Hanging Out in Castro Valley
Castro Valley Boulevard is worth a visit, especially for those who want to buy Wranglers, eat empanadas, play putt-putt, and enjoy small-town charms.
Photo by Lori Eanes
You’ve passed Castro Valley a million times where Interstate 580 meets I-238. But have you ever stopped to take a look? The unincorporated bedroom community’s main drag offers cutting-edge cuisine, plenty of family-friendly fun, and one of the best bike shops in the Bay Area. If you are looking for old-school, small-town charm, there’s plenty of that, too.
Founded in 1941 by Harry Rowell, the self-appointed “Rodeo King of the West,” Rowell’s Saddlery & Western Ware reminds visitors of Northern California’s cowboy past. Rowell’s still repairs saddles and does custom leatherwork for those in need of chaps or bridles or a hand-tooled belt with a giant buckle. You can also find Stetson hats, Justin boots, pearl button Western shirts and Wranglers while a herd of taxidermied animals, including an especially expressive American bison, watches your every move. 3473 Castro Valley Blvd., 510-581-2577, www.RowellsSaddlery.com.
Eden Bicycles serves the bike community traversing the canyon roads snaking around Castro Valley. Recently remodeled, the full-service bike shop offers outstanding customer service, a rewards program, repairs, group rides, and even its own brand of coffee (and beer, if you catch them at the right time). As one Eden employee informed me, “The real reason people take long bike rides is to take coffee breaks and drink beer afterwards.” 3318 Village Drive, 510-881-5000, www.EdenBicycles.com.
Peruse your favorite comic books from the 1970s or ’80s or ’90s at Crush Comics. All the classics are here, as well as a nice selection of current graphic novels, superhero masks, Lego figurines, and Pokémon cards. Your friendly neighborhood comics store also offers a kid zone in the front for age-appropriate offerings, so stick around, hang out, and shoot the breeze with the knowledgeable staff. 2869 Castro Valley Blvd., 510-581-4779, www.CrushComics.com.
Enjoy a taste of South America at the cute and cozy Pampas Cafe. The formula is simple yet effective: 10 varieties of Argentinian-style empanadas (eight savory, two sweet), Alfajor cookies, and Four Barrel artisan coffee. Try the Humita empanada with sweet corn, butternut squash, peppers, and mozzarella or the cold coffee from a tap. And don’t forget to ask for the chimichurri sauce. What else do you need? 3483 Castro Valley Blvd., 510-359-9339.
The Chicken on Fire might be the best restaurant name ever. The “fire” refers to the spicy gochujang-based sauce, which is slathered on crispy fried chicken wings and drumsticks. If you can’t handle Korean red pepper paste, there are other flavors from which to choose: soy garlic, spicy curry, and smoky onion. White rice tempers the heat, and a cabbage-based salad provides an acidic counterpoint at this chicken-only Korean fusion outlet. 2836 Castro Valley Blvd., 510-876-5846.
Everyone loves an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, and Knudsen’s Ice Creamery doesn’t disappoint with over two dozen flavors, including a heavy-on-the-Oreos cookies and cream, award-winning vanilla, sorbets, and some sugar-free options. Large portions abound, especially with the sundaes and banana splits. Expect to share … or not. Knudsen’s also serves diner food and homemade candies, but the ice cream is the main attraction. 3323 Castro Valley Blvd., 510-582-2775, www.IceCreamery.net.
Photo by Lori Eanes
Drop into Aran’s Art in the Castro Village Shopping Center to unleash your inner artist. The DIY studio offers all types of ceramics to paint and glass items to fuse. After you finish decorating your masterpiece, Aran’s will fire your piece to pick up later. This favorite craft spot is also available for birthday parties, fundraisers, kids’ nights out, and even canvas painting sessions. 3313 Village Drive, Castro Valley, 510-728-1333, www.AransArtStudio.com.
Skip the multiplex and check out the Chabot Cinema, one of the only single-screen theaters in the Bay Area outside of San Francisco. The 1950s-era theater with the Art Deco-inspired neon shows first-run, mostly family-friendly flicks at discounted prices (under $10 per ticket). Expect the usual snack items, as well as coffee and espresso for parents who need to stay awake. 2853 Castro Valley Blvd., 510-582-2555, www.CineluxTheatres.com.
No visit is complete without putt-putting at Golden Tee Golfland, at the western end of the boulevard. Generations of Castro Valleyans (and Bay Area natives) have enjoyed the immaculately manicured courses since the early 1960s. Fun fact: The trio of dragons in the Enchanted Journey course sits atop a buried bank vault that couldn’t be removed when the course was built. And here’s a tip for those already skilled at mini-golf: choose the Adventure Quest course with its more challenging hills and water traps. 2533 Castro Valley Blvd., 510-537-2168, www.Golfland.com/castrovalley.