We’ll start today’s tour in the city of San Ramon, the southernmost city in Contra Costa County and one of the top places to live in the greater bay area.
The Downtown area you’re driving through now is home to the Bishop Ranch business park. The fortune 500 companies that headquarter here in San Ramon include Chevron, 24 Hour Fitness, and Cooper Companies, plus the west coast headquarters of AT&T and GE Digital. The workforce of these major corporate players makes up a sizable chunk of the city’s population.
Serving this business district are several strip-mall style shopping centers, featuring grocery stores like Sprouts Farmers Market, chain restaurants and fast-food options, hardware stores, pharmacies, and more. The City Center shopping mall, located up ahead at the corner of Camino Ramon and Bollinger Canyon Road, is a neighborhood destination for restaurants like Vietnamese eatery The Slanted Door and bars like Fieldwork Brewing Company.
Make sure to take a left when you hit Bollinger Canyon.
This central downtown area is undergoing a redesign as part of a city initiative to reduce traffic and increase pedestrian activity. The Walking District Plan was passed in 2022 and seeks to rejuvenate the stretch of town between the business park and the San Ramon Medical Center to the east.
Turning left on Bollinger Canyon Road, you’ll pass San Ramon’s Central Park on your left and the Marketplace on your right. One of 57 city and community parks in San Ramon, Central Park is a recreational hotspot with tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts, baseball, softball, and soccer fields, a playground, and a skate park. It’s also the site of San Ramon’s City Hall, the large white building, and its community center, which holds hundreds of events and classes each year.
The Marketplace, on the right, is the site of the San Ramon Public Library, as well as Trader Joe’s, CVS, and other essential shops and restaurants.
Heading east toward the residential neighborhoods takes you past some of San Ramon’s most attractive perks – their public golf courses. Canyon Lakes, which stretches out on both sides of the road, is the first course we’ll pass. This combination golf course and brewery features 18 taps to accompany their 18 holes. After a long day on their par-71 course, you can kick back and enjoy an ice-cold beer or seltzer and enjoy appetizers, sandwiches, and burritos in a restaurant that serves classic club food with a Latin twist.
Just past Canyon Lakes, the road crosses through The Bridges, a semi-private club with an 18-hole par 72 course. With narrow, sloping fairways this is one of the more difficult courses in the greater bay area, so bring your A-game! The Bridges is also a beautiful spot for special events like weddings and private parties, with gorgeous mountain views on all sides.
As you keep heading down Bollinger Canyon road, you’ll see more of the residential side of San Ramon.
Cruising down Bollinger Canyon Road through the east side of San Ramon will give you a feel for residential life in this quiet community. The streets are lined with sycamore and cherry blossom trees, giving this suburban community a serene, natural atmosphere. In fact, the abundance of foliage led to San Ramon’s designation as a “tree city” in 2001.
San Ramon’s ten elementary schools took up all ten of the spots in a 2019 ranking of Contra Costa County primary schools. The middle schools and all four high schools placed in the top ten in their respective rankings too, with Dougherty Valley (visible on your left) leading the pack. This makes San Ramon one of the best places to raise a family east of the Bay.
Of course, kids need more than just schools to grow and stay engaged. They need social engagement, exercise, and play, and a safe environment to do those things. San Ramon ranked on the 2021 Safewise list of safest cities in California, scoring higher than nearby cities like Dublin and Livermore (which also made the list).
In terms of outdoor recreation, there are tons of opportunities for kids and adults alike to engage with the community and have fun. As I mentioned earlier, the city has 57 public parks that range from sports facilities to playgrounds to walking trails through the rolling foothills. Avid hikers enjoy the city’s proximity to the Las Trampas wilderness and Mount Diablo.
San Ramon is also a hub for equestrian sports. The land northeast of the city is riddled with riding schools and stables for horse lovers of all skill levels.
Continue down Bollinger Canyon. As you pass Rancho San Ramon Park, with its massive playground and jogging track, Bollinger will become Dougherty Road, which heads toward our next stop. Follow the GPS directions to the north end of Dublin.
Just before you arrive you’ll pass the south end of the San Ramon Golf Club, a walkable par-72 course that sits at the southern extremity of the city.
