No trip to Northern California is complete without time spent sampling the delicious bounty of its wine regions. And while you may have trouble choosing the perfect pinot, selecting a place to call home while you explore your options couldn’t be easier. For that, look no further than Concord, California.
Less than an hour from three outstanding wine regions, 40 minutes from San Francisco, and readily accessible by public transportation, this diverse and bustling town has comfortable accommodations, an impressive variety of restaurants and bars, and plenty of other attractions and amenities to complement your wine tasting adventures.
Big Name Vineyards and Hidden Gems
Part of what makes Concord such a desirable base for exploring wine country is its proximity several distinct and outstanding wine regions. Of course, the most celebrated of these areas is the dynamic duo of Napa and Sonoma Valleys. They boast about 400 wineries each, from established, big-name producers like Robert Mondavi in Napa Valley, to smaller, boutique operations like Sonoma Valley’s Lambert Bridge Winery, where you can get an inside look at the grape-sorting process. The Napa region, known for its superior quality Cabernets, is about half the size of the more laid-back Sonoma, which stretches gloriously to the Pacific Ocean past rolling hills and towering redwoods.
Just 25 miles north of Concord is the under-the-radar wine region located in the Suisun and Green Valleys of Fairfield. This is the place to go if you want to avoid crowds and have a casual tasting experience. Most of the dozen or so vineyards here, like the award-winning GV Cellars and Wooden Valley Winery, are family owned and produce small batches of wine that are primarily available on-site or online. In addition to fewer people, you’ll find tasting fees here to be less than in Napa and Sonoma.
One of the oldest wine regions in California is Livermore Valley, which is about 35 miles south of Concord. Spanish missionaries first planted wine grapes here in the 1760s, and pioneer winemakers C. H. Wente, James Concannon, and Charles Wetmore founded their wineries here in the early 1880s. Murrieta’s Well is one of the area’s original wine estates, dating back to 1884. Today, nearly 80 percent of California's Chardonnay vines can be traced to the Livermore Valley, whose tasting rooms showcase award-winning labels and offer family-friendly activities year round.
The Shadowbrook Winery in Walnut Creek has a new state-of-the-art tasting room that is the perfect place to sample wines from its collection, which have won more than 60 medals in competition. Also in Walnut Creek, Grayson Cellars is known for its small lots of handcrafted wines.
In Martinez, California, just northwest of Concord, the Viano Vineyards has been making wine for nearly 100 years, with the 4th and 5th generation of the Viano family now running the operation. Some of the original vines remain on the property, which has been expanded using the most natural processes possible. Les Lunes Wine in Orinda, southwest of Concord, is another smaller vineyard making incredible creations by cultivating its grapes through natural methods. The Contra Costa Winegrowers Association can help you find even more options in this up-and-coming wine region of the state.
With an afternoon of wine drinking in your future, you’ll want to find a place to fill up with a hearty breakfast. Fortunately, Concord has plenty of contenders. Plate and Vine is a hidden gem inside the Hilton and offers breakfast, including two buffet options, seven days a week. With a nod to its wine country proximity, the tables at Plate & Vine are made from wood salvaged from a former Napa winery, and their non-breakfast menu includes an expansive selection of labels from both Napa and Sonoma.
With a hip industrial vibe, fresh food, and impressive beer selection, Eureka!, located in the Willows Shopping Mall, is a fun spot anytime. But on the weekend, visitors will be treated to an eclectic brunch menu, offering everything from chilaquiles, avocado toast, and fried chicken to more traditional items like breakfast burritos and a classic plate of eggs, bacon, and potatoes.
If you’re looking for a classic All-American breakfast that will ensure your day of wine tasting is uninterrupted by a grumbling stomach, head to Buttercup Grill & Bar. This casual, family-owned restaurant serves up hearty but affordable breakfast choices ranging from pancakes, waffles, and buttermilk biscuits, to omelets or simple bacon and eggs. The Buttercup Grill also serves lunch and dinner, has a full bar, and gets accolades for its fresh-baked pies.
Indulging in fine wines should never be rushed, but with Concord as your base, you may find yourself itching to get back for a delicious meal to cap off your day. From chic, culinary trendsetters to locally adored hole-in-the-walls, you’ll find whatever you’re craving. For a charming, European atmosphere with lots of options, head to Todos Santos Plaza. Bars and restaurants with summertime al fresco dining surround the plaza’s expansive and bustling park, making them perfect for relaxing with friends and family. Enjoy inspired Peruvian cuisine at Lima or grab a table at Concord mainstay, E. J. Phair, for hearty pub fare and a local brew.
A block off Todos Santos is Canasta Kitchen, which offers a modern twist on traditional Mexican food, while at Tortilleria El Molino on Monument Boulevard, you’ll find more classic south-of-the-border fare made from scratch.
The latest talk of the town is the stylish and contemporary shopping center called The Veranda. Conveniently located off Highway 680, the Veranda has attracted trendy eateries like Mikuni Sushi, MOD Pizza, and the wildly popular Poke Bowl. With its state-of-the-art IMAX theatre, children’s play area, and a full line up of retail stores, The Veranda is an all-in-one destination with something for everyone.
Vino and So Much More
Taking a break from the vineyards for a day or two? That’s the best part about staying in Concord—not only will the abundance of restaurants and shopping keep you occupied, but Concord also boasts many impressive diversions for day-long fun.
You can enjoy the area’s natural beauty by exploring the 25 miles of hiking trails within Concord’s Lime Ridge Open Space or by taking a walk, jog, or bike ride along the Iron Horse or Contra Costa Canal trails. During the summer months, you might be able to catch a concert at the Concord Pavilion, one of California’s premier outdoor music venues. The Pavilion’s sprawling lawn area and gorgeous backdrop of rolling hills create the perfect setting for enjoying music and a picnic. Six Flags Hurricane Island (formerly known as Waterworld) is another warm-weather attraction the kids will love, and if you have toddlers in tow, Pixieland is just the right size and amount of fun.
Concord has nine hotels to choose from, including the Hilton, Crowne Plaza, and Clarion Hotel. You’ll find them conveniently located close to downtown and easily accessible to the highways to get you quickly to wine country or the Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose airports.
A trip to California’s wine country is the perfect spot for a relaxing getaway. Using Concord as your basecamp makes it an easy—and affordable—one as well.
Written by Karen Bakar for RootsRated in partnership with Visit Concord.