Spreading across 1,150 acres west of the Alameda Ferry Terminal, Alameda Point occupies what was once Naval Air Station Alameda. Commissioned in 1940, the Navy base operated until 1997, and the City of Alameda purchased the land in 2006. It's been in development limbo ever since. Driving through the streets, there's an uneasy stillness to the boarded-up windows and weeds reclaiming the runways, interspersed among the still-occupied cookie-cutter military housing. But there are sparks of life in this unusual neighborhood that are well worth pursuing.
One of the oldest and most popular businesses in Alameda Point is St. George Spirits (2601 Monarch St., 510-769-1601, StGeorgeSpirits.com). Created in 1982, the company moved into Hangar 21 in 2004. St. George Spirits began its distilling career creating eau de vie, fruit brandies, inspired by California's prevalence of produce. Owner and distiller Jörg Rupf then branched off into whiskey, vodka, tequila, and liqueurs. In the bottles and at the tasting room, experimentation is encouraged. The decor and knowledgeable staff are a blend of hipster and Jack Skellington with a touch of steam-punk. Their passion is as invigorating as their pours, which are available in the classy tasting room beside the copper stills. The whiskeys are clean but stiff, the fruit-infused vodka — especially the crisp Hangar One Buddha's Hand — is a welcome pardon from $9 party brands, and the absinthe has a strong herbal kick with a smooth louche after just a touch of ice or water.
Compared to St. George Spirits, Rock Wall Wine Company (2301 Monarch St. Ste. 300, 510-522-5700, www.rockwallwines.com) is the new kid on the block. Founded in 2008, the organization is a collection of eight urban wineries that use grapes from across California and produce their wines in a hangar full of half-lit, moody hallways. A new tasting room, a transparent dome events center, and a catering kitchen will complete construction next door within a few months. What won't change are the rotating lineups of wines, along with special surprises, such as a recent barrel tasting of Ehrenberg Cellars' hearty but smooth 2009 zinfandel that promises only to get better with age.
With all of the progress throughout Alameda Point, there's still a respect for the past. Two naval sites serve as reminders for the historical and tactical importance of the base during World War II. The Alameda Naval Air Museum (2151 Ferry Point Rd., 510-522-4262, AlamedaNavalAirMuseum.org) hosts a collection of models, artifacts, and historical photos and documents. It should whet your appetite for the real thing, the USS Hornet (707 W Hornet Ave., 510-521-8448, USS-Hornet.org). The aircraft carrier saw action in World War II and Vietnam, and acted as the recovery ship for NASA's Apollo 11 and 12. Now a museum, it boasts an impressive collection of jet fighters, helicopters, and exhibits.
If war is too heavy for you, Alameda Point celebrates another form of history as well. Every first Sunday of the month, the Alameda Point Antiques Faire (2900 Navy Way, 510-522-7500, AlamedaPointAntiquesFaire.com) takes over a large section of the runways looking across the bay to San Francisco. More than eight hundred sellers offer everything you could ever want — and about 1,489 things you never knew you needed. Of course, there is furniture, clothes, and jewelry, but digging deeper unearths a bevy of odd, exciting items such as typewriter key necklaces, 1984 Super Bowl commemorative Coke bottles, or a 1.5-liter martini shaker. Much like Alameda Point itself, the fun lies in aimlessly poking around and seeing what treasures you come across.