The Niles District of Fremont has undergone a serious transformation to become the town it is today. The area’s history began with the building of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. Niles was an important stop on the route that connected the San Francisco Bay area to the rest of the country. Fifty years later, Niles became a major production center for the silent film industry of the 1910s.
Charlie Chaplin called the town home, and his irreverent personality seems intertwined with the convivial spirit of Niles today. Main Street is lined with mom-and-pop restaurants and antique stores where shoppers will uncover untold treasures. Just 35 miles southeast of San Francisco, this tiny enclave is an ideal day trip but there’s plenty to keep you busy for a weekend.
Niles is only 35 miles from San Fran, but you may get caught in a bit of traffic along the way. The quickest route is to head over to 1st Street and take the I-80 E/Bay Bridge ramp to Oakland. Merge onto I-80 E and exit toward I-880 S/Alameda/San Jose/Airport. Keep left to continue toward I-880 S and then relax for a smooth shot southbound for about 20 miles on I-880. Traffic can be a nightmare, but Niles is like a step back in time. It’s definitely worth the trip.
You’ll take exit 23 for Alvarado-Niles Road and continue to Montalban Drive in Fremont. Keep straight for about 4.5 more miles and use the left two lanes to turn onto Alvarado-Niles Road. Continue onto Niles Boulevard and let the fun begin!
The Motel 6 Fremont North is a solid bargain choice with a grassy courtyard and an outdoor pool. The comfortably appointed rooms have cable TVs and desks, and the hotel itself features laundry facilities and free morning coffee. The rooms are stylish and surprisingly modern with hardwood floors. Pets are welcome at this friendly, accessible hotel. Located just 3.3 miles from Ardenwood Historic Farm.
The Holiday Inn Express is generally a reliable choice for travelers seeking clean rooms, modern amenities, and congenial service and this Fremont-Milpitas Central location is no exception. Guests keep coming back for a reason – maybe it’s the hot, fresh cinnamon buns at the continental breakfast, perhaps it’s the midweek appetizer reception, or it could be the well-equipped fitness center and outdoor pool. Regardless, you’ll love your stay here. Conveniently located close to Niles Canyon.
When only the best will do, guests choose the Marriott. The sweeping covered entry gives way to a cozy reception area with fireplaces and free computers. The rooms are spacious and modern, with the comfy mattresses and chic white linens that made Marriott famous. There’s an on-site bar and restaurant, plus a gift shop, pool, and an impressive fitness center. All rooms have cable TV and complimentary toiletries. Don’t forget to grab a bite of their mouthwatering breakfast before heading out for the day.
This corner café is a great place to soak up the view of Niles and the hills as you take a break from wandering around town. They have delicious sandwiches with choices for vegetarians and vegans as well. The kid-friendly joint is open for breakfast, lunch, and early dinner seven days a week. Follow your meal with one of their crazy creative homemade ice cream flavors like saffron pistachio or honey matcha … there’s butter pecan, too, for traditionalists.
Okay, it’s not quite a restaurant, but this food truck serves up the absolute best Mexican food that you’ll find this far north of the border. The street-style tacos are $1-2 each and perfectly sized to allow you to try three or four options. The al pastor and lengua both come highly recommended, but locals favor the perfectly cooked, fresh shrimp. They also serve a massive quesadilla and a mean vegetarian burrito. No seating (but worth it).
This intimate French seafood restaurant is truly a hidden gem. It’s perfect for a romantic dinner date – ask for a corner booth for a bit of privacy even when the dining room is full. The service is excellent, and the menu features an array of French-inspired dishes that arrive cooked to perfection and artfully arranged. The delicate, buttery escargots are a must-try and classics like chicken cordon bleu and seafood Wellington win raves. Open 7 days a week for dinner, with lunch on Thursday and Friday. Dressy attire.
The Niles District is known for its fabulous antique stores, so it should come as no surprise that the annual Niles Antique Fair and Flea Market is a huge draw for visitors. Held the last Sunday in August, the fair is open from 6 am to 4 pm, with a pancake breakfast starting at 5 am. Locals take advantage of the crowds by setting up their own yard sales. The friendly, fun atmosphere is great for families and serious shoppers alike. Don’t be afraid to bargain, but never walk away if an item tugs at your heartstrings – the best of the best items always go fast!
The Niles Canyon Railway is a living history museum operated by the Pacific Locomotive Association. Trains have run through Niles Canyon since the construction of the first transcontinental railroad in 1862. A segment of the track has been lovingly restored and now plays host to guests. Journey from Niles to Sunol and back with two trips departing from Niles (and three from Sunol) most Sundays from February through October and special events throughout the year. Prices are $14 for adults, $11 for seniors, and $8 for children 3-12 (babies ride free).
Main Street is the heart and soul of the historic Niles District of Fremont. This adorable part of town is the former stomping grounds of Charlie Chaplin, and many businesses pay homage to the legend, including the silent movie theater. The streets are linked with quaint antique shops filled with treasures and plenty of places to grab a bite to eat. The proprietors of the local businesses are friendly and welcoming, always ready to share a story about the history of the area. Suda Mae Antiques, listed below, is a surefire favorite.
Alameda Creek Regional Trail begins at the mouth of Niles Canyon and runs 22.1 miles all the way to the Bay. Most of the trail is flat and the south side is paved, which makes it a favorite for local cyclists and runners. The north side of the trail is designed for horseback riding. There’s usually a nice breeze coming off the water and lookout points with benches make this a nice spot for a picnic lunch. This well-maintained trail is often crowded and very safe but avoid the area after dark as there are no lights. Parking is available at the trailhead for a nominal fee.
The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is housed in the old Edison nickelodeon theater. Its mission is to preserve the history of the silent film industry that flourished in the area in the 1910s. Check out memorabilia from the films, learn about the history of the industry, and stick around for a showing accompanied by a live pianist every Saturday night. Admission is free on Saturdays and Sundays, with guided tours available. Screenings cost $7 for non-members.