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50+ Things To Do in Alameda, California with Kids

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My family’s travels take us to lots of exotic places, but plenty of the travel we do is close to home. For the last 14+ years, home for me has been Alameda, California, a small town of about 70,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Many Trips with Tykes readers live in or at least visit the Bay Area often, so it’s only fitting that I feature my hometown’s highlights. If you find yourself in or around Alameda, California with kids, there is plenty to keep your family busy. Alameda has some impressive architectural specimens (particularly lots of historic Victorian buildings and homes), an important role in military and aviation history, and an eccentric spirit that can be found in many of our truly unique businesses and attractions. But remember: our cute little island is a well-kept secret and we like it that way, so just don’t spread the word too much!

Welcome to Alameda Sign

Whether you live in or are visiting the area, here are all my personal recommendations for the best activities, attractions, and restaurants in Alameda with kids of all ages.

Alameda, California Basics

View of Crown Beach and Crab Cove Alameda from Air
View of Alameda from takeoff from Oakland Airport. The small channel of water in the middle of the photo is the estuary separating Alameda from Oakland.

Most people – even many from California – haven’t heard of the city of Alameda, so let’s start there first. More have heard of Alameda County, which includes well-known East Bay cities like Oakland and Berkeley, so that should help more of you get oriented.

I like to joke that my hometown is “an island off the coast of Oakland,” and that is technically true. The largest part of Alameda is situated on an island in the bay separated from Oakland by a small shipping channel. There are four bridges and one pair of tunnels that connect Alameda to various points in Oakland.

Park Street Bridge Connecting Alameda and Oakland
Park Street Bridge connecting Alameda to Oakland.

Alameda has had multiple identities in the last two centuries. In the late 1800s, Alameda was a railroad town and the terminus of the first transcontinental railroad. Later that century and into the next, it was a popular summer getaway destination for San Francisco’s wealthier residents, with a beachside amusement park that gave it the name the “Coney Island of the West.”

In the 1930s, the city got a lot of attention when Pam Am’s China Clipper flights across the Pacific took off from the airstrip on the island’s West End. In 1940, the US Navy opened a Naval Air Station around that airstrip, and Alameda became best known as Navy town.

The base closed in 1997, and Alameda has now evolved into a family-friendly Bay Area suburb with a mix of residential areas and businesses. There are two main commercial districts: Park Street (where City Hall is located) and Webster Street (which is the business hub closer to the old base).

Getting to Alameda

Marina in Alameda California on Estuary Overlooking Oakland

Even though Alameda is a bit of a well-kept secret, the city is quite accessible and easily reached. Alameda’s City Hall and San Francisco’s City Hall are just 16 miles apart, so it can be a quick drive from the city as long as Bay Bridge rush hour isn’t a factor.

The Oakland International Airport is just a stone’s throw from Alameda (and in fact, all Alameda is much closer to OAK than most of the city of Oakland). Personally, I can get from my house to Oakland Airport in under 15 minutes – a great perk when your career is travel writing!

Related: Complete Comparison Guide of San Francisco Bay Area Airports

Alameda isn’t directly served by BART (the region’s commuter light rail), but a few stations are not far away from parts of the island. Depending on our destination, we will sometimes drive or ride-share to the West Oakland or Lake Merritt stations. Alameda has the unique offering of ferry service as a public transit alternative, thanks to its island location. There are currently two active ferry terminals on the West End of the main island (Alameda Main Street and the Seaplane Lagoon) as well as a terminal on Bay Farm Island, all operated by San Francisco Bay Ferry.

Related: Transit and Transportation in San Francisco

Top Things to Do in Alameda with Kids

So what is there to do in Alameda? A lot! While we don’t have a ton of internationally known tourist attractions like San Francisco, we do have a few that really deliver and make my little town a destination in its own right. So let’s dive in to the top picks that both travelers and locals should visit.

USS Hornet

USS Hornet Museum in Alameda California

If there is only one thing most travelers to Alameda should do, the USS Hornet is it. The place is teeming with history.

The USS Hornet is an aircraft carrier that played a vital role in the Pacific front during World War II. It is also the ship that recovered the Apollo 11 astronauts after their splashdown landing following the moon mission in 1969. The inside is now filled with museum exhibits about these events, with lots of naval aircraft on display. If you and your kids like attractions like the USS Midway in San Diego, the Hornet will really deliver.

The Hornet does have a lot of tight spaces and places where kids can get lost, so I wouldn’t recommend this for toddlers and preschoolers – particularly those who are runners. But elementary age kids, especially those who are in to ships or planes, will find it fascinating. I recently visited again with my son and his cousin (both age 9 at the time), and the boys had a blast exploring and talking to the many volunteers, many of whom are veterans with important stories to tell.

