Best spots in the Bay to pitch a tent

TimeOut.com came out with an interesting list recently, about the 12 best places to pitch your tent and go camping in the Bay Area. One of the biggest perks of living where we do is access to the beautiful outdoors in any direction. We have great camping on Mt. Diablo right in our backyard which has amazing sunset views, or we can go out on the coast or up into the mountains to get an even bigger thrill.

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I’ve taken a few of TimeOut’s suggestions and curated a list with my favorites to combine into a top-5 camping must-visit list in our area. Where are your favorite spots to camp? Add to the list!

Pantoll Campground (Mt. Tamalpais)

Pantoll Campground is a phenomenally-located area on the windy roads of Mt. Tam. There are hiking trails (including some long ones down to the beach see previous blog – great hike) and good-sized campgrounds with tables and fire pits under heavy tree cover. It’s first-come, first-served, so get there early!

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (Big Sur)

This is a hike-in campground, but you can’t beat the beauty of Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns. You can hike all around the campground, enjoy a picturesque, relaxing night under the stars listening to the ocean, and even see McWay Falls, which tumble into the Pacific. It’s truly a beautiful place to pitch your tent.

Juniper and Live Oak Campground (Mt. Diablo)

You know I had to get one on this list in our own backyard. Mt. Diablo, for all its splendor, is an even better place to hike, bike and camp. One of the best spots is Juniper and Live Oak Campground, which gives you spacious campsites and unbelievable views of all of the Bay Area.

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Desolation Wilderness (Lake Tahoe)

This is cheating, a little bit. Lake Tahoe is not in the vicinity of the Bay Area, but it’s close enough that you can make a last-minute trip up there. If you want to camp in the gorgeous Desolation Wilderness, among the peaks and lakes, you will have to plan ahead. Get a permit, prepare to hike, and bring some snacks. You won’t regret it.  This is one my favorites as I love Tahoe and the surrounding area.

Redwood Regional (Oakland)

I’ll be honest – I knew about Redwood Regional near Oakland, but I had no idea it was a prime camping spot. This is a good place to go if you want something different from Mt. Diablo, don’t want to tangle with dozens of other campers for a spot, and don’t want to drive hours to get somewhere. California is famous for its redwoods, so hang a hammock here and enjoy the soothing sounds of nature.

The Dead Fish in Crockett: Tastier than it sounds

Even though all the fish you eat, whether in raw or cooked form, is technically dead, the term “dead fish” conjures up images of scaly carcasses washed up on a beach. Needless to say, that’s not very appetizing. However, The Dead Fish in Crockett gives reason to love its namesake with their food and stunning atmosphere.

The Dead Fish is located about 25 minutes North of Walnut Creek. It is just up the coast from Martinez, and across the Bay from Vallejo. It’s worth discovering, if only for its endless view of the Carquinez Straits. That’s the first thing that catches your eye when you arrive at the restaurant: round-the-dining-room views of the water, the lit-up bridge, and the hills that accentuate both.

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The owners of The Dead Fish also own such Bay Area seafood hotspots as Franciscan Crab Restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf, The Stinking Rose in North Beach, and Salito’s in Sausalito. For what it’s worth, The Dead Fish gets its name from the chef’s Nonna, who cooked for a large family, and couldn’t keep track of all the different recipes she prepared. So, when the chef (her grandson) asked what kind of fish she cooked, she told him, “It’s a dead fish!” Hilarious!

Anyway, the food itself at The Dead Fish is what you’ll come for as they are known for their Dungeness crab, which is only bought if it weighs more than two pounds (to ensure peak meatiness), and is only caught in the Pacific Ocean. They do have options for prime rib, filet mignon, and other non-seafood meals. Menus are subject to change daily, so make sure you check online before you go!

