From the summit of Mount Diablo, on a clear day, one of the most expansive views in North America opens up. “You can see 31 of California’s 52 counties from here,” Mount Diablo Interpretive Association President Stephen Smith says, gesturing around the panorama afforded by the isolated peak that juts up almost 4,000 feet between the East San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley. The snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountain range, including Lassen Peak, 181 miles away, and Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park, 150 miles distant, is visible to the trained eye. (Peering through one of the telescopes mounted to the visitor center observation deck helps.) Below, the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta winds like a wet ribbon through a table-flat landscape.
Even on a hazy day, there’s lots to see on the trails that lead through Mount Diablo State Park and its adjacent preserves, which together total about 100,000 acres. Guided hikes for groups can be arranged, and there’s hardly a meeting group that comes to nearby Concord without at least a few members who want to explore the mountain. An interesting tidbit of trivia: Since it was first surveyed in 1851, Mount Diablo has served as point of reference on virtually all property deeds in Northern California and parts of Oregon.
Mount Diablo is a surprise, but there are other surprises to be enjoyed as well in this East Bay community of 130,000.
“In my opinion, Concord is a hidden gem,” says Yuriko Kawaguchi, director of sales for Concord Hilton, the city’s largest convention hotel with 329 guest rooms and 21,344 square feet of flexible meeting space. “Concord is unique in that it’s situated perfectly, 20 miles from Oakland and 30 miles from San Francisco. So it’s easily accessible, and we have a BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] station as well.”
Attracted by the central location and public transportation option, many Bay Area companies come to Concord for their meetings. Beyond convenience, Kawaguchi adds, “of course the company’s money stretches more than it would in San Francisco, so they’re able to give more to their attendees.”
For outdoors lovers, there’s another plus: The hotel is situated adjacent to Iron Horse Trail, a paved, multiuse path stretching 32 miles between Concord and Walnut Creek. (The hotel plans to implement a bike program soon, Kawaguchi says.) For culinary pleasures, a pair of shopping malls across the street from the hotel offers many off-site dining options.
Visitors can’t come to Concord without learning that it’s the birthplace of jazz great Dave Brubeck and the Concord record label (now based in Beverly Hills), famous for recording independent jazz artists. A highlight of the year in Concord is an August jazz festival that draws attendees from around the country. For its 50th anniversary in 2019, the fest showcased stars including Esperanza Spalding, Chick Corea, Poncho Sanchez, Dave Koz and the Count Basie Orchestra. The event was held at the Concord Pavilion, a landmark venue with seating for seating 12,500 designed by famed architect Frank Gehry. When it opened in 1975, it was one of the first outdoor amphitheaters on the West Coast outside the Hollywood Bowl. Another music-related option: Concord Masonic Hall, recently converted into an event venue and museum showcasing Concord’s jazz history
Concord’s downtown revolves around Todos Santos Plaza, a community gathering space that hosts weekly farmers markets, music events and food truck festivals spring through fall. It’s surrounded by shops, restaurants and nightspots, including The Hop Grenade Taproom & Bottleshop, a stop on Concord’s Beer Trail. Hop Grenade accommodates groups, serves 21 brews on tap and also hosts the Brewing Network podcast, which is recorded in a small studio inside. Also on the square, LiMA Peruvian Restaurant is a lively hot spot specializing in ceviche and other seafood dishes, with groups graciously accommodated.
Other restaurants for planners to consider include Puesto, a festive, walking-distance Mexican eatery with dramatic architecture that can host parties and receptions indoors or out. On a more casual note, Mona’s Burgers is a local hot spot that can make room for groups, while the super-casual but well-reviewed Los Rancheros can set up outdoor seating for groups and bring in mariachis to entertain, with advance notice.
Also on the beer trail, and definitely worth a stop, is Epidemic Ale, a women-owned brewpub whose humorously named brews include Zombie IPA, Post Mortem, Abomination and Belladona, to cite just a few.
“We started with home brewers,” co-owner and assistant brewer Erin Schally says. “Now we’re in restaurants and partnering with as many as we can.”
On the team-building front, a truly tasty experience can be booked at Rachel Dunn Chocolates, makers of premier and specialty chocolates and their signature product, giant, caramel-coated apples sprinkled with ground nuts. Groups opting for a half-day, hands-on candy-making workshop start with a chocolate and wine-pairing session while learning how chocolate is made. Participants then don chef’s hats, aprons and gloves and move into a factory room dominated by three rows of long, wide tables.
Master chocolatier Michael Dunn, Rachel’s husband, presides at a podium as group members proceed to dip and decorate a dozen confections ranging from chocolate turtles to peanut-butter cups and cream-filled bonbons. And, of course, everyone gets to take home one of those colossal caramel apples packaged in a beautiful gift box.
For planners seeking a really, really big venue during the warm months, there’s another Concord landmark worth considering. Six Flags Hurricane Harbor (formerly known as Waterworld) is a water-based theme park with rides, slides and attractions both wild and tame, as well as facilities for corporate events such as catered picnics for hundreds of employees, team-building activities, cabana rentals and even park buyouts. “In-N-Out Burger has purchased the park several times for two-day events,” says Marc Merino, communications manager for Six Flags Hurricane Harbor and sister property Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo. “It’s a very popular venue.”