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Jack London Square - Oakland, California (OKJ)
Steve's Review

Steve's Review of Jack London Square, Oakland, California.

This page was created almost ten years ago and hasn't been updated for a while. Most of the comments are still useful, but any quoted prices are probably below current rates and the number of Amtrak trains that serve Oakland / Jack London Square has increased.

A Railfan's Paradise (especially if you like watching Amtrak trains)!

All of the trains, both Amtrak and freight trains, go right down the middle of Embarcadero all day and all night, right along with the auto and pedestrian traffic! The train tracks enter Jack London Square right in the middle of Embarcader Street, travel down the median strip a short way, and then merge right in with the vehicle traffic! The trains have to go extremely slow down this street to avoid hitting cars that are traveling right down Embarcadero with the trains.

While in Jack London Square, you can see and hear Amtrak trains coming and going all day long! 4 northbound and 4 southbound Amtrak San Joaquins terminate at the Jack London Square Oakland Station. 8 southbound and 7 northbound Amtrak Capitols also go down Embarcadero to the station each day. The northbound and southbound Amtrak Coast Starlights also stop at the station each day. Jack London Square used to be the terminus for the Amtrak California Zephyr, but it now terminates about 5 miles up the road at Emeryville (a quick local transit bus ride if you want to watch that train depart in the morning or arrive in the evening!). But, even without that train, you will still see about 26 passenger trains each day as well as numerous freight trains! The fun part is watching each of these trains heading up and down Embarcadero through the auto traffic! The train heading down the middle of the street between buildings and cars makes for great photo opportunities.

Since the trains do go all the way down Embarcadero, it doesn't matter where you are or what you are doing in Jack London Square. You can always poke your head out to see the train going down the street. Since Embarcader is only one block from Water Street which runs down the center of Jack London Square, you just need to walk one block to stand and watch the trains go by. You always have time to walk to the train since the trains have to go so slow down the street. The trains blow their horns, ring their bells, and the crossing gates clang ... so don't worry about not knowing when a train is about to go by! You can always tell a train is about to go by from anywhere in Jack London Square!

Which Hotel To Select

There are 3 hotels convenient to Jack London Square: (1) The Best Western Inn At The Square, (2) The Jack London Inn, and (3) The Waterfront Plaza Hotel. Click here and scroll about half way down that page to find phone numbers, locations, and even links to the web pages of each of those hotels.

All 3 hotels are in or within one block of the square and are a short walk from the train station. Even if you arrive by train and have luggage, it probably would not make sense to take a taxi to any of them. The most the taxi would charge is their minimum fare since all 3 hotels are less than 3 or 4 blocks from the train station.

The least expensive of the 3 hotels is probably the Best Western Inn At The Square with the Jack London Inn coming in as a fairly close second. The Waterfront Plaza Hotel will easily win the prize for the most expensive rooms which start around double the rate of the other two hotels. But, the Waterfront Plaza Hotel is definitely a "luxury" hotel compared to the other two and is right on the waterfront in the middle of Jack London Square. If you want a first class experience, then definitely select the Waterfront Plaza Hotel. That is where I stay when I'm traveling with my wife.

If you want to stay in the hotel that would probably be the most enjoyable for a railfan, then the Jack London Inn would be the best of the three! Be sure to ask for a room overlooking Embarcadero. The rooms on the second floor are better than those on the third floor for viewing trains, especially the rooms toward either end of the building. If noise is a problem for you, then either ask for a room away from the street or book another hotel. You will definitely hear (and can see) the trains all night from the front rooms in the Jack London Inn! Bring your railroad radio scanner along and you will have multimedia live coverage of every train through the square!

Above you can see people standing outside the lobby of the Jack London Inn. This shows just how close the front of this hotel is to the tracks and how the train travels right down the center of the street! Click on the photo for a larger image.

The above photos were taken from the balcony of the Jack London Inn. Once again these photos show how close the hotel is to the tracks and show the position of the train relative to cars on the street.

There is a restaurant downstairs in the Jack London Inn. This is a great place for breakfast and you will not miss any of the rail activity. It isn't fancy, but the food is good, the quantities are good, and the prices can't be beat! You won't want to eat all your meals here as Jack London Square has a lot of restaurants that you should try. A number of the restaurants do have a view of the Embarcadero and all the rail activity. A place that railfans often pick to dine is The Spaghetti Factory which also has dining rooms that face the tracks.

All 3 hotels are acceptable. Both the Jack London Inn and the Best Western Inn At The Square have undergone considerable remodeling in recent years. If you are looking for the best price but still want to stay near the square, then the Best Western Inn At The Square is probably the best pick. You won't have a view of the rail activity, but you will get a good price. The very first time that I went to Jack London Square, I relied on Amtrak Vacations to book a room for me and they put me into the Best Western Inn At The Square.

