Alejandra is the managing editor of California.com. She's a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, T…See full bio
Situated in the San Francisco Bay Area, Alameda County is a largely urban region. But the county didn’t start that way; over its history, it progressed from Native American tribal lands, to Mexican ranches, to farms and orchards, and finally, to commercial centers and suburbs. The Alameda County of today is home to several major cities—including Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda—that are rife with bustling restaurants, shops, and cultural attractions.
The largest city and the county seat, Oakland is a major West Coast port city and serves as a trade center for the Bay Area. In fact, its Port of Oakland is the busiest port in Northern California and the fifth busiest in America. While Oakland came to be known as a gritty, industrial city, it has undergone a revitalization in recent years, welcoming hip cocktail bars, chic boutiques, dynamic music venues, and fine-dining establishments—including the East Bay’s only Michelin-starred restaurant: Commis. As a result, Oakland has gained national recognition as a top California travel destination, making National Geographic’s “Best Trips of 2019” and the New York Times’ “45 Places to Go” lists.
Visitors who’ve taken the time to explore this Alameda County metropolis can understand why. Oakland has a venerable and vibrant arts scene, boasting numerous galleries and museums throughout downtown, Chinatown, Old Oakland, and Jack London Square. These districts also feature exciting culinary scenes, with restaurants serving a variety of cuisines—from flavorful soul food, to elevated French dishes, to Filipino comfort fare—in innovative ways. Historically a focal point of the West Coast blues and jazz scenes, Oakland is also home to musicians representing R&B, gospel, funk, punk, heavy metal, rap, and hip-hop. Visitors can often see local musicians and big-name acts perform at venues around town, including the Paramount and Fox Theaters. And for those who want to get out of the concrete jungle, there’s beautiful Lake Merritt, the interactive Chabot Space and Science Center, and the expansive Robert Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve.
Also in Alameda County, the socially liberal city of Berkeley is where visitors can meander through the oldest campus in the University of California system: UC Berkeley. Like Oakland, this city has a number of distinct neighborhoods, and visitors have their pick of attractions, from the Berkeley Marina and Aquatic Park, to the shops lining Telegraph Avenue, to the various breweries dotting its streets. There’s also no shortage of first-rate restaurants, as Berkeley is the chosen residence of such culinary icons as food author Michael Pollan; Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat creator Samin Nosrat; and Chez Panisse chef-owner Alice Waters, who’s considered a leader of the modern farm-to-table movement. North Berkeley in particular is popular among foodies, who flock to the district’s “Gourmet Ghetto” and its concentration of well-known restaurants and food markets.
The island of Alameda, too, has become a destination in its right. Only accessible by water, tunnel, or bridge, Alameda stayed fairly quiet in the 20 years after the Alameda Naval Air Station shuttered. But the city has seen a recent renaissance, so its old-school arcades and World War II–era aircraft carrier museum now sit alongside more contemporary destinations, including craft breweries, urban tasting rooms, tiki bars, and art galleries and studios. Alameda’s food scene is also booming, as more restaurants continue to open, offering fare from as far away as Ethiopia, Germany, India, and Lithuania.
Though Alameda County is home to a wealth of metropolises, it offers more quaint escapes as well. For a truly relaxing yet fun getaway, make a day trip to Livermore Valley Wine Country to savor award-winning vinos in bucolic environs. The pastoral wine region features 55 wineries and an assortment of breweries and taprooms. If wine or beer tasting isn’t your thing, you can also shop for goods at the numerous boutiques in historic downtown Livermore, or stop by for some steals and deals at the San Francisco Premium Outlets—the largest outlet mall in California. After a busy afternoon, enjoy dinner and a show at one of Livermore’s many standout restaurants and cultural arts centers. It’s a great way to end your visit to Alameda County.