A mini-nature walk in downtown Walnut Creek!

We all know how beautiful our little town of Walnut Creek is. It’s surrounded by the Shell Ridge Open Space, has a gorgeous view of Mt. Diablo from pretty much anywhere, and is generally just a very clean, aesthetically-pleasing town to live in. But, did you know there’s a legitimate nature walk downtown?

Ok, it’s not a hike or anything, but the creek that gives us our namesake does wind through some lovely areas. One of which is right through Civic Park after you cross the Ygnacio Valley bridge on the Iron Horse Trail headed south. Every October there is a city wide sponsored volunteer event and clean up the creek is always part of it!

If you hook a right after that Ygnacio Valley bridge (and subsequent canal bridge), you are immersed in a makeshift “Creek Walk.” Follow the creek on the right and take in the signs that describe the wildlife of Walnut Creek. This is the path that rounds the large grassy area, so bring your kids or fur babies, too!

There are benches, places to stop and eat, and a continuation into Civic Park if you so wish. Of course, you can extend this trail a lot; for example, I parked at the Broadway Plaza garage and walked across the street to meet a friend at Pacific Bay Cafe and that is when I noticed these Creek Walk Signs, once I googled it, I found it extends down to Maria Maria! Next time you’re wandering downtown, take this quick detour and enjoy another small aspect of what makes Walnut Creek so great!

Walnut Creek on ice is officially back!

It’s that magical time of the year when the temperature in California dips down into the frigid 50’s, an occasional rainstorm passes through, and…an ice rink forms in Civic Park? That’s right, downtown Walnut Creek hosts an ultra-cool ice rink through Walnut Creek On Ice.

The rink, which opened on Nov. 9, and will remain in place until late January, has become a local favorite during the winter, to give us Californians a little taste of a white winter, but saving us the 3-hour trip to Tahoe! You can take a date to the rink for a couple skate, or maybe teach the kids how to skate at the open rink.

There are even an ice skating academy and private lessons for those who are getting serious about being a future San Jose Shark or the next great Winter Olympian. This is a wonderful way to spend some quality time with your friends, family, and loved ones this winter. How nice does a short stroll to La Scala after a couple hours on the ice sound?

If you’d rather skate in a colder locale, foggy San Francisco and icy Lake Tahoe both offer some awesome rinks, too! At the Embarcadero, you can skate with beautiful Bay and Bay Bridge views and then saunter over to the Ferry Building for hot chocolate. In Union Square, you can circle the rink between the buildings and even take in a “Drag Queens on Ice” show. And in Tahoe, of course, Northstar’s village ice skating rink is not to be missed. It’s 9,000 square feet of joy, surrounded by bars, cabanas, and fire pits – and if you’re up at Northstar anyway…it’s free!

Walnut Creek is the hub of the East Bay for a reason, and hosting cool events like an ice skating rink is one of them. The rink itself is in its 14th year of operation downtown, meaning Walnut Creek On Ice has brought snowy joy to our citizens since 2004 – this is bound to be the best year yet. Let me know if you check it out, and how you liked it!

Oktoberfest: Not enough beer, but tons of fun!

I went to the Walnut Creek Oktoberfest at Civic Park a few weeks back – an event I’d recommended in a previous blog! It did not disappoint, however, I don’t think the people running the event had any idea what they were in for. They ran out of beer fairly quickly, and also didn’t have enough pretzels or funnel cake for the hungry and thirsty masses!

Overall, it was still an awesome event. There were a few people dressed up and the beer they did have was served from Brauerei Weihenstephan, which is apparently the oldest brewery in the world. They also had some local artisanal beer selections, as well as wine. The main issue (besides running out of it!) was that the drink lines were so long, that you had to wait for 20 minutes to get a stein or in this case a glass of beer and then you could only have up to two at a time.

So, even though the food and drinks were good, the crowd was large, and the Civic Park venue was much more appropriate than the old location on Locust St., there were some operational issues to work out for future events. There was a kids area, plenty of food vendors, art vendors, beer batter dipped french fries (What?!), music, and a bunch of new people to meet. I went towards the end, but the consensus seemed to be that it was a very successful event.

