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City Series: Insider’s Guide to Concord

Diablo takes an up-close look at this rapidly expanding town.


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Illustration by FagoStudio

 

Despite its impressive population and rich history, the city of Concord has long been overshadowed by its glitzier East Bay neighbors. But Contra Costa County’s largest city is making waves these days, with new restaurants, shopping areas, and experiences that are not to be missed. Plan a visit to this increasingly hip metropolis, because without a doubt, Concord has finally come into its own.

 

A view of Mount Diablo from a trail in the Morgan Territory Regional Preserve. Photo by Shutterstock.

 

Pride of Place

Twenty fun facts about this East Bay boomtown.

 

Over the years, the Concord Pavilion has hosted numerous concerts, community events, and graduations. Photo courtesy of Visit Concord.

1 In 1975, the Concord Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry, celebrated its grand opening with a benefit performance featuring Sarah Vaughan and Henry Mancini. A reserved seat only cost $7.50, while a lawn seat went for $6.50.

 

2 Bing Crosby played his final U.S. concert at the Pavilion in 1977, and in 2019 Peter Frampton ended his farewell tour there.

 

The unmatched 19-time drum and bugle corps world champions, the Blue Devils, are based in Concord. When they are competing away from home, their events are often broadcast live in the town’s central Todos Santos Plaza.

 

Among its former residents, Concord claims an Olympic gold medalist (Natalie Coughlin), an Oscar-winning actor (Tom Hanks), a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award honoree (Dave Brubeck), a Nebula Award– winning author (Seanan McGuire), and even the voice of the Taco Bell chihuahua (Carlos Alazraqui).

 

5 In 2016, Condé Nast Traveler designated Concord one of the 10 best places in the world to retire.

 

In 1988, the city of Concord commissioned a piece of public art by Gary Rieveschl called The Concord Heritage Gateway, made up of 91 aluminum poles stretching up to 50 feet high. Shortly after they were erected, the so-called “Spirit Poles” were voted the ugliest publicly funded sculpture in America by the National Enquirer. Locals likened them to knitting needles and called the area “porcupine plaza.” In 1999, the city voted to remove the controversial poles.

 

Concord earned 81 out of a possible 100 points in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 Municipal Equality Index, which rates how well a city supports its LGBTQ+ population.

 

U-Haul named Concord the 24th greatest growth city in the United States for 2018.

 

9 Concord (then called Todos Santos) was founded in 1869 and was incorporated in 1905. Its first mayor was a blacksmith.

 

10 In 2019, Concord celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding and the 50th year of the Concord Jazz Festival.

 

11 Last year also marked the 75th anniversary of the Port Chicago explosion at the Concord Naval Weapons Station.

 

12 The De La Salle High School football team holds the national record for the longest win streak, winning 151 games between 1992 and 2004.

 

13 In the 1960s, Pixieland (then known as King Norman’s Wonderland) was sold, and its rides were temporarily moved to Oakland, before they were brought back in 1970 for the park’s reopening as Pixie Playland.

 

14 The family-owned and operated West Wind Solano Drive-In is the only remaining drive-in movie theater in the East Bay—and one of precious few left in California.

 

15 Joe Field of Concord’s Flying Colors Comics shop is the mind behind Free Comic Book Day, now an annual worldwide promotional event in which participating stores give away special free issues of comic books to fans.

 

16 Mt. Diablo High School (formerly Mount Diablo Union High), which opened in 1905, is the longest continually operating large high school in California.

 

17 Livability.com selected Concord as one of its top 10 Best Music Cities in 2012.

 

18 For a little under a year, Concord was the site of the Guinness World Record for largest guitar ensemble, after 2,052 registered guitarists gathered there and played “This Land Is Your Land.”

 

19 The 12,800 acres that formerly composed the Concord Naval Weapons Station are slowly being divided up. Last summer, 2,216 acres were given to the East Bay Regional Park District to create the tentatively named Concord Hills Regional Park, which will be one of Contra Costa County’s largest parks.

 

20 Concord Music, founded in Concord in 1973, is one of the world’s most successful music companies, with five labels and more than 270 Grammy Award–winning albums.

 

Actor Blake Anderson, who grew up in Concord, has fond memories of his childhood home. Photo by Natasha Ribeiro-Austrich.

Meet: Blake Anderson

The Workaholics star and cocreator, who spent his formative years in Concord, gives a mini tour of his native city.

 

Q: What are some of your fondest memories of growing up in Concord?

A: I remember the Singing Flag on the Fourth of July, spending summers at Springwood pool, going mini golfing on Clayton Road, and seeing Motörhead, Dio, and Iron Maiden at the Pavilion. I also would just play outside on my court with all the neighbor kids when I was young. Whether it was shooting hoops, riding bikes, or kicking the can, we stayed pretty active outdoors … until the Jungle [children’s amusement center] opened; that changed the game for sure.

 

Q: What was one of your favorite spots?