USS Hornet Alameda Family Visit
Our daughter’s first visit to the USS Hornet many years ago!

(Bonus outing if you happen to visit the Hornet on a Saturday – head just down the road to the Alameda Naval Air Station Museum which has lots more displays about naval history and an impressive model train layout on the third floor. The museum has very limited hours but is a total gem!)

Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach

Crown Beach in Alameda California
Crown Beach was a favorite outing on warm days when our kids were little.

On warm days, families from all over the Bay Area flock to Alameda for one reason: its beach! The beachside Coney Island style amusements may be long gone, but the natural beauty remains. Alameda’s Crown Beach stretches down much of the central main island on the bay overlooking San Francisco. The beach has fine yellow/brown sand and is usually quite clean.

Crown Beach is ideal even for families with young kids because the water is calm and the slope into the water is very gradual. It’s easy to for little ones to wade and splash without getting into danger zones. There’s a protected bike path that parallels the beach, so bring bikes or scooters if you want some extra activity.

Crab Cove Visitor Center & Aquarium

Crab Cove in Alameda at Low Tide
Low tide in the lagoon in front of the Crab Cove Visitor Center.

At one end of Crown Beach is a protected marine area that has a visitor center run by the East Bay Regional Park District. Crab Cove is an inexpensive and easy outing to introduce little ones to the world under the bay. The indoor visitor center has a small aquarium with free regular weekly programming like story time and fish feeding. Outdoors there is a unique ecosystem to explore, especially at low tide.

Pacific Pinball Museum

Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda California
She sure plays a mean pinball…

Alameda is home to a unique and quirky museum on Webster Street devoted entirely to the history of pinball. The Pacific Pinball Museum has a collection of thousands of machines from every era of the game, dating back to the 1940s. Over a hundred of them are in this museum set to free play for the price of admission.

Our family has visited the Pacific Pinball Museum numerous times over the years, starting when our kids were toddlers to today with a teenager. It always is a fun time for everyone in the family.

High Scores Arcade

High Scores Arcade in Alameda CA
Our gamer son’s favorite thing to do in Alameda.

Another spot that your kids are going to want to play all day is at High Scores Arcade. And let’s be honest – their Gen X and Millennial parents are going to want to play all day here too.

High Scores Arcade is run by a local family with a deep devotion to 1980s era gaming who have amassed an impressive collection of classic console games over the years. For a very reasonable admission fee (either for an hour or all day), all the games are set to free play.

The collection is rotating constantly, so chances are you’ll find new gems here each time you visit. I’ve played everything from Tetris to Ms. Pac-Man to Mortal Kombat to Oregon Trail(!) here.

Subpar Miniature Golf

Subpar Miniature Golf in Alameda California
Multigen mini golf at Subpar.

Subpar Miniature Golf is like no other indoor miniature golf course you’ve ever visited. The holes are all custom built, each showcasing a different East Bay landmark in the whimsical design. There’s one hole honoring Berkeley’s Lawrence Livermore Lab (complete with a disco ball and strobing lights), another featuring the famous Old Woman and the Shoe house at the entrance into Children’s Fairyland in Oakland, and yet another that recreates the old roller coaster that Alameda had in its amusement park heyday.

With an arcade and cafe under the same roof, it’s easy to spend several hours here with kids.

(Subpar has an additional location at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco with hole designs featuring San Francisco’s landmarks – also highly recommended and one of our family’s favorite things to do when we make a trip into the city.)

Alameda Theatre & Cineplex

Alameda Theater in Alameda California
Alameda’s historic theater near Park Street.

Alameda is home to an historic Art Deco movie theater dating back to the golden age of theater in 1932. The Alameda Theatre was fully restored about 15 years ago into an 7 screen cineplex, and is now a family-friendly theater destination for watching all the latest releases. The lobby is grand and the original main theater is enormous, with two stories and lots of historical detail preserved.

The theater host special events year round, from a classic movie series to its epic New Year’s Eve celebration.

Jean Sweeney Open Space Park

Jean Sweeney Open Space Park in Alameda California
Some of the play spaces for older kids at Jean Sweeney.

Alameda has so many well-designed local parks and you can’t go wrong visiting any of them. But Jean Sweeney is extra special, both because of its offerings as well as for the amazing story behind how it came to be.

It’s built on property that was originally part of the Alameda Beltline Railroad. When the railroad departed and began considering selling the land, local resident Jean Sweeney scoured historical contracts, only to find that the land could be repurchased by the city at the original purchase price from 1924! The result is that the city got the land at deal and was able to develop it into a very large green space and playground.

