Alameda County is a county in the East Bay section of the San Francisco Bay Area region of California. It lies between the east side of San Francisco Bay and extends east to the San Joaquin Valley. Alameda County is south of Contra Costa County and extends all the way to the south end of the Bay.
There is no countryside between many of these cities, especially those along the Bay, so they are not truly separate "cities" in their own account, but are listed separately as they have a variety of people and different points of interest.
- 1 Alameda — a city on an island near Oakland
- 2 Albany
- 3 Berkeley — city of about 100,000 people, long home to hippies and a world-class university.
- 4 Castro Valley — in the foothills of the Diablo Range; east of Hayward
- 5 Dublin — city of 50,000 people in the north of Alameda County
- 6 Emeryville
- 7 Fremont — one of the largest cities in Alameda County, Fremont has more than 200,000 people, and also has a history going back more than 200 years
- 8 Hayward — city north of Fremont and south of Oakland near the San Francisco Bay
- 9 Livermore — city of 90,000 people with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and wine country; the element on the periodic table "Livermorium" shares its name.
- 10 Newark — city on the San Francisco Bay near Fremont
- 11 Oakland — largest and main city in Alameda County
- 12 Pleasanton — one of America's wealthiest mid-size cities; has a wide range of restaurants and historic district
- 13 San Leandro — small city nestled between Hayward and Oakland
- 14 Sunol — small community south of Pleasanton, at the east end of Niles Canyon
- 15 Union City — city between Fremont and Hayward
Parks and protected areas
- The East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) manages numerous parklands throughout the East Bay. Some of them are contiguous but, in most cases, each park is separate. They also sometimes go by names like "regional wilderness", but they are still East Bay parks. The East Bay parks include several protected shorelines in the west; Del Valle Regional Park, Sunol Regional Wilderness, and Ohlone Regional Wilderness (the Ohlone Trail) in the south; and Black Diamond Mines Regional Park, Briones Regional Park, Las Trampas Regional Park, Tilden Regional Park, and Anthony Chabot Regional Park in the north. A longer list with more details can be found at the Hiking in the East Bay article. The East Bay Regional Park District includes parks in both Alameda County and Contra Costa County, and therefore not all of the regional parks owned by the EBRPD are in Alameda County. A popular destination in the EBRPD is Ardenwood House, in the Fremont area. It is a historic house with some parkland surrounding it.
National protected areas
In Alameda County, as in its northern neighbor, Contra Costa County, the historical change has been from Native American tribal lands to Spanish, then Mexican ranches; then to farms, ranches, and orchards; then multiple city centers and suburbs. In general, the more urban an area is, the less obvious this progression is, and the more you have to dig to find it.
The crest of the Berkeley Hills form part of the northeastern boundary, and the Oakland Hills continue into the center of the county. Further south, the Pleasanton Ridge separates the bay side urban cities — Hayward, Union City, Fremont, Newark — from the more rural cities of the Tri-Valley — Dublin, Pleasanton, and Livermore. On the bay side, the climate tends to be temperate, the culture diverse, and the urban traffic horrendous. East of the hills and ridges, the climate becomes less temperate (hot in the summer), the culture less diverse, and the rural traffic less horrendous.
Alameda County's climate is moderated by the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. The coastal plain — which is home to Fremont, Hayward, Oakland, and Berkeley — receives fairly consistent temperatures year-round (with the exception of summer heatwaves); inland temperatures soar during summer but only become intolerable during heat waves, and although temperatures get cold on some winter nights, snow occurs only on hills and mountains.
Everywhere in the county receives a wet season and a dry season. The wet season peaks from the months of December to February, while rain is rare to impossible in summer months. Inland regions are the driest year-round.
If you want to get to Alameda County from San Francisco (for example, if your destination is Oakland or Hayward), you can use the BART rail system, which connects many of the Bay Area's most important and most significant cities. The trains go across San Francisco and then through a tunnel underneath the San Francisco Bay to get to Oakland.
Entering Alameda County by car can be easy or difficult, depending on which road you take to get into the county and at which time you take that road. There are some major roads, particularly the I-680 and I-580, that go into and across the county, these roads often have traffic jams due to the great number of commuters that live in the area. To add to the traffic flow problems, Alameda County and the surrounding areas have plenty of natural obstacles, like bodies of water and mountain ranges, that limit the number of roads going into the county.
