A visit to Napa Valley or Sonoma Wine Country is on the bucket list of many visitors to the Bay Area, yet with roughly 1,000 wineries in total, it begs for at least a few days of exploration. If you’re staying in San Francisco and are limited on time, a small wine haven sits just a quick subway or ferry ride away in the East Bay at Oakland’s Jack London Square.
Located right on the waterfront, this area has been at the heart of Oakland’s Port operations since the mid-1800s. It’s still a working seaport today, but in recent years has been reenergized as a lively, mixed-use commercial district full of restaurants and bars, urban wine tasting rooms, shopping, and recreational activities. The square hosts dozens of annual events, including an Art & Wine Festival in the Spring and a Wine Walk in the Fall, and is named for the famous author Jack London, who spent much of his youth at the port. His work there as an oyster pirate and sailor provided inspiration for many of his stories later in life.
There are no vineyards in sight, but on a day trip to the walkable Jack London Square, you can still pack a full itinerary centered around wine. Here we’ve rounded up the best spots to visit.
Jack London Square is easily accessible by ferry, subway, and car. If you’re coming from the heart of San Francisco, take BART to either the Lake Merritt or 12th Street/Oakland City Center station. If you’re staying closer to the water in San Francisco, the San Francisco Bay Ferry will be the easiest option. Take the Alameda/Oakland Ferry from either the Ferry Building or Pier 41 (from the Ferry Building, it takes less than 30 minutes to get to the East Bay and you’ll be literal steps from Jack London Square when you get off). Driving will take roughly 30 minutes but can vary greatly depending on traffic.
10 Clay Street, Oakland, CA 94607, (877) 478-9467
Most of the urban wineries in the East Bay are boutique, family-owned producers, but Rosenblum Cellars has been around for 40 years and is best known for their California zinfandels. Their Jack London Square winery was the first in the area and looks right out at the water. It’s an ideal spot for catching the sunset, so consider timing your tasting just before dusk as they’re open until 8pm Sunday – Thursday and 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. They offer four different tasting flights, including a Bubbly Flight for sparkling lovers, but wine can also be ordered by the glass or bottle and sipped on their outdoor patio. Pair it with a plate of cheese and charcuterie or other nibbles.
201 3rd Street, Oakland, CA 94607 (510) 879-7763
Brooklyn West has set up shop in the oldest warehouse in Jack London Square’s Warehouse District, built in 1914. The industrial winery with a roll-up door and tons of natural light has an air of cool, not pretension, and is a weekend hot spot for both locals and tourists. Wine flights showcase their wide array of grape varietals, from sauvignon blanc and chardonnay to tempranillo and barbera and even a cabernet ice wine — an extreme rarity in California. Keep an eye out for co-owner and winemaker Stew Epstein, who has a tendency to pull rare and old bottlings from his personal cellar to pour at the tasting room.
95 Linden Street, Oakland, CA 94607, (510) 387-5191
Campovida’s organically-farmed estate sits several hours north in Mendocino County’s Hopland, but the couple that runs it has roots in Oakland, so they decided to open up an urban winery in a cozy, brick warehouse near the port. Their focus is on crafting sustainable and small production wines — mostly Italian and Rhône varietals, like Montepulciano and carignane — and even the local Mendocino vineyards they partner with all farm organically or biodynamically. Wines are available by tasting flight, glass, or bottle, and charcuterie boards can be purchased as well.
420 3rd Street, Oakland, CA 94607, (510) 891-1024
You’ve probably never seen a wine shop as chic as Minimo. This gorgeous, bright, and airy little Oakland shop looks like an art gallery and focuses on natural wines, seeking bottlings from small-production and independently-owned producers based in both California and abroad. Natural wines can sometimes get a bad rap, but Minimo (which is Italian for minimal) is a great opportunity to explore this growing category of wines, crafted using sustainable practices and with minimal intervention in the vineyard and cellar. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Minimo pulls a few selections from the shelves and offers themed tasting flights, but a handful of wines are also available by the glass daily. You can even purchase a bottle and enjoy it right there at a communal table (with a corkage fee).
204 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94607, (510) 251-9463
If you’ve always been curious about those popular paint and sip parties, this is the time to tap into your creative side, fueled by a little buzz. Wine & Design hosts daily and affordable, two-hour paint and sip classes near Jack London Square (and on weekends, they’re offered both in the day and evening). Led by a local artist, they provide everything you need — including the wine — and in each class, students work on their own interpretation of a unique painting, which might depict a landscape, animals, people, etc. Check their website to see the art that’s scheduled for that day.
1 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94607, (510) 444-7171
This waterfront Italian restaurant in the heart of Jack London Square is a true gem, where salami, pasta, and gelato are made in-house and several wines are actually available on tap. On Sundays, they offer the Wine Down Dinner, a three-course meal for just $30. Diners get to choose an appetizer, entree, and dessert from a handful of options for each course. The best part? The price includes unlimited wine.
827 Washington Street, Oakland, CA 94607, (510) 272-9110
A quick half-mile jaunt from Jack London Square, District wine bar boasts arguably the best wine list around with bottlings from all over the world. The list is divided into creative categories like “Exotic Whites” and “Uninhibited Reds” and each one offers a three-glass tasting flight. For food, there’s an extensive menu of small, shareable plates, from grilled Spanish octopus to glazed bone marrow, plus eclectic pizzas (try the Goat Cheese Pistachio Pesto with roasted beets or Braised Beef Short rib with shishito peppers).
10 Washington Street, Oakland, CA 94607, (510) 836-3800
Jack London Square is an easy day trip from San Francisco, but if you did want to stay the night, the iconic Waterfront Hotel is located right off the square, literally on the waterfront, and within walking distance to all the places featured above (it’s actually attached to Lungomare). It recently received a $2 million facelift, with a pool that looks out on the harbor, and even offers a daily sipping hour of Oakland wines from 5 – 6pm daily in the hotel’s communal living room.