The ever-evolving Jack London Square is a microcosm of Oakland's past, present, and future, where all kinds of commerce, from industrial shipping to upscale shopping, operate side by side. From Jack London's ramshackle cabin (now a beloved dive bar) to a crop of fresh new eateries to the city's easiest access to watery wilderness, the neighborhood caters to a harmonious, cross-demographic slice of Oakland and its visitors.
If the marina view outside the seafood restaurants leaves you with a touch of wanderlust, you can get it cured right next door. Drop by California Canoe & Kayak (409 Water St., 893-7833, CalKayak.com) to take a kayak for a spin. Patient, knowledgeable instructors will make sure you know a sweep stroke from a low-brace turn, and — voilà — you're on the bay.
At Chop Bar (247 4th St., Suite 111, 834-2467, ChopBar510.com), the mélange of decor elements — vintage plank paneling, sleek stone floors, and minimalist bare bulbs — is as deftly harmonious as the range of victuals. From afternoon pastries and a full espresso bar to leisurely, corned-beef-hash-anchored brunches, the bar offers comfort food with integrity and flair. Dinner plates are scrumptious, seasonal, and surprisingly affordable (flat-iron steak with cowboy onions and chimichurri jo-jos: $15; black cod and shellfish stew, $14), so you don't have to wait for the family-style Sunday dinners ($20) for a bargain.
Only two months old, Encuentro (202 2nd St., 832-9463, EncuentroOakland.com) has the hallmarks of a likely Bay Area classic. This classily sparse corner wine bar has a propensity for boutique cheeses, vegan "cheeses," and other local ingredients; a bar top made of now-nearly-mandatory bamboo; and wines from organic/sustainable vintners from California and abroad. The menu of simple but refined vegetarian tapas (truffled mushroom pecan pate, $10) has even warmed a few carnivorous hearts.
When The Oakbook magazine moved to new headquarters in 2009, they brought along arts writer and long-time art-events organizer Theo Konrad Auer and gave him an additional title: gallery director. The editors squeezed into the back room and christened the front room Art@theoakbook Gallery (420 Water St., TheOakbook.com). It's a pro-community outlet for Oakland artists, with room to experiment. The gallery books fresh, new artwork, guest curators, informative talks, and holiday art-market events.
When the now-in-construction Jack London Market opens, Oakland will have its cavernous, six-story answer to San Francisco's Ferry Building. Until then, the humble Jack London Square Farmers' Market (Embarcadero and Webster sts., PCFMA.com) is the place for fresh produce, handcrafted condiments, fresh artisan breads, and outdoor breezes on a Sunday morning. And "humble," by Northern California market standards, just means not gargantuan. You can still get live music, craft activities for the kids, easy parking, and the free 9:30 a.m. yoga class.
Don't miss: The best time to visit Swarm Gallery (560 2nd St., 839-2787, SwarmGallery.com) and the Hive Gallery (301 Jackson St., HiveStudios.org) is in June, when the studio complexes behind both contemporary art spaces are open for public strolling during East Bay Open Studios. ... At brunch time on a sunny day, Bocanova (55 Webster St., 510-444-1233, Bocanova.com) is one of the neighborhood's best people-watching spots. The spacious, jumbo-umbrella-covered patio is a hit on sunny days, and it fills up fast, so be sure to call for a reservation.