Just an hour east of San Francisco by car, the Livermore Valley welcomes visitors to one of California’s most historic wine regions. A trip to this pocket of the East Bay rewards wine and nature lovers alike and excites others with its burgeoning craft beer scene.
The Great Outdoors
The region features hiking paths through stunning locales like Sycamore Grove Park and Holdener Park. For a different way to take in Mother Nature, Western Trail Riding Services offers horseback tours of the Sunol-Ohlone Regional Wilderness, where you’ll cross creeks and oak-shaded grasslands. Wildlife enthusiasts can visit Brushy Peak Regional Preserve, where you might encounter golden eagles, Pacific tree frogs or a San Joaquin kit fox. For the aquatically inclined, Del Valle Regional Park features a lake that offers windsurfing, fishing, swimming and kayaking.
Livermore’s wineries offer a wide range of hospitality experiences. There are many ways to visit Wente Vineyards, from playing a round at its Greg Norman-designed golf course to attending part of its annual summer concert series, which has featured prominent artists like Diana Ross, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jackson Browne in the past. Murrieta’s Well, Wente’s sister property, occupies a historic gravity-flow winery that dates back to 1884 and has been renovated into a rustic and elegant tasting lounge. Try its Zarzuela blend, made with Portuguese varieties rarely found in California.
The centerpiece of the tour at Concannon Vineyard may be its Cabernet Sauvignon mother vine. Roughly 80 percent of all California Cabernet can be traced genetically to this single vine. Concannon also offers food-pairing experiences that include a selection designed to illuminate the elusive taste of umami.
Steven Kent Winery delivers one of Livermore’s strongest Cabernet showings with its flagship wine, Lineage. The guided library reserve tasting demonstrates how gracefully these wines can age. Vasco Urbano, housed in the same facility as Nottingham
Cellars, turns to the Rhône for inspiration. Pack a picnic to enjoy on the patio, a perfect complement to a glass of smoky, peppery Mourvèdre.
Top craft brews come from Altamont Beer Works, EightBridges Brewing and Working Man Brewing Company.
Within the last five years or so, Livermore’s craft beer culture has exploded. Altamont Beer Works paved the way in 2012, as it became Livermore’s first craft brewery since Prohibition. Altamont’s popularity among the locals is on display in its lively taproom, where devotees stop by to fill up growlers. Flight tastings of the entire range are available, which allows you to sample favorites like the Shot Away IPA and Maui Waui. Exciting additions for craft beer fans include Eight Bridges Brewing Inc. and Working Man Brewing Company.
Sutherland Distilling, founded in 2012, crafts rum, whiskey and vodka under its Diablo’s Shadow label. At the distillery, visitors can taste the Sutherland portfolio in flights or mixed into an artisan cocktail.
Where to Stay
Upscale lodging in the Livermore Valley is less bountiful than in other parts of California wine country. But several accommodations allow visitors to experience the region’s pastoral beauty.
Livermore presents a patchwork of expansive farmsteads. At the Reinstein Ranch (available through Airbnb), guests sleep in a spacious 19th-century home that has remained in the same family for five generations. The house features antique trinkets and decorations, while just beyond the doorstep, horses and cattle graze in pastures.
The Purple Orchid is a 10-room bed & breakfast, and also offers a full-service spa. Guests can enjoy breakfast in bed, stroll through the olive orchard and relax with massage and body treatments. One massage uses olive oil infused with rosemary from the property.
Where to Eat
A short drive from downtown Livermore, Posada showcases bold, contemporary Southwestern cuisine. Chef/owner Eduardo Posada impresses with gourmet takes on crowd favorites like mahi mahi tacos with chipotle mayo and a side of watermelon salad. The atmosphere is lively and inviting, while the beverage list focuses on Livermore’s wines and craft beers.
Your one-stop spot for date night, Vine Cinema and Alehouse is a 60-year-old Livermore institution brings the comforts of home into the movie theater. Screenings emphasize independent films that audiences can watch while they dine on burgers, pizzas, pastas and more. Pick your Oscar contenders while you enjoy local craft beers on tap and Livermore wines by the glass.
Nightly live music, an extensive by-the-glass list and inventive cuisine make Double Barrel Wine Bar the place to be after dark in Livermore. In addition to a full menu, Patrick Tripp serves a “Daily Bouche,” a tasty small bite with a two-ounce pour. Although the bar is cozy, the real party takes place on the patio lounge out back.—Bryce Wiatrak
Tips From Local Experts
Roberta Gonzales, Weather Anchor at KPIX-TV and KCBS Radio, San Francisco
Roberta Gonzales, a five-time regional Emmy Award winner, says that her “favorite place on earth, swear to God,” is Lake Del Valle in Livermore Valley.
“You can ride your bike, go for a run, swim, rent boats of all types—even a party boat—and the campgrounds are spectacular,” she says. “I love to swim out with a couple of buddies to a half-submerged fallen tree that we call ‘dinosaur bones,’ stretch out there in the sun and say a prayer of thanks for this place.”
She shares some tips for women traveling in the summer. “If visiting vineyards, wear flats, whether ballerina slippers or sandals, and a maybe a spaghetti string dress to go out to dinner,” says Gonzales. “It’s definitely fine to add some jewelry.”
The meteorologist for the local CBS radio and TV stations lives in Pleasanton, which borders Livermore. “Downtown Livermore is extremely robust these days,” she says. “On a Friday evening, you can see people lined up for the restaurants.”
Wolf Hamlin, Singer/Songwriter, Wolf Hamlin & The Front Porch Drifters
His day job is being a ranch hand in Livermore Valley, but by night, Wolf Hamlin is a musician who gained fame on American Idol in 2012. He recommends the live music at Concannon, Wente and Steven Kent wineries. In downtown Livermore, he heads for R Place Music Club for blues and classic rock, and Sauced BBQ & Spirits for country/traditional.
Aly Wente, Associate Marketing Manager, Constellation Brands
She left Livermore and the Wente family winery to work for Robert Mondavi Winery and Franciscan Estate Winery in the Napa Valley, but Aly Wente still has a soft spot for her hometown. “First and foremost, it has these beautiful wineries in beautiful locations, and almost all are actually in the vineyards,” says Wente. Biking through Sycamore Grove Park is also a treat, she says.—Jim Gordon