Haven’t quite gotten your fill of the sun here in the Bay Area? Head across the Bay to Alameda, where you can get a good dose of Vitamin D while digging the family-friendly vibe that inhabits the island. Known for its splendid Victorian architecture, this little island is proud of its history as home to a former amusement park and naval air base.
How to Get There
Get to Alameda by driving across the Bay Bridge and heading 15 minutes south on 880. Follow exit signs for Alameda. Or take the scenic route via ferry, where the brood can watch in amazement at the Port of Oakland’s massive cargo cranes in action (you’ll need bikes to get around once you arrive at the Harbor Bay Ferry terminal). Alameda is a perfect mix of outdoor fun, quirky finds and yummy eats for a nearby family day trip.
Be A Player
When your little ones are feeling the need for speed, shift gears at Homeroom Racing Café, where they can slot car race on a miniature Grand Prix track. Ace it at an indoor 18-hole miniature golf course complete with whimsical San Francisco’s historical landmarks at Subpar Miniature Golf. They’ve got smaller plastic clubs for the munchkins, plus, three years old and under are free. Pinheads rule at the Pacific Pinball Museum. Seeing the innards of the clear pinball machine, awesome. Realizing that entertainment doesn’t need a monitor, priceless.
Park Street, the main thoroughfare in central Alameda, is a half a mile long and lined with shops, cafes and coffee and tea houses. Check out East End Pizza for off-the-cuff pizza with classic favorites, as well as super-healthy veggie-styles with kale, located in the Alameda Marketplace — a foodie’s paradise. Four blocks down, you’ll all scream for Tucker’s Ice Cream, where they make the cold stuff the old fashion way. From junior scoops to the whopping waffle cone sundaes, select from a bevy of flavors such as salted butter caramel and macapuno (young coconut). Can you say delish? Share some downtime another three blocks down and seek out the secret garden out back at Julie’s Coffee and Tea Garden, which features an amazing selection of teas, hot chocolate, scones and comfort food like grilled cheese, porridge and tea-soaked quinoa.
Did you know the popsicle was first introduced in Alameda? Enjoy a dose of history at the Alameda Museum, where your little ones will giggle at pictures of the bathing suits of past, strongest man contests held at the former Neptune Beach amusement park, and learn about the island’s unique transportation and military history.
Hit the Beach
When you’re ready to get out there, go to the end of Park Street until you hit Robert Crown Memorial State Beach. Unleash the tykes to build architectural works of art in the sand.
Insider Tip: Every Saturday, Off the Grid holds food trucks at the South Shore Shopping Center parking lot across from the beach. Little ones swarm the cupcake truck, and you’ll love the variety of international food concoctions, combined with music and casual outdoor seating.
Alameda is the perfect biking town for kids with paved, flat trails throughout the island. The entire gang can ride the Bay Trail along Crown Memorial Beach towards Crab Cove Nature Center, where the smaller ones can enjoy interactive exhibits and view marine wildlife in aquariums. During low tide, venture onto the mudflats to spot crabs, bat rays and other sea life.
Insider Tip: Wear sturdy sports sandals instead of flip flops, as it can get quite muddy.
If the family is hunkering to complete their own Tour-de-Alameda, circle back towards the east end of town and continue riding over the drawbridge into Bay Farm Island, a smaller residential island. About a 5-mile loop, depending on the route, the flat bike trails take you along the Bay, over wooden bridges and snakes through quiet lagoons. Spot snowy egrets, ground squirrels and other wildlife.
Insider Tip: If you’ve got tots in tow, opt to stay on lagoon bike trails instead of riding through the Harbor Bay Business Park, where there’s less shade and pit stops.
An actual Douglas Skyhawk Navy jet greets visitors at this once bustling Alameda Naval Air Station located on the west side of the island. Hop onboard the U.S.S. Hornet, now a museum, and revel at the sheer size of the carrier, and see what it was like for sailors to live in it for months at a time. Go treasure hunting on the first Sunday of every month at the Alameda Point Antiques Faire, and sift through collections of vintage to modern toys, curiosities and household items among more than 800 vendors.
Insider Tip: The open space is expansive, so take advantage of the free shuttle from the parking lot to the booths. Start at the back and work your way towards the entrance. Be sure to wear sunscreen, a hat, and comfortable walking shoes. Bring layers of clothing because the wind picks up in the afternoon.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Alameda?
Photo credit: Off the Grid courtesy of Alameda Patch