A: My buddies and I used to hang out at Newhall Park all the time, just being dumb kids. That’s also where we started to make videos and movies. Kyle Newacheck [cocreator of Workaholics] had a video camera, and we would get together and film sketches all the time.

 

Q: Where do you like to go when you come back?

A: I pretty much always make sure to hit up the same places. I’ll head over to Todos Santos and crush a burrito at Taqueria Los Gallos; they truly have the greatest salsa bar I’ve ever encountered. Then I’ll walk over to the Hop Grenade for an amazing beer selection, and if I’m on a good one, I’ll take the party to Vinnie’s, as long as there isn’t a cover charge that night. I always try to stop in Flying Colors Comics; it really is a superb comic store. And I gotta smash a Nation’s burger before I head back to L.A.

 

The second season of Tigtone, the adult animated series Anderson produces and writes for, premieres on Adult Swim in early 2020, and his clothing line, Teenage, can be found at boredteenager.com.

 

Naan ’n’ Curry’s chicken curry is made with traditional spices. Photo courtesy of Naan ’n’ Curry.

 

The Best Bites in Town

Even though Concord is expanding at breakneck speed, those in the know can still find singular dining and drinking experiences.

 

Grab and Go: NaaN ’n’ Curry

Upon approaching Naan ’n’ Curry’s tiny space just off Todos Santos Plaza, chances are you’ll find a group of people standing around, gazing at their phones, or people-watching. They’re waiting to take home a bag full of Concord’s best Indian cuisine—and they’re willing to spend a half hour doing it. Who can blame them? Naan ’n’ Curry seems to do everything right, from its flavorful tikka masala to its fluffy naan. The restaurant itself is a little too small to handle its hoards of fans, but the thriving take-out business more than compensates for that, and your food will still be delectably warm by the time you get home. To beat the crowds, though, we recommend placing your order on Yelp about 30 minutes before you stop by—especially on busy Friday and Saturday nights. naancurryconcord.com.

 

Booming Brewpub: The Hop Grenade

On any given sunny day—and on quite a few not-so-sunny ones—the stools inside and outside of the Hop Grenade’s Todos Santos taproom are occupied by casually dressed men and women catching up with friends, sipping suds, and snacking on bar bites. And they’ll likely be there for a few hours. A throwback to the days of neighborhood pubs, the Hop Grenade is the kind of place that encourages staying a while—something you might be tempted to do anyway when you see its extensive list of weekly rotating taps and well-stocked bottle shop. Be sure to ask for a recommendation if you get overwhelmed by all the choices, because the knowledgeable staff won’t pester you every five minutes. Instead, they’ll allow you to relax and enjoy your Hop Grenade experience at your own pace. thehopgrenade.com.

 

At Digger’s Diner, guests can make any burger a double. Photo courtesy of Digger's Diner.

To-Die-For-Burger: Digger's Diner

Tucked away in a nondescript strip mall on Farm Bureau Road, Digger’s Diner is far from the heart of Concord. Yet every Saturday, you’ll find locals waiting patiently for a spot at one of the bright blue tables because, for many of them, weekend brunch or lunch at Digger’s is a ritual not to be missed. In the 25 years since the ’50s-style, cheerfully death-themed (an oxymoron, but an accurate one) eatery opened, it has won over Concord residents with its popular Coffin burger, decadent shakes, and friendly service—a standard set by Digger Dave, one of the diner’s original owners and a former gravedigger. Newbies needn’t worry; You’ll be greeted just as warmly as the regulars. After all, once you give Digger’s Diner a try, you’ll likely become one of them. diggersdinerconcord.com.

 

Fiore Restaurant’s menu includes a lamb shank. Photo courtesy of Fiore Restaurant.

Intimate Dining: Fiore Restaurant

Here’s another reason to look at Concord strip malls a little more closely: It’s hard to see the cozy Fiore Restaurant from Clayton Road, as it’s blocked from view by a Baskin-Robbins. But this inviting fine-dining spot is not only a top choice for three courses of rich, hearty Italian fare, but also for a comfortable, pleasant night out. The warm-toned dining area mixes traditional white tablecloths with dark wood, fresh flowers, and minimalistic art, and each table feels like its own little corner of the world. The calm and eminently capable servers—most of whom have worked at Fiore for years—bring a quiet friendliness to each interaction and genuinely treat their regulars like family. So settle in and dig in—and be sure to save room for tiramisu. restaurantfiore.com.

 

Out the Dough serves classics such as cookies ’n’ cream. Photo by Melanie Sammis Creative.

Guilty-Pleasure Snacking: Out the Dough

Ever wished there was an ice cream parlor that sold edible cookie dough instead? Well, you’re in luck, because that is exactly what Out the Dough provides. In the small shop, you can pick up single, double, or triple scoops of What the Fluff (peanut butter and marshmallow), Greek Goddess (sugar cookie and house-made baklava), Ellen Dough-Generes (pumpkin spice and pie crust), and more. For those who prefer their cookie dough baked, you can either purchase a cookie or buy a pint of the delicious dough to take home and bake yourself. outthedough.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hop Grenade is a top destination in Todos Santos Plaza. Photo courtesy of The Hop Grenade.

