Explore Contra Costa County's Family-Friendly Towns and Wide Open Spaces

Explore Contra Costa County's Family-Friendly Towns and Wide Open Spaces

By Margaret Flores May 21, 2019

Situated in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, Contra Costa County is a conglomerate of largely suburban communities with sprawling natural spaces. Pear, walnut, and cherry orchards used to dominate the county, but over the years, most of the rural land was converted into housing developments, schools, and commercial centers. Contra Costa County has retained its heavy industry, however, due to its extensive waterfront along the San Francisco, San Pablo, and Suisun Bays; the region is still home to several active oil refineries (such as Shell in Martinez and Chevron in Richmond) and chemical plants (including Dow Chemical). Despite their growth, the cities that comprise the county have maintained their charm and continue to offer residents and visitors alike acres of open space to explore.  

Martinez, the county seat, is a historic town where renowned naturalist John Muir resided for many years and where legendary baseball player Joe DiMaggio was born. (It’s also rumored to be the birthplace of the original martini cocktail.) Visitors can browse for antiques in the array of shops lining Main Street, play bocce ball and go for a walk at Waterfront Park, admire early 20th-century architecture throughout the town, and grab a bite to eat at one of the new trendy restaurants. Mount Wanda, named for Muir’s daughter, is another popular Martinez attraction with meadows of wildflowers, oak trees, and hilltop views.

The upscale enclaves of Walnut Creek, Danville, and San Ramon also attract visitors from across the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. Walnut Creek and Danville offer a bevy of chic eateries; cocktail, beer, and wine bars; and high-end boutiques selling the latest fashions, accessories, and home-decor items. San Ramon, meanwhile, has boomed in recent years and enticed numerous tech companies to open offices there. City Center Bishop Ranch is the latest addition to the town, featuring 10-plus eateries, a craft brewery, a variety of posh shops, and even a luxury movie theater.

Though quieter than other parts of Contra Costa County, the Lamorinda region has seen rapid growth recently, too. Lafayette has a scenic reservoir with several trails as well as a bustling downtown with one-of-a-kind restaurants and shops. The nearby hamlet of Moraga is best known for its Saint Mary’s College of California, which has such prominent graduates as actor Will Forte and basketball star Patty Mills. Neighboring Orinda has a small downtown but boasts a historic movie theater and an array of gourmet restaurants. The town also borders Tilden Regional Park, a 2,079-acre oasis for outdoor enthusiasts, offering myriad hiking and biking trails, a lake, a golf course, a botanic garden, and more.  

But the most notable natural landmark in Contra Costa County is Mount Diablo, a 3,849-foot mountain at the northern end of the Diablo Range. Visitors can easily spend a whole day at the 20,000-acre Mount Diablo State Park, whether it’s traversing the terrain on foot, by bike, or on horseback; admiring the remarkable view from the Summit Visitor Center, where parts of 40 of California’s 58 counties are visible on clear days; or taking a ranger-led tour or nature walk. Other noteworthy parks in Contra Costa County include Briones Regional Park, Shell Ridge and Lime Ridge Open Spaces, Los Vaqueros Reservoir, Marsh Creek State Park, and Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.

Featuring expanses of open land and small towns with the comforts of large cities, Contra Costa County is an ideal destination for any type of visitor.

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