You’ve just driven over the line into Alameda County – welcome to Dublin! You can probably guess how this suburban city got its name. The land was purchased in 1850 by Irish settlers hoping to strike gold in the region.
The north end of town, which you’re driving through now, is almost entirely residential. Suburban streets meander through the area on either side of I-680, forming distinct neighborhoods, each with its own elementary school. The local high school is also in this part of the city, its athletic fields backing up to the Iron Horse Trail, a multi-use bike path that follows the path of an old Southern Pacific railway line. 28 miles in length, the trail connects the communities in the Tri-Valley Area, running from Concord in the north to Pleasanton in the south.
Public amenities in the area include the Shannon Community Center, a 19,000 square foot rentable facility with a banquet hall and classroom. Kolb Park features lighted tennis courts, and the Dougherty Hills Dog Park provides a spacious off-leash area for your furry friends.
Dublin is also home to the Heritage Park and Museums, which stand at the intersection of the two main stagecoach routes in the Tri-Valley Area from over 200 years ago. This intersection was vital to the growth of Dublin and now serves as a monument to the community’s history with its historic buildings and pioneer cemetery.
The route you’re on will take you to Dublin Boulevard, where you’ll turn left. Just across the highway, you’ll find the Dublin Retail Center and Stoneridge Shopping Center, which serve the commercial needs of Dublin’s northern residents. The former features grocery stores, a Target, an REI, and a few other retailers, while the latter is a traditional shopping mall, with a Macy’s, JCPenney, H&M, and other shopping staples.
After you turn on Dublin Boulevard, you’ll head east through Dublin’s more commercial area before leaving town.
The east side of Dublin is where you’ll find most of the area’s restaurants, bars, and shopping centers. Keep an eye out for Hacienda Drive – you’ll be turning right.
A key player in this area’s development is the BART train station that connects Dublin to the Bay Area cities in the west. The station, located in the middle of I-580, is surrounded by a district made up of corporate offices, apartment living, and numerous strip malls. Hacienda Crossings, where you’re turning right, features a Whole Foods, a movie theater, and a couple of chain restaurants, such as Urban Plates’ farm-to-table food or the casual Lazy Dog Bar.
If you’re already on Hacienda, your next turn will be a left on Owens Drive. Crossing over the freeway places you in Pleasanton, the next city on our tour, but before I talk about that I’d like to say a few more things about Dublin.
This Eastern end of the city is centered around Emerald Glen Park, with over 40 acres of recreational facilities for the whole family. Its most visible feature is its public water park, with slides, a wave pool, and a playground with water features. There are also tennis and basketball courts, athletic fields, and a skate park. This is also where the community holds its weekly farmers’ market on Thursday evenings, with local produce, hot food vendors, and crafts from local artists and artisans.
Further East, you’ll find the Dublin Ranch Golf Course, with fairway views over the adjacent Doolan Canyon Preserve. Residents of the area have three local elementary schools and access to the Fallon Sports Park, with all the recreational amenities a neighborhood needs.
Okay, now that we’ve talked about Dublin, let’s move onward to Pleasanton!
Santa Rita Road, which you’re driving down now, is Pleasanton's main drag – in fact, it literally changes its name to Main Street a little further on. The strip mall on your right, Valley Plaza, has more than immediately meets the eye. This small commercial area is home to several local favorite restaurants and bars. Fiesta taco is a small, order-at-the-counter style restaurant that packs big flavor into small tortillas. Fans of Asian cuisines will enjoy the Indian, Korean, and sushi restaurants that also make their home here.
Sports fans will love to kick back with a cold beer and watch a game at Sunshine Saloon, a sports bar with ping pong tables and shuffleboard. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, check out Limitless Axes & Ales, where you can practice your axe-throwing skills while enjoying a vast selection of craft brews.
Just past the shopping center, and past the Walgreens and Safeway across the street, you’ll drive by Amador Valley Community Park. In addition to the large athletic field on your immediate right, you’ll also find the Dolores Bengtson Aquatic Center here, with a full Olympic-sized pool, a 25-meter pool with a diving well, and a shallow pool with a water slide where the kids can splash and play all summer long.
As you drive further down the road, you’ll pass Amador Valley High School, and cross over Arroyo Valle into the quaint main street area, lined with shops and restaurants.
While you head over there, I’ll talk to you a little bit about the Alameda County Fairgrounds, located just west of Main Street.
