My first stop was only the beginning of the unique places and attractions I was to discover in Concord, California, in Contra Costa County. I parked my car on the side street, walked one block, and entered the space through a vine-laden archway. Lush plants with colorful blossoms were everywhere. Three-tier fountains added a refreshing water-rushing sound on this hot summer day, and white, red-roofed Spanish architectural buildings surrounded the space. What lay before me looked like a movie set with an unlimited budget.
Until recently, Concord, California, 32 miles east of San Francisco, was one of those communities people drove by on their way to Napa Valley, 50 miles away. Today, it is making its mark as a destination for visitors seeking experiences away from the large cities and accompanying crowds.
Pro Tip: You can take Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) from San Francisco to the Concord stop.
I am thankful to Visit Concord for the invitation to dig deep and discover this thriving community.
1. Todos Santos Plaza Is A Community Gathering Place
It isn’t just me thinking this place is beautiful. In 2018, the American Planning Association named Todos Santos Plaza one of three Great Places in California. Don Salvio Pacheco, from Spain, received a land grant of 17,921 acres. He donated 2.5 acres to the residents with the understanding that it would remain a community gathering place. Thankfully, his stipulation has been honored, and the plaza recently celebrated its 150th anniversary.
Today, this space is buzzing with activities. Children scream with glee as they traverse the jungle gym on one corner of the expansive grass area. Parents sit nearby, keeping a keen eye on them as they catch up on the latest news with their friends. Lunchtime brings out the picnic baskets and families happily share picnic tables scattered throughout the plaza.
Office staff can be seen with a cup of coffee, reading, or editing a report. You can’t blame them. It is the perfect place to escape the confines of office walls while sitting in the shade of the giant oak trees filtering the sunlight. There are plenty of restaurants nearby to grab lunch and breathe in the fresh air.
The area comes even more alive on Thursdays as farmers market vendors bring their produce from nearby farms. Music adds to the upbeat atmosphere where everyone is welcome.
If unfamiliar with Head West Marketplace, it is a San Francisco Bay event showcasing up-and-coming artists and crafters. The vendors interact directly with residents and visitors about their creations. Think Etsy but in person. With a successful trial run, the marketplace will now be held regularly in the plaza. I had the great pleasure of experiencing it and found the perfect gift for my granddaughter.
For jazz festival lovers, you will want to keep your eyes open and be abreast of the numerous jazz events held throughout the year in many different venues. It is apparent this community embraces the genre. I can’t think of anything more delightful than bringing a blanket, laying it out on the grass, and listening to one of the many concerts in the park.
Pro Tip: Check out Visit Concord’s event calendar to find events for when you visit.
2. Learn Concord History On The Concord Walking Trail
With documented history back to the mid-1800s, Concord rises above other cities for its early understanding and importance of preserving records and its buildings for future generations. Today, a map delineated with 28 stops brings to life the stories of early settlers.
With a map in hand, this is a great family activity and is a hands-on approach to map reading. Plus, it allows families to slow down and take in the beauty of the city’s landscape. Here are a couple of examples of the kinds of discoveries you can make:
Salvio Pacheco Adobe
In 1840, an adobe structure was built to serve as the headquarters of Don Salvio Pacheco’s administrative office. Salvio Pacheco Adobe was remodeled and served as living quarters for his family. Over the years, it has gone through many restorative and remodeling projects and today serves as the home for a credit union.
The Bibber House is located just off the plaza. It was built in 1913 and served as home to two generations of the Bibber family. It is known for its majestic, exotic wooden entrance and staircase. Its verandas are prevalent, and one can only imagine the social events held here under the moonlit sky to entertain guests. Today, it houses professional offices.
Pro Tip: Pick up a map at Visit Concord, located just off Todos Santos Plaza, or download it from their site.
3. Concord Pavilion Offers A Variety Of Events
The Concord Pavilion, owned by the City of Concord and operated by Live Nation, holds 12,500 people. It is one of the largest venues in northern California. As a result, it is not uncommon to have performers such as Dierks Bentley, Backstreet Boys, Chris Brown, and Lil Baby make appearances. It is also the home of graduations and prominent outside speakers.
