Tired after a week of car combat out on local highways and byways? Want to get away, but don’t feel like driving far? Really, I hate to share this secret because then it may become “discovered,” but I’m going to anyway. My wife and I did this last Sunday. Headed east from Berkeley on I-80 only as far as the Hercules turnoff. Had a pleasant Sunday brunch outside on the patio of Leila By the Bay, with great views of Mt. Tam, passing Capitol Corridor trains (I’m a train nut), the Vallejo ferries going back and forth on San Pablo Bay… and did I mentioned “bottomless mimosas?”
The next part takes you back 60 years: we drove east on Historic Route U.S. 40, also known as San Pablo Avenue, passing through the sleepy hamlet of Rodeo, up a long curve passing through the fascinating industrial landscape of the Conoco-Phillips refinery. Suddenly the view becomes open, with a cloudless sky and the straw grass-covered hills, California’s summer blue and gold, pretty much as it was in the 1940s. There’s a big tank farm in the narrow valley between hills, then up the grade we drove to a scenic overlook of the Carquinez Straits.
Crockett is a sweet treat, not just because of the C&H Sugar Refinery, a throwback to America’s industrial might of a hundred years ago, but for such charming things as Toot’s Tavern, a local bar with neon sign depicting a shapely female reclining in a martini glass. I plan to visit the model railroad society, open only on certain days. This is town worth exploring. There’s a lot of history and pride in Crockett, now populated by artists, musicians and independent spirits. If you’ve driven enough, there’s the spectacular view from the always crowded Dead Fish Restaurant, or you can get simpler fare right on the waterfront at Nantucket. Watch for fast-approaching trains as you walk across the tracks. Last Sunday we did neither, but continued through Crockett to the East Bay Regional Park at Eckley Pier.
At the bottom of a steep grade, we arrived at the spacious green lawn, picnic tables and BBQs bordering the Carquinez Straits. The park is sheltered from the breeze and the rest room is clean. This is a family-friendly park with a paved path circling the grass, perfect for beginner bicyclists and scurrying scooters. There is a pier jutting out into the water for fishing. We preferred to find a shady spot, set up our camp chairs and spent the afternoon buried in good books. It was one of the most relaxing afternoons we’ve had in a long time. To prolong our happy state of mind, we took San Pablo Avenue all the way back to Berkeley, reversing a hundred years or more of Bay Area history.
On other occasions we have hiked along the trail at the top of the Eckley Pier turnoff. It’s a mostly level trail with wonderful views, particularly pleasant in the spring when the hills are green. You can hike to a bench with a killer view of Mt. Diablo, the Carquinez Straits, Benicia and Martinez. The world passes by at a distance: boats, ships, trains and planes. If a more social scene is your preference, there’s nothing like Port Costa on a sunny summer Sunday. There’s usually a live band playing outside at the Warehouse Bar. Even the bikers are friendly. Across the street is the Bull Valley Roadhouse, serving upscale food and my current favorite whiskey cocktail, the Golden Bull Fizz. We choose this place for birthdays and anniversary meals. It seems like you are a million miles away from the hectic workaday world, in a small town which was once far more busy, but now seems basking in the reverie of the past. That’s what we often do for a Sunday attitude adjustment. It’s a lot closer than going to Pt. Reyes National Seashore, our other Sunday favorite.