Oakland and Alameda
The view across the Bay from San Francisco includes both Oakland and Alameda. Oakland is the biggest city in the East Bay. Though Oakland’s reputation hasn’t always been perfect (and visitors should probably stay in the popular tourist areas), today a great deal of downtown urban renewal has made it a visitor-friendly place with plenty of attractions, accommodations, and good food.
Long ago, Alameda grew up around its Naval base, providing a residential community for sailors, their families, and support businesses. The base closed in the 1990s, but the quiet, pleasant community remains.
The truth is, if you can fly into and out of the Oakland International Airport (www.flyoakland.com) rather than SFO, you should do so. As one of the satellite airports, it sees less traffic than San Francisco, and it’s easier to get into and out of with shorter security lines.
Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART (www.bart.gov) is a good means of public transportation for visitors to Oakland. It can take you up to Berkeley, across the Bay into San Francisco or down onto the Peninsula, and all over the East Bay. BART can be a little bit intimidating for lone females after dark, but it’s reasonably safe these days.
Bus service in Oakland and Alameda is run by AC Transit (www.actransit.org, adults $1.75, children/seniors $0.85, Transbay adults $3.50, children/seniors $1.70). Check the website for route maps and schedules for local East Bay bus service.
The major freeways surrounding Oakland and Alameda are, to put it politely, a mess. Try to avoid driving I-880, I-580, or I-680 during either the morning or evening rush hour periods (8 a.m.–10 a.m. and 4–7 p.m.). And if you should find yourself on the interchange referred to on local traffic reports as the MacArthur Maze… er, good luck. Don’t feel bad if you get lost and need to get off a freeway and circle back; it happens. No lane instructions are listed here for the Maze because they’d probably be wrong by the time you read this.
Getting out to Alameda can be a bit less than straightforward, as it’s not totally obvious that the city of Alameda sits out on an island in the Bay. You’ll need to take one of the bridges or the “tube” accessible from I-880 to get onto the island. Find a good map or get directions in advance to avoid getting lost in what can be a confusing area for newcomers.
Parking in Oakland and Alameda is easier than in San Francisco, most of the time. Street parking can be extremely difficult to come by; it’s best to follow the signs to the parking garages surrounding Jack London Square and other major attractions and areas.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition