Welcome to Contra Costa County, California
My Wife & I had a pleasant and an exceptionally unique opportunity to live and thrive for a couple of years in the East Bay – Contra Costa County, California. A country so different from the rest of San Francisco Bay Area that for a minute you may think that you teleported to rolling hills of central Texas or Sonoma – the location where infamous windows XP background was shot by Charles “Chuck” O’Rear.
Vividly carpeted luscious green rolling hills stretch out as far as an eye can see to the left and right of Ygnacio valley road. Every year, awaken lucious grass signals the beginning of spring. The juicy delicious carpet covers the hills even before the trees begin to bloom.
By the time the trees come into flowering the hills begin to blossom – tuning neon yellow. It is not easy to notice the seasons change in these parts of San Francisco Bay, and grass turning golden yellow serves as a good indicator.
It was a love at first site with this part of Northern California. We took our time exploring every little town of this blessed corner of earth, initially on our own and then with our little son. The Geography of the area is so unique it hasn’t been replicated anywhere else in the golden state.
The mountain ranges protect the region from the cold bay winds and create some-what of a valley which maintains a pleasant temperate Mediterranean Climate throughout the year.
What to expect from East Bay
Prepare for above average warm summers and rainy winters – which is very very different from San Francisco peninsula. This type of climate sits well with grape growing and ideal for raising cattle – no wonder that nearby regions of Napa & Sonoma are well known for wine and beef worldwide. I personally have had enough of both for the rest of my life.
Rapidly developing region has attracted investors, BART extension and of course thousands of young professionals like ourselves. The region also boasts highest real estate prices- affordable absolutely only to executives. Pleasant, acceptable by European standards dwellings start at $1M. But I digress.
Hiking Mt. Diablo – best vista point in East Bay and San Francisco
Smack Down in the middle of Contra Costa County is Mt. Diablo State park. Mt. Diablo appears as a double tipped pyramid, consisting of multiple peaks with main – 3,849 feet (1,173 m) tall and North peak – 3,557 feet (1,084 m).
The region is also known as Diablo area which takes it’s root in Hispanic settlers tale about mysterious properties of the mountain. Run-always used poorly developed trails to hide from the masters or whomever was chasing them.
I had an opportunity to scale the mountain from the very bottom (town of Clayton) to the top – strenuous, although exceptionally pleasant and rewarding hike. It is only from the top of Mt. Diablo that you can fully appreciate the vast expanse of the region and enjoy the view from a wing of a bird’s flight.
After making it to the peak you get to see a large portion of the SF Bay Area as if it was in the palm of your hand. Besides seeing the entire Contra Costa County you may enjoy viewing many other areas of the bay. On a clear day you can see as far West as Golden Gate bridge, Northwest as Napa, Northeast – Yosemite, and South – up to Mission Peak. Look at the tinny houses and miniature cows – which look like my son’s toys from up above.
If you’re feeling lazy you can drive all the way to the top, park there and hike a few easier trails on the peak – like “Fire Interpretive trail” aka “trail through time” – perfect for hiking Mt. Diablo with kids since it’s relatively flat. Hike out to the North peak for better views of the northern part of the park. There is plenty of camping sites available and I highly recommend the best one – Juniper Camp Ground. Watching sunset off of the mountain slope or stargazing at night is an absolute must on everyone’s bucket list.
Located only 45-60 min from San Francisco, Mt Diablo is one of the best hiking grounds in all of NorCal. The park offers tons of trails, has camping sites and paved roads for insane biking. If you are a mountain bike aficionado you will be in for a treat with all the off road trails to zoom though.
There are several entrances to the park and I highly recommend to explore them all. The best way to understand how huge this park is by hiking the Summit Trail all the way to the top of Diablo Peak. You can see the entire
Contra Costa County and much farther from the light house at the top. Check out this quick ascent where I walked up the ridge right above the clouds.
Occasionally you will see flocks of wild turkeys traversing the biking paths. Additionally we’ve seen coyotes and other wildlife. Once we even got robbed by a band of raccoons while camping at the Juniper campground at the top of the mountain.
Walnut Creek – unofficial capital of East Bay
The official capital is located in Martinez; although everyone Knows that Walnut Creek is where’s it’s at. Recently remodeled, in 2018 – walnut creek downtown scene is a model of the modern day town with restaurants and shopping is a favorite destination point among locals and tourists alike.
Walnut Creek should be known as the city of sculptures – various art pieces dispersed thought-out the city like sprinkles on an ice-cream. Genres range from abstract to nature to portraits to fountains – bringing together various neighborhoods of this quaint yet energetically charged little town.
TIP: There are “Lime Bikes” just thrown around the town – which you can pick up and drive around after scanning a QR code with an app.
Walnut Creek the unofficial capital of East Bay known for tons of restaurants. Seriously there are so many amazing kitchens to try that after living there for several year we barely scratched the surface. The newly remodeled plaza plaza right downtown is an amazing piece of work. Everything screams futuristic yet conservative and home like in Walnut Creek. You can catch a Bart Train from San Francisco right to W.C. The entire town is easily walk-able, however three’s also a Free trolley that you can catch to get around the town.
There’s spring and then there’s nothing like spring in Walnut Creek. This town is exceptionally well planned with little gardens and trees planted at every corner. Imagine what it looks like when springs rolls around. The photos below capture the amazing vivid colors that come to bloom every year. Pablo Neruda’s quote comes to might every time we see the blooming spectacle:
” I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees” – Pablo Neruda
Things to do in Contra Costa County, California
Little agricultural town of Brentwood on the other side of Mt. Diablo is a perfect place to go fruit picking when a particular season rolls around. Out favorite was cherry picking – end of June to July. There are also several up and comming wineries that you should check out in Brentwood and Livermore.
Check out Pixie Land in Concord if you’re visiting the area with infants. This miniature theme park is as fun spot to go hang out with your toddlers. They have a train and several exhilarating rides that are perfect for grandparents and little children.
While you are in the area check out Alameda County fair – end of June to first week of July. The rides here are definitely not for little children. I’ve gotten some serious adrenaline rush at this annual carnival. Couldn’t accent enough how awesome this place is. Just bring your own food.
Looking for things to do with kids in East Bay ? Check out our Checklist of activities for your family below.
Here’s a quick itinerary read for print – less time researching, more time enjoying Contra Costa County in East Bay San Francisco.
Check out the official website for more information