The Alameda County Fair sets itself apart from county fairs across the country by featuring horse races every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The fair runs from mid-June to mid-July, with a special race taking place on the 4th. Lovers of the sport won’t want to miss the action!
The fair also includes all the summer fun and games you expect from a county fair of its size. Carnival rides, corn dogs, funnel cakes – they’ve got it all. Daytime events include pig races, a medieval jousting tournament, and motocross stunts! For fairgoers over 21, they hold daily beer and wine tastings.
The fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. Fireworks and drone light shows are just the beginning. Movie screenings for the family and an outdoor concert series are perfect ways to end a day at the fair.
The fairgrounds aren’t only active during the summer - in fact, the oval area inside the racetrack has been expertly landscaped into a 9-hole public golf course that’s perfect for beginner golfers and fun for experts. And don’t forget to come back for the Pirates of Emerson Haunted Theme Park – a Halloween tradition in the Tri-Valley Area.
By now, you’ve probably reached the many shops and restaurants on Main Street. I’ll give you the highlights, and let you spy the rest for yourselves.
Main Street Brewery, on the north end of the street next to the bridge, is Pleasanton’s home for live music and unique beers made on-site. Beer lovers should keep their eyes peeled because Gillam Brewery and McKay’s Taphouse and Beer Garden are both located on the left side of the street.
Main Street is shut down on Saturday mornings to make room for the Pleasanton farmers market, where local produce can be found alongside art and crafts made by local artists and artisans and wines from the surrounding vineyards.
In the center of the street, you’ll pass the Pleasanton Museum on Main, located in the old City Hall building. This small museum houses a permanent collection that outlines the history of Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley Area. They also host guest speakers, student programs, and even a ghost walk!
Okay! We’ll be heading out of town and out into wine country. Follow the GPS directions - I’ll be back in a bit to tell you a little more about the county.
Bernal Avenue takes you through some of Pleasanton’s best residential neighborhoods, with beautiful tile-roofed homes overlooking the rolling hills of Alameda county. The next town we’ll be seeing is Livermore, nestled in the third valley that makes up this area, along with the San Ramon and Amador Vallies, the Tri-Valley area has a rich history that dates back thousands of years. The Ohlone people maintained a settlement in the northern part of Pleasanton from as far back as 2,000 BCE. The arrival of the Spanish in 1772 led to a new era in the greater Bay Area, with missionaries and ranchers at the front of a wave of Spanish settlers.
Amador Valley, and the San Ramon Valley to the north, get their name from Spanish pioneer Jose Maria Amador, whose Rancho San Ramon spanned 4,400 acres. Its main house was in modern-day Dublin, near the wagon-trail intersection where the Heritage Museum now stands.
In 1848, at the very beginning of the California Gold Rush, Amador, along with several Native American guides, discovered gold and established a mining operation near present-day Amador City, in Amador County to the northeast – bet you can’t guess who those places were named for!
These days, the Tri-Valley area serves largely as a suburb for the tech-heavy bay area, with several large companies headquartered in the valley itself. For instance, grocery giant Safeway has its headquarters in Pleasanton, and I already mentioned some of the corporations that operate out of San Ramon, including Chevron and AT&T.
Coming up, make sure to take a right on Vineyard Avenue – a road that brings me to the other thing the Tri-Valley area is famous for. As you head out of Pleasanton, I’m sure you’re already getting the sense that you’re diving into wine country – the rolling hills and beautiful climate of Livermore valley make it a perfect spot to grow the grapes for some of California's most acclaimed wines.
We’ll talk a lot more about wine later on as we drive past some of Livermore’s best vineyards. One spot we won’t see along today’s route, however, is the largest vineyard in the Tri-Valley area, and one I’m sure you’re aware of – Wente Vineyards.
Wente produces over 700,000 cases annually, growing 20 varieties of grapes over 3,000 acres. Founded by German immigrant C.H. Wente, this site was established in 1883, chosen for its climate and its three distinct soil types. The rich terroir of red clay, plus the drainage provided by gravelly lean soil and sandy loam create a perfect environment for winemaking. In 1908, Wente introduced the first chardonnay vines to the Livermore Valley. The climate here proved a perfect fit for chardonnay, with the cool fog of the morning and afternoon helping to preserve the grapes’ natural acidity.
