See the word Tri-Valley, and the next question comes quickly: What three valleys?
Answer: Amador, San Ramon and Livermore.
This area is about 90 minutes from Sacramento and includes several towns off highways 580 and 680. We’ve all driven past Danville, Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin on our way to other Bay Area destinations, but have you ever stopped? We did, and we discovered all kinds of treasures, including lovely downtown districts, a sprawling wine country tucked into California’s golden hills, lots of breweries, parks with trails, and plenty more. Some highlights:
DOWNTOWN LIVERMORE—About a dozen murals decorate the walls of downtown Livermore, a walkable district with plenty of Main Street charm—in this case on First Street. A prime gathering spot is the First Street Fountain, where an inviting array of market umbrellas sit outside a wine bar and several restaurants. Down the street, pop into Bar Quiote for mezcal, hot dogs and jukebox tunes (what a combo!) or pop into The Cheese Parlor for a little tasting. Off the main drag, Towne Center Books is tucked into a walkway adjacent to Bankhead Theater. Grab a coffee at Panama Bay or Story Coffee Co. A few blocks over, admire the Carnegie Building and the Centennial Park Totem Pole.
LIVERMORE WINE COUNTRY— Some 55 wineries line the roads not far from Livermore’s downtown. Two of the largest—and oldest—are Wente and Concannon, in operation since the 1880s. Visitors to either will learn all about Livermore’s viticultural history, including the story of Charles Wetmore, one of the California wine industry’s founding fathers. Livermore Valley is where the state’s cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay varietals were born. At Concannon, taste in the brick-and-wood tasting room or reserve a weekend spot at a library tasting, held in Concannon’s Historic Wine Library. At Wente, enjoy the sprawling compound, which includes beautiful indoor and outdoor tasting areas and an 18-hole golf course. The area is home to lots of boutique, small-batch wineries, and once S. Livermore Avenue turns into Tesla Road, you’re in the thick of it. Some notable wineries in the valley include Retzlaff (the only organic winery in the area), Las Positas, Garré, Darcie Kent and Fenestra, but the fun is in hitting the backroads and discovering some gems of your own.
TRI-VALLEY BEER TRAIL—The Tri-Valley tourism folks have teamed up with some 20 local craft breweries and alehouses to create a mobile-friendly passport for beer lovers. It’s a great way to get introduced to some wonderful taprooms and receive discounts, plus if you hit 10 or more, you can pick up a prize. (You don’t have to do all 10 in one day!) Some favorite stops include Beer Baron Whiskey Bar & Kitchen (Pleasanton); First Street Alehouse, Pennyweight and Shadow Puppet (Livermore); Three Sheets (Dublin); and Danville Brewing Co.
SPEND THE NIGHT
The Purple Orchid Resort & Spa bed-and-breakfast inn sits among a rose garden, olive orchards and vineyards in the Livermore Valley, with 10 country-style suites, each with a fireplace. On-site spa services: facials, massage and other body treatments. Room rates include a full breakfast, and wine and olive oil tasting each evening.
DOWNTOWN DANVILLE—Duck into downtown Danville off highway 680 and you’ll find a collection of shops, restaurants, breweries and galleries. Some must-stops include Danville Chocolates for a caramel apple or truffle or bark; Whim House, a delightful home décor shop; Lottie’s Creamery for a scoop of hand-crafted small-batch ice cream; and Bridges restaurant for a throwback to “Mrs. Doubtfire.” The late Robin Williams’ sweaty dinner scene, where he swapped between roles as a job interviewee and jealous middle-aged nanny, was filmed on location. Sideboard restaurant is a great spot for drinks and local farm-to-fork fare on the patio. Also in town: The Museum of the San Ramon Valley, which has plenty of worthy exhibits itself, and it’s also the shuttle pickup for tourgoers to the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site. The Nobel Prize-winning playwright created his most memorable plays (think “The Iceman Cometh,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”) at Tao House, located behind a gate a couple of miles away, accessible only by reservation and the aforementioned shuttle.
MOUNT DIABLO STATE PARK—Fall is a lovely time to hike Mount Diablo (near Danville), where summer’s heat can turn midday walks on the mountain into misery. From the summit (3,849-foot elevation), you can see all three of Tri-Valley’s valleys on a clear day, as well as (if you’re lucky) the Golden Gate Bridge and Farallon Islands, Mount Hamilton, Mount Loma Prieta, the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, and possibly Mount Saint Helena, Lassen Peak and parts of the Sierra. It’s worth the 7-mile out-and-back trek via the moderately challenging Summit Trail. (Lots of uphill!) Or you could drive up. Either way, the view is spectacular from the observation deck, and the visitor center will provide even more perspective, as well as maps to the numerous trails and destination points within the park.
DOWNTOWN PLEASANTON—On this inviting, pedestrian-friendly Main Street, start at Inklings coffeehouse, which pays homage to literary greats with wall art, bookshelves and a room called The Vault, where it’s common to see people (writers?) hunkered over laptops or books. Wander through Prim Boutique to see what’s on display in the curated clothing collection. Options for lunch and dinner are many and include the whitewashed Elia restaurant (Greek specialties on the menu: moussaka, hummus, avgolemono, grilled octopus, paella), Lokanta (Mediterranean and Turkish fusion), Blue Agave Club (seasonal for fall: chilies en nogada—picadillo-stuffed poblanos with walnut cream sauce and pomegranate arils), Gay Nineties Pizza and plenty of other eateries. Visit Museum on Main to learn the history of the area, and make sure and scoot down Neal Street to drive through Meadowlark Dairy—impossible to miss with its canopy of suspended rain umbrellas, “cattle crossing” and “milk” signage and a Holstein-centric mural. Drive over the wire to ding the bell and grab a soft-serve. (If pumpkin spice is still available, go for it.)
DEL VALLE REGIONAL PARK—Anchored by a 5-mile-long lake, this park in Livermore includes some 4,300-plus acres for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Kayakers and windsurfers take to the lake, while bird watchers and other nature lovers come out to enjoy the oak- and brush-dotted hillsides, tawny in the fall, brilliant with wildflowers in spring. It’s also the eastern gateway to the Ohlone wilderness, which includes 28 miles of trails.