Alameda’s the coolest!
Reader Sue Trowbridge let us know that Alameda earned an important distinction this week: The Isle of Style was recognized by Travel + Leisure magazine as one of America’s “Coolest Suburbs Worth a Visit.”
The magazine’s writers gave Alameda props for our Victorians, Bay Bridge views and slow pace, plus our “dozens of niche restaurants and shops” and the beautifully restored Alameda Theatre. And they recommended stops at the Pacific Pinball Museum on Webster Street and the Forbidden Island tiki bar.
“They travel to a lot of places and they thought this was worthy,” magazine spokesperson Rachael Chappa said of the writers’ inclusion of Alameda on the list.
Alameda has a history of, well, preserving history, along with small, local businesses. It’s the home of popsicles and peanut butter, Neptune Beach and the last spike in the Transcontinental Railroad.
Once a prime vacation spot for wealthy San Franciscans, the Island more recently earned the tagline, “where hipsters go to breed.”
“It’s a town that doesn’t try too hard to be trendy. In fact, it’s a town with a lot of genuine affection for the past, without being stuck in the past,” said Michael Johnson, who owns Blue Rectangle, a used book, music and vintage clothing shop on Park.
Alameda’s retro allure has been a draw for child-bearing city hispters and shopaholic suburbanites alike, who crowd Park Street’s bistros and boutiques and troll Webster Street for its edgier selection of records, clothes and comic books.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how many people walk by every day and say, ‘This place (Alameda) is so cute,'” said Barbara Mooney, who owns Daisy’s on Park.
Mooney said she has customers who come from the suburban shopping mecca of Walnut Creek to peruse the selection at the local shops. “They all say the same thing – ‘We have every big store you can want, but we don’t have anything that’s local,'” she said.
Forbidden Island’s Michael Thanos said he liked Alameda’s retro feel and its Island locale, and after looking all over the Bay Area for a spot, he decided he wanted to be the first person to plant a tiki bar here. He likes the city’s nautical history (the Travel + Leisure folks loved the bar’s China Clipper), and the bar has become a destination for transplants from San Francisco and other cities. (The bar also won props here.)
Alameda’s friendly vibe is what drew Pacific Pinball Museum’s Michael Schiess 25 years ago, along with its old cars and buildings. He created the museum here because he wanted to have it close to home.
“Alameda just seemed like no man’s land. I ended up calling it ‘Mayberry on the Bay,'” Schiess said. Still, the Island offers easy access to San Francisco and other places, he said.
City and business leaders have made some efforts toward making Alameda the capitol of cool that it is today, though they recognize that cool isn’t something you can engineer.
“This is definitely the place that all the cool people in San Francisco come to,” Thanos said.