Niles is known as the hidden treasure of Fremont. Located at the base of the Diablo Range mountains and Mission Boulevard, it hosts a wide variety of summertime activities.
This northeastern section of the city dates to the 1850s, and there’s lots of small-town charm, with a dozen antique stores, shops and restaurants within a four-block radius. Most of the activities and shops are located along Niles Boulevard. A few well-placed antique cars add to the sense that visitors have stepped back in time.
The center of the town is the gold 122-year-old train depot, which has a museum and an outdoor plaza. Amtrak trains pass through frequently, although they actually stop at Fremont’s Centerville station.
During the summer, the Niles Main Street Association hosts activities designed to draw visitors and locals, including live music, an antique faire and flea market on Aug. 27, a car show on Aug. 13 and weekly farmer’s markets on Saturday mornings. The Niles Dog Show is slated for Saturday. Check out www.niles.org for more information. Some events continue into the fall.
Weekends are the time to visit the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, which pays homage to Charlie Chaplin and others who filmed silent movies here back in the 1910s. The museum, which is open on weekend afternoons and for Saturday night film screenings, traces the history of the 15-minute cowboy shorts filmed here, as well as Chaplin’s famous short, “The Tramp,” also shot here. The actor is celebrated during Charlie Chaplin Days, usually held on a weekend in May. More information is available at nilesfilmmuseum.org.
A few blocks away from Niles’ commercial strip is another historic area that many visitors overlook. It is the former site of the California Nursery Company, now the California Nursery Historical Park. The nursery moved here in 1884. At one time, its 700 acres produced plants for Hearst Castle and the San Francisco World’s Fair on Treasure Island.
Today, the city of Fremont is slowly revitalizing 20 acres of parkland at 36650 Niles Blvd. It’s worth checking out this work in progress. It’s easy to stroll through the flat landscape, thanks to new sidewalks that wend their way past fenced-off old buildings, such as the packing shed and water tower. One highlight is Vallejo Adobe, which appears to be in good shape. Dating from 1843, it’s considered the third oldest building in Alameda County.
Make sure to visit the rose garden at the park, which is centered around a yellow and blue windmill. QR codes provide details on the rose bushes. Another section of the park includes a boxed oak tree forest.
Many visitors associate Niles with the Niles Canyon Railway (not to be confused with the Niles Depot Museum), which actually starts about six miles away in the unincorporated town of Sunol. Passengers travel through the scenic canyon to Niles on historical diesel and steam trains. Popular with all ages, the weekend train trip is a one-and-a-half-hour roundtrip excursion. More information is at ncry.org.