Before we get to Livermore, we’ve got one more spot to see on Pleasanton’s outskirts. Keep heading down Vineyard avenue to pass the exclusive country club estates at Ruby Hill.
While we’ve mentioned a few golf courses already on this tour, the Club at Ruby Hill is a cut above the rest. More than just a country club, Ruby Hill is a community in and of itself, with luxury homes that overlook the fairways and greens and upscale community amenities.
The 4- and 5-bedroom homes at Ruby Hill sit on spacious half-acre lots and feature private pools and gorgeously landscaped outdoor patio areas. Best of all, living in Ruby Hill gives you unfettered access to the social events and athletic facilities that the Club offers.
Ruby Hill was named for the bright red clay soil that lent its flavors to the grapes once grown here. Although the original Ruby Hill Winery, founded in 1885, sold off parcels of its land over the course of its 115 years in business, it managed to remain in operation until it burned to the ground in 1989. By that time, construction had already begun on the golf course, which was envisioned in 1985 by legendary golfer and entrepreneur Jack Nicklaus. Today, a new Ruby Hill Winery operates a much smaller vineyard and sits at the entrance to the community.
The Club opened its doors in 1996 and features the first Jack Nicklaus signature course in Northern California. It’s also the longest golf course in the region, measuring 7,400 yards from the most difficult tees. Don’t worry if that sounds like an insurmountable distance; the par-72 course has five tees on every hole, making it accessible to players of all ages and abilities.
Besides golf, the club has a year-round heated pool, tennis courts, and tons of social events and activities to enjoy. Head over to “Pilates and Prosecco” to get a workout in and celebrate with a bubbly treat, or take part in their club-wide bocce ball tournaments.
The club also features a state-of-the-art fitness center and three choices for dining. The main dining room provides a classical fine dining experience, the Reserve is a small upscale room for cocktails, appetizers, and evening dinners, and the Grille is a more casual space for grabbing a bite and a beer after a round of golf.
The last stop on our tour is Livermore! We’ll be coming into town on the south side, where you’ll get a good look at the residential areas of the city before we get downtown.
Welcome to Livermore! This is the final city we’re seeing on our tour today. Independence Park, immediately to your right, is the southeast corner of Livermore’s main recreational spot, featuring plenty of athletic fields for both youth and adult sports. Just a couple of blocks south you’ll find Sycamore Grove Park, with 847 acres of open space for hiking, biking, walking, and jogging through the rolling hills of the valley.
As you wind your way up Holmes Street toward downtown, you’ll pass through mainly residential neighborhoods, with one shopping center on your left containing a convenient grocery store and a couple of restaurants.
While we head toward downtown, I’m going to tell you about Livermore’s largest employer, and the city’s main claim to fame – the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Originally founded in 1952 as an offshoot of UC Berkeley’s radiation lab, the facility was intended to compete with the Manhattan Project, the New Mexico-based lab that pioneered the early days of atomic research. It was hoped that the competing institutions would spur each other on to greater innovation in the field of atomic energy.
Throughout the Cold War, the laboratory was a key player in the design and construction of nuclear warheads. Despite their contributions to the stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, their research actually helped prevent excess nuclear testing and proliferation by implementing methods of maintaining and upgrading the existing arsenal.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the atomic research done here led to the discovery and synthesis of the 116th element, named Livermonium in honor of the lab.
Today, the lab is best known for its work for the departments of energy and defense, and its innovations in microelectronics, nanotechnology, and alternative energy.
Pay attention to the GPS! We’ll take right onto Railroad Avenue, the main commercial street in the city. Just before you reach it, you’ll be able to see Parkway Park on your right, a long greenway that follows the Arroyo Mocho through the middle of town. The Arroyo bike trail runs right through the park, providing a great means of green transit as well as fun and exercise.
You’ll also see the Valleycare Memorial Hospital on your left, a vital institution to the city’s health and another major employer.
You won’t be on Railroad Avenue for long – keep your eye out while I’m talking for Livermore Avenue, where you’ll take another right turn.
Can you guess how Railroad Avenue got its name? This “railroad town” was one of the stops on the original Western Pacific Line from Alameda to Sacramento, the shortest of the three lines that made up the First Transcontinental Railroad. The line was completed in 1869 and led to a massive population boom in Livermore, which is now the largest city in the Tri-Valley Area.