Oh, and did I mention it was dog-friendly? What a bonus! I would have brought Bodie if he would do well in crowds with dogs everywhere, but I didn’t want to risk it. Still, what a great event for downtown Walnut Creek that will surely be replicated in the Octobers to come and may surpass Clayton – just with more beer next time! Did you go? Let me know what you thought!

Oktoberfest comes to Walnut Creek!

There’s one event – a holiday, even, if you stretch that definition – that takes place each Fall that all adult should take part in. It’s not Thanksgiving. Not Halloween. It’s the German beer event known as Oktoberfest! The festival has become so popular, that pretty much every town has their own version.

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Even here in Walnut Creek, we have an Oktoberfest event, and it’s taking place this coming weekend! This year, it will be held at Civic Park from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can head there to drink copious amounts of beer, eat great food, and meet fun people! This is the 4th annual Walnut Creek Oktoberfest and will span all 16-plus acres of the park.

At the Walnut Creek event, there will be a Biergarten, Microbrews, gourmet food, live music, Autobahn and vendors. All ages are welcome to the Kids Zone but the beer areas will be the main draws. Best of all, tickets are FREE.

Oktoberfest, of course, originated in Germany and is celebrated widely in cities like Munich and Berlin, where people dress up and stand on tables and drink beer all day. I actually had the pleasure of attending Oktoberfest in Munich back in my 20’s – lots of drinking, a carnival…and I really don’t remember much else.  Walnut Creek’s isn’t quite as celebrated, but it’s still a good time! Hope to see you there – lederhosen and dirndls not required, but encouraged!

Event Round-Up: Sept. 15

It’s that time again, folks! School is back in full swing, and we’re on a holiday drought until Halloween. But that doesn’t mean the well of fun activities in the Bay Area has completely dried up. That’s one of the best parts about living here – there is always something to do!

Here are five fun events around the Bay Area for the next month or so to tide you over:

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Exploratorium After Dark (San Francisco – every Thursday)

The Exploratorium is a super interesting, cool museum no matter the time of day. But make it adults-only, serve drinks, cut the lights, and give us a mind-bending cache of exhibits to wander through from 6-10 pm every Thursday? Sold! Don’t miss it!

National Public Lands Day (All Parks – Sept. 22)

It’s one of the best days of the year for outdoor enthusiasts. All National Park Service sites that normally charge an admission fee will have free entrance for the day. If the one excuse for not exploring this beautiful place we live has been a desire to not pay the fees, well, now’s your chance.

Autumn Beer Tasting with Anchor Brewing (San Francisco – Sept. 26)

Anchor Brewing is one of the better local breweries to come out of the Bay Area, and now you have the chance to taste autumn beers right as the season turns. It’s only 20 bucks, 90 minutes of your time, and you get generous helpings of newly released beers from the head honcho brewer at Anchor!

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Movies Under the Stars: The Jungle Book (Civic Park – Sept. 28)

There’s nothing better than laying out under the stars and catching an outdoor movie with the family. On Sept. 28th, the Movies Under the Stars series in Walnut Creek comes to a close with The Jungle Book, playing at 7 p.m. on that night. There is a little music for about an hour beforehand too, if you want to come out early!

Grease Sing-A-Long at Sundown Cinema (San Francisco – Sept. 28)

Well, sorry Walnut Creek. San Francisco took your outdoor movie idea for this date and went all-in. You can go to the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in San Francisco and watch Grease on the big screen outside for free! Food trucks and vendors will be there early, and the best part about this is you get to sing along to the catchy tunes of this movie classic!

“Sure Enough” – new art installation in Civic Park!

You may remember when I posted my most recent Event Round-Up. It featured an artist named Patrick Dougherty who was putting up a massive art installation in Civic Park, culminating in a final reveal/celebration on May 26th.

