Truth be told, I grew up just minutes away from Niles Canyon. I heard rumors about the beauty of the place where Alameda Creek meets the green rolling hills of Sunol. I heard about how cyclists love the area, and how their annual antique show downtown is amazing. It wasn’t until a girlfriend who lives nearby took me here for the day this month that I discovered a big piece of movie history and a hidden gem of a day trip.
1. Niles Canyon
Niles Canyon is a beautiful part of Alameda County. Unincorporated, it sits beside the Alameda Creek and the main road connects Fremont with Sunol.
2. Trains in Niles
Both the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks and the Union Pacific tracks run through this canyon area. These railways date this town to the late 1800s. Another reason this canyon was a draw for people like the movie business. It was easy to get to.
3. Downtown Niles
A town full of tiny shops and a few restaurants to make your stay all day worth your while. While I was there flags lined the streets. A little glimpse of old-school Americana. I loved it. Niles was named in 1869 after Judge Addison C. Niles, who was elected to the California Supreme Court. Niles was officially put on the map in 1873 when a U.S. post office was erected.
4. Charlie Chaplin
History was made when Charlie Chaplin filmed some of the first silent movies here. Sir Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin born in Egland in 1888. Some believe him to be the single most important iconic person in film of all time. Born to a very poor family, he was hired to work before the age of nine. He once gave credit to his mother for his comedic talent. He says he learned to make faces and imitate others by watching his mother mimic passersby. His theater troupe moved to America where he followed. After much success in film, controversy surrounded him over communist sympathies and the fact that he'd impregnated a 16-year-old who he later married. Married four times, he had a taste for underage girls. The FBI opened an investigation and while the case was being formed, Charlie Chaplain and his new wife left the country to live out his years in Switzerland. He passed away in 1977 and is buried in Switzerland.
5. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum
This theater is where silent films are celebrated--especially those by Charlie Chaplin. The museum is also here to preserve the history of silent film A century old Nickelodeon theater, it's the same place Google contacted for information when they wanted to highlight Charlie Chaplin on their Google page.
6. Niles Charlie Chaplin Days
Each year in June you just might pass by a Chaplain look alike, like the guy in this photo. Pretty good resemblence, right? Saturday, June 11th is this year's celebration. Head over to the museum for special rates and hours, games and fun!
7. Thyme for Tea
Enjoy tea with your friends here. I tried to visit with mine, but they were hosting a large group of ladies who arrived on a tour. The food smelled and looked amazing, and there's a great little antique shopping area in the front part of this tea house--even better!
Dozens of stores dot the main road in Niles. Take a leisurely stroll and peek inside each different one. It's a great way to spend the day.
9. Antique Fair
Each year this town draws thousands for their annual antique faire. This year they're celebrating 52 years putting antiques into the hands of the area. Join them on August 28th. I hear there's a pancake breakfast, too!
While walking around this charming town we stepped into this family-owned diner. And, let me tell you it was delicious! We ordered breakfast but some folks were enjoying an early lunch. When our meal was finished the waitress brought us over a tiny little chocolate sundae. It's their schtick and we loved it. Make sure to eat here. P.S. The blueberry pancakes were like a carnival in my mouth.
11. More Trains
So, I know we already talked about what a train magnet this canyon was back in the day--but if you're looking for a great weekend outing Niles has train rides through Sunol and even a holiday excursion with a train all it up for Christmas. But, those tickets sell out by October so remind yourself to check back in September!
Next time you’re looking to get out of the house, look no further than Niles Canyon. I wish I’d made my way here 40 years ago! But, hey, so now you know. When are you heading here?