At the top of my list of “Who knew?” weekend getaway destinations is Tri-Valley, a triangle-shaped region about 30 miles southeast from San Francisco that’s best known for its pleasant Mediterranean climate, award-winning wine region, and the historic downtown areas of Pleasanton, Livermore, and Danville. Think of it as an affordable, crowd-free, and closer alternative to Carmel and Napa, yet with all the same alluring attractions: wine tasting, boutique shopping, farmers markets, fine dining, hiking trails, world-class golfing, and adorable old-fashioned downtowns—all within easy driving distance.
WONDERFUL WINE TASTING
When you mention the Wine Country most people think of Napa or Sonoma Valley. But true wine geeks have long known that some of Northern California’s best wine and wine tasting experiences can be found well beyond the valleys, often at family owned wineries tucked away on one-lane roads that would be impossible to find if it weren’t for the periodic signs pointing you in the right direction. It’s experiences like these—casual yet captivating conversations with winemakers as you savor the fruits of their years of hard work—that make visiting these esoteric wineries worth the effort, and a prime example is a trip to Livermore Valley Wine Country.
I’ve been blowing through Tri-Valley on my way to Yosemite for decades, and it wasn’t until recently that I spent a wonderful weekend here wining, dining, and losing badly to my girlfriend in bocce ball. It turns out Robert Livermore planted the first commercial vines on these rolling hillsides in 1840, and pioneer winemakers such as C. H. Wente and James Concannon recognized the area’s winegrowing potential as well and founded their iconic wineries here in the early 1880s (in fact, Livermore Valley captured America’s first international gold medal for wine in 1889 at the Paris Exposition).
There are more than 40 wineries within the Livermore Valley Wine Country, all within easy driving (or biking even) distance from each other. In fact, Livermore Valley Wine & Cycle Tours offers weekend bicycle tasting tours throughout the valley. You can even take BART to the Dublin/Pleasanton station and pre-arrange to have a limousine pick you up, take you wine tasting, and bring you back to the station that evening, thus avoiding the need for a designated driver.
Better yet, book a night’s stay at the Marriot Pleasanton or Hilton Pleasanton and make a full weekend of your getaway, starting on Saturday with an al fresco lunch at Cafe Garré and ending with a hilarious game of wine-impaired bocce ball at Campo di Bocce. I also highly recommend having dinner at the wonderful Restaurant at Wente Vineyards. For more information about the Livermore Valley Wine Country—including a handy Wine Country Map—log onto www.trivalleycvb.com.
HISTORIC (and dog-friendly) DOWNTOWNS
You can pretty much assume that anyone who hasn’t been to the downtown areas of Pleasanton, Danville, and Livermore has no idea how charming they are. It’s as if you’ve been transported back to the tree-lined streets of Mayberry where shop owners greet you at the door and the ol’ train depot is just around the corner.
In Danville, for example, many of the downtown buildings built in the late 1800s still remain, such as the Town Meeting Hall, Village Theatre, Train Depot, and numerous Craftsman and Victorian homes. Danville’s also one of the most dog-friendly cities in California. Pets are welcome at most restaurants, shops, and hotels, and all of the city’s East Bay Regional Trials are not only dog-friendly, they’re off-leash as well.
Downtown Pleasanton is equally laid-back and… well… pleasant. Its wide tree-lined sidewalks are ideal for strolling past the numerous boutique stores, wine shops, and cafes with patio seating. It too is steeped in history; within walking distance of each other are numerous buildings that date back to the mid-19th century, built in Gothic Revival, Italianate, Colonial Revival, and Queen Anne styles. In fact, it was so picturesque that in 1917, Pleasanton became the backdrop for the film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
After the discovery of gold in California, Livermore became a popular stopping point for prospectors headed for the Mother Lode country. And due to its Mediterranean climate, many families found it a good location to grow wine grapes, which also helped contribute to the development of the early city. One of the popular attractions here is the Livermore Year-Round Sunday Farmers’ Market, which runs every Sunday from 9am to 1pm at Second Street between J and K streets.
For more information about all three of these idyllic downtown destinations, log onto www.trivalleycvb.com.
You’ve been warned: If you come to the Blackhawk Museum with an auto enthusiast, you’ll have to drag him out of here. You don’t even want to know how much it cost to build this beautiful museum and stock it with some of the most rare and gorgeous autos ever built. The 70,000-square-foot nonprofit museum was built in 1988 to house and display some of the finest automotive treasures in the world, and there’s no other place on the planet quite like it.
The Blackhawk Auto Museum houses about 90 cars built throughout the world, many of which are on loan from collectors. It’s not only the historic significance of these super-exotic cars that’s impressive, but also the artistic inspiration behind them. Each one is a work of art, a rolling sculpture conceived by the world’s leading designers and engineers. Some of my favorites include the retro-sleek Dodge Firearrows, Alfa Romeo BAT concept cars (which really do look like a bat) and the American-made Duesenberg convertible—the sports car of choice for Clark Gable and Gary Cooper. Even if you’re not a car nut, the Blackhawk Museum is a must-stop for anyone visiting the Tri-Valley region who appreciates the art and design.
Tri-Valley is at the epicenter of the East Bay Regional Park District, which operates 65 parks covering more than 100,000 acres and 1,150 miles of trails. My favorite park of the bunch—which hardly anybody outside of Tri-Valley knows about—is Del Valle Regional Park, set deep in a valley framed by oak-covered hills about 10 miles south of Livermore.
This dog-friendly park has everything you could want for an outdoor getaway: a five-mile-long warm lake that’s ideal for swimming—there are two swimming beaches with lifeguards—and bass fishing (it’s also stocked regularly with trout and catfish); a marina that rents motorboats, patio boats, peddle boats, canoes, and kayaks; the Del Valle Family Campground with 150 sites; dozens of miles of horseback and hiking trials, including the Ohlone Wilderness Trail with 28 miles of scenic back country trail; and even boat tours of the lake led by Park Naturalists.
If you an avid mountain biker like me, then you also want to check out the 5,271-acre Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park, one of the prettiest parks in the East Bay that straddles a mountain ridge with postcards views of Pleasanton and Livermore Valley. The multi-purpose trail system is also popular with hikers and horseback riders.
For more information about memorable getaways to the Tri-Valley region and for special offers, visit www.trivalleycvb.com/deals or text WINE to 91904.
And if you have your own tips and recommendations on great getaways to Tri-Valley that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments to our blog below. We’d love to hear from you.