Known today for its bustling downtown and prolific retail scene, the city of Walnut Creek was originally home to three different bands of Bay Miwok Indians before being settled after the Mexican-American War. The town was located at the center of four Mexican land grants and was commonly referred to as “The Corners” by early American settlers, the first of which was William Slusher in 1849. After the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad service in 1891, the small settlements along “Nuts Creek” began to boom, eventually transforming into the modern city it is today. Here’s how you can spend a day for $100 or less in Walnut Creek.
Grab and Go Breakfast (about $5)
There is no shortage of locally-owned coffee shops to grab a bite to eat and a sip of espresso from. Hit up Coffee Shop for hip digs, house-made pop tarts, and cool java concoctions like the coconut-orange iced latte and a choose-your-own-roast pour over. Or check out the small, family-owned Bondadoso Coffee and Tea Collective for positive affirmation-clad walls and small-batch coffee. There’s also newcomer Mo·ni Coffee & Tea for a bright space to sip on your latte and dive into the “Favorite” Belgian waffle that’s topped with fig jam, ricotta and pecans.
Opt Outside (Free)
Despite its urban locale, Walnut Creek has lovely green spaces and parks. Perhaps the most popular open space in the area is Mount Diablo State Park. capping out at nearly 4,000 feet, the mountain has several staging areas, including the North Gate Road entrance in Walnut Creek. Drive to the top for an unobstructed view of the region (on extremely clear days you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Farallon Islands and Mount Hamilton) or go on an exploratory hike on the mountain’s numerous trails. Tucked in the foothills of Mount Diablo is Borges Ranch, an old California cattle ranch that has since been turned into publicly accessed open space. You can visit several of the original structures (which are on the National Register of Historic Places) on the 15-acre parcel of land, including the old barn, corrals, and blacksmith shop, making a great outing for kids. Another family-friendly spot is the more central Heather Farm Park. Packed with fun things to do, including sand volleyball courts, baseball fields, skate park and play structures, the Heather Farm is a nice place to soak up some sun or eat a picnic lunch.
Afternoon Art ($5 or free)
Supported by the city of Walnut Creek, the Bedford Gallery is dedicated to providing the community access to visual arts. Featuring a myriad of historic, modern and contemporary artists and their work, the Bedford is located on the lower level of the Lesher Center for the Arts building and offers free admission on the first Tuesday of each month. For more art-sightings, stroll through town and look for “Walnut Creek Public Art” or “Heritage Walk” signs — a cellphone-based walking tour that explores more than 100 different artistic and historical sites downtown — for a fun, free way to learn about the city.
Gardens in Bloom ($10 or free)
Tucked away in plain site is the unusually beautiful Ruth Bancroft Garden & Nursery, a 3.5-acre garden that showcases succulent and drought-tolerant plants from all over the world. What began as a hobby for the garden’s founder, Ruth Bancroft, soon became a full-fledged passion project. The garden opened to the public in the early 1990s and has wowed guests ever since. (Self-guided or docent-led tours are available with the price of admission.) Another spectacular horticultural outing can be found at The Gardens at Heather Farm, a six-acre, free public garden and educational nature center. This garden features a variety of flora, like rose beds and chrysanthemum display, and features including a gazebo and greenhouse.
Eat, Drink, Be Merry ($7 – $28+)
Kick off the evening’s festivities with a drink at any of the city’s several happy hours. Snag a seat at the nautically-themed Walnut Creek Yacht Club for classic drinks made incredibly well like the “Mai Tai circa 1944,” or head to the indoor or outdoor bars at Telefèric Barcelona for a ridiculously good gin and tonic (Get the Catalan G&T. You won’t regret it). But if beer is more your thing, grab a pint of imported German beer on draft from Bierhaus. After warming up the evening with a drink or two, soak it up with any of the area’s eclectic eats. For around the world on a plate, you can’t go wrong with Va de Vi’s seasonal, rotating menu of small bites with an optional wine pairing (plan ahead and make a reservation). But for a contemporary take on Peruvian food, reserve a table at Parada for killer pisco sours and fresh ceviche. Though if you are looking for comfort food from the old country, check out Babushka Restaurant for a modern twist on menu items such as piroshki, borscht and pelmeni — meat-filled Russian dumplings akin to tortellini. (If you can’t make it for dinner consider stopping by the deli for lunch.) And if all else fails, De Afghanan Kabob House is a prime spot on Locust Street for authentically-spiced food, including bolani, kabob and borani.