Grand Tour.13- Toddlin’ Along The Carquinez Strait

Happy New Year loyal reader. The Grand Tour starts anew in 2010, after the holiday recess. Actually, today’s post recaps a trek taken last year , a very long amble along the edge of the Carquinez Strait, from Martinez all the way to Vallejo, a 13 mile monster. Urban Ambles nearly required medical attention as it lumbered  on to the ferry for the ride home, though a soothing Pabst Blue Ribbon (yes, I was that thirsty) helped immensely. Here’s the route:

We accessed this route by train, hopping an early morning Capitol Corridor Amtrak train from Emeryville to Sacramento – it stops in Martinez. It really felt like we were going somewhere this morning, it felt positively Grand-Tourish, I mean the real kind. What is it about settling in on the train, (and I’m not talking about the whine of BART), but the 2-3 miles out of the station satisfying muted clickety clack of the rails beneath you. Seat, coffee, map, and book- check ,check, and check. Simple pleasures.

After heading inland from Emeryville, passing thru the industrial backyards of the East Bay, we return to the water’s edge, along San Pablo Bay. Eventually, suburbia’s enthusiasm for the Bay gives way past Rodeo, and the Bay narrows down to the Carquinez Strait, the entry  marked by the Carquinez Bridge. We continued on to our destination of Martinez, and its sharp new train station.

Disembarking in Martinez, we have arrived in the county seat of Contra Costa County. There is a pretty well-preserved downtown here, and, as it is a county seat, it’s a somewhat robust one. I am also told it was once home to John Muir  (his home is  a museum there). We make our way past the immediate retail zone, and into a very pleasant residential neighborhood, it populated with great examples of early California Victorian vernacular homes, all part of a historic district, itself worth more exploration. Eventually , one ascends the hill at south edge of town, its edge marked by a somewhat scraggly cemetery:

Martinez Victorian
Martinez Cemetery




We climb out of town on Carquinez Scenic Drive. This road has little traffic, and eventually the traffic dead ends into an entry to the Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline parklands. This road once connected Martinez and Crockett, but apparently, some 20-odd years ago, a part of the road  fell down a cliff, and now- sans traffic, this road is gradually being reclaimed by nature- and-  a few artists.Urban Ambles saw no one, and I mean no one, on this long and beautiful walk along this road, a walk that was also periodically peppered by the long low moan of the freight and passenger trains just below us along the Strait.

More views, and the tracks along the water.
The crumbling road with the Carquinez Strait to the left.
The multi-colored brick road

Eventually, the hill descends towards the water and traffic returns. We began to see signs of civilization, such as this interesting homestead. Throughout semi-rural California, you see these types of homes; amidst rolling hills sprinkled with little but an occassional oak:  a near tropical jungle,  a veritable xanadu of birds, trickling water, old autos, and objets d;art- this home featured  a spaceman looking very close to launch. Sadly , along the road there was also much evidence of garbage dumping- sometimes  down in ravines, other times,  left by the side of the road. Probably some about-to-fail bank trying to unload some evidence of  bad loans – they probably should’ve made more effort.


The Falcon and the Spaceman
“Mr. Examiner- I can’t imagine what I did with those loan papers, they were here just yesterday.”

Continuing on , one passes the little hamlet of Port Costa, a fascinating little stop in itself. I understand there is a great little restaurant, the “Warehouse”, in town. We will head back there and visit, but given the length of the jaunt, wanted to get to Crockett. And, finally, we did make it. Crockett has always fascinated me- its the town you pass when crossing the Benicia Bridge. It is perhaps the best local example of what is known as a “company town”, built around a factory, in this case, the ubiquitous C&H Sugar Company.  C & H (The California and Hawaii Sugar Refining Company) was founded in 1906, and it dominates the town.  Sited to take advantage of water and rail, this town seems like it would be home somewhere in Pennsylvania- just replace the sugar with steel. The town of course has grown and spread over the years, but the old part is a great walk, and the length and solitude of the journey from Martinez, made ‘ambles feel a moment of 19th century wistfulness, arriving in town off the dusty trail.

C&H still pumps out the sugar, and in addition to the factory buildings themselves, there is  handsome old building stock around the factory: old union halls, a few commercial establishments, and it looked like perhaps a number of artists that have taken hold of some old abandoned storefronts.

C & H Sugar
Downtown Crockett-2009
Sugar Workers and Seafarers- the mind races with the possibilities.

Unfortunately, we weren’t quite done with this hike. We had to figure out how to get up and over the bridge, which you can walk across, to our  finish line , the Vallejo ferry. This new bridge, completed  in 2007 and a companion to the original 1962 bridge (which replaced the last auto-only ferry service in the bay area!!) offers sublime views of San Pablo bay to the south. Once past the toll booths, the walk into downtown Vallejo was pretty grim, and once again Urban Ambles found itself in unfriendly pedestrian territory, along an 8-line arterial lined with rather haggard looking strip centers. Eventually we made our way into downtown Vallejo, where there is actually much to see, and that will be the next installment. The Ferry was right on time, and the day ended on the ferry with the greatest can of Pabst Blue Ribbon I have ever had in my life.

San Pablo Bay

2 thoughts on “Grand Tour.13- Toddlin’ Along The Carquinez Strait

  1. Loved the descriptions and photos of this Amble. I’m a native California (born in Oakland), now living in New Hampshire – another world. I miss the California of my childhood – the 19502 and 60s, when Walnut Creek and Concord were small towns. Was back in the state last week and went to dinner in Crockett – at The Dead Fish Restaurant – overlooking Carquinez Strait. Found the Amble site in looking for history of the C & H Sugar refinery. Wish I’d gone on that hike. Sounded great.
    The “old” california still exists – as do people who appreciate it.
    All the best,

    1. Thanks for your comments. This was great and surprising walk, and represents the best of what this blog is about- exploring places that might be over-looked, or are in various forms of transition, and yes, generally an older and more unique California vs. what we often see today.

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