Va de Vi alley is a hidden gem in Walnut Creek

We talk a lot about the beautification of downtown Walnut Creek here. After all, it’s where we live, and where we love to live! Va de Vi, the excellent restaurant in the heart of downtown (across from Vineyard Vines and Rooftop), has a secret hidden treasure next to it.

Credit: EclipseDesign.com

If you’ve never noticed it walking by, or never taken a look after a meal at Va de Vi, you’re missing out. In the alley next to the restaurant, there is a beautiful sitting area and a huge tree, as well as some awesome art. This is my favorite part of the alley.

Olivia Kuser’s piece, “Shadowmaker,” is an enamel-on-metal piece that was inspired by the large oak tree just down the alley from it. Kuser likes to do her work in place to really get a deep feel for the image, and then takes it back to the studio to finish the art.

The slightly blurred image gives the impression of commonly-moving leaves. Kuser is a San Francisco-based artist who once created work about the marshes that used to encircle all of the San Francisco Bay.  As evidenced by “Shadowmaker,” Kuser favors simple landscapes that only have a few elements to them.

Her piece, combined with the beautiful alley itself and the towering oak tree and pond, makes eating at Va de Vi all the more special. It’s a hidden gem within the bustling downtown of Walnut Creek, and the perfect spot to stop and get away from it all for a few moments.

American Kitchen in Lafayette is cute, cozy and comforting

A friend recently treated me to dinner at American Kitchen in Lafayette for my birthday. This was my first visit and I enjoyed the atmosphere, service and food. What I am most excited about is a having a new place for breakfast! Tucked in between Chow and some non-descript office buildings in downtown Lafayette, American Kitchen is a hidden gem among the other well-known restaurants and bars.

It is actually an 80-year-old converted farmhouse that is run by locals Victor Ivry and Sariah May. They emphasize American comfort food and use the freshest, healthiest, most local ingredients. The coolest part about the space itself isn’t necessarily the adorable indoor dining area. It’s their “front yard,” which has a fire pit, a patio and multiple seating areas. It gives off the vibe that you’re enjoying your meal at a homey picnic more than a restaurant, which I loved.

I had the Gingered Squash & Pear Soup and a small Autumn Chopped salad with chicken, along with a glass of champagne. I was so enjoying my dinner and conversation that I forgot to take pictures of the food, but there are enough of the venue to entice you to try American Kitchen. They also have “themed nights,” like burgers on Monday, “Breakfast for Dinner” on Tuesday, and grilled cheese on Sunday.

It is truly a family spot, with drawings from the kids posted at the front door and only beer and wine being served. Stop by American Kitchen and give it a try for breakfast, lunch or dinner – I would love to hear your review.

Overall, I give American Kitchen 4 out of 5 Mt. Diablo’s!

Art Town: The beautification of Main St.

As Walnut Creek continues to rapidly evolve, with it goes the art scene. We try to feature cool public art pieces around Walnut Creek in this Saturday showcase. This week, we want to pay homage to the general beautification of Main St., especially all the colorful new planters!

As you can see, these really pop and make the sidewalks much more attractive. All the minor landscaping details and added colors have begun to give Walnut Creek’s remade downtown corners a lot more character. Instead of a sea of concrete and expensive shops, locals and visitors will be distracted by all the good-looking art!

That’s a good thing. I really appreciate that the city is making an effort to incorporate art into its downtown landscape. It seems very necessary! As long as there are beautiful flowers in beautiful planters along the sidewalk, it will feel pretty homey around here.

Pinky’s Pizza – still a Walnut Creek classic!

If you’ve lived in Walnut Creek long enough, you’ll remember Pinky’s Pizza and its old location across from the current Trader Joe’s. That was the place to go for pizza after swim meets, soccer games and school functions. When it shut its doors many years ago, it seemed like the next in a long line of Walnut Creek classics to be chased away by inflated costs.

via Groupon.com

Luckily, Pinky’s was spared. It re-opened a new location across from the Post Office in downtown Walnut Creek a few years ago. The pizza tastes exactly the same (some like it, some hate it…I am personally not a fan of the cheese, their own special blend), but they’ve come back with more TV’s, fewer arcade games and a revamped menu and bar.

For whatever you think of the pizza itself, you can’t beat the friendly staff and environment that has made Pinky’s a favorite among locals for decades. Nowadays, Pinky’s is actually a really cool place to watch sports, as they have enough seating inside and a little outdoor seating area as well. They make sandwiches, salads and wings now, too.

via Yelp.com

Pinky’s is definitely more grown-up now with the bar scenario and their awesome Happy Hour (Monday-Friday from 3-6 pm), but still caters to kids. Any kid 12 and younger can get a free ice cream, and there are still plenty of classic arcade games in the corner for them to play with.

Whether it’s the nostalgia, the service, the fact that Pinky’s has survived the Walnut Creek rent crisis, or the food itself, Pinky’s is still a downtown fixture. Hopefully, it’ll remain a place for after-Little League pizza and Warriors-watching for years to come (and provide a closer option than Rocco’s).

