Mayberry Becomes Hip

The island of Alameda mixes small-town ambience with a bourgeoning art scene.

Alameda is a place where the 25-mph speed limit is strictly enforced. It has good public schools, little crime, and a largely undeveloped beachfront perfect for bird-watching, kiteboarding, or picnicking. Small-town values persist here, and a slower pace of life prevails. But that’s not to say its unhip: A new monthly art walk, the Estuary Art Attack, debuted this summer and is indicative of a growing arts scene attracting an edgier contingent. The perception may be that it is full of old fogies, but the truth is that young families fleeing expensive housing and poor schools have settled it, as have artistes and urbanites who find its homey vibe and idyllic bike-pathed roads appealing.

Alameda Point, former home of the Alameda Naval Air Station, is mostly a ghost town of unused tarmacs and abandoned officers’ housing, but the West End comes to life on the first Sunday of every month when an estimated 10,000 hipsters and thriftsters descend on the legendary Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire (Main St. near Atlantic Ave., Alameda, 510-522-7500, It’s a decade-old massive outdoor assortment of 800-plus quality antiques dealers where the goods — cast-iron pots, bamboo chaise lounges, gumball machines, et cetera — are guaranteed to be at least twenty years old.

Alameda has an urban winery scene going with Rosenblum Cellars and a new consortium of boutique wineries under the Rock Wall Wine Company roof. But the au courant darlings are the distilled products at St. George Spirits (2601 Monarch St., 510-769-1601, Alameda, St. George put itself on the map most recently as the first US makers of absinthe but also turns out stellar eau de vie, grappa, Hangar One vodka, single-malt whiskey, liqueur, and reserve spirits. An eye-popping tour ends with a tasting full of extremely generous pours.

One cool place to hang on Friday and Saturday nights or Sunday evenings is the Lucky Ju Ju (713 Santa Clara Ave., 510-205-9793, Alameda, pinball palace. It’s an arcade jam-packed with dozens of rotating vintage working pinball machines, from old, blinking wooden clunkers to glitzy, flashing fiends of more-modern eras. It’s also an art gallery that doubles as the Pacific Pinball Museum. Kids play all the pinball they want for $5, and the jones costs adults $10. Worth every penny.

If sushi is your thing, there is a secret itsy-bitsy Park Street perch waiting for you: Yume (1428 Park St., Suite B, 510-865-7141, Alameda). This perpetually crowded thirteen-seater is where chefs and diehard sushi lovers from all over come for fresh, unparalleled fish. To say chef Hideki Aomizu and his wife, Yoriko, are persnickety is the understatement of the year. Just order what he says and don’t have more than three in your party.

The Alameda Theatre and Cineplex (2317 Central Ave., Alameda, 510-769-3456, puts the excitement back into going to the movies. An Art Deco movie palace restored to its original splendor after a tawdry past as a roller rink, dance hall, and gymnastics center, the theater is as opulent as it was when it was built in 1932.

Forbidden Island (1304 Lincoln Ave., 510-749-0332, Alameda, worships and celebrates all things tiki, so be prepared for a slightly cheesy but authentic Sixties-era tiki lounge vibe. Most visitors are ready to join the cult after a couple of China Clippers, Hurricanes, or Fog Cutters. The fruity tropical cocktails incorporate fresh-squeezed citrus and local products, so a lot of hometown pride goes into in every libation.

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