OAKLAND’s BEST ●Attractions
image copyright Ken Katz, courtesy of Visit Oakland
Jack London Square Situated on the inlet of the Oakland Estuary, this shopping complex borders the city’s huge commercial shipping area. People come here to stroll the spacious modern walkways closed to cars, to browse a variety of shops, and to dine in myriad restaurants. Also, boat-watching (on the estuary) and train-watching (slow-moving trains pass regularly on the tracks at the area’s northern edge) is enjoyable, and nightlife is lively.
●Alameda/Oakland Ferry Board the ferry here for Alameda. San Francisco destinations are the Ferry Building, Pier 41, the Giants' AT&T Park, and Angel Island State Park.
●Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon 48 Webster St. Built in 1883 from the remnants of a whaling ship, this tiny, informal, funky bar with a tilted floor pays tribute to the area’s waterfront past. Jack London, a longtime Oakland resident, was a regular customer during the period when he was an oyster fisherman here. In his “John Barleycorn” novel, he makes reference to the bar. Though somewhat menacing in appearance (it is impossible to see in through the thick windows), this saloon makes a good spot to wet a dry whistle and is a National Literary Landmark. While here, notice the still-functioning gas lamps and a clock that stopped at 5:18 a.m. during the 1906 earthquake.
image courtesy of Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau
Jack London’s Cabin is across the way. Moved here in 1970, this rustic one-room hovel is the top half of the cabin believed to have housed London when he prospected in Canada’s Yukon Territory during the 1897 Klondike gold rush. (The bottom half is in Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon Territory.) Free.
●Jack London Square Farmer's Market Free.
●Port of Oakland Tours Free. Sponsored by the Port of Oakland, these 75-minute tours take participants alongside port operations in the Oakland Estuary and into the Outer Harbor area.
●USS Potomac Berthed at N end of Jack London Square; Visitor Center at 540 Water St./Clay St. Fee. This 165-foot-long, all-steel vessel served as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “floating White House.” Having undergone a 12-year, $5 million restoration, it is now a National Historic Landmark. Two tours are available. A stationary Dockside Tour, and a History Cruise with or without lunch. Each begins ashore with a background video and the chance to study some historical photos, including one of Elvis Presley (who once owned the yacht) presenting it to his friend Danny Thomas for St. Jude’s Hospital. More photos testify to the degeneration from its original purpose of chasing rumrunners into being used for drug running, and its eventual sinking near Treasure Island. Governor Ronald Reagan passed legislation to restore her and, happily, with the help of the Port of Oakland and many dedicated volunteers, she now operates as a public museum. FDR, who was confined to a wheelchair and suffered from sinusitis, preferred the Potomac to the White House on sultry summer days. He relaxed on this simple, but comfortable, ship as he led the country through the Great Depression and World War II. Aboard, visitors can see his surprisingly small and simply furnished cabin and his private elevator mounted within a false smokestack (it may be used by visitors in wheelchairs). The radio room, pilothouse, and various guest rooms are also open for inspection. The cruise goes out of the estuary, past the gigantic maritime crane horses that urban legend says inspired George Lucas’s similar-looking snow walkers in The Empire Strikes Back, on past Treasure Island, and then around Alcatraz. A favorite spot to settle in is the lower fantail deck lounge in back, with a seat so deep that the legs of loungers must be stretched out straight.
image depicts comedian Danny Thomas and singer Elvis Presley, courtesy of USS Potomac