Alameda is an island city that is adjacent to Oakland, but has less of a city feel and more of a large town vibe going on. Historically, it used to be a naval base, but now it’s a thriving community that has plenty to do and notable places to eat. It has an easily walkable downtown core and a beach that boasts panoramic views of the Bay and the San Francisco skyline. It serves as the ideal getaway in the East Bay, when you want to slow down and embrace the local laid-back pace of the island. Here are seven noteworthy things to do in Alameda.
Getting to Alameda
BART doesn’t go directly to Alameda, but you can take the BART to Oakland and then take a ride share or a bus to the island. There is also the San Francisco Bay Ferry that you can take from the Ferry Building or Pier 41, which drops you off on Main Street in Alameda. From there you can take a ride share to anywhere on the island. If you’re driving to Alameda, it’s about a 30-minute drive over the Bay Bridge, depending on traffic.
2nd Friday Art Walk
Running for a decade in various guises, this art walk features art galleries and business through downtown Alameda and Jingletown in neighboring Oakland, every second Friday of the month. The owners of Studio 23, a funky local art studio are the head organizers of the walk, and their gallery is always guaranteed to have something going on these Friday nights as well as other nights as well. Check the official website for a line-up of participants and hours of operation. Admission is free, but donations are recommended.
Crown Memorial State Beach
One of the best things about Alameda is that its mild temperatures are ideal for a beach day. This state park boast views of San Francisco and the Bay on a clear day. With its coarse sand, Crown Beach is by no means a perfect beach, but is desirable with a low tide and family-friendly atmosphere. There is a whole stretch of the beach that is dedicated to kite surfers and it’s always fun to watch them do their thing. Get there early in the morning if you want to stake out prime real estate, especially on warm weekend days. There are public restrooms and picnic tables available as well. Parking costs $5, but if you come early enough you can always find nearby (free) street parking.
USS Hornet Museum
Tour this naval aircraft carrier-turned-museum to learn more about the significance of the island as a naval base. There are two rotating galleries on board, as well as permanent exhibits featuring artifacts from life on the ship to historic aircraft located on the flight decks. Take a tour of the restored spaces where you can find living and working quarters reflecting their original condition. Most of the ship is self-guided with an audio tour and map, but there are certain areas like the Engine Room, that provide a guided tour depending on availability. A visit usually takes 2-3 hours on average. Open daily, except Tuesdays from 10-5 p.m., which is when a 6-hour behind-the-scenes VIP tour is given of the ship.
Pacific Pinball Museum
This space offers a chronological selection of pinball machines, from antique 1940s-50s games you can try your luck at to modern-day games with all the bells and whistles. Don’t let the small interior fool you, since the museum consists of two larger rooms and three smaller ones filled with pinball machines (a total of 90+ playable games). Play your favorite oldies on one of the coin less jukeboxes for a background soundtrack. They also have a separate party room, as well as a kids room in the back with coloring books and Legos. Pay $20 for all-day play, including re-entry which allows you to grab a bite around Webster Avenue. Every Tuesday and Thursday it’s 2 for $20.
This main thoroughfare has plenty of shops, restaurants and cafes to spend half a day meandering though. Some shops worth stopping by are Rocket Reuse for vintage clothes and used books/CDs, Therapy for gifts and novelty items, Toy Safari for the kids in your life, Books Inc. for a well-curated collection of books, and Modern Mouse for a stationary store that supports local artists. You can usually find parking in the nearby neighborhoods, where there are plenty of beautiful historic homes to admire.
Alameda Theater & Cineplex
This isn’t your typical movie theater, since it’s one of the last movie palaces built in the San Francisco Bay Area. Constructed in 1932, this art deco theater shows blockbuster films, including a select few in the beautifully restored main theater. The historical interior is combined with modern-day theater comforts (no hard theater seating). Come on Discount Tuesday for half-priced tickets. If you want to grab a bite to eat, there’s in-theater dining with a full menu available with finger food options like pizza, chicken tenders and sliders. There is also an extensive drink menu that includes beer, wine and cocktails. Check out the official website for special events like summer and classic movie series.
High Scores Arcade
This “interactive arcade museum,” is filled with classic video games from the 80s and 90s like Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Frogger. There are 45 game cabinets that feature over 400 games. This is a great place to spend a nostalgia-filled afternoon, where you can pay $12 for unlimited games for the day, while listening to 70s and 80s hits playing on the jukebox. If you just want to sample the games, you can pay $6/per hour to play. Make sure to check out the scoreboard to see the scores you need to beat to get a coveted spot. There’s only street parking available, including metered parking that’s free after 6 p.m.
Alameda Point Antiques Fair
The largest antique show in Northern California, this fair features over 800 booths. Admission ranges from $5-$15 dollars, depending on the time you go (the earlier you go the more it costs, but the better selection you’ll have). The benefit of going later in the day is that vendors will often give you an end-of-the-day discount. You can find anything including vintage home decor, art, jewelry, and collectables. Food trucks and vendors give you plenty of options to stay well-fed and hydrated. Bring cash since most of the vendors don’t accept credit cards. Be prepared to spend at least a few hours browsing the goods. There’s free parking and a shuttle to the fair. Open every first Sunday of the month.