Located in the northern edge of California’s Alameda County, Albany is a small, sleepy town located in the middle of the Greater San Francisco Bay area. Since its incorporation in 1908, the residents of Albany have been fighting to maintain a small town ambiance in the face of rapidly developing neighbors and fast paced regional trends. They have so far been successful, leading to a beautifully preserved town floating serenely on a sea of modernization.
Lay of the Land
Nestled on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay, Albany is a modestly sized city, with a total population of 18,539 and a total area of 5.5 miles. Its closest neighbor to the south and east is the city of Berkeley, while the Contra Costa County cities of El Cerrito and Richmond rest against its northern edge. Despite its adherence to a traditional small town values and ambiance, Albany has developed into an affluent area, with an average median household income of $80,244 and median home value of $653,511. Homes in the desirable hill areas of Albany are frequently over $1 million.
Like many of the cities within the area, Albany is home to several Alameda-Contra Costa Transit district stations as well as nearby access to the Bay Area Rapid Transit stations of North Berkeley and El Cerrito Plaza. These provide residents with bus services and shuttle services all over Alameda County, Contra Costa County, and the Bay area.
Additionally, the city of Albany Paratransit service provides qualifying residents and individuals with a host of alternative transportation options. This includes everything from rebates on taxi rides to a complex shuttle system designed to transport individuals from select locations around the city to local shopping centers.
With a mission statement focused on maintaining a small town ambiance as well as meeting the needs of a diverse community it should come as no surprise that Albany is a city with an overwhelming number of community activity and outreach programs. This includes numerous programs designed to provide guidance and engagement with the youth population of the city through service learning projects and youth sport programs. However, it also includes numerous projects designed to provide assistance and support to members of the elderly, special needs, and homeless communities. These projects range from transportation assistance to medical treatment and quality of life enrichment programs.
Meandering through both Albany and neighboring Berkeley, Solano Avenue is the major commercial section of the town. Solana Avenue features an array of restaurants, local shops, and more mainstream retails locations. However, it also houses numerous professional services, including everything from health related services to specialized financial services. Finally, Solana Avenue also serves as the primary cultural district of the city, housing numerous art galleries, a classic older movie theatre and centers dedicated to eclectic local activities and educational courses.
However, the most significant part of Solano Avenue is that it serves as the focal point for several seasonal events, including the Solano Avenue Stroll. Operated jointly by Albany and Berkeley since 1974, the Stroll is often billed as the largest street festival in the East Bay area. The event is held every September and consists of a parade followed immediately by an extended street festival.
While the parade often features as many as 76 entries, the main focus is placed on the street festival portion of the event. This includes hundreds of different booths featuring food, general entertainers, governmental and nonprofit agencies as well as local and regional artisans producing handcrafted trade goods. It also features a large array of mechanical rides and activities geared towards children. Conservative estimates place attendance for the Solano Avenue Stroll at over 250,000 total visitors from around the region.
The city of Albany also works in Conjunction with the city of Berkeley to provide several additional festivals throughout the course of the year. These festivals are generally on a much smaller scale and focus primarily on seasonal foods and activities.