Living in Oakland: Jack London Square
Living in Jack London Square with kids?July 2014
Hi, My family and I are relocating to SF from another state. We emailed a landlord regarding an apartment in Jack London Square, near 3rd and Oak St. We asked the landlord for the neighborhood school and she only warned me that the area isn't ideal for kids. On the contrary, I am seeing posts/blogs of families being happy in Jack London Square. Am I missing something? Is 3rd and Oak St. not a good area within Jack London Square? I would love to hear your advice and opinions, especially from those who have lived there. CaliMom
Hi CaliMom -
The Jack London Square area is mostly condos & apartments, but many of which are quite lovely. There are tons of activities near and around Jack London including BandWorks, which offers Rock 'n Roll classes; a circus/gymnastics program called Kinetic Arts Center, and then of course, Lake Merritt isn't far away. There's an amazing Arts & Science program there, as well as Fairyland and more. Plus a movie theater in Jack London.
Basically, there's tons to do and choose from in Oakland, which I believe is the most under-rated city in America. That said, the public schools do face some challenges, but there are some great ones, in addition to many private school options.
I hope you'll give Oakland some serious consideration, as it's a really amazing place for families. Julie Chervin julie [at] bandworks.com
My husband and I rented an apartment in Jack London Square (at 2nd and Oak; 3rd and Oak is just fine and is a very nice building) for over 7 years. When our son was born last year, we needed more space so we moved...to a 2-bedroom condo three blocks away! That's how much we've enjoyed living in the area.
Yes, ours is one of just a handful of kids in the neighborhood (for now) and yes, it's true that he doesn't have his own backyard. On the other hand, he has the whole waterfront across the street, with plenty of open, grassy space and regular festivals. The trains are noisy, but he loves watching them go by from our window. The area is also rapidly changing, and as more young couples move in, eventually there will be more babies and kids.
The local elementary school is Lincoln, located a few blocks away in Chinatown. I think it is at least fairly good, and we plan to seriously consider it when our son is ready to go to kindergarten.
Happy to chat more offline if you want to ask the moderator for my email address. Happy JLS Mom
Sounds like this landlord is not fond of having renters with kids, or didn't have kids of his own while living in JLS! JLS isn't kid-friendly in the sense that you cannot easily walk to a neighborhood park, and they definitely won't be able to play stick ball in the streets. HOWEVER, as a parent of two young children under the age of 5 who has lived a block away from Third & Oak for the past 6 years, I would argue that this area is as kid-friendly as you can get in a very urban environment. My favorite kid-friendly neighborhood haunts: (1) The Waterfront: absolutely beautiful with the water/SF views, the boats, the fountain with the adirondack chairs, Jack London's replica cabin, a small playground, grassy spaces for picnicking, piers for them to peer out at the boats, LOTS of flat, paved space for running/cycling/walking, and most importantly, SAFE (there is one uniformed guard there all the times that I've ever been there, even at 7:30pm alone with my 2 year old) but that guard is totally unnecessary, in my opinion. There are also lots of events that go on at the Waterfront all year round (for instance, at least once a year there is an authentic looking pirate ship that docks at JLS); (2) Amtrak station: my kids are huge railfans. I walk them here to stare at trains all the time; (3) Chinatown: Easily walkable, depends on how much exposure you want your kids to have to another culture. While Chinatown isn't very clean, you can visit the markets for authentic ingredients and catch cultural events like the Moon Festival/Chinese New Year's street fair. This is also where the closest public library is, and while small, it has a good selection of books. This is also where the closest full-fledged park is (if you're looking for slides, swings, etc.); (4) The Green Bus: I call it this, don't know its official name, but it's a free shuttle that starts in JLS and goes in a loop around downtown Oakland. When I don't feel like paying for parking, I ride this with the kids to get to Fairyland (a low-key amusement park for the younger set); (5) BART: a 12-minute walk to Lake Merritt BART and we can be in SF for a grand outting.
