Alameda, California: A Guide for New Residents and Visitors

Alameda, California, is an island community, situated on San Francisco Bay just across the estuary from Oakland. Many people who live in the Bay Area aren’t aware of its existence – or haven’t until recently. Previously the best-kept secret on the housing market, the Island City’s charm and miles of shoreline have made it an increasingly popular destination for visitors and new residents alike.

As an island, Alameda is reachable through Oakland via the Webster/Posey tubes to the west, the Park Street Bridge, the Fruitvale Bridge, the High Street Bridge to the center-east, and Doolittle Drive from the east/Oakland Airport direction. However you get there, do check out Mapquest.com or some similar navigational tool. Alameda is easy to find once you know where you’re going. Until then, it’s easy to miss. Consider taking the Alameda/Oakland Ferry from San Francisco, and walking and taking the AC Transit 50, 51, and 63 buses around the Island. (For ferry and bus schedules, visit www.transitinfo.org.)

Once you arrive, visitors and potential residents alike will want to check out the Island’s highlights. Starting in the West End, a visit to the USS Hornet Museum is a must. This WW II aircraft carrier offers an in-depth look into the US involvement in World War II, as well as the Hornet’s other duties, which included picking up early astronauts after they splashed down from a mission. See uss-hornet.org for more information.

Moving east, head down Webster Street and head towards the beach. For a relatively small island, Alameda has miles of beaches with wonderful Bay views. Great weather makes for wonderful strolls along the shore nearly any time of year. Bird-watchers will love the variety of waterfowl easily seen with the naked eye, including pelicans, cormorants, pipers, mallards, and coots. A visit to Crab Cove visitors’ center is a great side trip, and a must if you have small children. (See www.ebparks.org/parks/crab.htm for more information.) Windsurfers particularly love the area around Crab Cove for its ideal conditions.

Shopping is also becoming a major reason to come to Alameda. Webster Street (in the West) and Park Street (to the East) are both main street-like venues, and both are just completing major renovations. The primary shopping center, called South Shore until recently, rests adjacent to the beach and is also undergoing a major expansion. Look for the boutique shops on both Webster Street (Urban Forest, for example) and Park Street (Dog Bone Alley being a favorite), as well as higher-end shops at South Shore, such as Trader Joe’s. But don’t stop there. True shopaholics will want to visit the various “stations” around Alameda, former trolley stops that are now local shopping areas. Whether you find Gaslight Emporium’s homemade candies and holiday delights on Lincoln Avenue or the clock repair shop on Encinal, each station offers unique stores just a bit off the beaten path. See www.southshorecenter.com and www.shopparkstreet.com for more information.

The Island City may seem so charming that you want to stay. Rents have been soft in Alameda for some time, but you might still expect to pay around $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, and approximately $1,500 for a two-bedroom apartment. Those seeking to buy can expect smaller condominiums to be sold in the high $300,000s/lower $400,000s, with larger and more luxurious condos and town houses around $500,000. Homes rarely sell for under $600,000.

There’s also a major east/west divide (and many political divides) any newcomer should know about. For much of the 20th century, the western end of the Island was the Alameda Naval Air Station, which was closed in the mid-1980s. When the Navy left, the west end was a bleak, deserted area, better known for bars that served the military than any real charm. That has changed, and is still changing. The area continues to undergo redevelopment, and new homes in the west end are selling for just under $1 million. Existing homes in the area are appreciating rapidly. However, the east end’s real estate values are still, generally, higher, with Bay Farm (a separate island, but part of the City of Alameda) residences garnering the most money. Tension still remains as to whether West End schools get less money and attention than East End schools, whether there is more crime in the West End vs. East End, etc. It’s a topic you don’t want to touch on unless you’re willing to hear a long, long diatribe. To this day, it remains a touchy subject.

In fact, there are a number of subjects you may just want to avoid bringing up with natives if you would like a pleasant visit. Among those currently: The multiplex theater currently being planned (with the historic Alameda theater being incorporated into the new structure); a proposed new Target store and parking garages at South Shore; and Measure A, a local measure passed more than three decades ago that limits most new housing to nothing more dense than duplexes. It shouldn’t scare you away from moving here, but merely be forewarned that you’ll want to really learn more about these topics (and who is on each side) before you bring them up in polite company.

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