San Leandro Reviews
Summary: Newly renovated community coffeehouse, caters to parents and people on the go, with their own roasted coffee and children's play area.
There are several cafes in San Leandro (and veritable scores of Starbucks) but Zocalo Coffeehouse is something special. It's a place that actually strives to be a community center (in the literal meaning of those words), a place where people can gather, meet one another and relax with a hot (or cold) drink. It's to the credit of Tim Holmes, its owner, that to a large degree it succeeds. It does so by catering to parents of small children with a children's area, providing free wi-fi internet service, as well as magazines and newspapers to read, a couple of comfy couches in addition to the regular tables, and by hosting benefits and potlucks for community organizations.
Zocalo has just undergone an extensive renovation that has left it with wood paneling galore and a new counter against one wall. The room is large enough to dissipate the cabin feeling somehow, but all that wood does make it look particularly warm and inviting on cold days. The children's section is now walled off with a doorless opening. There are two comfy chairs there, as well as a built in chest with bookcase space underneath. The area has a small table and chairs where little kids can drink or play, a couple of beanbags and tons of toys. The walls are about 4 feet tall, a great height for keeping your hot drinks out of the way, while letting light in. I'd been afraid before the renovation that the space would feel claustrophobic, but I have to say I actually much prefer it the way it is now. The child-friendliness of the place continues in the bathrooms, both are provided with heavy duty changing tables and a designated diaper pail. The huge coffee roaster is now behind wooden walls as well, which should allay fears of little kids accidentally (or not so accidentally) running into it and getting hurt.
The children's area allows parents to gather around and have something to drink while relaxing and letting their kids play by themselves. It's no wonder that it's a favorite of local mothers who've been awaiting impatiently the new opening. The times I've been there in the morning it's been very crowded with little kids. The crowd seems to leave by lunchtime, however, and after 11:30 AM or so there never seems to be more than a couple of parents with kids. The afternoons are also usually pretty light. If your interest is in avoiding kids, however, note that the new configuration has pretty much confined the kids into the play area, and you can avoid most of their noises by choosing a table at the front.
I'd like to say that a cafe is all about the coffee, but as an instant-coffee drinker I can't really speak about coffee with any type of authority. So let me just say that Zocalo roasts its own coffee, that it serves a myriad of varieties and that it's a Green certified roaster. Though their menu doesn't advertise it, all of their coffee drinks are also available on ice - but their mocha smoothie ($3.50) is so good, that I haven't actually tried anything else for a while. They do have teas, hot chocolate, shakes and smoothies for the non-coffee drinkers as well. They also serve baked goodies, and their selection has improved in the past months. Mika positively adores its huge peanut butter cookies and madeleines.
Zocalo used to be open until 9 PM a couple of nights a week. Now it closes at 6 PM daily. I used to love to hang out at Zocalo with my whole family on evenings we didn't know what else to do, or to stop there with a friend in our way to dinner, so I'm disappointed about the shorter hours. Alas, I don't think the longer ones were profitable for the owner.
In all, Zocalo is my favorite day-time hang out in San Leandro.
645 Bancroft @ Dutton
San Leandro, CA