Warmth and Charm Await You
By Charlene S. Mixa
A relaxed casual atmosphere of active, charming towns is found east of San Francisco nestled among rolling hills and valleys. The beautiful cities of Pleasanton, Livermore, Danville, Dublin and San Ramon are located in the Tri-Valley, California area. Three adjacent valleys – Amador, Livermore and San Ramon create the picturesque setting for these family-oriented communities less than a one hour drive from San Francisco.
In an earlier California trip, Richard and I happened on to Livermore, California and were extremely impressed with the community, its beautiful golf courses and excellent wineries. We look forward to a return visit to the Tri-Valley area to experience other towns in this scenic countryside.
A short drive from San Jose, we arrive at Callippe Preserve Golf Course, recently ranked among the top 10 in California by Golfweek Magazine and in the top 10 of America’s best new public courses by Golf Digest. Located in the Happy Valley area of Pleasanton, the course opened in November 2005. We are immediately impressed with the course and clubhouse. It is truly a premier public course. Luckily, the rains came through earlier in the day, so we tee off under a clear sky with cool, comfortable temperatures. Callippe Preserve is in excellent condition, plus the golf carts all have GPS system which is very helpful. The course is scenic as the front nine gently meanders through the valley. Ugh, the rains return as we finish the front nine. A short shower it quickly moves past giving way to clear skies. Extra challenges are found on the back nine as it winds through the foothills. Careful attention is necessary for our shots with the uphill, downhill and dogleg fairways which often cross gorges or ravines. We love the course! Richard says it is one of the best public courses he’s played.
Our accommodations are at the Pleasanton Marriott located conveniently near Interstate 580 and 650. Entering the hotel we find it combines the trendy lifestyle of Silicon Valley with a feel of the East Bay wine country. The staff is most helpful as we check in. Our room is spacious and comfortable. In addition to its modern luxurious style, we appreciate the extra touches of the 32 inch flat screen HDTV and spacious work area. We especially like the large upholstered head board with the adjustable reading lights built in, the comfy lounge chair and large bath towels. The Concierge Lounge with complimentary continental breakfast, daily snacks and evening cocktails is an extra special touch.
Refreshed, we head to historic downtown Pleasanton. The tree-lined main street creates a warm welcome and a small home town feel. Numerous restaurants and eateries line several blocks of the downtown area, as do many unique shops. The Wine Steward, housed in the old movie theater, combines a wine store with a tasting room. On the first floor, the wine store is stocked with varieties of global and local wines. The balcony features the tasting area with a bar and several tables. As we sample the local wines, Jim Denham, the owner, gives us insight in to the area wineries and their owners. The wines are all very good and we learn more about Jim’s vision for The Wine Steward to be more than a wine store and tasting room. Jim continues to utilize creative ideas such as wine classes, a wine club, experts for special wine tastings, and he even rents climate controlled wine storage space.
Walking down the street this Monday evening, we admire downtown Pleasanton and its shops. We continue a few blocks to The Farmer Restaurant at the historic Pleasanton Hotel. Originally built in 1864, The Farmers Hotel was the first hotel in Pleasanton. Following a fire, rebuilding and renovations in the early 20th century, it became The Pleasanton Hotel but no longer takes overnight guests. The Farmer Restaurant owes its name to the original Farmers Hotel and its current owner’s Elegant Farmer Restaurant in Oakland during the 60’s -80’s. Seated at a window table we have a view of Main Street and the tree-shaded patio. The restaurant’s menu is varied from a down home fried chicken to an excellent variety of seafood and meats. Our waiter’s recommendation for an appetizer is “Crostini with Beef” that is very tasty. My entrée of broiled salmon is the best! Richard’s baked filet of sole is delicious. Dinner ends perfectly with the scrumptious “Grammy’s Old Fashion Fruit Cobbler.” With full tummies it is time for relaxation at the Pleasanton Marriott.
A fifteen minute drive the next morning has us in Danville with its small-town atmosphere. Another historic town in the Tri-Valley area Danville’s downtown is only a few blocks. Strolling through town it projects a quaint, homey feel.
We locate Sideboard in the Danville Hotel. Much more than just a coffee shop, Sideboard’s offers inside or outside seating in a rustic comfy setting. The Morning Menu features a variety a breakfast options from the daily, freshly baked morning pastries to an elegant breakfast sandwich. Taking our order at the counter, we are quickly told the cinnamon roll is a must. An occasional coffee drinker, Richard has a latte served in a bowl while I enjoy watching my flower of Jasmine tea slowly open in the acrylic teapot. My poached farmhouse egg on Levain toast is excellent. Richard’s appetite is sated with his gourmet Breakfast Sandwich. The cinnamon roll was awesome! As the morning crowd strolls in we can see that the owners, Erin and Ford Andrews’ vision of a “neighborhood coffeehouse and kitchen” is achieved.
We are discovering the historic roots of Tri-Valley today with three museums on our schedule. Our first stop is the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, located behind the Danville Hotel and Sideboard. Housed in Danville’s restored 1891 Southern Pacific Depot, the museum preserves and celebrates the area’s history. Upon entering the museum we notice the huge quilt depicting the “Miracle on the Hudson” where Pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely ditched the airliner into the Hudson River. The hands of god are holding the plane as it settles on the river. Our docent, Beverly, explains Sully is from Danville and how the quilt was donated to the museum. A majority of the exhibits are in the large depot room that features the Valley’s past in exhibits of artifacts, pictures of historic buildings and several unique items of historical importance to the Valley. A historical narrative frieze borders the top of the wall giving insight into the various changes of the Valley, its landscape and its people from Indians, early settlers to the early 20th century. The museum has special exhibits throughout the year. An upcoming one is on Abraham Lincoln and Beverly enlightens us on the involvement California, its people and families had in the Civil War. The museum is rich in the Valley’s history and culture.