About the neighborhood school: That would be Lincoln Elementary in Chinatown. My oldest is almost ready for kinder, and it was so frustrating that almost nothing has been written up on BPN about Lincoln. From my neighbor in my bldg whose child has attended K, 1st, and will be continuing in 2nd: academically rigorous, with lots of homework, even in K. Since the school's in Chinatown, almost all the kids are Asian, and they start school academically well-prepared and continue along that path with the assistance of the teachers. By the time they finish K they can add and subtract and read. If you adhere to test scores, you will see that Lincoln boasts the highest Math API score of all the Oakland public schools. Lots of field trips (her 1st grader had 5 or 6 field trips in one school year!). The school playground is actually the park that sits right next to the school.
So now from an adult point of view, I LOVE living here. I totally feel like a hipster walking the streets of JLS (even with my kids in tow). The waterfront restaurants are good, my husband and I can walk to catch a movie at Regal Cinemas, I can walk to Bed Bath Beyond or Cost Plus for home furnishings, I can make a short drive into Alameda for Target, my husband walks to BART or the Ferry to work in SF. Seriously, the convenience cannot be beat! I Heart JLS
Hi! if you want to find out the OUSD school for an address, you can type it in here: http://www.ousd.k12.ca.us/domain/51 It looks like the elementary school for 3rd & Oak is Lincoln Elementary. welcome to the Bay Area! Kathleen
That area is very urban -- not much in the way of single-family homes, yards, or green open space. My general impression is that it's more young singles/couples and empty nesters than families. I know one family with a baby, but they don't plan to stay forever. So it depends a lot on where you're coming from and what you like. If you're coming from a bustling downtown and couldn't care less about those things, perhaps you'll love it. If you want more of a homey environment, you should look elsewhere. Native Oaklander
Living in Jack London Sqaure with a toddlerJuly 2003
My wife and I and our 21-month-old son are moving to Oakland from our beloved New York City in a couple of months. We are planning on buying a place that we really like in the Jack London Square area. We are concerned, however, about resources in that neighborhood for families. Does anyone living near there have any info on nearby playgrounds, children's clothing stores (other than babygap!) or food markets (we have heard about the Sunday farmer's market)? What is the best takeout? Good record stores or independent bookstores? Any advice or perceptions are appreciated. Greg
I would not personally locate my family in the Jack London Square area. It is very retail/tourist oriented, not much -- if any -- of a residential community, and adjacent to some unsafe areas. In fact, there are only a few blocks where I would feel comfortable walking around at night, particularly with a small child (and I grew up in Manhattan).
There are some lovely parts of Oakland that are great for families -- resources, kids, convenient to transportation, etc. Rockridge, Montclair, Glenview, Piedmont, some parts of the Lake Merritt area, some parts of North Oakland, to name a few. I particularly like Rockridge a great deal, but I would consider any of the above before the JL Square area. Dan
we live in a different part of Oakland with our 22-month old daughter, who was born in NYC. you will probably have to travel a bit, but not far, for great places to play, shop, etc. I bet your son would love MOCHA - art studio for toddlers - in downtown Oakland. anyway, feel free to email me then I can send you my number and we can talk about all the great things to do out here. you're going to love the weather when you discovery that you can take your toddler out pretty much every day. best of luck with your move. miss_ioana
Welcome to Jack London Square (soon)! It's a good urban neighborhood that's getting better, and you'll find many things to remind you of NYC (my husband is from Manhattan and we own a loft largely because he always wanted one while growing up). We've lived here 4 years and watched the place change (and property values increase) a lot.
We have a 16 month old daughter and we're starting to see a few other strollers (which can be challenging with the lack of sidewalks), so it can be done. It's not really a family- friendly environment, though, aside from the Square itself and the Sunday Farmer's Market. The nearest green spaces are the field next to the Ferry dock in the Square and the Estuary Park soccer field, but for playgrounds we go to Lake Merritt and Piedmont Park.
