This month, many Sacramentans will head to San Francisco for a day of holiday shopping. But while Union Square is certainly lovely this time of year, the hassles of getting into—and around—the city are legendary. Which is why we’d like to suggest an alternative: Walnut Creek. This East Bay city, located about 75 miles from Sacramento, is known for its excellent shopping district. It’s got all the big-name national retailers, along with specialty stores like
Tiffany & Co. and a good number of interesting independent boutiques. Parking is free (or nearly so), and the quaint downtown has charms to rival that of its big-city cousin across the bay. Take the kids or grab your girlfriends for a little preholiday retail therapy.
Broadway Plaza: Start your day at Broadway Plaza (1275 Broadway Plaza), an open-air shopping mall anchored by Macy’s and Nordstrom. Brick sidewalks, lush landscaping and piped music make strolling the mall an enjoyable experience. The heady lineup of retailers includes Crate & Barrel, Sur La Table, Banana Republic, Kate Spade, L’Occitane,
J. Crew, Eileen Fisher, Lucky Brand Jeans, Sephora, Lacoste, Swarovski, J. Jill, Juicy Couture, Coach and Betsey Johnson. Shop till you drop, then rest awhile at the pretty little plaza at the mall’s northern end, complete with benches and a fountain.
More shopping: Broadway Plaza dead-ends at Mount Diablo Boulevard, where you’ll find even more places to spend your hard-earned cash: Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma and (my personal favorite) H&M, the Swedish retailer known for hip fashions at dirt-cheap prices. (You can snap up dresses—cute ones—for $25, chunky sweaters for $13, necklaces for less than $4.) Then, cross the street and enter the hallowed Tiffany & Co. (1119 S. Main St.) to ogle the diamonds. Not interested in buying? That’s OK: The obliging salespeople are happy to let you try on the merchandise. (A girl can dream, can’t she?)
Boutique city: Next, head down North Main Street, which is lined with small, independently owned shops and boutiques. Hit Leonidas for Belgian chocolates, Bonne Nuit for European lingerie, Deliciouz for shoes and handbags, Giggles for baby stuff and Filthy Gorgeous for chic housewares. My Roommate’s Closet, a boutique outlet, is a fashionista’s fantasy come true, offering designer clothing from the likes of Catherine Malandrino, Narciso Rodriguez, Tracy Reese and Diane von Furstenberg at a whopping 50 to 70 percent off.
Lunchtime: After you’ve shopped your heart out, treat yourself to lunch at one of Walnut Creek’s excellent restaurants. Va de Vi (1511 Mount Diablo Blvd.)
offers tasty small plates; if the weather obliges, sit outside on the patio, where heaters will keep you toasty. The highly regarded Lark Creek (1360 Locust St.) serves seasonal American fare such as fire-roasted
tomato soup and bacon-wrapped meatloaf. Walnut Creek’s newest hot spot, 1515 (1515 N. Main St.), is a favorite with famished shoppers, who scarf salads, flatbread pizzas and Italian dishes such as penne arrabbiata and chicken piccata. Best seat in the house: near the outdoor fireplace on the sidewalk patio.
Getting around: Downtown Walnut Creek is eminently walkable. But if you don’t want to hoof it, a free shuttle will take you around the shopping district. Look for the green trolley, which resembles a cable car. It runs every 15 minutes on weekdays, every 20 on weekends.
Parking: Broadway Plaza offers free parking at two garages. If they fill up (and they often do, especially during the holidays), head to one of three municipal garages (1625 Locust St., 1350 Locust St. and 1390 Broadway), where rates are minimal: 50 cents per hour, $3 to park all day. In addition, many businesses will validate for up to two hours.
Holiday on ice—If you have time after all that shopping and eating, head over to Civic Park (1375 Civic Drive) and take a few spins around an outdoor ice rink set up for the holidays. The $15 admission fee includes skate rental and 1½ hours on the ice. The rink is open seven days a week (Monday–Thursday 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Friday–Saturday 10 a.m.–11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.–8 p.m.).
Getting there: Take Interstate 80 west past Fairfield to Interstate 680 south heading toward Benicia/San Jose. Exit at Olympic Boulevard. Turn left on Olympic Boulevard, then right on South Main Street and left onto Broadway Plaza.