No one who knows me will or can deny that I love my hometown of New York City like no other; I am proud to be NYC born and raised, and I sing praises for it everywhere I go. But, I once lived in the San Francisco Bay Area (East Bay), and I must say that its the only other place that I feel I could ever call home.
Though I lived in the town of Concord in the East Bay for only a bit longer than a year, things happened there that made me immediately feel welcome. I came to Concord, California in 2007 from Virginia, where I had moved after NYC and lived for a few years. As soon as I arrived, I fell in love with the lifestyle, atmosphere, and the warmth and friendliness of Bay Area people. The folks here are also about the smartest group you can find, and Silicon Valley is a prime example.
Whereas life seems to fly by in my northern East Coast life, my year+ in East Bay was an eternity. I made the best of friends, and quite easily. Great times were had, and quite often.
Everyone focuses on San Francisco if referring or writing about the Bay Area; if they are fairly bohemian, they may talk about the life just west, over the Bay Bridge, such as Oakland and Berkeley. However, I won’t, and I don’t feel the need to. Frisco, as the locals refer to it, has a lot going for it, and we all realize that. My old stomping grounds were Walnut Creek, Concord, and Pleasant Hill, and for me, great life emanated from this little corner of the Bay.
It is suburbia, but a fairly hip one, at that. It’s the kind of place where kids would almost immediately return home to from college. It is urban enough to feel the energy and productivity around you, yet this part of East Bay is also far enough removed to the point where a shopping mall is still a major gathering place.
Coffee shops are also great gathering places, and Peet’s coffee is one of my faves. Nightlife in this area revolves around downtown Walnut Creek; the same few bars in rotation every week (or in succession some nights). The people who flock to these bars and clubs won’t hesitate to reply to you if you try to strike a conversation; I made many friends just talking to the next guy or gal sitting beside me while drinking. There seems to be none of the invisible walls that separate different groups of people in the same bar back home in New York. The greatest testament to this is the fact that one of my best friends was met at a bowling area bar.
Concord/Pleasant Hill/Walnut Creek
Panama Red Coffee Co. – This coffee shop located in a downtown Concord plaza features baristas that love to show off their hard-rocking, moderately-pierced, tattoo-covered culture. The location is quite comfortable, as it is fairly expansive and has a nice little nook with recliners and bookshelves filled with books (an extinct form of documentation that was the predecessor to the iPad). 2151 Salvio Street, Ste K, Concord, CA.
Caffé La Scala – A trendy shop in downtown Walnut Creek perfectly suited for the studying crowd; lots of outlets, free WiFi, great coffee, and the fact that it’s open ’til either midnight or 1am makes it the best late-night coffee house in Walnut Creek. It can get a bit noisy and crowded, but is just about as quintessential WC as you can get. 1655 N Main St, Ste 110, Walnut Creek, CA.
Katy’s Kreek – A popular all-American eatery, many people visit for the great breakfast items on the menu. Their eggs Benedict seems to be the preferred choice among locals. Brunch on Sundays has the place packed, and reservations are handy. Winner of the “Best Sunday Brunch Restaurant in the SF Bay” award by KRON Channel 4. 1680 Locust St. Walnut Creek, CA.
Nation’s Giant Hamburgers – Right next to Farrington’s Sports Bar in the Safeway shopping center, it is no wonder everybody gives this place rave reviews; this burger joint stays open until 3am, and serves some delicious burgers. Still hungry? The other things they are known for are their pies. 1900 Contra Costa Blvd, Pleasant Hill, CA.
Back Forty Texas BBQ Roadhouse and Saloon – One of the most prominent steakhouses in the Concord/Pleasant Hill/Walnut Creek area, they have decent red meats, but better service. Dinnertime can get crowded, and you may find yourself waiting with that notorious, round, vibrating (hopefully soon) bane. Take home a bottle of their BBQ sauce if you enjoyed it. 100 Coggins Dr, Pleasant Hill, CA.
Giant Chef Burger – Quite a busy location, Giant Chef Burger offers delicious burgers as well as breakfast foods, and is open ’round the clock, except for shortened hours on the weekends. The waitstaff is known over all of Pleasant Hill to be the friendliest and most courteous, and you can eat gluttonously for under $10. 10 Golf Club Rd, Pleasant Hill, CA.
Elephant Bar – A chain restaurant that’s located in many cities in California, as well as some other states, it offers pan-Asian fare and some good cocktails. Not the best or consistent menu, but locals seem to enjoy it as a spot to start drinking before heading to the other bars. 1225 Willow Pass Rd, Concord, CA.
New York Pizza & Pasta – The pizza here is greasy, the slices are gigantic, and the crusts are thin, but as a New Yorker, I would take my city off the name. Not bad, but not quite New York. 1649 Contra Costa Blvd, Pleasant Hill, CA.
Pyramid Alehouse – The Walnut Creek location among several others on the West Coast, the Pyramid Alehouse serves great beer and delicious food. The only bad thing is that it closes before midnight. 1410 Locust St, Walnut Creek, CA.
There are several nice bars in the area, and though most of the popular ones are located in downtown Walnut Creek, various others can be found scattered throughout Concord and Pleasant Hill, as well. Note from experience: Every place that has the word “Grill” in it seems to be more successful as a bar.
Farrington’s Sports Bar – This little bar always seems to be packed, which is even stranger if you consider its location in a strip mall, the Safeway shopping center. Show the bouncer your ID and pay a $5 cover, though you get a wooden drink token with it also, redeemable for a beer or cocktail. Come on a Friday or Saturday night when there is a live DJ playing, or for Karaoke Sundays, to really see its potential. Pool tables on one side and dance floor and tables on the other, separated by a full-length bar. Oh, and for some strange reason, they offer free WiFi. 1938 Contra Costa Blvd, Pleasant Hill, CA.
