Around town with Allison: Oakland’s historic Jack London Square

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Allison Fong/Staff

As some of you may or may not know, I’m from Oakland. (That’s right — it’s literally right next door to Berkeley.) Although this may be true, I can say that I haven’t really explored my hometown to the fullest extent. And as the semester has finally come to an end and everyone is making their way home for the summer, I was thinking for that this week’s Around Town with Allison, I would do something about Oakland. What better way to segue into my hometown than to channel my elementary school self and write about Jack London Square? You’re probably wondering: What on earth was elementary school Allison doing in Jack London Square? Well, here’s the thing — Jack London Square was the place to be for field trips and all that jazz. At this point in time, I don’t remember what those field trips were about, but I can definitely say that I did enjoy myself.

Now, I never go down to Jack London Square. Like, ever. Don’t get me wrong — I have been there a handful of times, but I think the place itself is very underrated. There’s definitely an industrial vibe with warehouses and railroad tracks, but that’s what makes Jack London Square, Jack London Square. Speaking of railroad tracks, the Amtrak runs right through this place, so just a fair warning that if you are as startled by loud and abrupt sounds as I am, be prepared for the occasional toot of a whistle.

So if you’re into ocean views, good food and chill vibes, then this is the place for you. As a friend of mine said, “Jack London Square is like a less touristy Fisherman’s Wharf.” And I honestly could not have said it any better myself.

Coffee and treats

The Bicycle Coffee Company

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After arriving to Jack London Square earlier this week to prepare for this piece, the first and only thing on my mind was coffee. Are we even surprised at this point? The Bicycle Coffee Company serves organic and locally roasted coffee and delivers by bicycle, hence the name. With a café and roastery in Jack London, this place was definitely calling my name. Or maybe it was my lack of caffeine for the day that was making me delusional — you decide. Bicycle Coffee also has #FreeCoffeeFridays, during which anyone can come in and get a free cup of pour-over or drip coffee. With a philosophy around people over profit, Bicycle Coffee will always hold a special place in my heart.

Miette

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A well-known pastry shop in San Francisco, Miette has also blessed us with a location in Jack London! The shop serves yummy cakes, cupcakes, macarons and candy — you really can’t go wrong with anything here. I left with a handful of macarons and a cupcake, because why not?

Food

Souley Vegan

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Serving vegan soul food, Souley Vegan has been a favorite among the vegan and nonvegan folk in the Bay Area, and rightfully so. The first thing I noticed when I walked into this place was the picture of Tamearra Dyson, owner of Souley Vegan, and none other than the man himself, Guy Fieri. Now, if Guy Fieri has been to this place, I knew I was in for a treat. I had the combination place with vegan mac and cheese, biscuits and gravy, and southern fried tofu. Nothing beats a plate of soul food, especially if it’s vegan! Although the vegan mac and cheese was super flavorful and creamy, the real star of the show was the southern fried tofu. Never in my life have I ever had tofu as crispy as this one.

If seafood is your thing, Scott’s Seafood and Yoshi’s, a jazz club and Japanese restaurant, are both great places to grab a bite. Some people don’t like seafood, and that’s totally fine! Although I don’t eat meat, I’ve heard great things about the House of Chicken and Waffles as well as Grocery Cafe, a Burmese restaurant. Jack London Square is definitely more busy at night when the majority of the restaurants and bars are open, so be sure to check this place out when it’s in full swing!

Things to do

See a movie

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Half of the times that I’ve been to Jack London Square have been to see a movie at the Regal Cinemas Jack London Stadium 9 theater. With all of these superhero movies out (“Avengers: Infinity War” and “Black Panther”), this is the perfect time to head on over to Jack London Square! I personally don’t know anything about superhero movies. DC or Marvel? How about neither?

Shop

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I love cute little shops, and Oakland Supply Co. is definitely one of them. With funny cards, aesthetic wall art, clothes, candles and other goodies, Oakland Supply Co. offers a wide range of quality goods, including some made right in Oakland! Grab yourself an Oaklandish T-shirt and/or water bottle, and now you’re basically a local! 

Enjoy the view

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The water is literally right there. With the iconic Port of Oakland cranes and the sunset on the horizon, what more could you ask for? If you want an even better view of the bay, go walk along the Bay Trail, a 400-mile shoreline trail, or go kayaking or paddleboarding with Calkayak! I personally haven’t been kayaking here, but I’ve definitely seen people do it, and it seems like a swell time.

Bowl at Plank

If bowling is your jam, Plank is the place to be. There are a lot of things happening at Plank. It’s a bowling alley, arcade, beer garden and restaurant — so basically, there’s something for everyone, aka you can totally bring that one friend who’s passionately against bowling (you know who I’m talking about). Sitting right on the water, this place really has it all. Grab your friends and go bowling at Plank as you enjoy the beautiful waterfront view!

Attend an event

The great thing about Jack London is that there’s always some event happening on the weekends. There is a weekly farmers market on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. that offers local produce and goodies from more than 40 vendors. I don’t know about y’all, but I love farmers markets. Having one in Jack London is such a treat because you can totally enjoy the view and the usual perks of going to a farmers market. “Second Saturdays” is Jack London’s take on “First Fridays”. Every second Saturday of the month, Jack London has live entertainment, vendors and food 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is not to mention the plethora of festivals that take place on the waterfront, such as the Eat Real Festival or the Art & Wine Festival — there’s always something happening at Jack London Square! I had the chance to volunteer at the Eat Real Festival when I was in high school, and although I love volunteering, I wish I had the opportunity to actually attend this festival. So you better believe that I’ll be frolicking through the streets of Jack London Square this September when the festival happens again. Be there or be square.

Prepping for this specific article had me strolling down memory lane as I made my way across the stone-paved roads of Jack London Square, caffeinated and nostalgic. It’s pieces like this one that I am most excited about writing, pieces about my hometown that allow me to re-experience the area with a different perspective now that I’m older. So thank you all for allowing me to do just that.

Allison Fong writes the weekly blog column on places and activities to try in and around Berkeley. Contact her at [email protected].