Alameda: Island Livin’ in SF Bay

There’s a long list of family fun to be found in this Oakland Estuary town nestled between two bustling metropolises—from views to brews, bikes to boats, and real-deal sandy beaches.

By Maria De La O


Oft overlooked by Bay Area tourists, Alameda Island is a true island on the Oakland Estuary that’s full of family action. Across the Bay eastward from San Francisco, you’ll get million-dollar views of the City, six-by-six miles of flat, bikeable road, breweries, distilleries, and wineries aplenty, and real-deal, warm, sandy beaches. 

The island is connected to Oakland by four bridges: the Park Street Bridge, Fruitvale Bridge, High Street Bridge, and Bay Farm Island Bridge. The Posey and Webster Street tubes also connect Oakland to Alameda Island. But we like to take the ferry. If you take the boat from San Francisco, you can be in Alameda in about 20 minutes, and you can spend that time eating the snacks and drinking the booze that’s conveniently for sale on board. The ferry has even been known to throw a party on the last Friday of the month with live music (during commuting hours). You never know.

Jack London used to hang on the Island, as did a young Jim Morrison when his dad was stationed at the Alameda Naval Air Station. If that wasn’t enough to lure your family in, inform your kids that this is where the popsicle was invented! The story goes that Frank “Pop” Epperson first sold his Epperson Ice Pop—“Pop’s Sicle”—in 1923 at Alameda’s Neptune Beach amusement park. 


Alameda gems

U.S.S. HornetThe U.S.S. Hornet was the launchpad for a daring World War II attack on Japan, and later was on-hand to pick up astronauts and the capsule from the Apollo 11 moonwalk mission. With such a long and storied history, it’s no wonder the ship is home to ghosts. (In non-Covid times, you can sleep overnight and see for yourself!) For more history on the importance of Alameda Island as a military base, head to the Alameda Naval Air Museum.

Playland.  The kiddos are sure to enjoy the Pacific Pinball Museum, High Scores Arcade, Bowlero bowling alley, and Alameda Cards and Comics

The other painted ladies. The island contains many Victorian homes built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, especially on Grand Street and the Leonardville neighborhood. Another place worth scouting: a house 20 feet high, 54 feet long, and 10 feet wide. The house, known locally as the Spite House because Charles Froling built it after the city took over most of his land, still stands.

Adult bevvies.  Spirits Alley is an eclectic cluster of artisan wineries, distilleries, and breweries on the former Alameda Naval Air Station. Among them, St. George Spirits specializes in gin, vodka, and whiskey and was the first American company to release absinthe after the U.S. ban was lifted in 2007; Hangar 1 Distillery features premium vodka. As for urban vineyards, check out Urban Legend Cellars, Dashe Cellars, and Rock Wall Wine Company. And for some of the best suds in the Bay, check out Faction Brewing, Alameda Island Brewing Company, and Almanac Beer Company. If you can, also stop on by Forbidden Island, Alameda’s famous tiki bar. (Sorry, strictly 21-and-up here.)

By the shore.  Don’t miss Crown Memorial State Beach (a.k.a Alameda Beach), a nice sandy beach with a long, shallow, and calm shoreline perfect for little swimmers. Also check out Shoreline Park, which wraps around the outer portion of Bay Farm Island, next to the main island, with perfect views of the San Francisco skyline.

Cruise the “Bae.”  A new pandemic-era company, Bae Boats is set up in Alameda’s Grand Marina. Their small fleet of three electric boats will be sure to entice parents and kids alike, and are easy to operate – anyone can drive (well, maybe not anyone…)!

Row, row, row your boat.  Mike’s Paddle will gear you up with a stand-up paddleboard (SUP), give you or your kids a lesson, or, in a quirky twist all their own, will lead you in paddleboard yoga! Yep, it’s yoga, on a board, in the Bay. Namaste—all day! It’s got to be great for your balance, right? If sailing’s more your jam, check out SF Sailing Adventures or Club Nautique, where you can charter a sailboat or powerboat, or brush up on your skippering with lessons. 

Bike, bike, bike your bike.  With nary a hill on the island, cycling is a great way for kids of any age to get around. Bring your own!

Collect ’em all!  If you happen to visit on the first Sunday of the month, you might want to stop at the Alameda Point Antiques Faire, billed as the largest antique show in Northern California. More than 800 vendors and nothing less than 20 years old! (That makes me an antique twice over!) If you miss the “faire,” you can still get your antiquing on with Lynn’s of Alameda, which has been a fixture on the island since 1963. Pro tip: Leave the kids outside. Lynn’s is pretty high-end!

Do it for the ’gram.  Reward your kids for standing outside while you antiqued by hitting (pun intended) the Willie Stargell Baseball Monument. Dedicated to native son and MLB All-Star Willie Stargell, it’s… well, a giant baseball.

Look out! The “Mif 9 Par 3” (whatever that means) course at Corica Park Golf Course is billed as perfect for families and kids, and it’s been named the “Best Par-3 Course in America” by Golf.com. Yep, right here on little Alameda Island.

 Maria De La O

ROAM Executive Editor   

Magazine editor. Documentary filmmaker. Copy expert. Mother. Traveler. Maria brings it all to the pages of ROAM.  

June 2021

© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved

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