The Square has a lot of chain restaurants, we get the pizza special as takeout from Pizzeria Unos and occasionally Hahn's Hibachi, but pretty much avoid the rest. There's a nice Chilean restaurant named Chalaca on Broadway that is family-friendly. The best BBQ is from Everett & Jones, Vietnamese from Le Cheval (family-friendly), vegan from New World Vegetarian. There are a ton of little Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean places just blocks away in Chinatown. We drive to Grand Avenue and Lakeshore for Thai, a great brunch and dinner place called Meze (family- friendly) hot dogs, burritos and Noah's bagels. We used to go there all the time because the closest Blockbusters is on Lakeshore, but now we're happy Netflicks customers.
Shopping is kind of hit and miss, the closest pharmacy (Long's) and regular grocery store (Albertson's) are in Alameda (about 5 minutes through the tunnel), but there's a commercial grocery outlet on Oak for emergencies (you did need a quart of half & half, right?). We get our food/diapers/etc. from a mix of Sunday Farmer's Market, Albertson's, the JLS BevMo & Cost Plus, and Costco (San Leandro), and do our other shopping in Rockridge, Piedmont and Berkeley.
For the yuppie essentials, we go to College Ave. in Rockridge (Market Hall, lots of cool stores and restaurants...and the twin Meccas of parents: Cotton & Company and Rockridge Kids), and 4th Street in Berkeley (Pasta Shop, Hear Music, Builder's Booksource, Crate & Barrel outlet, lots of other great stores, Bette's and...Cody's!)
Please feel free to contact me if you have more questions, and let us know when you're coming so we can introduce you to the neighborhood.
I don't live in the Jack London Square area but I'm pretty knowledgeable about East Bay communities and real estate ever since my wife and I bought a home in the Berkeley hills area 1 year ago. It's become sort of a hobby for me--to follow how various neighborhoods are developing and changing in the Bay Area. Anyway, being from NYC myself, I can see why Jack London Square Area would be appealling. I believe this area is the closest thing in the East Bay to Soho/downtown NYC and there is a lot of potential both in terms of quality of life and real estate value. However, it is still ''an up and coming neighborhood'' without many of the conveniences you seem to want. I think it will take another 2-3 years before a critical mass of nice independent stores open in that area. The closest neighborhood with a nice commercial district is the Piedmont St area, a 5-10 min drive. That being said, if I were 5 years younger and without a newborn, I would strongly consider buying in Jack London myself. I would also strongly consider new condo's and lofts just opening in Emeryville or areas in West Berkeley around 4th St. in Berkeley. The latter area especially may have more of the commercial areas you are looking for, but any area of Berkeley will be at least 10-20% more expensive than Jack London Square. Another thing to consider about Jack London Square is that an active train track run right through the neighborhood and I believe very noisy trains run at various hours of the evening. sfnewyorker
I do not live in the Jack London Square neighborhood, but I have work there for the past 4 years(and I was born and raised in NYC). We sure considered living there as I was originally attracted to the kind of funky, under-developed desolate atmosphere. There isn't a lot going on down there yet. Very limited basic services -- I don't think Chinatown is going to do it for you. I surveyed several day cares in the area and was not impressed. Not really the right kind of open space for a child. I advise that you look elsewhere (Lake Merritt). Leslie
I really disagree with the folks who said they didn't think that JLS was a good place for family.
Yes, Piedmont is a more family-oriented place, but if you want diversity and urban energy, JLS is a great place to live. There are a lot of families raising our children here and none of us feel that we are doing so in an unsafe or inappropriate environment.
We frequently walk the estuary promenade with our toddler (and many neighbors) to watch the sunset over San Francisco and never feel unsafe when we do so.
We also walk home from BART late at night and not once in 4 years, even when it was a much less gentrified area, even when I've walked home alone (and I'm not a large person) I have never had a problem.
People park expensive cars on the street (with luxury lofts going for $600-800k+, we see a lot of Mercedes, BMWs and Landrovers), and yet they survive the night with windows and contents intact.
