Marilyn, Martinis, and Muir

Visitors to the charming Contra Costa town can sip stout coffee, browse for antiques, and see where John Muir lived.


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Martinez beckons with antiques, coffee, and hidden history.

Photo by Lori Eanes

OK, I’ll admit it. I ended up in Martinez for jury duty. That’s not because I don’t love the quaintness of its downtown; it just starts to feel far if you are talking about a spontaneous weekend outing. But don’t let the Highway 4 drive deter you. Martinez’s Main Street is full of brag-worthy antiques, strong coffee, and award-winning beer. Want history? This Contra Costa city has ties to American icons like John Muir and Joe DiMaggio, not to mention some pretty fun local lore: It’s said to be the birthplace of the martini and home to a pack of London circus monkeys.

SHOP

When it comes to shopping in Martinez, there’s no question it is all about the antiques. Walking down Main Street starts to feel like every other store is selling goods from yesteryear. And if you really are there for jury duty, some of the shops even give discounts when you flash your bad

At Antiques on the Main, you’ll find an impressive collection of war memorabilia mixed in with cute trinkets like spaghetti poodles and vintage art. A few doors down, and toward the back of the store at Bad Girls Antiques, comic book lovers will find a good stash of 1960s Batmans and other superhero stories. For shabby chic furniture at really reasonable prices, pop into Crane’s Antiques. Antiques on Main, 814 Main St., 925-228-0394; Bad Girls Antiques, 810 Main St., 925-957-9960; Crane’s Antiques, 605 Main St., 925-229-2775; www.MainStreetMartinez.org/Merchants.

Over at Citrus Salon, you can enjoy facials and other skin and hair services. If you love how it makes you feel, pick up the Aveda products used on most treatments. Citrus Salon, 631 Main St., Martinez, 925-228-2010, www.Citrus-Salon.com.

PLAY

Yoga lovers can get a session in over at Type A Yoga, where it’s less about being able to stand on your head and more about feeling good. But if you are advanced, don’t feel shy about showing off your moves. Afterward, you can shop for mats, clothes, and other yogi-inspired wares in the studio’s small boutique. Type A Yoga, 815 Marina Vista Ave., First Floor, 925-957-9820, www.TypeAYoga.com.

Get festive with downtown events throughout December, including the Santa Beer Crawl on Dec. 12, when some 20 businesses will serve up suds from Heretic, Lost Coast, Mavericks, Mendocino, and Trumer, among others.

The whole family can enjoy the new full-size ice rink at the corner of Escobar and Ferry streets, just a hop, skip, or twirl from the main events at Snow Park, a festive annual event that runs from late November through early January. Snowball fights, time with Saint Nick, and a light parade (Dec. 4) make for some kid-friendly activities. www.DownTownSnow.com.

On your way out, catch some history and a hike on Mount Wanda at the John Muir House on Alhambra Avenue. It’s where the naturalist raised his family and penned some of his most famous works, which inspired the National Park Service. John Muir National Historic Site, 4202 Alhambra Ave., Martinez, 925-228-8860, www.NPS.gov/JoMu/index.htm.

EAT

Start your day downtown with a cup of Four Barrel Coffee at Barrelista, a cozy coffeehouse that also serves mean panini, among other yummy breakfast and lunch options, on the main drag. Sink into one of the velvety chairs or hang out at the community table and start typing away. Not a morning person? Enjoy wine and beer at happy hour. Barrelista, 823 Main St., Martinez, 925-228-7795, www.BarrelAgedBar.com.

If you want something that feels straight out of Oakland or San Francisco, head a few blocks off Main Street to the airy States Coffee & Mercantile on Ward Street for cold brews, Happy Moose juices, and freshly roasted beans to take home. States Coffee & Mercantile, 609 Ward St., Martinez, www.StatesCoffee.com.

Legend has it that in the 1970s, the George Matthew’s Great London Circus came to town and upon its departure, left a pack of feral monkeys. Whether you believe it is up to you, but that’s the inspiration behind the name at Creek Monkey Tap House, which serves up some of the region’s best brews, wines, and bites in a 19th-century home near the waterfront. Creek Monkey Tap House, 611 Escobar St., Martinez, 925-228-8787, www.CreekMonkey.com.

If you love barbecue, don’t miss Beaver Creek Smokehouse for ribs, pulled pork, sausage, and other smoky delights. Award-winning barbecue master Rob Zavatero and his crew only cook up quality meats from Niman Ranch, Mary’s Air-Chilled Chicken, and other local vendors. Sit out on the deck and enjoy creek-side views as you dip your lunch or dinner in homemade sauces that are “so good you could put it on car bumper and eat it” according to one of the restaurant’s loyalists. Beaver Creek Smokehouse, 601 Main St., Martinez, 925-335-9915, www.BeaverCreek-Smokehouse.com.

At Main Street Sweets, old-school candies, fudge, and Gunther’s Ice Cream are served up in a sweetly packed storefront that looks straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Main Street Sweets, 815 Main St., Martinez, 925-229-9677.

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