Walnut Creek Yacht Club: Better to be lucky!

For the record, it was me who was lucky in this situation! I had reserved a seat to Walnut Creek Yacht Club’s January lobsterfest but had to cancel when my son couldn’t get out of bed for lunch. Then, my friend Laura invited me with her reservation when a friend canceled.

This has been a yearly event that I have enjoyed many times. They used to charge the price of the year (i.e. $20.18), but this year they had to raise it to $25. If you’ve been to the Yacht Club before, you know that its cuisine is well-respected and the atmosphere is slightly upscale but inviting. “Lobster Month” is available for lunch or dinner, it includes 1.25 pounds of Maine Lobster either grilled or boiled, drawn butter, lemon, Regatta fries, and their WC Yacht Club coleslaw.

You do have to be a Loyalty Member (free!) to take part in the special deal, or even hear about them in their scuttlebutt newsletter and they can only accept in-restaurant reservations of 10 or fewer people, but it’s well worth it. One of the best-kept secrets in downtown Walnut Creek, especially since you have an entire MONTH to take advantage!

via wcyc.net

For this year, the lobster boil is almost over (unless you can snag a ticket last-minute for tomorrow), otherwise, you will have to wait until January 2019!

Road Trips: Bay Area Hikes with a bar at the end

John Solaegui, a realtor in San Francisco (ironically, I went to high school with his sister!), shared a blog about five Bay Area hikes that end with a reward – in this case, a drink! I know we typically talk about actual road trips here, but hiking is just as much a way of life in the Bay Area as driving, so we can make an exception this time around, plus you most likely will have to drive to the destination!

See below for a summary of the 5 in the initial blog, as well as two I’ve added myself!

Hike #1: Grape Stomp Trail (2.4 miles) in Sonoma

The best part of this hike is that you start AND end at Bartholomew Park Winery. So, if you lose motivation at the beginning, you can just sit down with a bottle and enjoy the sunshine anyway. But, for the purpose of respecting the hike, let’s talk about Grape Stomp Trail – it is a 2.4-mile loop that starts and finishes at the winery, just to the left of the tasting room. You can see views of San Pablo Bay and cross Arroyo Seco Creek twice. If you stay left on the You-Walk Miwok Trail, you can “summit” the trail at 640 ft.

Hike #2: Zinfandel Trail (2.9 miles) in Cupertino

A beautiful hike that starts from the southern end of Picchetti Winery’s parking lot and loops back a few miles later. The winery itself is a sight to behold – more than 100 years old, shaded by oak trees, and home to a brood of peacocks! On the hike, you’ll walk past wild roses, small ponds, and a creek. At the end, you’ll end your day with a nice glass of Picchetti’s famous red wine.

Hike #3: Dipsea Trail or Sun Trail (1.5-4 miles) in Mill Valley

You may have heard of this one. A hike through part of the Dipsea Trail in Mill Valley will take you to the Nature Friends Tourist Club. The German lodge, buried within the trees of Mt. Tam and erected in 1917, is a local favorite. But you either have to be a member, or plan your hike on a day that they open to non-members. You can hike straight from Panoramic Highway down the Sun Trail, or start in Mill Valley and climb all the steps for the first part of the Dipsea Trail to get there and enjoy some German lagers, food and music!

Hike #4: Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley Trail to Green Gulch Trail (9.7 miles) in Mill Valley

Wow, that’s a mouthful. But so is the meal and drink at the Pelican Inn when you arrive. If you’ve hiked the entirety of the Dipsea Trail, you’ve probably seen the Pelican Inn at some point. This is a little bit longer, more difficult route that will start you at Muir Beach, take you through the Tennessee Valley Trail (can’t-miss views of the ocean!) in Mill Valley, and eventually out onto the Green Gulch Trail. That will bring you back close to the Muir Beach parking lot, where you’ll be ready to gorge and splurge at the Inn.

Hike #5: Coastal Trail/Lands End Trail (3.3-6.6 miles) in San Francisco

Ah, a Bay Area classic! For being a big city, San Francisco has an enormous amount of beautiful, natural hiking spots within it. One of the best, and most popular, is the Lands End trail that gives you unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you take this trail down the coast, past the Sutro Baths, you’ll end up at one of the most iconic restaurants (with a surprisingly affordable bar), Cliff House. You can’t beat this one!

Now, for a few of my more local favorites…

Hike #6: Danville Fire Trail in Las Trampas 

Las Trampas Regional Wilderness towers over Danville on the West side of 680, and most people don’t seem to bother with it. There are so many hiking spots in the Bay Area (and the East Bay specifically), that it might not seem worth the trouble. But the Danville Fire Trail loops back onto itself, and spits you out just a few blocks from the cute downtown area of Danville, where you can do anything from grab a beer at any restaurant or taste wine at Auburn James.