The park has a bike path, picnic spaces, sand pit, and multiple play areas appropriate for kids of different ages. My kids have especially enjoyed the zipline (currently under refurbishment), tire swing, and the unique slide built into the hillside that is a bit more of a challenge for elementary age kids than many playgrounds have. It’s definitely become a playground destination for families from neighboring Bay Area cities.

Seasonal Family-Friendly Activities and Events

Some of my family’s favorite things in Alameda are once-a-year special events. The city has a lot of traditions around a number of holidays and some celebrations that only happen on a given day or season each year. So mark your calendar for these offerings as well!

Alameda Restaurant Week (March)

Alameda has so many restaurants that are kid-friendly (see my recommendations below), and Alameda Restaurant Week is a great way to support local businesses and taste some delicious food. This year’s event will be held March 1-10, 2024.

Spring Shindig (April)

This spring celebration hosted by the Alameda Recreation and Parks Department happens around Earth Day each year, replacing the two events the city used to host in spring (the Spring Egg Scramble and the Earth Day Celebration). This year, the shindig will be held April 20, 2024.

Starlight Movies in the Park (May-September)

Another shoutout to the Alameda Recreation and Parks Department, which also hosts multiple outdoor movie nights in summer in the park.

Sand Castle & Sculpture Contest (early June)

Alameda Sand Castle Contest on Crown Beach
The fastest hunk of junk on the sand.

This year marks the 58th anniversary of an awesome kickoff-to-summer tradition – Alameda’s Sand Castle & Sculpture Contest. Young and old gather on Alameda’s Crown Beach to create magnificent sand creations. You’ll see some impressive professional works of art as well as gaggles of kids just having fun with their friends and creating something that inspires them. The event is usually held on a Saturday morning in early June – it’s on June 1 in 2024.

Alameda 4th of July Parade(July 4)

Alameda 4th of July Parade Fire Truck
Epic hometown parade on the 4th.

Alameda’s modern claim-to-fame is its annual July 4th parade, which is truly the city’s most epic event. At 3.3 miles long, the city boasts the longest Independence Day parade route in America. It starts on Park Street, wends down to South Shore Center along Otis, then turns down Grand Street and bends onto Santa Clara before ending on Webster Street.

Participants are always an eclectic mix of what makes the city special. You’ll see just about everything from local politicians in classic cars to Girl Scouts troops riding along on their decorated scooters and sometimes even the Sikh Riders – an all Sikh motorcycle club.

With an extra long parade route, there are a lot of prime viewing spots. Residents who live along the parade route set out folding chairs, tables, and tents the night before and often host large parties for friends and neighbors. We live just a block off the route and never miss it!

Park Street Art & Wine Faire (late July)

Park Street Art and Wine Festival Kids Activities
Kid-friendly activities at Park Street Art & Wine Faire.

Alameda has a grand tradition of weekend summer street festivals, but not all of them have been revived since the closures a few years ago. Thankfully, one of the largest – the Park Street Art & Wine Faire – is alive and well!

While the name may fool you into thinking this is an event more for adults, it really is for the whole family. There are numerous kid-friendly musical acts, food, and carnival games in the mix every year. This year’s festivities are slated for July 27-28, 2024.

Oktoberfest (September – October)

Oktoberfest at Speisekammer in Alameda
Munich comes to California.

In late September and early October, Alameda’s German restaurant Speisekammer hosts an amazing family-friendly Oktoberfest celebration. The event features authentic music, food, and dancing. It’s usually scheduled for three Sundays in late September and early October. We never miss it!

Halloween (October)

Alameda - Halloween Decorations
Trick-or-treating at one of Alameda’s haunted Victorians.

If you don’t live in Alameda, you may not fully be able to understand just how big of a deal Halloween is on the island. Perhaps it’s the density of creepy Victorians and the personality of folks who are drawn to owning them, but Alameda goes ALL out during the month of October. Decorations are truly over the top on so many houses. Local pedicab operators will even take you on a tour of the best ones.

On Halloween night itself, thousands of families from all over the East Bay flock to the island. The safe neighborhoods, flat terrain, and closely-spaced houses make about as ideal of a trick-or-treating locale as you can get.

For the best trick-or-treating and decorations, cruise along Grand Street or where San Antonio and Bay intersect in the Gold Coast. We live close to some of the busy streets and we hand out over 1000 pieces of candy annually – that’s how nuts it can get!

