I believe one could live in San Francisco their entire life and not come close to discovering what the city has to offer, but sometimes the city is simply overwhelming. It is sometimes easy to forget that a simple trip across the San Francisco Bay can offer a dramatic refuge from the chaos of the city. While there are plenty of fantastic cities around the bay to escape, Alameda offers incredible convenience with just enough activities to fill a day.
How To Get Here
San Francisco Ferry: The San Francisco Ferry is by far the most scenic option to get to Alameda and the perfect way to put you in "vacation" mode, even if it's just for a day. The ferry to the Main Street Alameda Terminal departs from the San Francisco Ferry Building, as well as SF Pier 41, which is at Fisherman's Wharf.
There are some drawbacks to taking the ferry. First, the ferry schedule is pretty limited, especially on the weekends with only about one ferry departing every hour. So be sure to check the SF Ferry Schedule to plan your trip. Second, and this is pretty major, there is no longer bus service working the Alameda Main Street Terminal.
This means you'll most likely have to Uber or use a Gig Car Share to get to your next destination. If you're unfamiliar with a Gig Car Share, then read below for more information.
Bus: The most economical and convenient way to get to Alameda from San Francisco is the O bus from the San Francisco Transbay Bus Terminal. It's a nearly direct bus route from San Francisco onto Alameda Island and currently costs $4.50 per trip across the bay.
BART-Bus: Catch the Yellow or Red line to the 12st BART station and board the 51A toward the Fruitvale BART, which goes through Alameda Island. Total cash fare is just a little $7 for one-way.
GIG Car Share: If you're not familiar with Gig Car Share, then it's a car sharing service that offers customers one-way trips and the ability pick-up and drop-off within in a designated "Home Zone," which is almost all of Alameda. People in San Francisco can pick-up a Gig Car Share at 560 Brannon St. and use the onboard GPS to get to Alameda.
A quick hint about using a Gig Car Share, don't use their day rate for Alameda, which is set at $85/day. Drive to your destination and end your booking, more likely than not, the same car will be available when you need to get to your next destination. Anyway, be sure to use my link to get $15 credit and probably zip around Alameda for free during your day trip. Be sure to sign-up well ahead of time rather than standing in front of the car.
GIG Car Share: As you can guess, I can't stress enough how convenient Gig Car Share is for Alameda, assuming you don't have a car. Read above for my info.
Lime Bike: If you're proficient at riding a bike, then Lime Bike is great for a sunny Alameda day. It's a bike share platform and just like Gig Car Share, offers one-way rides and drop-offs pretty much anywhere on Alameda. It's $1 every 30 minutes. Click my link to get $3 in credit. Lime Bike
Things To Do
USS Hornet Museum: The USS Hornet Museum is a National and State Historic Landmark mainly comprising of the historic aircraft carrier, which was used in World War II through the Vietnam War. For Ghost Adventure fans, the USS Hornet was the subject of Season 3, Episode 2. The USS Hornet even has special ghost tours during the month of October. The museum opens at 10am and I would suggest getting there at about that time since you should dedicate 2 hours to the attraction. The admission is $20/adult, but be sure to search for a Groupon deal before going.
Spirits Alley: While the USS Hornet may be home to ghostly spirits, nearby is home to seven distilleries and tasting rooms. There is Hangar 1 Vodka, which is infused with California Fog (whatever that means), St. George Spirits, which distills a variety of spirits, such as vodka, gin, brandy, and more, Faction Brewing, Rock Wall Wine Company, Building 43 Winery, Admiral Maltings, and the brand new Almanac Beer Company.
Shoreline Walk: Start at the Crab Cove Visitor Center. The visitor center is worth visiting just to see the historic photos of the area. Alameda use to be known as the Coney Island of the West and a trip to the visitor center will give you a good idea why that is.
Facing the bay, continue on your left and the path continues for just under 3 miles until hitting the east end of the island. About 1 mile into the route is the launching spot for a lively kitesurfing community. I've seen as many as two dozen kite surfers on a breezy sunny weekend.
Towards the end of the 3-mile walk is the Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary. It's a very small stretch of land but is one of the "few remaining salt marsh habits bordering the Bay." If you're lucky, then you'll catch huge flocks of shorebirds. This spot is easy to over look, so be sure to check out the location on Google Maps.
Victorian House Hunting: My wife and I take daily walks and never get tired of looking at unique Victorian Era homes. Even with homes we've passed by dozens of times, there's always some unique feature that we never noticed before. Our favorite area for "house hunting" is an area called the Gold Coast because those are the grandest Victorians on the island. Even though we only live two blocks away, it's still a dream of ours to be able to buy and live in a Victorian in Alameda's Gold Coast. Check out a great guide by SF Gate for more information on doing a Victorian walk.
Nerd Out at Pacific Pinball Museum & High Score Arcade: Alameda is oddly an old school gamers dream. While both establishments are on opposite ends of the island. It thematically makes sense to include both locations during a day trip. Coming from San Francisco, it makes sense to start at the Pacific Pinball Museum, which is a 503 (c) 3 non-profit organization, and has over 90 playable pinball machines. The entry fee is steep at $20, but is for the entire day and includes in and out privileges.
Across the street from Pacific Pinball Museum is a comic book store, Alameda Sports Cards & Comics. The owner of the store is notoriously unfriendly, which I think is a plus. I've experienced it first hand and the owner is seemingly almost doing an impression of the Comic Book Guy character from the Simpsons. I seriously walked away almost thinking it was an act, but I believe it's genuine. That being said, please don't go in there treating the owner like some sideshow attraction. In fact, my best suggestion is to treat her with kindness. Anyway, Alameda Sports Cards & Comics is a great way to round out your old school gaming experience.
High Scores Arcade focuses on classic 80s arcade games with 45 cabinets and 400 playable games. While not a non-profit organization, their prices start at $6/hour or $12/day. The concept has been so popular that the owner even opened a second location in Hayward, CA.