Just outside the Museum a shuttle picks us up for the tour of Tao House – Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site. Our docent, Jordan, begins describing the life of America’s only Nobel Prize winning playwright, as he drives the winding road through a Danville neighborhood. At Tao House, Jordan points out the property, the structure and architectural design of the house. He educates us on the similarity of O’Neill’s plays to those of the Greeks and his bringing “tragedy” to American theater. Touring his home, we hear about the challenges and the troubled family life that haunted Eugene O’Neill throughout his lifetime. These circumstances had a major impact on his plays, his family, and himself. In each room, Jordan tells of the eccentric personality of O’Neill and his wife, Carlotta. While at Tao House, O’Neill sought isolation to write his “soul grinding” autobiographical plays including a “Long Day’s Journey into Night” that made him America’s most important playwright. Visiting Tao House with its unique rooms, colors, style and magnificent views of Mount Diablo plus Jordan’s in depth descriptions of O’Neill and Carlotta, we have a new perspective of this infamous playwright and his life.
Finishing the two hour tour of Tao House, we worked up an appetite and head to Blackhawk Plaza. Blackhawk Plaza is the East Bay’s premier shopping and dining destination featuring an aquatic landscaped interior courtyard with terraced shopping and dining establishments. The Blackhawk Grille is at one end of the Plaza taking advantage of the view of the scenic “aquatic landscape” of rocks, with ponds and water cascading from one level to the next down the center of the plaza. The Grille’s huge floor to ceiling window frames a picturesque view of this water oasis. This trendy upscale restaurant is busy with the lunch crowd as we arrive. Serving lunch and dinner, the Blackhawk Grille offers a savory selection of freshly prepared food. The eclectic lunch menu has plenty of tasty choices for diners. Having had a big breakfast we opt for lighter meals of lobster bisque and the wild sea bass salad. The small plate of mini crab cake with tarragon shallot aioli is delicious. Intentions of eating light are gone as we sample the Valrhona Chocolate Ganache cake with a scoop of ice cream. Executive Chef, Ryan Jackson even stops by for a brief visit.
The opposite end of Plaza is the Blackhawk Museum, an automotive museum in a spectacular 70,000-square-foot architectural masterpiece to showcase these rolling sculptures. The museum is impressive with automobiles beautifully displayed as they sparkle and shine under the lights. A car lovers dream! Rows of cars from all eras, manufacturers, and countries beckon visitors. Dan guides us through the museums 90 cars explaining that many of the cars are on loan from Museum friends in all over the world. The museum boasts the most dramatic presentation of ‘coachbuilt’ cars in the world. Pointing out many unique cars such as the hunting car used by the Maharaja of India, Dan explains the car is not stainless steel but actually silver! We recognize cars from our parent’s era and our generation of a Packard, woody station wagon, Thunderbirds, VW bus, and all manufacturers of automobiles. Every car is in pristine condition! Superb! We could definitely have spent more time roaming through the museum.
Since the prediction is an afternoon of rain, we leave the Blackhawk Museum for a visit to the Jellyfish Spa, also located in the Blackhawk Plaza. As we step in the Spa, there is a huge water tank with Jellyfish floating in it. Trish, welcomes us and briefly explains Jellyfish Spa’s unique business model. The plan offers unlimited services on a membership basis for a monthly rate of $99.00. Members can have facials, massages, and their nails done as frequently as they want. Richard leaves with Drew for his relaxation massage, while Trish leads me off for my facial. The timing here is perfect, a great way to wind down after a very busy day. With us both relaxed and refreshed, we head back to the Pleasanton Marriott for some further relaxation.
The afternoon rains arrive as we head to Eddie Papa’s American Hangout for dinner. Located in a shopping center, Eddie Papa’s lives up to its goal as a fun, gathering place for families and friends. Crowded and noisy, the large, casual dining room is bustling with diners enjoying a meal or refreshments. The menu offers specialty foods from around the country and regionally inspired entrees. We immediately spot the Vernor’s Ginger Ale from Michigan. Eddie Papa’s is a fun place to “hangout” this rainy evening. The food and service is great. We especially love the creamy Macaroni and Cheese casserole, “Introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson, 1787. A decadent blend of Sonoma Cheddar and Jack cheeses.” People-watching is fun at the Hangout, as the wait staff delivers even cotton candy to excited diners.
Our final morning in Tri-Valley, following our complimentary breakfast in the Concierge Lounge, we are off to golf at Bridges Golf Club in San Ramon. The rains have passed and it is a beautiful clear day as we arrive for our early morning tee time. From the first tee we can see several holes of the course as it follows the natural landscape along a canyon. Playing the course we see why it has been rated by the Northern California Golf Association as one of the most challenging Courses in Northern California. The course is fun and definitely challenging with its narrowly sloped fairways, vast bunkers, quick greens and heavily landscaped hillsides. With pars on the first few holes, we think we may have tamed the course. It quickly proves us wrong as new obstacles greet us.. It is a great course to play a second round to have course knowledge. Bridges is an exciting Johnny Miller designed golf course and offers the ultimate public golf experience. We enjoy lunch at Bridges Club before heading off on our next California excursion.
The Tri-Valley area exceeds our expectations with its rich history and small towns. The area is scenic with the rolling hills, the towns are welcoming and the people are gracious. Everything is close by with each of the towns being within fifteen minutes of each other. Tri-Valley is a great place to visit and a terrific area for Californians to live.
If you go:
Tri-Valley, California Convention & Visitors Bureau 349 Main Street Suite 203 Pleasanton, CA 94566