Christmas Tree Lane (December)

Christmas Tree Lane Alameda CA
Christmas Tree Lane’s Jack Skellington house.

Around the holidays, make a beeline for Christmas Tree Lane (otherwise known as Thompson Avenue) – one of the very best holiday attractions in the San Francisco Bay Area. The entire street is decorated with lights, music and activities during the month of December. One of the favorites is always the Nightmare Before Christmas house with the movie’s music synched to the lighting display.

You can drop off your letter to Santa on the street’s mailbox, and the big guy himself even makes an appearance on weekends. Enterprising local kids are usually at the ready to sell you a cup of hot cocoa or a Christmas cookie. Visitors can either park nearby to walk the street or slowly drive the entire street on both sides.

Even More Classes, Drop-In Playtimes & Other Activities Locals Will Love

Taking the ferry between Alameda and San Francisco.

The lists above includes Alameda’s headliner attractions and celebrations, but there are a lot of other things to do on the island, especially for locals who just need an inexpensive and quick outing. I’ve been that Alameda mom of an active toddler desperately searching for something new to do to break up a monotonous routine! So if that is you too, here are some additional classes, play spaces, and drop-in activities that can help local parents keep kids busy.

  • Bowl at Bowlero: Alameda’s bowling alley near South Shore was recently fully renovated and rebranded. Bowlero has regular and blacklight bowling, an arcade, a bar and grill, and billiards.
  • Attend open studio at Twirl: This indoor play space and art studio is currently open on weekends for open studio and playtime. It also offers parents night out, summer camps, and school holiday camps. When my kids were younger, Twirl was one of their favorite places to play on chilly or rainy days.
  • Play at Swings and Wings: An indoor playspace with lots of drop-in play hours on weekdays and weekdays alike. Also hosts date nights, classes, and birthday parties.
  • Pop in for gymnastics fun at Ruby’s Tumbling: Ruby’s offers gymnastics classes for littles, but also offers “Pop N Play” drop-in times if you can’t commit to a regular class.
  • Drop your kid off at a class at The Village Kids Club: Offers classes on a regular or drop-in basis for kids K-5th grade on a variety of subjects from arts & crafts to dance to Mad Libs.
  • Ferry to San Francisco: Got a kid who loves transportation or the water? Take a roundtrip ride aboard the SF Bay Ferry to see the city and Bay Bridge views.
  • Pick up fresh produce at the farmer’s market on Webster Street: Held on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9 am to 1 pm, this local farmer’s market is a lot of fun to explore with kids.
  • Get creative Michael’s at Alameda Landing: Free classes for kids are usually offered on Saturday mornings.
  • Take a dip at Aquatech Swim School: This swim center offers drop-in open recreational swim hours.
  • Shred at City View Skate Park: Take your skateboard or a scooter and get some energy out at this small free outdoor skate park.
Almanac Brewing in Alameda California
Alameda’s Spirits Alley is family friendly with lots of outdoor space and food trucks on weekends.
  • Hit up the food trucks at Faction Brewing: Parents can enjoy a local brew while the kids chow down at this local brewery that hosts food trucks on weekends and several weeknights. Located in Spirits Alley on Alameda Point.
  • Pop in for a pint at Almanac: Also on Alameda Point’s Spirits Alley, this brewery has a large outdoor patio space with cornhole, food trucks most days, and often hosts family-friendly special events.
  • Paint pottery at Color Me Mine: A great place to have your kids make their own gifts for grandparents while exploring their creative side! (Color Me Mine also hosts “Kids Night Out” approximately once a month for kids ages 5-12 and up so parents can get a night out on their own.)
  • Practice your swing with the Neptune Beach Pearl: Located at South Shore Center, little ball players can get in some practice time at the Pearl’s batting cage facility.
  • Hit the local library: Enjoy free story times and sing-a-longs at one of the several locations of the Alameda Free Library.
  • Exchange a book at one of Alameda’s Little Free Libraries: Alameda residents jumped on this bandwagon in a big way, with over 40 little libraries now scattered all over the island.
  • Take your little ones to Wee Play: Located in the Veterans’ Building (Mondays, Wednesdays, & Fridays 10 am-1 pm), this indoor playtime is a very good deal at just $6 a visit.
  • Shop for kid gear, toys, and books on Park Street: Trips With Tykes recommends these Park Street small businesses that cater to families: Toy Safari, Lauren’s Closet, and Books, Inc.
  • Learn a little local history: With older kids, learn all about Alameda’s unique history and architectural traditions at the Alameda Museum (open weekends only).
  • Explore Alameda’s Navy past: Older kids will also appreciate learning about Alameda’s naval air history at the Alameda Naval Air Museum (open Saturdays only). The third floor has a winter train layout that littles will love too!
  • Rent a boat: Bae Boats on the Estuary has electric boats for rent. Definitely a pricier outing to save for a special occasion, but so much fun!
  • See a show at Altarena Playhouse: Not for littles, but if you have older kids and teens interested in theater, check out a show at this local playhouse that punches well above its weight.
  • Watch model airplanes fly at Bill Osborne Model Airplane Field: Most Saturday mornings, local enthusiasts gather here to fly model aircraft.
  • Peruse the Alameda Point Antiques Faire: On the first Sunday of every month, vendors from all over Northern California descend onto Alameda Point for this epic antiques fair/flea market. Just prepare for serious traffic!