The amphitheater is tucked in among the hills, with large oak trees gracing its tops. At sunset, the light filters through the oaks and serves as the opening act to reveal the dark sky sparkling with brilliant stars. This is truly a special place to enjoy a California summer evening to its fullest.
Pro Tip: Check the Concord Pavilion’s calendar for scheduled events.
4. Wineries Welcome Visitors
Wine enthusiasts will have no problem finding a new winery to explore within a couple miles of the city limits. Less crowded than neighboring areas, vintners have more time to individualize the tasting experience. If you want to taste all white wines, no problem — just let them know before you start your tasting.
Pro Tip: Waltzing into a winery without a reservation can sometimes be problematic. Most wineries rely on a reservation system to alert them of the number of staff they may need on a given day.
5. The Veranda Is An Unusual Shopping Experience
The Willows shopping mall, located on Willows Pass Road, serves the community well with national brands such as Old Navy, Krispy Kreme, Half Price Books, Panera, and REI. The Veranda, recently built adjacent to the Willows, now enhances shopping opportunities by expanding the breadth of name brands accessible to its customers.
It doesn’t take long to realize that this will not be an ordinary shopping experience — The Veranda’s white-glistening buildings meander through inviting walkways. Soft music plays in the background as you enter the complex. There, before you, is an amoeba-shaped pond that suddenly breaks into a mesmerizing ballet of spouting water.
The playground is located near the center of the complex. An artfully-designed rope jungle gym is the perfect place to help children burn off their energy while parents enjoy the ambiance and have a cool drink. Nearby are the ice cream shops waiting for children and adults to indulge in a refreshing treat.
6. Dining Choices Are Abundant
If you are looking for Mexican food, you certainly are in the right place. Visit Concord recently received the California Tourism Marketing Award for its Taco Trail. With the help of five Mexican food fans, they set out to document 39 stops showcasing Mexican restaurants and food trucks. Built into the map are designated rest stops, for example the Concord Hilton, if you need a change of pace.
I stopped at Pancho Villa Birrieria y Carnitas. The restaurant’s newly remodeled industrial décor added to the enticing atmosphere as regular customers came in and quickly ordered their favorite dishes. Not in the mood for a taco, I ordered mixed fajitas, which arrived sizzling hot with steam rising from the plate. While I dined, I enjoyed a Pacifica and listened to the soft vocal Latin music playing in the background.
On the other hand, if you are hankering for Italian food, you cannot go wrong at Doppio Zero, located in The Veranda Shopping Center. With a seat on the patio under the royal blue umbrellas and comfy striped cushion chairs, you find yourself wanting to linger and relax. The soft background music and nearby fountain add to the realization that, perhaps, it is time to slow down and just be for a while.
A more than generous dish of lasagna arrived piping hot. One bite confirmed that I had made the right choice. I immediately felt like I was transported back to Italy. This made-from-scratch meal, including the pasta, more than exceeded my expectations.
If you need a pick-me-up or a breakfast treat, consider a stop at Cinnaholic. It’s right off Todos Santos Plaza. A few years ago, the owners appeared on Shark Tank. Though they were offered a deal, it fell apart, so they chose their own path. I think they have no regrets and now have franchises throughout the United States.
A bit leery, since I am not a vegetarian, I wasn’t convinced that a gluten-free, lactose-free, and dairy-free cinnamon roll could be all that good. Well, I was wrong! What makes this cinnamon roll different is that it is on a plain pastry, you choose the flavor of icing you want, then add a topping. I chose the simple vanilla frosting and added a topping of white peaches. Let’s just say it is a good thing this small storefront pastry shop is not in my neighborhood. I would be there frequently.
After two nights and 3 days of exploring Concord, I realize I still have much more to discover. This city of 130,000 people is preserving its history while keeping an outlook for ways of enticing visitors to stop and stay a while. I’d say they are on the right track from my vantage point.
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