Through the Tunnel to Lafayette
Where to shop, what to do, and what to eat along Mount Diablo Boulevard.
Learn about gardening at the Lafayette Community Garden and Outdoor Learning Center.
Photo by Lance Yamamoto
Over a century ago, Mount Diablo Boulevard began as a wagon trail when Lafayette was a small farm town between Oakland and Walnut Creek. Now it serves as the main thoroughfare through the tony suburb known for its excellent schools, expensive real estate, and burgeoning restaurant row.
If luxury European linens are your thing, then Misto Lino is the place to shop. High thread counts abound from names like Signoria, Yves Delorme, John Robshaw, and Northern California’s SDH. The home décor store also offers hand-painted Italian ceramics, Simon Pearce glassware, fancy loungewear, and unique (and affordable) gifts. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, so don’t be afraid to ask for assistance.
3585 Mount Diablo Blvd, 925-284-6565, MistoLino.com.
Since 1951, the family-owned Original Nut Factory has been roasting locally grown almonds in small batches. High-quality nuts of all varieties, as well as dried fruit, gift baskets, and party trays can be found at the self-professed “best kept secret” in town, which is tucked away on a side street off the boulevard behind the library. Silbermann’s Ice Cream from San Rafael is back at the shop for the summer months, so try a scoop.
3477 Golden Gate Way, 800-922-0969, NutFactory.com.
As one of the few children’s bookstores in the Bay Area, Bel and Bunna’s Books is designed as a “retreat from the electronic age.” The independent bookseller offers a nicely curated selection for readers up to age 18, as well as beanbags to read on, and toys for the younger set. Owner Bel McNeill conceived her store as a community partner and hosts classes, book clubs, readings, birthday parties, and story times in this modern and comfortable space just down the alleyway from Paxti’s Pizza.
3581C Mount Diablo Boulevard, 925-298-5512, BelAndBunnasBooks.com.
Enjoy the day at the Lafayette Reservoir Recreation Area. For a gentle stroll, try the Lakeside Trail, which is paved, and take a rest under the east side trees. The more adventurous can hike the hills and dales of the 5-mile Rim Trail, which sports some lovely views of Mount Diablo. Bring your dogs (leashed), kids (there’s a playground on the east lawn), and extended family (first-come, first-served picnic areas are available; reservations are needed for larger parties). For those interested in water activities, you can fish and rent rowboats, kayaks, and pedal boats at the Visitor’s Center, but swimming is not allowed.
3849 Mount Diablo Blvd., 925-284-9669, EBMUD.com/recreation/east-bay/lafayette-reservoir.
Open in 2009, the state-of-the-art Lafayette Library and Learning Center was conceived as a collaborative community space for more than books. Attend a lecture by superstar authors (like Joyce Carol Oates), buy at book at the Friends Corner Book Shop, sip a cup of coffee at the Bookmark Cafe, enjoy art at the Library Gallery, listen to chamber music by the local Gold Coast Chamber Players in the Community Hall — the list goes on and on. Or you could just check out an old-fashioned book and lounge in one of the library’s comfy chairs.
3491 Mount Diablo Blvd., 925-385-2280, LLLCF.org.
From March to October, the Lafayette Community Garden and Outdoor Learning Center is open to the public. Across the boulevard from the reservoir, the garden has been expertly laid out by a team of landscape designers. Walk through the inviting wooden gate decorated with Rachel Carson’s “In nature nothing exists alone” and traverse the winding paths through raised stucco flower beds and wooden vegetable plots. Look for the traditional Miwok hut used for educational events and arts-and-crafts-inspired tilework throughout the garden. Check the website for hours.
3932 Mount Diablo Blvd., LafayetteCommunityGarden.org.
La Châtaigne began selling its flaky morning buns and croissants at the Lafayette and Orinda farmers markets. In late 2016, baker and owner Michael Faircloth opened a cozy storefront in La Fiesta Square to fill the French boulangerie/patisserie need in Contra Costa County. Try the caramel-encrusted canelé, leaf-shaped fougasse olive bread, and scrumptious lemon tart. And pair your selection with a dry, decidedly Euro cappuccino.
35 Lafayette Circle, 925-283-3324.
El Charro has been serving family-style Mexican food since 1947, when it was housed in a log cabin at the eastern end of the boulevard. The Lafayette institution offers an old-school selection (enchiladas, chili rellenos, tacos, chimichangas) on hot plates with lots of creamy refried beans and rice. Great for families and large groups (but make reservations), the restaurant also hosts a lively bar scene with margaritas of all varieties. 3339 Mount Diablo Blvd., ElCharro1947.com, 925-283-2345.
One of the newer additions to Lafayette’s thriving restaurant scene, Barranco Cocina Peruana is the latest eatery from chef Carlos Altamirano (of Michelin-starred La Costanera fame). Named after the bohemian beach district in Lima, Peru, the restaurant is focused on seafood — ceviche, pulpo a la parilla (octopus), paella negra (squid ink paella), and langostinos crocantes (prawns). Pisco sours are served at the patterned tiled bar where the vibe is decidedly lively.
3596 Mount Diablo Blvd, 925-298-5668, BarrancoKitchen.com