If you are entering the county from the east, there are quite a few roads that go across the hills into Livermore. The main road that enters the county from the east is I-580, but this is the only major road entering Alameda County from the east and traffic is not always good or very safe; the road has quite a high grade despite being a freeway. The alternatives are all country roads: Tesla Road (known as Coral Hollow Road east of Alameda County), Altamont Pass Road (part of which is called Northfront Road), and Patterson Pass Road.
If you are entering the county from the north, you have three main options: you can either go along the western side of the county, near the San Francisco Bay, via Berkeley and Oakland, go via San Ramon and Dublin (probably along I-680), or take Vasco Road south from the Antioch/Brentwood area to Livermore.
If you are entering the county from the south, the main route is through San Jose to Fremont. A couple freeways go this way: I-680 and I-880. If you want to get into the county from the south any other way, you will have to take difficult roads (although with beautiful, remote scenery) through the mountain ranges near Mount Hamilton and the Ohlone Trail.
Finally, if you want to enter Alameda County from the west, you will need to cross one of the toll bridges over the San Francisco Bay (mostly $7 as of 2022). You can take the Bay Bridge, which goes from San Francisco to Oakland via Yuerba Buena Island; the San Mateo–Hayward Bridge, which goes from San Mateo to Hayward right across the bay's middle section; or the Dumbarton Bridge, which is near the southern end of the bay.
Amtrak serves a major station in Emeryville. There is also the ACE (Altamont Corridor Express), which enters the county from the eastern side.
By public transit
- See also: Bay Area public transit
BART goes throughout the Bay Area region, connecting Alameda County cities to other cities throughout the area, such as San Francisco.
The Interstate routes (freeways) in the county are I-680, I-580, and I-880. If you're traveling north to south on the western side of Alameda County, you can take I-880; if you're traveling north to south in the center of the county (Pleasanton and Dublin) or you're going through the eastern side of Fremont, you can take I-680; finally, if you're traveling across the county from east to west, especially if you're going through the north of it, you can take I-580. However, during weekdays it is best to avoid going northbound on I-680 or I-880 in the late afternoon (the commuters' rush hour) due to severe traffic jams that occur on those highways around that time.
There are some California state routes in Alameda County. These include Routes 262 and 238 on the western side of the county and Route 84, which goes through Fremont and then goes through Niles Canyon, over a pass, and then past Livermore and Pleasanton to intersect with the I-580. State routes in Alameda County can vary from freeways to 2-lane roads, so it is really impossible to generalize about the typical traffic conditions on these roads. However, they are consistent in the sense that they can become jammed due to commuter traffic, similar to the interstate routes.
- While Alameda County has more than its fair share of cities, there are also plenty of country areas in the county, particularly in the southeast. These consist of mountain ranges in most cases, which are separated by canyons. Local drives that showcase the best elements of East Bay scenery include California Route 84 from Fremont to I-680 near Sunol (through Niles Canyon), Mines Road south of Livermore, and Palomares Road from Route 84 to Interstate Route 580.
- The Ohlone Wilderness Trail, for adventurous explorers, is a nearly 30-mile hiking trail through the remote countryside south of Pleasanton and Livermore. A permit is necessary if you want to hike the trail, and you must sign in at the entrance to the Ohlone Wilderness. Fortunately, though, getting to the trail (as long as you have a permit) is not a hard business — drive along Mines Road south of Livermore, continue onto Del Valle Road and follow the road until you reach a kiosk where you have to pay. From there continue along Del Valle Road until it ends at a T-junction on the western side of the Arroyo Del Valle Creek, and there should be parking. Then you just need to hike up to the start of the Ohlone Trail and sign in at the beginning of the trail.
- 1 Alameda County Fair: 22–31 October 2021. Located in Pleasanton, in addition to carnival rides, concerts, fireworks, sports, etc. this large local fair has one of the longest horse-racing tracks in the country. To get the county fair you need to take the Bernal Avenue exit off I-680 (eastbound), and soon you will reach the intersection with Valley Avenue. Turn left on Valley Avenue and, after a short distance, you should reach the entrance to the fair. $8-$12; ticket packages are also available; general parking is $10 or $20 for VIP parking. (date needs updating)
Since Alameda County is one of America's most racially diverse regions, almost any kind of cuisine can be found here. This is known for being true in Oakland, but is also true in some of the smaller cities. Italian, Mexican, and Indian-cuisine restaurants are particularly common, along with of course American cuisine in its various styles and forms. Cities with some kind of central/downtown area will usually be the ones with more interesting restaurants, and the bigger the downtown districts are and the more diverse they are, the more varied the restaurant cuisines will be.