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I went for lunch. when the atmosphere is a little more light-hearted and not as crowded and you can fully make out the little decorations hanging from the ceiling. From all the photos I’ve seen, it is more of a dimly-lit, low-key vibe in there for dinner. Anyway, the food was good but not as incredible as the reviews said it would be. I still enjoyed my meal though! I had the asparagus with blue cheese and the single crab enchilada. Overall, I’d give The Dead Fish 3.5 Mt. Diablo’s out of 5.

New rooftop bars – behold!

According to this story, there are two new rooftop bars in the Bay Area! You can add this to the list of cool Walnut Creek spots, like Rooftop and Teleferic. We’ve touched on Teleferic before, but Rooftop is just one floor higher and also an awesome spot to eat and get a drink!

Credit: Diablo Mag

First, the bars in the story I linked above. Rooftop25 at Twenty Five Lusk in San Francisco is sure to be the latest addition to the San Francisco rooftop bar scene to make some noise. It’s from acclaimed chef Matthew Dolan. In Napa, Sky & Vine at the Archer Hotel, which is apparently the only rooftop bar in downtown. There are supposed to be amazing views and plenty of seating to complement amazing food and cocktails.

Now, back to your regularly-scheduled Walnut Creek bar scene. If you’ve been to Teleferic, you may have also seen Rooftop. As the name implies, Rooftop is on the top of the three-story building and it takes full advantage of that location.

With a snazzy retractable roof over the dining room, a large bar and a deck that wraps nearly all the way around the building, you can’t find a better atmosphere in Walnut Creek from which to take in a sunset on Mt. Diablo while enjoying cocktails.

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Credit: RooftopWC.com

Rooftop has the best view and patio, stealing customers from other classy, late-night spots in Walnut Creek who want to enjoy the views. So far, I have been there a few time.  Once for dinner and a couple of times to enjoy a drink and appetizers in the bar.  I sampled many of the “bar bites” which were all fantastic along with the designer cocktails.

The Buster Brown cocktail (bourbon-infused) was my favorite and Tuna Tartar with puffy rice crackers is divine. If the food tastes familiar, that might be due to Justine Kelly, former Chef de Cuisine at The Slanted Door, leading the way. According to the Rooftop website, Chef Kelly has competed on Iron Chef and cooked for President Bill Clinton.

Rooftop is a great, albeit slightly pricey, night out with friends and one of the must-be spots in downtown Walnut Creek. And if you’d like to go slightly outside your hometown, give these new spots in San Francisco and Napa a shot!

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Event Round-Up: April 21

We’re adding a new blog to the Saturday cycle, along with Art Town, Road Trips and Inspiration Saturday. Behold, our first version of Event Round-Up! Here, we’ll give you five of the best events around the Bay Area each month for the upcoming few weeks. If you go to any of them, let us know how you like the experience!

Grand Parade
Credit: https://sfcherryblossom.org/grand-parade/

Cherry Blossom Festival (San Francisco)

The annual San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown in San Francisco is already in full swing, but the biggest event – the Grand Parade on April 22 – is still to come tomorrow. It starts at Civic Center at 1 p.m. and ends in Japantown. It’s truly a can’t-miss event. And Kristi Yamaguchi is the Grand Marshal!

Memories That Make Us (Redwood City)

Through May 6, The Main Gallery in Redwood City is hosting “Memories That Make Us.” This art show is based on memories, which shape who we are in so many ways. The featured artists will touch on both the transient, fleeting moments of their lives and on the archetypes that permeate our culture. Check it out!

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Lyrid Meteor Shower (Everywhere)

The peak of the Lyrid Meteor Shower is supposed to occur with clear skies tonight, but will also be fully visible on April 22 from anywhere you can get a good vantage point. This shower dates back to 687 B.C., more than 2,700 years ago! This is a spectacle you simply can’t miss.
The Bubble Lady (Walnut Creek)
Next Saturday, April 28 from 3-4 p.m., The Bubble Lady will come to Walnut Creek and give you a perfect event to bring the kids to. Her interactive, bubble-filled adventure will be accompanied by music, laughter and artistry. For more information, you can check this link.
Guided Walking Tour (Walnut Creek)

Did you know that the Walnut Creek Historical Society leads a 90-minute guided walking tour downtown every 2nd Saturday from March through October? Now you know! It reveals early life in Walnut Creek and hidden parts of our town’s history. Tours are free and depart at 9:30 a.m. from the fountain at Liberty Bell Plaza (Broadway & Mt. Diablo). The next one is scheduled for May 12.