Well, the installation is done and up in downtown Walnut Creek, and I’d highly recommend you go check it out! It’s extremely unique and interactive, and it draws your eyes right to it. I recently stopped by Civic Park to take pictures and experience “Sure Enough!” It is fun to meander through and get lost in the moment and just watch other people do the same. I got there after the celebration and people were still coming into the park with curiosity and then continuing through to see the Hand of Peace.

As mentioned in my previous blog, the installation is made possible because The Bedford Galley and City of Walnut Creek Public Art Department have a National Endowment for the Arts grant.  This project is inspired by the idea that art is for everyone.   I am continually impressed with Walnut Creeks urban art and how they expose and engage the community to public art.

Dougherty is a world-famous sculptor, known for his larger-than-life woven willow sapling installations. He says that ¨Sure Enough” (which is a Southernism evoking a state of complete satisfaction) is aimed at the open skies to take in “that special California light.”

Dougherty, who has won many awards for his work, started out with single pieces on pedestals and moved into these monumental, scaled works which require truckloads of saplings. He has built more than 250 of them now, and has become internationally acclaimed for sculptures worldwide, including Scotland, Japan, France, and more. The “Sure Enough” installation will be there for a couple years, so no need to hurry, but next time you’re in or around Civic Park, make sure to check it out!

Event Round-Up: May 19

Welcome back to the next installment of Event Round-Up! Below, you’ll find five of the best events around the Bay Area for the next few weeks. If you attend any, please let us know how they were – you may even be mentioned in a future blog!

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Bay to Breakers (May 20, 2018 – San Francisco)

Look, if you’ve still never experienced Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, you’re truly missing out on a one-of-a-kind spectacle you can’t get anywhere else in the world. Take advantage of this “race” of usually around 100,000 people dressing up in ridiculous outfits, drinking mimosas, and enjoying the sunshine in the city. It’s an early start, but you can take part in the festivities without actually registering for the race. Be there tomorrow – you won’t regret it!

Civic Park Public Art Installation (May 26, 2018 – Walnut Creek)

This will be a super cool, unique event. The Bedford Gallery and City of Walnut Creek Public Art Department have a National Endowment for the Arts grant for a public art installation in Civic Park. It brings world-famous sculptor Patrick Dougherty to town and should continue to put Walnut Creek’s art on the map. He plans to install a huge project made of woven willow saplings, and he’s calling for the public’s help volunteering to assist. The project has already begun and ends on May 26th, when there will be a free celebration in the park for your viewing pleasure!

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Mission Mural Tour (June 2, 2018 – San Francisco)

If you’ve ever wandered through The Mission District in San Francisco, you’ve probably eaten amazing Mexican food, stumbled upon a few mind-boggling murals, and then eaten even more amazing Mexican food. But it’s the middle thing we’re focusing on here, as you now have the chance to join a public, professional walking tour of the murals in The Mission. It will give you information, history and context around some of your favorite murals in The Mission. The tours are free, but the guides accept donations and tips!

First Wednesday (June 6, 2018 – Walnut Creek)

Cypress Street in downtown Walnut Creek will have a lot going for it on Wednesday, June 6th. That will be the next installation of the First Wednesday event that shuts down a whole city block and invites live music, dancing, food trucks, adult drinks, a Kids Fun Zone and games. There will also be a Chef’s Demo (in partnership with the Contra Costa Certified Farmers Market) and chances to win free prizes. You can park for free after 5 p.m. in all downtown garages that day, and the festivities last from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. I can’t recommend it highly enough – it’s always a great time!

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Haight Ashbury Street Fair (June 10, 2018 – San Francisco)

Similar to First Wednesday (only bigger, better and more famous – sorry Walnut Creek!), the Haight Ashbury Street Fair will take place a few days later in San Francisco. This fair has been around for decades and seems to get better every time I go. There is a ton of live music, the best food, drink and craft vendors around, and – as is typical with any event in San Francisco – a TON of people. As if you need an excuse to enjoy one of the city’s most famous neighborhoods on a beautiful day, go check out the Haight Ashbury Street Fair!

It’s not too late to jump on the Walnut Creek summer bike challenge!