Like much of the Bay Area, non-alcoholic drinks are popular, but in most restaurants there will be plenty of alcoholic drinks, especially wines, on the menu. There are plenty of wineries on the eastern side of the county, and by driving along Livermore's Tesla and Greenville Roads you can go to several wineries in one day and drink at each one. However, don't drink and drive — this is not only dangerous to you, but if a crash occurs, it can disrupt the lives of others as well.
There are several highway interchanges that are fairly difficult to navigate, and are therefore a hotspot for accidents, so be careful when driving through them. These include:
- I-80/I-580/I-880 in Oakland, known colloquially as "The Maze"
- I-880/I-238/Washington Ave in San Leandro
Safety depends largely on where you are. Upscale neighborhoods and smaller cities see very little crime, but in the inner-city parts of the Oakland—Hayward area, crime rates are higher. Therefore, it is best to avoid exploring the areas from Hayward north to Oakland during the night.
If you are in the countryside, the most dangerous forms of wildlife are rattlesnakes (in summer) and mountain lions. To lower the risk of encountering a mountain lion without warning, hike in grassy areas, and to lower the risk of encountering rattlesnakes, do not hike in summer, and if you do, watch where you are hiking.
- 1 Contra Costa County — Alameda County's northern neighbor is a primarily residential county that offers a vast array of food, shopping, and lodging options for Bay Area visitors. The landscape is dominated by Mount Diablo, a peak that provides excellent hiking opportunities and, on clear days, summit views that stretch for well over 100 miles in all directions. Other attractions include the John Muir Historic Site in Martinez, the estate of Nobel winning playwright Eugene O'Neill in Danville, and a WWII shipyard, now a national historic site, in Richmond. Also, the Contra Costa County city of Concord is the birthplace of the famous jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, known for his recording of "Take Five".
- 2 San Joaquin County — San Joaquin County lies to the east of Alameda County on the eastern edge of the California Delta, an estuary formed by the confluence of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers. Nicknamed "California's Holland" due to the extensive levee system, the area is an interesting place to explore by car or boat. Stockton is the county's largest city and is notable for being the world's most inland natural seaport.
- 3 Stanislaus County — While still primarily an agricultural county known for its almond trees, parts of Alameda County's southeastern neighbor have been becoming a bedroom community for people trying to escape the high housing costs of the Bay Area. Travelers will find plenty of amenities, although most only see Stanislaus County while passing through on their way elsewhere.
- 4 Santa Clara County — Alameda County's southern neighbor is home to Silicon Valley, headquarters to hundreds of tech companies including giants like Apple, Intel and Hewlett Packard. Visitors will appreciate the massive array of restaurants, museums, and cultural opportunities offered by the huge city of San Jose, while at the other end of the spectrum the tiny town of Gilroy is famous for garlic, with its annual festival attracting over 100,000 garlic lovers.
- 5 San Mateo County — Located across the Bay to the west of Alameda County, San Mateo County has a split personality. Its eastern half is a heavily populated urban area, home to Silicon Valley companies, San Francisco International Airport, and all of the hotels, restaurants, malls, and other amenities needed to support a bustling population. The western half is completely different, offering an amazing escape for those looking to hike among redwoods, or who want to see seabirds, seals and whales while enjoying a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, or for couples hoping for a romantic getaway in a quiet B&B.
- 6 San Francisco — The heart of the Bay Area, this city is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, with such famous attractions as Pier 39, the Golden Gate Bridge, and cable cars. It is both a county and a city, but is generally referred to as a city.
- 7 Marin County — Visitors to Alameda County's neighbor to the northwest can see migrating gray whales while strolling the wind-swept beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore, take in the views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands, or soak in the majesty of the redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument. The county's tiny towns are full of character, and include the artistic enclave of Sausalito, as well as Bolinas, whose reclusive residents are notorious for removing any road sign that points the way into their town.