Dan’s Irish Sports Bar – A truly awesome bar, though nothing too sporty or Irish about it, it is located a bit far from the other downtown Walnut Creek bars, so it is usually the first or last place pub crawlers check out on a Friday or Saturday night. Expect to pay a cover if a band is playing, though you may be able to skirt it if you arrive before 9pm. 1524 Civic Dr, Walnut Creek, CA.
Crogan’s Sports Bar and Grill – This is one of the most packed clubs in Walnut Creek on weekend nights, but also seems to have the most trouble (fighting, police, etc.). For full disclosure about where I stand on this place, I was thrown out (politely, at least) for knocking over a small trash can that was propped up on the footrest ledge at the bar, but I don’t think my review of this place is negatively biased; actually, I sympathize with the bouncers here, as this club seems to attract the most trouble-making crowd each time. It’s redeeming qualities are its central location and constantly packed dance floor. 1387 Locust St, Walnut Creek, CA.
Mr. Lucky’s – Even more central than Crogan’s is Mr. Lucky’s, a tiny bar that is always seemingly overcrowded. Lines outside the door can get fairly long, and you can forget about getting a seat unless you come before 10pm. Lively crowd of people usually in their mid-20’s through mid 40’s. Drinks are powerful and cheap. 1527 Locust Street, Walnut Creek, CA.
Agave Grill – Agave bills themselves as a nightclub and restaurant, but the nightclub is all anyone seems to care about. A Latin-flavored dance club, the dress code is always strictly enforced and you can feel quite important as you stand in line on the red carpet outside between the velvet ropes among barely-legal locals. 1935 Galindo St, Concord, CA.
E.J. Phair Brewing Company – Large alehouse in Todos Santos Plaza in Concord, and a great alternative to the other sports bars for watching the big game. Food is served in healthy portions and paired with an in-house beer for cheap. 2151 Salvio St, Ste L, Concord, CA.
BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse – Located in the Sun Valley Mall complex, BJ’s is another chain-restaurant in this area, popular probably due to convenience. 385 Sunvalley Mall, Concord, CA.
Masses Billiards & Sports Bar & Grill – Masses (pronounced mass-AYZ) is a large pool hall, with an overabundance of tables. The place is enormous, and so it never seems to get too crowded. A small game room with quarter games is located near the jukebox. Parking is on a precipitous and weird slab of pavement right off Main St. 2721 N Main St, Walnut Creek, CA.
Red Hat Sports Bar – Though it’s located on sketchy Monument Blvd in Concord, it is a fairly decent little dive bar, with loud rock music always playing, unless a local band is in the house. 1860 Monument Blvd, Concord, CA.
Diablo Lanes – A bowling alley, but its location in a rough section of Monument Blvd, 2am bar, and closing time of 2am on Thursday through Saturday would keep this out of any ‘family attractions’ category. I love the bar here; I used to come here after finishing the late shift at Fry’s Electronics, and I met one of my best friends here. 1500 Monument Blvd, Concord, CA.
Stadium Pub – Stadium Pub is your quintessential sports bar; it always smells of beer, things you touch are always wet (probably the cause of the smell), greasy food is available, and has several big screens to watch the game. 1420 Lincoln Ave, Walnut Creek, CA.
WPLJ’s – Located near (and somewhat hidden by) all the car dealerships in Walnut Creek, it is a place where some southern U.S. “expats” can call home. Country music is the music of choice, and the $10 cover appears extravagant when you see what awaits inside. 2112 N Main St, Walnut Creek, CA.
Spoontonic Lounge – Nice little lounge with comfortable booths. It is located down some back street, so it may be hard to find, and the Main St address can be misleading. 2580 N Main St, Suite A (at 3rd Ave), Walnut Creek, CA.
Spin Ultra Lounge – A adrenaline-fueled dance club right across the street from Crogan’s and a few doors down from Mr. Lucky’s, the $10 cover here is worth it if you don’t mind the crowded nature and sweaty aroma. The patio area makes it easier to have a smoke than stepping all the way out. 1411 Locust St, Walnut Creek, CA.
Tiki Tom’s – A small yet somewhat fashionable little bar, the crowd inside is very diverse. Tiki lanterns are on outside, so the name works, I guess.
Pixieland Amusement Park – This park is a hit with the kids, and has free admission, though the cost per each ride will make you wish you paid a one-off fee. 2740 E Olivera Rd, Concord, CA.
Waterworld California – Probably the biggest tourist draw from all over the Bay Area, Waterworld California offers a way to escape the heat from May through August, when its open. 1950 Waterworld Parkway, Concord, CA.
Sun Valley Mall – Though not quite an attraction as far as visiting goes, it is a central hub of the community and a good anthropological study of the native population. 1 Sunvalley Mall, Concord, CA.
Lindsay Wildlife Museum – Housed within its walls are over 25 different species of animals, such as eagles, foxes, and snakes. 1931 First Ave, Walnut Creek, CA.
All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting – AO offers trips from their office in Walnut Creek to any one of ten different white water rivers in California. Rivers vary in difficulty level, and all are at least 1-day trips, while some can be as lengthy as 4 days.
Mt Diablo State Park – Located in nearby Clayton, CA, Mt Diablo can be reached easily from the Concord/Pleasant Hill/Walnut Creek area via the North Gate Rd entrance. Equally scenic whether you choose to hike, bike, or drive to the summit, with great views of the dry lands beyond the Bay Area from the top. 96 Mitchell Canyon Rd, Clayton, CA.
*A special thanks to Jason Simons, for showing me the greatest of times when I lived in the East Bay area, and as I continue to visit my second home.