By John Strohmeier
If you’re at home in West County and in need of a getaway, but are maybe short on time or gas money, you live in the right place. Contra Costa County’s “North Shore,” an area that stretches along San Pablo Bay and the Sacramento River from Pinole to Port Costa, is full of hidden gems to discover. We tend to think of this area as part of the East Bay, but get out your compass, and you’ll see that the view from the beach indeed faces north, toward the Sonoma and Napa Valley watersheds. Here are some people and places to visit along the road. For information on the North Shore Alliance, go to http://www.visitnorthshore.org.
Four Fools Winery, Rodeo
One stop should be Four Fools Winery in Rodeo. Licensed just last year, this is West County’s only winery open to the public on a regular basis. The tasting room, open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5:00pm, pours from a selection of six wines, red and white. Four Fools is a good starting point for North Shore road bike tours that can reach as far as Benecia, along such scenic routes as Franklin Canyon and the Carquinez Scenic Highway. You can finish the day with happy hour on the Four Fools deck overlooking the bay.
Four Fools is more than just a winery. It hosts weekly yoga classes and regular public events, some featuring live music. To get to Four Fools Winery, at 13 Pacific in Rodeo, take the Willow Avenue Exit off I-80 and head toward the bay. Turn left onto First Street, then right onto Pacific. When you cross the bridge you’ll see the water tank. That’s where the winery is. Go to http://www.fourfoolswinery.com for more information.
The Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge Viewpoint, On the Way to Crockett
If any roadside viewpoint can be a road trip destination, it’s this one, just uphill from the Dead Fish Restaurant on San Pablo Avenue between Rodeo and Crockett. Day and evening views can be spectacular, as these photos show. But what I like best are the fascinating notes on signs placed around the viewing area. The notes comprise a history of life along the Carquinez Strait, including the Native American experience, Mare Island history, Mexican and Yankee settlement tales, and a marvelous episode from Jack London’s novel, John Barleycorn, which took place in the cold waters below.
Of special interest is the story of ironworker Alfred Zampa, after whom the new Carquinez Bridge span is named. According to the commemorative plaque here, Zampa worked on the three most famous bridge projects in the Bay Area — the Golden Gate, Carquinez and Oakland-Bay — and survived a fall from the Golden Gate Bridge, still in progress, thanks to a safety net. To the local ironworker trade, Zampa, a Crockett native, is a legend.
The Art Scene in Crockett
Park your car anywhere in central Crockett and you’re probably near the front door of an artist studio or gallery. Epperson Gallery at 1400 Pomona Street is likely to be the first one you see. Joanne and Jerry Epperson started this spacious gallery, which also houses seven working artist studios, in 1996. Paintings and ceramic work on display here are produced by artists throughout Northern California. Around the corner and down a block, at 1225 Ceres, you’ll find Bella Galleria di Valona, owned by painter Clorinda Smith. Here you’ll find a collection of antiques and collectibles alongside original artworks — painted, fiber and ceramic — most by local Crockett artists. On the walk between these two shops there are other shops and galleries of interest, and on a warm fall day you might catch a glimpse of an artist at work in his or her studio, or on location in front of one of Crockett’s historic buildings.
A gallery not to be missed is the Bailey Art Museum, down the hill in Crockett at 325 Rolph Avenue. This unique gallery, known by some as the Robot Museum, features the work of its owners Clayton and Betty Bailey. Clayton’s amazingly imaginative work — in sculpture, ceramics, glass and other media — has gained him international fame. He was recently named Golden Bear Artist of the Year by the California Arts Council. The Bailey Museum is home to a life’s work ranging over more than five decades. If you are wondering what Dr. Gladstone’s Weird Science Laboratory looks like, or have never seen a bigfoot egg, or a Clinker Pot made of Port Costa clay, stop by the museum between 1 and 5pm any Saturday or Sunday.
I visited this museum, located at 900 Loring Avenue, about thirty years ago and never forget what a fun place it was. In 2014, after a couple big earthquakes, including one this past August that broke a few antique booze bottles, the museum is still just as good. Not surprisingly, the museum has an impressive collection of materials related to the history of C&H Sugar, but the focus here is really on the life and people of Crockett, including hometown hero Aldo Ray, who starred alongside such film legends as Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy and Rita Hayworth in the 1950s. Ray’s idea of a refreshing workout, so museum docent Nancy Rieser tells visitors, was to swim from Crockett, out to and around Mare Island and back, which got him into trouble more than once when the island was still a US Navy base.
To see the whole museum right, budget enough time. It’s best not to leave without seeing the display on the history of Crockett’s bars (which once numbered 40), the recently added section on the contributions of women to Crockett culture, and the stuffed Leviathan known as “Joe’s Fish,” the largest sturgeon ever caught in the Carquinez Strait. Nancy or one of her colleagues will show you the actual pole it was caught with, not much more than a twig.