Comfort Zone

From January 17 to 26, more than 30 Concord restaurants (including the Hop Grenade and Out the Dough) will join together for the third annual Concord Comfort Food Week. Eateries participating in this gastronomic fest will have special offers—everything from prix fixe menus to exclusive dishes. Check out Visit Concord’s list, and plan your food-tastic week. visitconcordca.com.

 

 

 

Visitors can find a variety of dining and drinking options at The Veranda. Photo courtesy of The Veranda.

 

Out and About

With a wealth of arts, entertainment, and recreation options, Concord offers endless ways to spend a perfect day. Here’s our advice for crafting your ideal outing.

 

Start your day off with...

A game of golf at Buchanan Fields Golf Course. With only nine holes, this quick, flat course will give both pros and newbies a chance to get into the swing of things without eating up an entire morning. Never too crowded, Buchanan is great for casually practicing your drives as you welcome the day. buchananfieldsgolfclub.com.

… OR …

A waterfall hike on Mount Diablo. Sometimes, the only way to wake up is to really open your eyes. This nearly eight-mile loop will certainly do that, with its steep inclines and descents. The stunning views of both the waterfalls and the surrounding land won’t hurt, either. Just don’t hit the trail when you’re too groggy; this hike is a challenge that demands your full attention.

 

Have some fun with the kids at...

Q-zar Laser Tag. Hey, it might be a little old-fashioned, but the black light–neon aesthetic and clunky laser guns never go out of style. Suit up with your children (as long as they are 6 or older), and sneak around the lowly lit maze in an attempt to capture the enemy base. Or, you can play it safe and defend your camp—but where would the fun be in that? q-zar.com.

… OR …

Pixieland Amusement Park. Transport the younger set to a whole new world at this pint-size amusement park. Recommended for children ages 8 and younger, Pixieland is home to seven charming miniature rides, including the Red Baron Airplanes, Frog Hopper, Windy Grove Cars, and—for daring tykes—the Dragon Roller Coaster. pixieland.com.

… OR …

Red Door Escape Room. This brand-new business at the Veranda has a challenge for you: Escape from one of its secure rooms in less than an hour. Nothing will bond your family together faster than solving puzzles and sussing out clues, and the varying levels of difficulty ensure you can pick an experience that is age-appropriate. reddoorescape.com/escape-rooms/concord.

 

Residual Sugar, the wine bar at The Veranda, also serves draft beers and bar bites. Photo courtesy of Visit Concord.

Get in some shopping at...

The Veranda. Concord’s latest retail mecca still has that new- mall scent. The grass is green, the air smells of waffle cone (thanks, Popbar), and there are new businesses springing up seemingly every minute. Stroll into Barnes and Noble or World Market, and then take a break with a glass of wine at Residual Sugar. shoptheveranda.com.

… OR …

Sunvalley Shopping Center. Just across the freeway is Concord’s long-standing spot for all your shopping needs. At one point the largest air-conditioned shopping center in the world, Sunvalley hasn’t stood still and let the years pass it by; instead, its ever-increasing footprint includes more than 160 stores and restaurants, such as Nordstrom Rack, Macy's, and Yankee Candle Company. shopsunvalley.com.

 

The West Wind Solano Drive-In has always been family owned and operated. Photo courtesy of Visit Concord.

Catch a movie at...

Luxe Cinema and IMAX. Contemporary Concordians want 21st-century movie theaters, and Luxe is here to provide. The Veranda’s centerpiece film palace offers the works: cushy recliners, food and beverages (including alcohol) delivered to your seat, and immersive video and sound systems. Haven’t seen Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker yet? This is the place to catch it. cinemawest.com.

… OR …

West Wind Solano Drive-In. If you’ve ever seen characters stop at a drive-in movie theater in an old film and wished that could be you, wish no longer. Concord is one of the few places left in California where you can still enjoy this retro experience. So roll up, and take in a double-feature—complete with popcorn and a soda—from the comfort of your own car with family and friends. westwinddi.com

 

Next summer, hit some water slides at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor. Photo courtesy of Six Flags.

Save It for Summer

There are some classic Concord adventures that can only be enjoyed in the summer, so wait for the warmer months to roll around and then check out these favorites:

Music and Market Series: Thursday nights from May to September, the farmers market at Todos Santos Plaza is paired with a free concert.

Concerts at the Concord Pavilion: This outdoor venue only hosts musical acts from spring to fall, but with the top stars it gets, the wait is worth it.

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor: This water park is understandably best suited for summertime—and the toasty California temperatures will be a great incentive for rushing right over as soon as you can.

 

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