Port Costa is a Bay Area Small Town with Charm

Whether you’re looking for a hike, a scenic bike ride, look no further than Port Costa
Port Costa

The Carquinez Strait, as seen across railroad tracks from Port Costa, California. Photo: Janet Fazio

Established in the 1870s, Port Costa served as a major grain port for merchant sailing ships, with warehouses, saloons and hotels situated along its waterfront. With a deep water channel and two of the largest train ferries in the world, Port Costa was well ahead of its time. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find that the town’s population has dwindled to 190 people as of the 2010 census. Two restaurants, one hotel, a post office, a yoga studio and a haberdashery make up today’s Port Costa. With surrounding park land and spectacular views of the Carquinez Strait, it’s still a Bay Area destination that shouldn’t be missed.

After years of thinking about visiting Port Costa, a friend’s Facebook photos finally prompted me to make the trip. Judging from the parking lot in town, Port Costa is well-loved by cyclists and bikers. Since I’m neither, I made the trip by car, taking the very scenic McEwen Road off of Highway 4.

My first stop was the Bull Valley Staging Area located along the Carquinez Scenic Drive to do some hiking. There is about a two-mile easy loop that provides great views of the Carquinez Bridge and the Benicia waterfront. You’ll forget you’re in an urban area until you hear the sounds of trains approaching. Lots of dogs, families and mountain bikers enjoy the trail.   

If you like to fish, Eckley Pier is just down the road. There are several picnic tables in this location. You can get to it from the Bull Valley Trail, or park down at the pier where there is water and flushing toilets and start your hike from there.

Afterwards, I headed into town for lunch. If I had known about the bacon, corn bread and all-butter pound cake, I would have started my day at the Burlington Hotel Cafe, which is open weekends only. Stop in even if you don’t need a bacon fix. They cook in ovens that probably should be in a museum. Some say the hotel, which is still functional, is haunted. If you wander into the lobby, you may agree.

There are two restaurants in town. The four-star Bull Valley Roadhouse and the Warehouse Cafe. To me, it seemed more like a cafe kind of day. The Warehouse Cafe is an eclectic mix of musty antique store, bar, restaurant, and local hangout. On a Sunday afternoon, the bartender will take your order, write it down on a post-it, and tell you to take it to the kitchen. Here, the cook will let you know when to return to pick up your order. If you are all about amenities, do not go here. If you’re game, they make a mean cheeseburger. Plus, they have an amazing selection of craft beer. I’m told that they do have waiters in the evening and they serve up a fabulous prime rib and showcase live bands.

Things to know: Hiking trails are part of the East Bay Regional Park District. Parking is free. Be flexible and adventurous. Port Costa is most likely like no other place you’ve ever been. To make reservations at the Bull Valley Roadhouse, visit BullValleyRoadhouse.com. For info on the Warehouse Cafe, call 510.787.1827 or visit WarehouseCafePortCosta.com.