I mentioned your post to my neighbor last night and she said ''Did you tell him about Bed Bath and Beyond? MOCHA? (the museum of children's art) Or the kid's specials at the Old Spaghetti Factory? Or the nice firemen at the station who let kids climb on their trucks? And the trains?''
(Our kid loves watching the trains, which indeed can be loud when close up. It took about a week to stop noticing the occasional horn. Now I find it sort of comforting, like foghorns, but while we live barely a block away from the station, we don't face the tracks. Our neighbors who do say it isn't a problem, but they don't have a napping toddler, either.)
I suspect that the people who think there isn't much residential here haven't visited since Mayor Brown (who lives around the corner from me) incented so many developers to site their buildings here.
In the last 2 years, we've seen over a thousand new residents (of a wonderful variety of genders and economic, racial, ethnic, and educational backgrounds) fill the new Allegro buildings, and several new loft developments are complete (New Market lofts in the old Safeway building, the Phoenix lofts, and the massive new Sierra Lofts building where a friend of ours bought recently come immedately to mind) with several more on the way.
Every warehouse owner has had multiple offers to sell their buildings for loft developments, and many have succumbed. So many so that 2 years ago we did a lot of work to get the district designated a historical district to make sure we don't lose the character of the area entirely.
As a member of the Jack London Square Neighborhood Association, I know that we have so many new residents and businesses that we've established a Parking Committee to develop a plan for dealing with all of the cars.
The days when we were funky and desolate have taken on the glow of nostalgia as many of the artists are being pushed out by higher rents (except for Squeak Carnwrath, who owns her building), and we reminisce about the good old days when there wasn't even decent coffee in the area. If it is a measure of services, we now have at least SIX espresso places within a five minute walk of our loft.
It would be great to walk to a store like the Pasta Shop, and the Port (the major landlord in the area) has been talking to Andronico's about putting a grocery store here.
So, yes, we don't have a playground, and some blocks don't have sidewalks. But we are very happy here, and feel very comfortable here. I don't think many of the posters who had negative things to say about the area have lived here, so they don't know how great it is.
I do live here, I'm raising my fabulous kid safely here and I love the area. Even the local elementary school (Lincoln) gets good scores and I'm hoping my daughter will pick up some Chinese.
Jenna, defending my 'hood
We lived in the JLS neighborhood until about 8 months ago when our baby was born. Mostly we moved because the space we had was too much of a hassle to live in with a baby. We loved it when we were child-free... Great places to eat(albeit a lot of chains), good clubs, music and a fun urban vibe.
When we had our baby a bunch of things came up that we couldn't have predicted. For example: We lived in a no-elevator building on the second floor. Getting the stroller up there was a total hassle, so we left it at the bottom of the stairs. Which meant that we had to drag everything downstairs to the stroller. And then it got stolen from there, which really bummed us.
Then there was the laundry problem. We didn't have a washer and dryer in our apartment. No big deal when you don't have kids, but a big huge deal when you do. We never found a convenient laundromat, but perhaps we just weren't creative enough.
Grocery shopping was another huge hassle. We always ended up driving to Alameda to go grocery shopping, which when you are a one car family is a pain in the neck. We never found a ''walk to'' place that had things like milk and diapers. We got some delivery from Safeway.com, so I guess if you were a much better planner than I apparently am, you'd be OK.
Then the incident that ended up making me feel unsafe: We were walking outside, at around 9:15 with our baby and there was a big fight in front of one of the clubs, and we saw guns being brandished. I know that happens everywhere, but it happened to us here, so it made me really uncomfortable about the neighborhood.
We also never found good daycare in our neighborhood, so we ended up driving across town for childcare, which wasn't my favorite thing to do.
The good things: Barnes and Noble has a great place for crawling babies to crawl around in, neighbors were always very friendly, the farmer's market was a ton of fun, we loved walking by the water.
I think, though, if you had a lot more money than we did it might be great. We live in Temescal now, and it's working a lot better for us.
Good Luck in your decision. Anon