If you don't live or work in Alameda, you may think you have no reason to visit Oakland's quaint island neighbor. Well, think again. In the last several years, sunny Alameda has undergone a subtle but significant makeover, starting with the revamping of the mall (now re-rechristened South Shore Center) and including the reopening of the historic Alameda movie theater and the beautification of Park Street. There are also several new businesses worth noting.
In the mall, check out the locally-made emporium Modern Mouse (2228 South Shore Center, 510-814-8830, ModernMouseGifts.com), which takes the "shop local" philosophy seriously, as its entire selection consists of items made by local craftspeople. You'll find such whimsical items as "hella" necklaces and crocheted jewelry.
Up for a little digging? The Clothes Line (1407 1/2 Park St.) is an unassuming consignment shop selling women's clothing and shoes. Although it's an odd, narrow space, the store has a surprisingly tasteful selection (think Bergdorf Goodman, vintage Esprit, and Susana Monaco). The prices are totally reasonable.
A great addition to Park Street, Poppy Red Flowers (1428 Park St., 510-388-2215, PoppyRedAlameda.wordpress.com) is an intoxicatingly fragrant florist shop that also carries gifts for home and body — including terrariums, jewelry, stationary, candles, soaps, and even some lingerie. It's the new go-to place for gifts among Alamedans, following the departure of Happy Trails. Very kid-friendly.
If you're looking for something for a furry friend, See Spot Run (2510 Santa Clara Ave., 510-523-7768, AlamedaSeeSpotRun.com) likely has what you need. Specializing in supplies for dogs and cats (food, toys, leashes, beds, etc.), this new pet store also has bunnies for adoption (on a recent visit, two little guys rescued from a recent bunny-farm raid were available), and offers sitting and grooming services as well. Best of all, the customer service here rules.
On the other side of Alameda, Red Wagon Collectibles (1553 Webster St., Alameda, 510-521-6003) feels perfectly at home on the island that loves all things retro. This antiques shop is just a few months old, but owners Arvi Dorsey and Calvin Hao have already made it feel like your grandmother's house (in the best possible way), with all sorts of odds and ends: crocheted doilies, dainty teacups and saucers, small Persian rugs, old glasses, vintage children's books, copper bowls, and furniture. Its merchandise is neither precious nor junkie — step right in.
Speaking of retro, Alameda's rockabilly scene has never been stronger, and its new favorite watering hole is Swell Bar (1539 Lincoln Ave., 510-522-6263, SwellBarAlameda.wordpress.com). This nautically themed bar (formerly McGrath's) has all the usual accouterments — dartboard, DJs, weekly trivia nights, bingo — but it's the bartenders and the clientele that make this place feel like home.