Kid-Friendly Alameda Restaurants

Oles Waffle Shop in Alameda CA
Enjoying his usual at Ole’s Waffle Shop – a double cheeseburger!

Last but certainly not least, where can you get a great bite to eat with kids in Alameda?

The vast majority of the restaurants you will find on the island welcome children, so there is no shortage of options. Alameda of course has plenty of chain restaurants that work well for families, from In-N-Out to Applebee’s. But if you are looking for a place with local flavor and atmosphere that has a menu still appealing to kids, here are our local favorites:

  • Ole’s Waffle Shop: Old school diner where the waitresses know your name and order. Long lines for brunch on Saturday and Sunday, so I recommend it for dinner instead! It’s our family’s go-to for Friday night family outings.
  • Speisekammer: German restaurant with a spacious outdoor biergarten. We never miss it during Oktoberfest, but go regularly the rest of the year too because the food is that good.
  • La Penca Azul: Enormous and perennially popular Mexican restaurant in a prime location on Park Street. Food and margaritas are inexpensive and there are lots of menu options for picky eaters. (There’s a smaller location on Bay Farm Island as well.)
  • La Val’s Pizza: A classic beloved local pizza parlor on Bay Farm Island. Lots of seating upstairs for groups.
  • Cinema Grill: Connected to the Alameda Theater, you can either dine in or order your food to be delivered to your seat in the movie theater!
  • Pasta Pelican: Higher end seafood and Italian menu that is still exceptionally kid-friendly. Bonus for amazing water views of the estuary and lights of downtown Oakland at night.
  • Cafe Jolie: Cute brunch spot on Webster Street with outdoor seating.

And for sweets and treats, don’t miss these eateries:

Tuckers Ice Cream Alameda California
  • Tucker’s: Tucker’s has been scooping up ice cream on Park Street since 1941 and still maintains that old school local ice cream parlor vibe.
  • Loard’s: A homegrown Bay Area ice cream brand from the 1950s, with several ice cream parlor locations remaining to carry on the tradition. Alameda’s is located in South Shore Center.
  • Lee’s Donuts: The best donuts on the island and our family’s go-to stop pretty much every weekend. Nothing fancy or gimmicky or meant for your Instagram feed here. Just melt-in-your mouth glaze goodness!
  • Whisk Cake Cafe: Cupcakes to go (in addition to gorgeous custom cake orders), from a local dad who was featured on a Food Network baking competition show.

For more restaurant recommendations, check out this list of POC-owned kid-friendly Alameda restaurants from my friends and neighbors at Beautiful Brown Adventures.

More Bay Area Travel Inspiration

Need more to do and see in the Bay Area, especially in the sometimes overlooked East Bay? Check out these other local travel articles.

Top things to do with kids in Alameda, CA. Best family-friendly activities, events, and restaurants in this East Bay suburb of San Francisco.

And to all my Alameda friends – please share your other favorite kid-friendly activities and finds in the comments. I’m sure I’ve missed some!

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Eric

Tuesday 23rd of January 2018

Older tykes (7 & up) can exhaust themselves while learning to sail at the Alameda Community Sailing Center. Near the USS Hornet. Most camps are a two week commitment, but one I wish I had taken as a kid. We do live on an island off the coast of Oakland and the oceans are rising after all...

Evkero

Tuesday 12th of December 2017

Please stop bringing your children to Rock Wall. Having a dozen children running around has been really disruptive for other patrons. There isn't even a place meant for children to play. Entitled parents are just letting their kids frolic around other people's tables while they are trying to eat. You wouldn't let your kids run among the tables at any other restaurant, would you? Nothing about the venue is "kid-friendly" other than the fact that the staff don't say anything, for fear of losing customers. If you want to bring children, thats fine, but expect them to be behave properly. They can be loud and excited without other customers having to dodge them while carrying food.

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