Art Town: New-look California Plaza

If you’ve ever hopped on BART in downtown Walnut Creek, you’ve probably seen the towering, 10-story office buildings just across the street from the North parking lot (if the train was headed towards the Pleasant Hill station). It has recently gotten a makeover, including state-of-the-art conference facilities, residential units and an outdoor area with bocce ball courts.

Also part of the makeover is a brilliant art installation, which paints a beautiful picture of Mt. Diablo across multiple fans against a wall. I call them “fans,” though I’m not sure exactly what the structure is, what kinds of materials were used, or who created it! Information is sparse.

What I do know, though, is this is an amazing upgrade to a space that was very 1970s outdated. I’m excited to see what other changes they will add to the building to spruce up the Walnut Creek BART area. It seems like good timing, with all the changes going on around and in the Bart area that destined to become a little village.  Just on Riviera the back road to WC Bart and where my office is located, are 3 new condo complexes being built (a future blog), not to mention the large apartment complex across from Bart on Ygnacio.

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Good pizza hidden next to a high school?

There are a lot of great pizza joints in and around Walnut Creek. I’ve written about many of them in this blog, but most are also located right downtown in an easy-to-find spot. However, one of the best pizza in Walnut Creek is hidden in a tiny building right next to the main Las Lomas entrance!

If you want affordable combos and really great pizza, try Pan Coast Pizza! It’s a popular spot for high school kids after school lets out, and I can see why. They have a pizza, salad and drink combo for $9 and their large slices go for about $3 each. This place is well worth it.

I’m a huge fan of the cheese they use on their pizzas – it really just brings everything together. You can taste the quality in every bite. And it’s evident that the husband and wife duo who own and run the place have taken time to perfect their pizza.  They told me they get their cheese from Wisconsin and their tomatoes from Italy. I like the thin-crust style and my favorite is the cheese pizza.  They also serve strombolis, hoagies, salads, and more. Their motto is “a taste of the East Coast,” and they really mean it!

Julie and Robert have both worked in pretty much every cooking position there is, in states all over the country. They started in Pennsylvania, which may be where they get a lot of their inspiration from. They also both have experience working in acclaimed San Francisco restaurants.

Whatever they’ve done here, it is working out fabulously. Luckily for me, Pan Coast Pizza is just a short walk from my neighborhood, so whenever I am hankering for a slice, I know where to go. I give Pan Coast Pizza 5 Mt. Diablo’s!

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!

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!).

Check out Limon for great food and drinks!

I recently tried one of the new restaurants in Walnut Creek, Limon, and it did not disappoint! It’s situated on Locust St., next to Vitality Bowl. I have now been for both lunch and dinner; both times I ate some great food, and right before the Warren Miller movie, fantastic pisco sours!

The vibe is like many new restaurants in Walnut Creek: a nice, hip atmosphere, slightly overpriced, but it delivered on results.  The roasted chicken and ceviche are their signature dishes and the Pisco sours do not disappoint.

In our rush to get to the movie, we sat at the bar and shared a half chicken, green beans and we just had to have the truffle macaroni and cheese.  My only complaint is when we left, my clothes smelled smoky like cooked food.

Overall, I really enjoyed Limon, especially those pisco sours! They have an extensive bar and a fabulous selection of Tequila.  A handful of restaurants have recently closed (Lark Creek, Sunol Ridge and Vic Stewart’s), making Limon a great option for a nice dinner.  There are two locations in San Francisco, one in Burlingame, and one opening in Hawaii this year.

I give Limon 5 out of 5 Mt. Diablo’s.