An Enchanting Night in Port Costa

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Only 40 minutes from San Francisco, Port Costa feels light years away in both location and era. The richly-atmospheric port town is perched on the scenic Carquinez Strait with a cozy, half-block main street filled with romantic Gold-Rush era buildings, mature shade trees, and alleyways strung with lights. The town’s bewitching allure is no accident. It’s stewarded by locals and business owners who cherish the town’s history, charm and natural beauty. Before the end of your visit, you’ll likely know a few of them by name.

The Burlington Hotel

If you live in the Bay Area, you could do Port Costa as day trip, but you’d miss its most endearing resident: The Burlington Hotel. The 1883 hotel has managed to make it this far without selling its soul to Restoration Hardware. Creaky floors, shared bathrooms (some rooms have private baths) and thrift store chic decor are not quite yuppie-friendly, and that’s what makes it so special. Its character is preserved and so pronounced, it practically speaks as you step foot into its captivating lobby. Upstairs, rooms bear names like Maude and Emma Sue in honor of the women who worked here back when it was a brothel.

Bull Valley Roadhouse

A meal at the Bull Valley Roadhouse will likely be the best food and drink you’ve had in a small town setting. Both the chef and the bar program come courtesy of The Slanted Door, which just this month won a James Beard award for Outstanding Restaurant of the Year. It’s housed in a wondrous space with rich decor that’s equal parts Gold Country Glam and Victorian Vogue. Start with an expertly-crafted cocktail in the sitting room-style lounge. The spirit selection is exceptional, referencing the Slanted Door more than its Contra Costa County peers. For dinner, ask to be seated on the atmospheric patio that calls to mind the hidden courtyards of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Portions are family-style and dishes like a slow roasted pork stew with tomatillos and chiles over cornmeal polenta belie any bias you may have about small town dining.

Warehouse Café

After dinner, grab a nightcap at Warehouse Café, a rollicking saloon and restaurant the size of Costco. The dimly-lit space is divvied up into a restaurant, bar and vintage shop (see Baron’s Boardwalk below). Pop-culture detritus permeates every wall and rafter, the most prominent being a massive polar bear encased in glass. The restaurant — whose character reminds me of a Gold Country Deetjen’s — serves lobsters plucked from a tank, steaks and an assortment of sandwiches and bar snacks. The u-shaped bar has slanted floors, 250 beers and a fun cast of characters. There’s also a handful of arcade games and a jukebox that streams a steady mix of classic country, rockabilly and The Ramones.

Baron’s Boardwalk

On your drive into town, you’ll spy a sign pointing the way to Baron’s Boardwalk, a wacky vintage store tucked into the back of Warehouse Café. If Pee-wee Herman and Vincent Price went into business together, this is the shop they’d open. The pop-culture repository sells kitschy-cool items like 50s clothes, tikis, old men’s magazines, KFC bucket lamps and a life-size Frankenstein.


The Cafe at The Burlington Hotel

Thank god for Earl. After a night at the Warehouse Café, you’ll need his tender loving skillet bacon, served in a charming cafe that could double for Donna Reed’s kitchen. He originally took the space to process his local honey which you can get drizzled over a slice of his insanely delicious cornbread. Pair it with a cup of coffee or glass of vivid fresh OJ and catch up on the town’s gossip. Friendly locals and sunny picture windows overlooking the main street equal cafe perfection.


Theatre of Dreams

After breakfast, stroll across the street to Theatre of Dreams, a dazzling storefront that sells the festive art and craft of Wendy Addison. Her exquisite work is perfectly at home in Port Costa and could serve as the decor for an elaborate children’s fête thrown by Victorian era magicians.

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  1. After globetrotting with Dads engineering career my folks bought a hilltop family home in 1963 overlooking the Straits & Port Costa. He & mother were among original members of the Port Costa preservation society whose mega contribution included saving surrounding land from development, till EBay Regional park finally acquired it . Second & ongoing project has been restoring the stately old Port Costa school, now a well used community center and the site of Art shows & PCCS fundraiser car shows & BBQs. Its on the corner of Canyon Lake at reservoir. Fortunately Port Costa stays amazingly the same decade after decade.

    • Thanks for the great comment, Victoria. I didn’t have time to explore surrounding park land, but it was beautiful on drive in. Also: will have to check out the old school which I also noted on way into town. Have to time next visit to coincide w/ a BBQ!

  2. I read your article in VIA, and on June 3, 2015, (Wednesday) my son and I drove to Port Costa thinking it would be a nice place to visit and have lunch. NOT SO! You did NOT MENTION the drive into Port Costa with parts of the road so narrow it was a harrowing experience meeting cars and worrying about going over the side. The parking lot had so many wash outs that the bottom of my car scraped the potholes once severely. NOTHING WAS OPEN except the restaurant with the bears. We did take a picture. No one was to be seen in the restaurant. A handful of people at the bar largely ignored us, and when looking at them, I decided not to approach asking for service. The hotel looked more like a wreck than quaint. I was so disappointed that I was going to contact AAA. I have never been disappointed visiting an area highlighted in their magazine. I didn’t contact them, and I am writing to let you know my disappointment in either misinformation or lack of information.

    • I responded to Donna via email (which is how she first contacted our kind and helpful customer service staff), but as she points out, you may want to check in with restaurants/shops to confirm business hours before heading to town.

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