Are you an avid biker? Is that your summertime physical activity of choice? Even if that’s not the case, you might want to give this cool bike challenge in Walnut Creek a try!

It’s a great way to force yourself outside to enjoy the beautiful Bay Area summer weather, get a little exercise, and be environmentally-friendly all at once. Basically, there is a Walnut Creek Summer Bike Challenge that asks you to download a challenge card and complete it before the summer is over.

Destinations include Cream in downtown Walnut Creek (what better motivation for going on a ride is there than having ice cream at the finish line?), Heather Farm and Civic Park.

If the exercise, enjoyment and gas savings aren’t enough incentive, there are also prizes! Some squares on the challenge card offer instant prizes or free stuff upon completion, and the program’s grand prize is an iPad.

Other Bay Area cities hosting a challenge like this are Brentwood, Martinez, Oakley and Pleasant Hill. Give it a shot and explore our wonderful little town in a whole new way. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a SoulCycle subscription!

What Labor Day Weekend means to me

Labor Day 3 Ah, the long-anticipated three-day weekend that everyone looks forward to at the end of summer: Labor Day is upon us! Whether you’re spending the last weekend of summer at a BBQ, up in Tahoe or just having a staycation at home, it’s a great chance to relax with family and friends and soak up some rays before the long trek into winter begins.

To me, Labor Day means time spent at the lake, good food and a short break from the crazy working world.  If you’re looking for something to do over the long weekend locally, check out what’s in store for Labor Day in Walnut Creek:

  • Broadway Plaza parties: L’Occitane and Tommy Bahama’s are among the stores that are celebrating their grand re-openings in the newly refurbished downtown shopping district. Great excuse to get out, check out the remodel and shop ’til you drop!
  • “Nuts About Rio: Faster, Higher Stronger” is this year’s theme for the annual Labor Day Aquanuts synchronized swimming show at Heather Farm Park. Beer and wine will be sold at the 47th annual event, which celebrates the recently-completed Olympic Games.
  • The Walnut Creek Concert Band will be putting on a Labor Day Park Concert show at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, September 5th. Labor Day 1

I hope everybody has a safe and happy Labor Day weekend.  I leave you with an interesting Labor Day thought …

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the first Labor Day was observed on September 5, 1882. An estimated 10,000 workers gathered for a New York City parade organized by the Central Labor Union.

Unions were very important back then, but think now about our labor force of freelancers and entrepreneurs and how it’s changing! Millennials are much more apt to live the “Google life” now, where all their food, health and leisure amenities are literally in the offices with them. Or, they freelance! My freelance writer left a cushy job in P.R. to work on his own schedule with his own clients and he joked earlier that “every day is Labor Day for him if he wants it to be!” Funny how things have changed.

The story behind Civic Park’s “Hand of Peace”

FullSizeRender (4)We continue our tour of Walnut Creek’s public art scene with one of the more recognizable sculptures in the city: “Hand of Peace,” located just outside the library in Civic Park. The aptly-named sculpture is a monument to peace by Italian-born artist Beniamino Bufano, who passed away in 1970.

Legend has it that Bufano cut off his trigger finger and sent it to President Woodrow Wilson to protest World War I. He was a peace activist who taught at the San Francisco Institute of Art, UC Berkeley and Oakland’s California College of Arts and Crafts, according to a 2012 San Jose Mercury News story. Bufano has other prominent pieces in the Bay Area, including a sculpture in Chinatown, one at Mondavi Vineyards in Napa, and one at Lake Merced.

According to the San Jose Mercury News article, Bufano originally created the “Hand of Peace” for the San Francisco Arts Commission, but when the piece was put up for sale, developer Bill Swigert paid $50,000 to place the sculpture in Walnut Creek, outbidding Fox Plaza and Ghirardelli Square.

The sculpture sat in an office park in Walnut Creek from 1967 to 2009, when it was taken down for restoration. Now, it’s up for display for many years to come in Civic Park. The sculpture weighs nearly 5 tons, stands 30 feet tall, and is made of copper, mosaic and stained glass.

Oh, and it’s a PokeStop, by the way…