Follow the Carquinez Strait to Port Costa and Crockett

By Marta Yamamoto, Special to the Planet
Tuesday April 24, 2007

From Franklin Trail in Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline Park spread panoramic views ranging from Martinez and Benicia nearby to the far reaches of Mt. Diablo, Mt. Tam and the Lower Delta. Anchoring the two ends of this trail are the small, strait-side towns of Port Costa and Crockett. Plan a glorious getaway exploring parkland, browsing antique shops and eclectic boutiques and sampling intriguing eateries.  

Bordering Carquinez Scenic Drive, almost 2,800 acres of coastal hills, wooded ravines, shaded meadows and river shoreline comprise Carquinez Regional Park. Communities of native grasses; oak, bay, buckeye and eucalyptus woodland; and coastal shrub provide habitat for western meadowlark, bluebird, red-tail hawk, American kestrel, Great horned owl, golden eagle, gray fox, mule deer and Botta’s pocket gopher. 

Separated into two sections by private land, the Bull Valley Staging Center offers access to the western portion of the park with its spacious picnic areas and 280-foot Eckley Pier, as well as some regional history. 

Emerald grasses, newly budding shade trees, bird calls and the whistle of a train greeted my recent post-rain visit. Weathered brick and rusted iron give voice to past inhabitants—brickworks, grain wharf and resort. All blend into a sharp portrait of man’s reclamation of the land. Popular Eckley Pier stretches into the strait’s deep channels for migrating sturgeon. One twelve-foot-long monster was discovered by divers laying cable along the bottom.  

Franklin Trail is ideal for exploring the park, offering an easy hike through various natural communities and 750-foot high, 360-degree views, all in less than three miles round trip. From the picnic area the trail climbs steeply through tuck-and-roll grassland and then levels out. Strategic benches offer respite and a chance to take in the encompassing scenery. 

From open expanses, the trail dips into shade-providing woodland, alive with bird conversations, then opens to a bluff above the town of Port Costa. From my grassy perch I absorbed the life surrounding me—raptors soaring with the winds, breezes riffling eucalyptus leaves, a ship gliding through the strait amid tugboats and pleasure craft. Across the canyon, atop a towering hill, is one lone oak, its bare branches festooned with mistletoe and silhouetted against the sky. 

From this point on Franklin Trail, two options are available. One is to retrace your steps back to the starting point. The other is to follow a downhill trail and residential streets into the quaint town of Port Costa, definitely worth a visit. 

In 1879, deep water channels along the Carquinez Strait led to the founding of Port Costa as a major grain port for merchant sailing ships. During peak seasons, town warehouses, saloons and hotels housed over 3,000 sailors, stevedores and railroaders. 

Today this timeless town of 250 residents boasts well-tended historic homes and gardens along Canyon Lake Drive. Towering trees attest to its longevity, as does cavernous Warehouse Café. Inside, saloon ambience is in full swing among dark-toned wood, shaded light fixtures and memorabilia decorating every surface. The large bar and gaily covered tables enhance the mood. 

Across the street resides the other half of the town’s restaurants, the well-known Bull Valley Inn. Its elegant American cuisine, sporting generous portions and robust flavors, also touches back to Port Costa’s lively past. 

At the opposite end of Carquinez Regional Park is the town of Crockett, visually dominated by the California & Hawaiian Sugar Factory and the Carquinez Bridge. Here small-town spirit lives on. From the eclectic mixture of homes to activities including town meetings, town-wide yard sales and barbecues, a strong community spirit unites Crockett’s residents, both old-timers and newcomers. 

Toward the end of the 20th century the sugar refining industry, both beet and cane, took hold in Crockett. By 1906 Hawaiian sugar dominated; since then C & H has been in operation every year. In 1908, they took over town improvements, gaining Crockett the reputation of a company town. 

The Crockett Museum, at Rolph and Loring Avenue, is the place to re-visit Crockett’s past. Occupying the full length of the former train station, each room is themed with a different aspect of Crockett’s history, documenting military experiences, home life, C & H memorabilia, 78 years of graduation pictures and a 9-foot, 460-pound sturgeon. The museum appears to be a repository for generations of garage and attic potpourri, creating a charming glimpse of a varied and interesting past. 

Crockett is a walking destination. Take the time to explore broad, shaded streets lined with brick and clapboard homes and some of C & H’s improvements. Along Loring Avenue, against the backdrop of the massive brick refinery, attractive historic buildings house private residences and the Odd Fellows Hall. Rithet Park, developed in 1912, is a lovely expanse of tended lawns and gardens with lanes dedicated to the town Bocce League. 

The main commercial area at Pomona Street and Second Avenue offers shops for browsing, eateries for sampling and bars for sipping. Toot’s Bar shares Second Avenue with Here, There and Everywhere, the Healing Touch and The Fireplace. The front window display at What’s On Second Antiques reflects the cornucopia of the Museum’s artifacts. Next door the former A. Ghioldi Jewelry store is now home to Crockett Pottery. Watch your step on Crockett’s raised sidewalks while ogling architectural details and one-of-a-kind merchandise. 

Along Pomona Street, Buffalo Run Leathers features hand-crafted motorcycle saddle bags while Romari’s beaded jewelry displays tempt your interest. Eats are plentiful. The Valona Deli offers soups, sandwiches and espresso drinks at tables topped with brightly colored oilcloth before expanses of glass overlooking the street. At Los Arcos American breakfasts and authentic Mexican burritos and conchas can be enjoyed inside or on the shaded patio. 

Fill out your excursion with a visit to the waterfront. Here you can re-experience views from atop Franklin Trail at water-level. Linger awhile at The Nantucket, sampling calamari and crab cakes, both Nantucket specialties. Watch fishing boats return and unload their catch. Marvel at the soaring metal framework of the Carquinez Bridge. Reflect on this area’s historic past while savoring the delights of its present.  


Getting There: Take Hwy 80 to Hwy 4, exit at Cumming Skyway and drive north. Turn right onto Crockett Blvd. and drive to Pomona St. in Crockett. Turn right onto Pomona; this becomes Carquinez Scenic Drive. Follow Carquinez Scenic Drive to the Bull Valley Staging Area entrance on the left. Continue down the drive to the picnic area and Eckley Pier. Approx. 25miles one way. 

Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline: No day-use fee, no pet charge. Dogs allowed off-leash on trails. No fishing license required for pier fishing, license is needed for shore fishing. East Bay Regional Park Headquarters 925 228 0112. www.ebparks.org/parks/carquin.