They call it “the sunny side of the Bay.” The area more commonly known as Tri-Valley—located 45 minutes east of the Golden Gate Bridge and comprised of the towns of Danville, Pleasanton, Dublin, and Livermore in Northern California—is a laid-back alternative to the more expensive wine country experiences further north in Napa. Prices are lower, crowds are smaller, dogs are welcome almost everywhere, and nothing feels commercial. It’s a slice of charming, pastoral Americana.
A few weeks ago, the team at Visit Tri-Valley invited me to check out the area for a weekend getaway. Along with my friend Cindy, we scoped out each hamlet-like town, toured the quaint downtowns, sipped wine amongst the vineyards, spotted cows along each drive, dined on farm-fresh eats, and even made our own bottle of vino to take home. All of that in 30 hours, and it was still a supremely relaxing trip.
Here’s where to go, what to do, and how to plan your getaway:
Lunch at Sideboard Neighborhood Kitchen: This meal was one of the best of the trip. Housed in a restored historical building, this green certified eatery leans heavily on locally sourced, sustainable ingredients. The theme is “rustic comfort food,” which means sizable sandwiches on bread by San Francisco-based ACME bread with (incredible) housemade potato chips, spinach salad with strawberries and a pear vinaigrette, and a veggie burger made with oatmeal, black beans, and jalapeno slaw. It didn’t hurt that the space is decked out in bright colors, Instagram-worthy vignettes, and a ladder topped with blankets for chilly nights on the outdoor patio. Make sure to grab a cup of Blue Bottle from their extensive coffee bar, too.
*** Downtown Danville: Of all the towns we visited, Danville is the most quiet. The tree-lined downtown streets—Hartz is the main drag—are filled with old-school establishments, like that cocktail bar from the early 1900s to vintage shops.
***Blackhawk Automotive Museum: I’m not a car gal, but even I was impressed by this car museum in the upscale Blackhawk area of Danville. The Smithsonian-affiliated institution packs 90 shiny classic cars—everything from a 1903 Ford to a 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III—into its showroom. The blue Ferrari with leather detail (above) was one of my favorites. (Upstairs houses an exhibit on Native American culture, which felt pretty random.) (Admission is $15 per adult.)
Downtown Pleasanton: Pleasanton lives up to its name. It’s just lovely, with its great boutiques, Wild Wild West-style shops, candy parlor, and the perfect balance of energy without feeling too busy. I got a great pair of earrings at Prim, and at the very well-curated Drift Co., a 7 Diamonds button-down for Eaman.
Also worth scoping out is the John Madden-owned Rose Hotel, a very old-school spot with a bar if you’re in the mood for a throwback happy hour, and Blue Agave, a festive Mexican restaurant that was booked for a private event that night. It’s no wonder—they have an amazing patio!
Dinner at Oasis Grille + dessert at Meadowlark Dairy: Oasis is a Mediterranean restaurant that teeters between Greek, Turkish, and Persian cuisines. Expect juicy chicken kabobs, creamy baba ghanoush, and more. Word to the wise: The kabob plates are huge and totally shareable. After dinner and en route out of Pleasanton, we hit up Meadowlark Dairy, Pleasanton’s famous drive-thru soft serve spot, which has been open in that location since 1969. It feels very classic-America. I highly recommend it, especially if you get the chocolate-vanilla swirl. I mean, is there really any other way?
Dim sum breakfast at Koi Palace: This being in the vicinity of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, the Tri-Valley’s population is fairly diverse, and that rings espeically true in Dublin, which boasts a large Asian population. So it’s no surprise that this Dublin dim sum restaurant was so incredible. Koi Palace opens at 9:30 am on Sundays and by 9:15 am, the line was already about 20 people deep. Ordering is a chaotic and confusing adventure the way dim sum always is, but that’s the fun of it. I never would’ve guessed it, but this was my favorite meal of the weekend. It was also the cheapest at $27 for three people.
(Idea: From the Bay Area, bring your bike on the Bart to Dublin. Once you get off, you can trek Mount Diablo, a mighty mountain with tons of trails. November is tarantula mating season on Mount Diablo, and people actually go to spot them. Yikes! Not for me. #worstfearrealized)
Livermore: Livermore is the liveliest town of the bunch. By night it’s a buzzing nightlife destination with booze and live music—check out Swirl wine bar and The Beer Baron—but by day, it’s a peaceful wine paradise. That means rolling hills, lush green vineyards, and plenty of reds, the Tri-Valley’s speciality. We stayed at the newly renovated Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Livermore. It was an ideal central location for our excursions, and they also include a breakfast buffet in your stay. Does anyone else love hotel breakfasts as much as I do?
*** Wente Winemakers Studio: I don’t drink a lot of wine—mostly whites—but being the explorer that I am, I like to try everything so I can get to know a place. At the Winemakers Studio, a part of family-owned Wente Vineyards, we learned about the art of wine, from looking to smelling to tasting, and how to detect different flavor notes. For a wine novice like me, it was an excellent crash course. But the best part was blending our own varietal. It felt a little like science class with the beakers, graduated cylinders, and that awesome periodic table of wine. We combined various cabs and pinots to create our own wine before corking and labeling it ourselves. Wine lover or not, this was a really cool and unique experience if you can swing it ($125).
*** Lunch at The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards: Down the road at Wente Vineyards, we had a lunch of burgers and beet salads at their restaurant. It’s an upscale and gourmet experience without feeling stuffy, and the landscape is beautiful with Spanish-style architecture, verdant lawns, giant olive trees, and the vineyard in the distance. While we were eating lunch, we spotted a couple laying in the grass with their two dogs and a glass of wine each. It looked like the perfect Sunday.
***Altamont Beer Works: Quick stop before the airport! Altamont in Livermore. Much like San Diego breweries, Altamont is situated in an office park, but the off-beat location didn’t bother this crowd. It was buzzing with 20- and 30-somethings looking to get their beer on. Despite its reputation as wine country, Tri-Valley is big on beer, too. They recently launched a Beer Trail that spans 18 microbreweries, tap rooms, and restaurants in all four of the towns we visited.
September is one of the best times to visit Tri-Valley, so get your planning on. I’ll be back again soon too—with Teddy in tow!
Thanks to Visit Tri-Valley for hosting me on this trip. Though my flight, accommodations, activities, and meals were paid for, all opinions are my own.