Parents’ Guide to Oakland’s Jack London Square

Parents Guide to Jack London Square in Oakland #kids #510families

Oakland’s Warehouse District has officially transformed into a beautiful sophisticated bustling waterfront with great restaurants, wineries and coffee roasters. Move over San Francisco Embarcadero! Jack London Square (AKA JLS) has become a great place to bring the kids any day of the week for fun and sight-seeing.

Where to play for play dates and date nights

Jack London Square is much more than the Eat Real Festival, Pedalfest and Strictly Sail Boat Show.It’s a place full of little gems for you and you family. Visit Jack London’s Klondike cabin and take pictures of your kids riding the infamous bronze wolf. Get your kids moving by challenging them to find and follow the wolf tracks along the impressive restaurant corridor to a small playground.

The walkway is wide and paved for strollers, skates and bikes. Come on a Sunday and you’ll enjoy the spectacular year round Farmers Market. Take in the views while seated on the grass, benches or the generous amounts of outdoor furniture. Bring a ball, lay a blanket out or blow bubbles under the palm trees (our favorite!).

Families can spot rowers, paddlers and sailboat trainees from the Jack London Aquatic Center moving through the estuary. On a clear day you can see the city for a breathtaking view. Of course, you can also watch the ferry, trains, and buses too.

Parents Guide to Jack London Square in Oakland #kids #510families

There are also three unique water fountains for the children to explore and throw wishes into. Families can also rent kayaks or stand-up paddle boards at California Canoe & Kayak and tour F.D.R’s presidential yacht, The Potomac. For pirate play, the Tall Ships sometimes dock at JLS and offer FREE tours. Arrrgh you serious? Aye Aye Cap’n!

So many exciting special events are held at Jack London Square that folks all over the Bay Area flock to Jack of all Trades, Waterfront Flicks, and Beer & Bacon Festival. Depending on the time of day or theme of the movie, these can be great with kids — or better without them.

Family movies at Jack London Square: waterfront flicksWe love Plank for bowling, bocce, billiards and arcade games, especially on the weekdays when it is both family-friendly and affordable at $5.50 per game, per person (prices sky rockets per hour in the evenings and on weekends to accommodate the adult party crowds). As evening falls, Plank becomes a hot spot and beer garden more appropriate for dates or singles than our little rascals.

Where to Eat

Some restaurants at Oakland’s waterfront are more kid-friendly and affordable than others but most all of them have outdoor seating for kiddos that lack a volume control. If you skip the dessert menu while eating at a sit down restaurant in JLS, no problem. Grabbing a treat on the go from Miette or Ben and Jerry’s will never disappoint any child or adult.

Lungomare has a small cafe on the side of the restaurant that is great in the mornings. Grab some yummy baked goods and head out to their gated patio, which supplies views and is enclosed so runners can’t escape!

Further inland, Chop Bar is has outdoor seating for messy rambunctious kiddos.It lacks a kid’s menu but parents will happily finish off the creamy Mac and Cheese from the sides menu. According 7×7 magazine has a “to die for” burger! We agree.

Parents Guide to Jack London Square in Oakland #kids #510families

Our family-friendly favorite JLS spot is Forge for hand crafted pizza and pastas with a cute kids menu. I recommend asking for the big booth seats in the back; casual dining with enough ambient noise to hide whining plus there’s plenty of stroller parking outside. Forge also has big screen TVs and attracts the local fans with A’s and Warriors games. You MUST order the Fried Cheese Curds!

Where to Shop

Parents Guide to Jack London SquareJack London Square has stunning views, restaurants, a playground, AND some cool retail! Here are my favorite shops:

  • Cost Plus for toys and gifts
  • BevMo for snacks and drinks
  • Bed, Bath and Beyond for everything in the universe
  • Loakal and Oakland Supply Co. for the latest locally crafted art and clothing
  • The hip and colorful Public Bikes is a few blocks from the water

Also to tackle sleep deprivation, parents can grab coffee or beans at Blue Bottle, Peerless Coffee or Bicycle Coffee Co. Thanks JLS, I believe the term is “one-stop-shop.”

Getting there: Transportation and Parking

Because of the ferry to San Francisco and Alameda, many major buslines drop off right at Jack London. You can visit very easily. We love the FREE B shuttle which drives up and down Broadway to Grand Ave.

The San Francisco Bay Ferry is a theme park type ride in itself for kids and adults (The JLS ferry goes directly under the Bay Bridge for a special treat!).

Do you have a train enthusiast? Take Amtrak over, and venture up the elevator, stand above the tracks on the walking bridge and watch in amazement the trains go under your feet.You can get here by BART; the Lake Merritt station is a few blocks away.

Cyclists, if you don’t own a bike, you can rent one right here in Jack London Square at Bay Area Bikes. If you’re driving, Oakland is a city, so parking is hit or miss but there are two very large parking lots and metered street parking.

This post was written exclusively for 510families by contributor Mandy Chuey. Mandy is a social worker and mom of two Violet 3, and Ollie 1. A longtime Jack London Square resident who traded in loft living for a backyard in the Dimond District still frequents the old neighborhood.

[Photo of bikes and waterfront flicks provided by; all others by Mandy Chuey, all rights reserved]

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  1. Amber says

    Thanks for this awesome article! I had no idea that Jack London Square was so kid-friendly! It’s really refreshing to read something new about what the Bay Area offers kids. We are all more than familiar with the Discovery Museum and Pier 39.

  2. Annabelle says

    This area is one of our favorite Friday routines! My toddler and I walk from Lake Merritt through Chinatown, to JL, and if we make in time we have a stop at Old Oakland and hit up the Farmer’s Market there! There is sooooo much to do in that area. The waterfront, MoCHA, Lincoln Park, and TWO public libraries. When she was little I did such a long walk because it was a guaranteed nap inducer in an area with plenty for me to eat/see/do as well.

  3. YW says

    Jack London is one of the best kept secrets in Oakland… shhhh! My kids love to eat brunch at Bocanova on Saturdays (churros with chocolate dipping sauce for dessert!). Its easy to get a table in the patio and enjoy the waterfront views. Afterwards I like to browse at CostPlus and pick up some wine at BevMo while my husband watches the kids on the playstructure.

  4. Brooke says

    I am curious if you know of any neighborhood/community watch programs active in the JLS area? You can email me at the address listed. Thank you.

  5. Mom in SF says


    My family and I are relocating to SF from Oregon. We are interested in a apartment in Jack London Square near 3rd and Oak St. I emailed the landlord asking for the neighborhood school and she only warned me that the area isn’t safe for kids. But I am seeing posts/blogs stating the complete opposite regarding families and living in Jack London Square. I’m I missing something? Is 3rd and Oak St. not a good area within Jack London Square?