Japanese restaurant that has been a mainstay in the area almost half a century, continues to host top jazz acts and artists of other genres. A weekly Sunday farmers market and the Regal Cinemas Jack London Stadium 9 movie theater add to Jack London Square’s neighborhood-y appeal.
The square is named after the intrepid adventurer and author of Call of the Wild and The Sea Wolf, a book allegedly inspired by tall tales told by the crusty folk who frequented the legendary—and still open—Heinhold’s First and Last Chance Saloon. Near the sloped entrance to the historic watering hole, the wall hands on the wall clock haven’t budged since April 18, 1906—the moment a massive quake struck the Bay Area, and jolted the building so much the timepiece stopped ticking. Time may have stopped, but not service, and stepping down into this little wooden shack is about as about as close to jumping into a time warp as you can get: 19th-century gas lamps glow each evening, throwing a flickering light onto World War II photographs and memorabilia, and a small photo of a young London sitting at one of the saloon’s tables adorns a wall. Settle in and talk to your elbow-mate at the bar; you never know what tall tales you might hear.
Insider tips: Before heading to JLS, check out their calendar of events to see what’s coming up. If coming from San Francisco, it’s an option to take the San Francisco Bay Ferry straight to Jack London Square Terminal.