The railroad itself was eventually acquired by the Union Pacific Line, which had constructed the longest stretch of the transcontinental track from Omaha to Salt Lake City. Union Pacific still owns and operates the tracks to this day, which run along the north side of the road just a block to your left.
In the late 1800s, this town was known for its grand hotels, offering weary travelers a place to stay in luxury on their long cross-country journey. As the city grew into its own entity, the majority of the hotels were taken down and replaced with new buildings.
As you turn right onto Livermore Avenue, you’ll see the large brick structure of the Bankhead Theater, Livermore’s hub for the performing arts. This 500-seat auditorium hosts comedians, cultural performances, and concerts all year long.
You’ll also cross over First Street, where the majority of the city’s restaurants can be found. Alongside chains like Nick the Greek and Buffalo Wild Wings, you can stop in at local favorites, like the First Street Alehouse, Bruno’s Italian Cuisine, or the high-tech gastropub Hops and Sessions. You can even catch a movie and grab a brew at the Vine Cinema and Alehouse.
Keep on heading down Livermore toward our final point of interest. Along the way, you’ll pass Bothwell Park and Playground, where the Bothwell Arts Center provides culture and entertainment from a variety of local and international artists.
The end of our tour will take us through Livermore’s foremost attraction – the myriad wineries that line Livermore Avenue and Tesla Road as they wind their way east. I’ll tell you in detail about a couple of them, but feel free to stop in at any of them that catch your eye. After all, what better way to round out a drive through a California valley than tasting the local terroir?
On your left, you’ll pass the entrance to Retzlaff Vineyards, one of the easiest wineries to access from downtown Livermore. Gloria Retzlaff Taylor, its founder, purchased the run-down Connelly estate, a former sheep ranch, in 1977, restoring the Victorian farmhouse and repurposing the land for winemaking.
Located in the suburban neighborhoods on the south end of Livermore, Retzlaff is walking distance for several of the town’s residents, and it offers a wine club membership that’s perfect for regulars. Club members get steep discounts, free access to picnic areas, and exclusive tastings of new and reserve wines.
Directly across from Retzlaff Vineyards is Robertson Park, which makes up one end of the longer Parkway Park and Arroyo Trail. Robertson Park is the headquarters of Livermore’s Parks Department and serves as the city’s main athletic facility. An exciting disc golf course winds its way around two huge multi-purpose athletic fields with stadium seating. There are two baseball diamonds with their own seating sections as well. Robertson Park is also notable as the home of the Livermore Rodeo Arena, where locals can spend summer days watching amateur and professional bull riders, barrel chasers, and bareback bronco taming. Young ladies compete to be crowned Rodeo Queen in their annual cowgirl pageant.
The next major winery you’ll pass is located at the corner where Livermore Avenue turns into Tesla Road. Concannon is the second-largest winery in the Valley. It was established just months before Wente, in 1883, which gives it the title of “America’s Oldest Ongoing Winery Under the Same Family Label and Stewardship”. A mouthful, to be sure, but a legacy they wear with pride.
Concannon focuses on sustainable agricultural practices and was among the first seventeen vineyards in California to be certified as such. Their chief grape is the Cabernet Sauvignon, with 15 dedicated acres to that variety. Members can join the Cabernet Club, with exclusive access to new releases of Cabernets and Cabernet blends. In fact, they're so well-known for their cabernet grapes that an estimated 80 percent of California cabs are grown from the offspring of Concannon Clones 7, 8, and 11. That’s the influence that comes from over 130 years of operation.
As you head farther out Tesla Road, you’ll pass wineries named for their owners, like the Steven Kent Winery or Mitchell Katz Winery. Though the main Wente Vineyard isn’t located in this part of town, their family estate is located on the right side of this very road, where you can stop in for a walk-in tasting or grab a couple of bottles to go.
Well, folks, that’s all I've got for you today! I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know the Tri-Valley area today! Remember, if you’re thinking about finding a new home in Contra Costa or Alameda Counties, our local expert Realtor Barbara Brodrick is just a call or email away. You can reach her at 925-403-1213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, I’m Stephen, and thanks again for taking this UCPlaces tour.