Discover the nearly fog-free suburb of Fremont on the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay.

Where To Go This Weekend: The East Bay, CA
Toast, talk repeat: Happy hours at The Vine's outdoor patio. (All photos by David Fenton.)

At this point, San Francisco’s East Bay is on most every traveler’s radar—but Oakland tends to dominate the spotlight. This month, we turned our attention instead to Fremont, a little-known enclave 35 miles southeast of San Francisco, full of antique stores, a silver-screen legacy, and the most kid-friendly rail ride in the Bay. 

Getting there is easy: From I-880 south, exit at Alvarado-Niles Rd. and continue east 6 miles to the town plaza. Plan on at least a long afternoon—and bring your own bike for easy exploring. Here, we detail the Niles District’s must-do’s.

Enjoy a ride with all the bells and whistles

In 1869, America’s first transcontinental railroad rumbled through the narrows of Niles Canyon, carrying passengers and freight from the distant eastern seaboard to San Francisco Bay. Now the heritage Niles Canyon Railway chugs 13 miles along this original canyon route, over truss bridges and past hillsides speckled with spring wildflowers. Train geeks swoon over vintage steam and diesel engines from across the West, while kids get a kick out of ticket-punching conductors, all local volunteers. For more locomotive lore, the Niles Depot Museum houses early telegraph machines, semaphore signals, even an N-scale model railroad that captures the neighborhood in miniature.

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Boarding time at the Niles Canyon Railway.

Take home a classic

Impulse buys are half the fun of strolling Fremont’s Niles District, which boasts 17 antiques and collectibles stores within four blocks. Be sure to stop at Tyme for Tea & Co. (37501 Niles Blvd.), a combination antiques shop and tearoom. Borrow a fancy hat and settle in for scones and sandwiches, served Mad Hatter–style on mismatched bone china.


Tyme for Tea sets out the good china.

Bike to the bay

The paved Alameda Creek Regional Trail runs 12 carless miles to the tidal marshes of Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge. Cyclists can spot egrets and jackrabbits. Near the bay, the breeze picks up, carrying the cries of migrating shorebirds. Look for tiny red-necked phalaropes foraging for brine shrimp, and American white pelicans flying in tight formation. From the water’s edge, the Bayview Trail loop continues 3.5 miles through the rolling hills of Coyote Creek Regional Park, home to Ohlone shell mounds and a wooden boardwalk that zigzags through the cattails.

Soak up Hollywood north

Tinseltown was just a twinkle in 1912, the year cowboy movie star “Broncho Billy” Anderson arrived in Niles. Soon his silent-film crew was cranking out two movies a week, mostly westerns shot in scenic Niles Canyon. “They made over 350 films in four years,” marvels David Kiehn, historian at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. Photos show a young Charlie Chaplin, who made five films in town. Hand-crank a 100-year-old movie camera or peek into the Edison Theatre’s original projection booth, lined with tin as a precaution against highly flammable nitrate film. At Saturday screenings, Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, and others flicker to life in the century-old theater, spurred on by live piano accompaniment.

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