Hike #7: Lafayette Reservoir Loop

No list like this would be complete without a local favorite like the Lafayette Reservoir. You can take your fur baby up for a short loop around the reservoir, or take a friend on the long loop for spectacular views of the East Bay. Once you’ve looped back to the start, tack on another half hour walk, or jump back in your car, to get to downtown Lafayette. Once there, you have no shortage of drink options, but I’d highly recommend Rustic Tavern, Chow, and The Cooperage.

You’ve Gott’s to try the new burger joint in Walnut Creek

See what I did there? Gott’s Roadside officially opened in the old Fresh Choice space on S. Main St., across the street from The Container Store. I tried dinner there recently, and enjoyed it!

Their picture of Mt. Diablo on the wall kind of looks like my logo!

I went to Gott’s around 4:30 and there was a line out the door – the first sign that a place is new, and/or worth eating at in Walnut Creek! When we left after our meal, around 6:30, the line was just as long. The location is excellent – very easy and convenient, especially if you want a quick bite while you’re out shopping or before you go to a movie.

Some highlights of the Gott’s menu includes their milkshakes, salads and, of course, the burgers. I had a bacon cheeseburger with sweet potato and regular fries. Everything was really delicious, including the Mahi Mahi tacos my friends ordered. I also liked that they have roll-up garage doors for the summer, so you can order a wine or beer with your food and hang out in the warm months, too.

With its proximity to downtown and Broadway Plaza, as well as being walking distance to the movie theater, I think Gott’s will have staying power in Walnut Creek. Not to mention they have good food. I did find it to be a bit pricey for a self-serve restaurant, but they have to pay Walnut Creek rents.  All in all, it’s a massive improvement over what used to be there, and should be a go-to spot for hungry locals and visitors alike!

Gott’s Roadside gets 4 out of 5 Mt. Diablo’s from me.

Art Town: Geological Evolution of Mt. Diablo

Most of the art we feature here are one-off pieces. This piece, however, is multiple independent parts that come together to form one. And it’s a dazzling recreation of one of the Bay Area’s most treasured jewels: Mt. Diablo. You can check it out by the Century Theaters downtown. Give a quick stroll before or after your next movie to see it!

You can see the cascading art from the top piece (above), to the first part of the next (below). It’s granite in stone, created by Doron Robinson in 2003, and represents the geological transformation of Mt. Diablo. What a cool piece! Follow along as Mt. Diablo is created from top to bottom (or, in geological terms, from bottom to top!).

Rent in Walnut Creek causing massive restaurant and bar churn

It’s no secret that rents are extremely high in California. Rents are high in the Bay Area, especially, and Walnut Creek is no exception. For how crazy home rents can be, commercial rent prices are even worse! That’s why we’re seeing so much turnover in bars and restaurants in downtown Walnut Creek.

Napa Food and Vine

It seems like we see 10 new restaurants per month popping up downtown which keeps my blog interesting. And when those come in, something must go. Some are so short-lived, we hardly even have time to try them before they disappear!

One especially pricey area is the corner of Locust and Cypress. Sauced has taken over for Pyramid Alehouse, Sunol Ridge came and went incredibly quickly, Lark Creek Cafe is closed, and new places like Urban Alley and Gotts are popping up every time we turn around. Not to mention, the place where Chili’s was a long time ago, which most recently was Caffe Stella, is clearly too expensive for anyone to come in and stay. Not to mention Crogan’s shut down, too, which may be a blessing.

That entire intersection is constantly changing, and it’s happening all over the place in downtown Walnut Creek. I know people who have moved out of Walnut Creek, and every time they come back (even if it’s only been a few months), they say certain parts of downtown are unrecognizable. Even Walnut Creek mainstay Vic Stewart’s is going to be replaced by retail!

Roam Free

This has both good and bad effects for Walnut Creek residents. As more fancy, expensive stores go in downtown, they will raise their prices to afford their own rents. More out-of-town shoppers will clog up downtown, too. But, those of us who do live here will benefit from having more amazing new restaurants and bars to try!

Nordstrom Cafe is a nice spot to snag a quick meal

Getting hungry while doing your holiday shopping? Not to worry! Nordstrom is right in the middle of Broadway Plaza, and has a great cafe that always hits the spot.

Nordstrom Cafe has quality food. I usually get their salads, but they have great entrees and always plenty of good choices for food to take on the run.

And it’s not your standard, run-of-the-mill, in-store cafe, either. They have items like tomato basil soup, shrimp and arugula salad, freshly-prepared pizzas, and delectable sandwich options. Don’t miss Chef Todd Nelson’s daily picks, either.

You really can find fine dining anywhere in Walnut Creek these days! Nordstrom Cafe will give you an easy, quick option for your holiday shopping, especially during rush hour.

I’d highly recommend the  Mixed Berry Chicken Salad or the Chicken Apple & Goat Cheese Salad, but I’ve also tried their soups and salmon entree. It is reasonably priced for the food they serve, too. Can’t beat that!

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