Town of Niles, Fremont, CA
Best Fun Things To Do & See
The little old railroad town of Niles, CA, is a hidden gem well worth exploring if you are looking for a nearby weekend adventure. Check below and also see our Map of best things to do for their precise physical locations.
Niles Canyon Railway, a “Museum on Wheels”
The Niles Canyon Railway operates along the first transcontinental rail connection between San Francisco Bay and the rest of the nation. This popular heritage railway makes regular 13-mile round trip runs from Niles to Sunol for sightseers. The boarding platform lies east across the tracks from Main Street; check the directions, map & schedule since it is tricky to find and doesn’t run every day.
The main street of town, also known as Niles Road, is about four blocks long of old buildings containing dozens of picturesque antique stores (mainly collectibles from the 1950-1960 era), museums, artist shops, and places to eat. It’s a quaint and interesting stroll. There are more along the side streets (want a tattoo?) as well as some nice old residences from the early 1900s.
Here are some of the places we’ve enjoyed on our strolls:
- The Nile Cafe, 121 “I” Street – Nice little cafe with tasty food.
- Niles Silent Film Museum, 37417 Niles Blvd – One of the most important silent film museums in the world. Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and the first cowboy movie star, Bronco Billy, used to make films here.
- Niles Ice Cream Sweets & Eats, 37699 Niles Blvd – Truly excellent ice cream from Treat Ice Cream Co. in San Jose. But, slow service.
- Devout Coffee Bar, 37323 Niles Blvd – Good gourmet coffee with it’s own roastery & an outdoor patio.
- The Florence Bar, 37349 Niles Blvd – Very popular with older bikers in the morning and with TV sports fans in the afternoon. Live music and dancing some nights.
Here’s a business directory/ with links to antique stores, restaurants, museums and other attractions. You’ll be surprised how many there are.
We’ve also heard from locals that the following places are good (though we haven’t been there): The Vine (most popular restaurant in town … the wait can get long), Bronco Billys Pizza (locals say the pizza is excellent … named after the silent movie star who produced pictures in Niles), Joes Corner (wasn’t busy Sunday morning), Taco Wagon by the car wash (had big line, perhaps 10-15 people, after church on Sunday).
Parks, Walks, Dogs
Here are some good outdoor activities near Niles to check out during your day trip. Click the links for exact locations.
- Niles Community Park – Nice place for a walk just a couple of blocks away from downtown Niles. It features Alameda Creek, several ponds & lakes, many trails and an annual dog show.
- Shinn Pond Dog Park, just west of Niles Community Park on the two-acre grassy meadow between Shinn Pond and the Alameda Creek Trail, is the best place for dogs in Fremont. While not “officially sanctioned” many people let their dogs run off-leash, swim, and generally party. Check the Quarry Lakes map (click to enlarge) for the exact location of Shinn Pond.
- Alameda Creek Trail – Access this uninterrupted 12-mile long trail on the west side of Niles Community Park.
- Quarry Lakes Regional Park – A big regional park nearby with swimming, fishing and nature hikes.
Niles has many annual events that attract visitors from around the San Francisco Bay area. Here are just a few: The Niles Main Street Wildflower Garden, Art and Quilt Festival (5/15/15), Charlie Chaplin Days, Festival of Lights, Annual Antique Fair and the Holiday Home Tour. For up-to-date information see the official events list and calendar. The very popular Niles Canyon Railway Train of Lights runs 4 days/week during December.
- We found that it only took 30 minutes to get to Niles (map) from Highway 101 & 92 (Foster City on the west side of the Bay) at 11 am on a Sunday morning in January. Go east on Hwy 92 over the San Mateo Bridge, then south on Hwy 880, then south east on Alvarado-Niles Blvd, then continue south east to the little town of Niles. Be warned, however, that traffic can be miserable on the east side of the Bay during weekday commute hours.
- It often gets very hot on summer days. We prefer going during cooler seasons.
- History lesson: The original name for Niles was Vallejo Mills, after the Vallejo Flour Mill built in 1850 at the mouth of Niles Canyon. This mill plus the importance of the canyon as a passage through the hills led to the town’s growth during the late 1800s and early 1900s. This transportation passage’s importance increased in 1869 with the completion of the transcontinental Central Pacific railroad through Niles Canyon to Alameda and San Jose (and on from there to San Francisco) … making it the primary route for overland traffic to SF Bay. For a while around 1912 the silent film movie making industry was also very active in Niles before eventually moving to Hollywood. A shorter railroad route with gentler hills through Benecia (est. 1879) to Oakland, containerization, and increased use of trucking all eventually led to Southern Pacific closing rail operations through Niles Canyon in 1984. In 1988 the Niles Canyon Railway ran its first historic passenger train from Niles to Sunol and eventually plans to extend “historic” rail service over the old railbed to Pleasanton.