Fremont — named after American military officer and politician John C. Fremont, who mapped a path for American settlers to southeastern San Francisco — does not at first glance appear to be a tourist destination. However, a closer look reveals a city rich in California history, with delectable food from around the globe and a connection to nature that’s perfect for a weekend adventure.
People of all ages make it a goal to reach the ‘Mission Peeker’ totem pole at the summit and take a picture with this Fremont signature. The steep 3-plus-mile hike to Mission Peak is made worth it by the breathtaking views of the South Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains, Sierra Nevadas, Mount Hamilton, Mt. Diablo, and Mt. Tamalpais. Bring plenty of water and check ahead for weather, because the wind and sun can be harsh depending on the time of year — a bit of snow is even a possibility. There are plenty of other trails in the area and options for parking.
Pacific Commons is your one-stop shop. It has a nice big Century Theater, Target, Costco, Ulta, Nordstrom Rack, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and so much more. It’s a cute area with stores to fulfill any possible need and great food from sushi to Krispy Kreme Donuts to keep you energized.
Central Park is the city favorite; it is an oasis right on Lake Elizabeth with great views of the hills. Come here to take a walk or jog around the lake or enjoy the playgrounds and open spaces by yourself or with the kids. The park offers picnic sites, fishing, tennis, basketball, boat rentals and storage, and also features a great skate park, dog park, and Aqua Adventure Waterpark.
Before Hollywood, before movie star sensations, and before talking in film, the little district of Niles in Fremont was the home of the Essanay Film Production studio. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum features exhibits, screenings, and tours in a historic nickelodeon to pay tribute to the history of Niles and keep the spirit of silent film alive. This is where Charlie Chaplin’s film The Tramp was shot and produced, and it is home to many of the 140 beloved Broncho Billy westerns. This is a must-visit location for film nerds and history buffs.
Flash back to the 19th-century prosperity of the Patterson mansion and farm; Ardenwood is the perfect place to take family and kids out for the day or simply to escape the worries of modern day life and go back to a more peaceful time. The park is comprises the Patterson House Museum, Victorian gardens, a real working farm (complete with goats, rabbits, sheep, pigs, turkeys, and cows), and a railroad that goes from the farm to Deer Park Station. Because it is a working farm, availability of activities — such as ice cream making, crop harvesting, and basket weaving — vary, so check the park website to plan ahead or make the most of special events! Admission fee varies by season and the event, but maximum price for entry is $8.
Fremont is the perfect place to satisfy some hard-to-fulfill cravings. It boasts amazing Thai and South Asian food, though some people make the trip just for the great boba places. Sala Thai is one of the popular Thai places in the area; great pearl milk tea can be found at Gong Cha; and make sure to take advantage of the fact that downtown Fremont is sometimes referred to as Little Kabul because of all the great Afghani restaurants such as De Afghanan. Another great spot to check out is Falafel, etc., a Middle Eastern restaurant.
The first transcontinental railroad went right through Niles, and the town itself was quickly built up to meet the needs of a station. Today, the town is largely shaped around this station, and the Niles Canyon Railway exhibits the importance of this history to Niles and California in general by maintaining the historic railroad equipment and hosting educational train tours. The railway offers trips from Niles to Sunol on diesel and steam trains as well as educational rides, wine tasting specials, and a special annual train of lights that runs every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday in December, excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Niles Main Street
Niles Main Street is a great place to get away for the weekend. It was built up around the railroad track that goes through the town and was a junction point of the first transcontinental railroad. In the 1900s, its streets, canyons, and barns were the set of many exciting westerns and cowboy films brought to life by famous silent film legends such as Charlie Chaplin and Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. Historic Niles has been well preserved, and its isolated nature gives it a feel of the town it once was — an essential part of the railway line and heart of film making. The streets are packed with interesting and strange antique shops to explore, and Devout Coffee and The Vine, a restaurant featuring a patio and creative American cuisine and cocktails, make it well worth a trip.
Mission San José is one of the smaller missions, but the museum and information are well preserved, making it an easy and enjoyable way to connect to the history of the area. The mission was founded in 1797 and shows the history of the Spanish who built it and the native Ohlone people of the area. It displays unique and informative artifacts and includes a church and a cemetery. Self-guided tours are available daily from 10am to 5pm at a fee of $5 for adults and $3 for students.
Quarry Lakes is less crowded than Lake Elizabeth but still features beautiful lake views, opportunities for picnics, and barbecues, fishing, a beach and swimming area, and a nice trail to walk your dog or jog around.
Neha Pearce is a Bay Area native who spent the last four years studying Psychology and English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In her last year as an undergrad she took course work in Film Studies and worked as an intern producer for a local media company.