If you decide to splurge and stay at the Waterfront Plaza Hotel, there are several rooms that have a birdseye view of the rail activity as well as most of the entire square. There roooms are expensive, but not as expensive as the rooms on the other size of the building that face the water! Try to get a room as high in the hotel as you can and as close as you can to the side of the hotel facing the square and the train station. From those rooms you can see all the trains going down the Embarcadero!

San Francisco

There are many ways to get quickly between Jack London Square and San Francisco. The best is probably to take the Ferry that leaves from Jack London Square near the Waterfront Plaza Hotel and heads straight to San Francisco several times each day! There are also Amtrak thru-way buses that meet most of the trains that take connecting passengers to San Francisco (but you can buy a ticket just for the bus), plus local bus companies that go from Oakland to San Francisco. You can also take a local bus from the Amtrak Station to the Oakland BART Station which is about a mile away (or you can walk the 12 blocks). BART goes right into San Francisco. If you want a rail trip and want to take a convoluted way to San Francisco, you can take the Amtrak Capitol train to San Jose, the Caltrain back up to San Francisco and then take the light rail from there into downtown! Worst option would probably be to rent a car and drive into San Francisco, but it is not a very long drive if you don't try it during the rush hour.

July 5th & 6th, 1996

The following is a review that I wrote from my perception of Jack London Square on my very first visit to this area. The quoted prices are quite out of date.

On the July 4th, 1996 weekend I splurged and booked a room at the Waterfront Plaza Hotel. All they had left on the waterfront side was one room with two queen beds. That was fine for me and my two children. Even after the AAA discount, the weekday rate was still $165 per night for the waterfront side! I think the other side was $145 or $150 per night with the discount. Many of the rooms had balconies with patio tables and chairs overlooking the water. Being the last room left on the waterfront side, our room didn't have the balcony. It did have a huge picture window with sliding panes that we left open to get the breeze and listen to the sounds of the waterfront. The weekend rate is lower: $120 for the waterfront side and $105 for the inland side. Because we decided to also stay Saturday night, that qualified us for the weekend rate for Friday also. The biggest advantage of the Waterfront Plaza Hotel was that you felt you were right in the middle of Jack London Square. When you stepped out the front door of the hotel, you are right there!

I really like Jack London Square. If you like restaurants, especially those with a scenic view of the water from your table, Jack London Square is loaded with them! Actually, the only time Jack London Square gets any size crowd at all is on Friday and Saturday nights when people come to the restaurants. Even then, it really isn't that crowded.

There are many interesting little stores in Jack London Square. The prices aren't very high and the stores are seldom crowded with tourists. If you like shopping in unique little stores but don't like the crowds at the waterfront in San Francisco, then Jack London Square is the ideal place for you to spend time!

The relaxed atmosphere is probably what attracts me to the place. We did spend a few hours at Pier 39 in San Francisco, but I did not enjoy that at all. There were many more restaurants and shops at Pier 39, but there was also a hundred more times the people. If you like tourist attractions like Pier 39, there are several ferries all day that travel direct between Jack London Square and Pier 39. The cost of the ferry is only $4 one way for adults and $1.50 for children and the ferry only takes about 40 minutes.

Jack London Square also has one of the largest Barnes & Nobles bookstores that I have seen anywhere. It also has a cafe with a very large indoor and outdoor seating area, but has a limited menu of coffees and pastries.

Note from 2001: On the southwestern end of Jack London Square there used to be a place called Jack London Village. This was one of my favorite places to hang out in the area. The decor was very rustic. The designers did an excellent job at making Jack London Village appear to be an old seaport village. There were a number of excellent restaurants and curiosity shops in the village. The Jack London Museum was also located in this village. Unfortunately, this village was torn down in 2001. It is now been replaced by condominiums. I'm definitely going to miss visiting the Jack London Village. Jack London Square is still a fun place to visit, but it won't be the same without the rustic Jack London Village that used to be right across from the train station.

Hi Steve

About a month ago I sent you an e-mail inquiring about Jack London Square. You responded, which was helpful, and we went on down there. We stayed at the Jack London Inn and had just a wonderful time. I think your description of JLS on the website is pretty representative of what it's like. Here are a few more thoughts from my point of view:

Although the Waterfront and BW might be a bit nicer, if you like trains you just have to stay at the Jack London Inn. There is no question. We were on the second floor by the pool (per your recommendation) and I just about wore a groove in the floor going out to the rail to see what was coming next. Good stuff! I have a pretty good digital photo from there of a UP GP38 or some such. I'll send it down if you like.

We thought the food was good at the Square, the prices reasonable, the people were nice, and it's a friendly place to visit. You can walk to the Lake Merritt BART station pretty easily. We took the ferry to SF and came back on the BART. There is lots of stuff to do around there and you never have to start your car.

We really enjoyed that trip. Thanks for the help. If you want me to e-mail that nifty photo, let me know.

Louis B.

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