Shipping containers have a thankless job, spending their lives braving the elements on rocky seas as most of the world ignores their work, caring only about the cargo they carry after it’s been perfectly placed on store shelves. Those super steel boxes, however, are finally getting their day, slowly but surely becoming part of the urban landscape in several cities (most, not surprisingly, in more temperate areas like Southern California), serving as newfangled neighborhood gathering spots and, in some cases, playing a role in an area’s revitalization. The upcycled containers are housing everything from coffee shops to fitness studios to wine bars and serving as a backdrop to beer gardens, musical performances, and art shows. Here, some of the country’s coolest container parks.
Location: San Diego
Year Opened: 2015
Part day-drinking spot, part food truck scene, part community hangout, this park also puts a big emphasis on live music, often acting as the venue for local indie bands and vocalists along with special events like jazz nights, bluegrass brunches and this month’s HojPodge Festival, a super reasonably priced music fest where pop, soul, and country artists come together. It’s located in the hotter-by-the-minute East Village, a former warehouse district once best known for drugs and crime that was revitalized thanks in part to the completion of the nearby baseball stadium Petco Park in 2004.
Highlights: A craft beer garden, dog park, and S&M Sausage & Meat, a carnivore’s paradise created by local restaurateur Scott Slater. He serves up an array of housemade sausages and meaty spins on classic bar food like venison nachos and a ribeye cheesesteak along with tons of beer, kitschy drinks on tap, and wine in a can. Food trucks rotate daily and might include kosher cannolis one day and cactus tacos the next.
Wackiest Thing You’ll Find: Drinks with names like Crackhead Chai; Ol Kinky Vanilla, and Dirty Girl at coffee shop Messhugah Shack.
Location: San Francisco
Year Opened: 2011
Berkeley-based Envelope Architecture + Design created the concept as a temporary solution for filling a barren lot in the middle of the trendy Hayes Valley hood that had been sitting empty since part of a freeway had been removed in the wake of the 1989 earthquake. “It was more about how can you do something quick and great to activate and revitalize a piece of property that would otherwise lay dormant,” says Clarke Selman, an expediter with Envelope. “We’ve tried to keep the focus on small businesses and be really selective.” There are currently five “permanent” container businesses on the property (though Envelope’s lease with the city is only until 2020) along with mobile pop-up vendors. Proxy also focuses on cultural programming with different film series taking place on its outdoor movie screen, live podcast events, and art installations.
Highlights: Outdoor fitness classes; a Bavarian-style beer garden appropriately named Biergarten; a bike tour company; hi-tech outerwear boutique Aether Apparel; and, currently, Casey’s Pizza, a lauded pizza truck fitted with its own firebrick hearth.
Wackiest Thing You’ll Find: Ice cream created from liquid nitrogen and made by Robyn Sue Fisher, owner of container-based Smitten Ice Cream, who uses her patented one-of-a-kind machine named “Brrr.”
Downtown Container Park
Location: Las Vegas
Year Opened: 2013
Containers: 41 (along with 43 locally manufactured cubes)
Everything’s bigger in Vegas. Despite being located in a city best known for gambling, boozing, and clubbing, the Vegas version of a container park seems to be the most kid-friendly of the bunch, with family movie nights, musical performances that include local school bands, and a treehouse-themed playground featuring a 33-foot slide. But there are plenty of adult-focused special events too including a spring wine walk and an annual summer beer fest dubbed “Open Container” (get it?). Most containers are filled with shops, restaurants and bars.
Highlights: Bin 72, which offers the most wines on tap in Vegas, along with craft beers and a selection of small plates; whiskey cocktail bar Oak & Ivy with 40 American versions of the liquor on offer; and vegan café Simply Pure, in case you want to detox on plant-based fare after a late night rather than indulge your hangover with a three-pound omelette at the buffet.
Wackiest Thing You’ll Find: The Pink Tutu Ballet, a New York-based touring company that’s turned a container into its studio, where the group also offers yoga and Pilates and recently threw something called a Zumba Rave.
Shreebs Coffee (and More)
Location: Los Angeles
Year Opened: 2015
This small-but-mighty container grouping anchored by Shreebs coffee (which began as a mobile coffee caterer before opening its café-in-a container last August) doesn’t have an official name yet, but its adjacent triangle of turf has become the unlikely greenspace that residents of Downtown LA’s up-and-coming Arts District have been longing for. “Everyone in our neighborhood has a dog and have been looking for a place to hang out. It’s constantly evolving because the neighborhood is evolving so quickly,” says Ren Fuller-Wasserman co-owner of Shreebs. “There’s a seamless connection with the community because it’s outdoors. This design has really allowed us to get to know people.”
Highlights: In addition to Shreebs, there’s a boutique selling women’s fashion lines Latin Posh and Brooklyn Born Vintage; a gallery featuring portraits by 20-year-old artist Dane Capo, who suffers from epilepsy and autism; yoga on Saturday mornings; live music throughout the week; artist marketplaces; and blogger meetups.
The Wackiest Thing You’ll Find: A latte made with dark chocolate and smoked chipotle chili.
Location: Long Beach, California
Year Opened: Slated for June 2016
Since Long Beach is home to one of the largest port in the nation (and is actually where many of the other parks around the country source their containers), getting its own container park within city limits makes sense. “I thought ‘How can Long Beach take advantage of its culture?’ And containers seemed to be the way to do it,” explains SteelCraft developer Kimberly Gros. Unlike most other container parks, this one will be smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood called Bixby Knolls. “This neighborhood doesn’t need to be gentrified, but it does need really good food and there’s just nothing in the area,” says Gros. “It’s not the type of place where you’d typically find this type of thing but the neighborhood is so diverse and full of all ages and now neighbors can walk here.”
Highlights: Craft beer maker Smog City Brewery, based 15 miles away in Torrance, will have a container as will local coffee maker Steelhead Coffee. SteelCraft will also boast a ramen shop, brick-oven pizza place, and produce stand, among other vendors. Long Beach’s own whole animal butcher Working Class Kitchen has plans for an artisan deli that will dole out sandwiches like a duck Banh Mi and corned beef on house rye. Thursday nights will feature a live soccer-themed podcast and Gros is currently running a contest for local high school artists to design murals to be displayed on the sides of two of the containers.
Wackiest Thing You’ll Find: A shop called Waffle Love selling nothing but Belgian Liege waffles, a specialty yeast-risen version made with pearl sugar and topped with everything from Nutella to lemon curd.