Nestled in an abundance of wild terrain just beyond the Caldecott Tunnel that separates San Francisco's closest neighbors from the East Bay suburbs, Lafayette has been steadily transforming from a sleepy Contra Costa town into a desirable destination for city-dwelling young professionals seeking a change of pace.
With its quieter surroundings and family-run shops paired with top-notch restaurants and a strollable, tree-lined downtown, Lafayette manages to combine the best aspects of the Bay: access to the outdoors, farm-to-table dining, and a less frenetic energy. And even if you're not visiting Lafayette the one weekend a year when the population explodes for a popular art and wine festival, the city still beckons with small-town charm and big-city amenities worthy of whiling away a few days.
Where to Eat in Lafayette
Sandwiches and burgers inspired by international flavors and family recipes reign supreme at Batch & Brine.
Hidden off the main dining stretch in Lafayette, The Hideout Kitchen & Cafe (3406 Mt. Diablo Blvd.) serves lunch and dinner but is best known for its bustling brunch business, which often draws a wait (make it more bearable with a mimosa in hand). Expect elevated comfort food: The beast of a waffle sandwich is a staple, with a chicken-fried steak, cheddar cheese, and an over-easy egg sandwiched between two waffles and smothered in sausage gravy; the harvest scramble offers a slightly less gut-busting option, with seasonal veggies and goat cheese. If you do make it for dinner, consider the honey-fried chicken, and then cap off your evening with a cranberry bread pudding (free with a check-in on Yelp). // Many a local bemoaned the closing of Lafayette institution Petar's in 2013, but luckily its replacement, The Cooperage(32 Lafayette Cir.), delivers well-executed new American dishes and a seasonal cocktail selection to rival any bar in San Francisco. Menu standouts range from the warm shaved Brussels sprouts to the Brown Derby, which feels like a slightly lighter Cobb salad, to the very photogenic trio of riffs on the traditional gin and tonic, served in giant wine glasses and adorned with flowers and spices. // Beloved Danville restaurant Sideboard(3535 Plaza Way) opened a Lafayette location in 2016, bringing its largely house-made, farm-to-table fresh fare to a relaxed, farmyard-esque space. For breakfast/brunch, the poached eggs on levain toast, freshly made beignets, and chilaquiles are favorites, whereas dinnertime diners should opt for comfort-food classics such as the meatloaf sandwich, mac 'n' cheese, or Thai chicken salad. Act like an insider and come on Friday night for the fish fry, or to order off the secret menu, which leans deliciously unhealthy with items such as nachos, a bucket of fries, and a cinnamon roll sundae. When movies are screened in the Plaza Park over the summer, you can reserve a picnic basket meal, borrow a few blankets, and cuddle up for dinner and a flick. // Meat lovers head to Bonehead's Texas BBQ (3422 Mt. Diablo Blvd.) for juicy brisket, smoky ribs, and spicy barbecue sauce, but stick around for the cornhole, weekend live music, and Wednesday night open mic. For a true taste of Texas, Bonehead's moves more than 700 pounds of meat a week sourced from Harris Ranch (the only independently owned restaurant to get it direct) through its smoker only after it's spent 72 hours soaking in the dry rub. // The cozy interior of American Kitchen (71 Lafayette Cir.) brings to mind dining in a good friend's home, in part because the restaurant is housed in a historic 80-year-old farmhouse in downtown Lafayette, but also for the feeling of conviviality around the fire pit on the outdoor patio. Comfort food reigns supreme across the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, with fun theme nights through the week (breakfast for dinner on Tuesday, Sunday night grilled cheese).
Flavors of Italia
Lafayette mainstay Postino(3565 Mt. Diablo Blvd.) has managed to stand the test of time not only for its expertly executed Italian-inflected dishes, but also for its unparalleled service and impressive wine list. Tucked in an ivy-shrouded building complete with exposed brick interior, this white-tablecloth restaurant remains the top choice for celebratory and special-occasion meals, and the attentive servers are more than happy to help you decide between tender braised short ribs, pan-roasted duck breast, or seared yellowfin tuna. // Sure, you definitely won't go wrong ordering one of the blistery, wood-fired pies—which combine Italian flavors with fresh California ingredients—from Pizza Antica (3600 Mt. Diablo Blvd.). But the dish that keeps us up at night (or at least slaving to recreate it) is the warm Brussels sprouts salad laced with bacon, hard-cooked egg, and caramelized onions. Swing by the first Friday of the month for the chef's porchetta, done in the Tuscan tradition with fennel pollen before being rolled and roasted into porky goodness, or for weekday happy hour to score $5 small bites and discounted wine and beer pours. // Blink-and-you'll-miss-it Locanda Positano (1005 Brown Ave.) evokes the Amalfi coast with its blue and yellow tiled accents, a bright and airy all-weather outdoor patio, and congenial staff that'll have you swearing you've been transported to a seaside Italian town. The menu follows suit, with many of the recipes handed down from family of inspired by the owner's Italian upbringing. You can't say no to Mamma Carmela's meatballs, gnocchi, or lasagna (Mamma herself often travels over from Italy to oversee the kitchen), but you also won't go wrong with the thin-crust pizza or meat-forward secondi options either.
Restaurant Row newcomer Batch & Brine(3602 Mt. Diablo Blvd.) sprang from the combined wisdom of life-long restaurateurs, and the truly family-run restaurant (from parents to children to siblings to cousins) draws upon the combined knowledge of its members, transforming passed-down recipes into globally-inspired dishes served up in an artsy, patio-bedecked interior. Burgers and sandwiches are the main event—we suggest the falafel, fried chicken, and Greek-inspired kufta—with loaded fries (think hatch chile and pork or duck and cheese), capped off with boozy milkshakes and s'mores ice cream sandwiches for dessert. Make sure you check out the bathroom for graffiti art provided by LA artist Berk Visual, who also did the street art–inspired murals in the interior. // Peruvian restaurant Barranco (3596 Mt. Diablo Blvd.) not only occupies an enviable airy, patio-adorned spot on Mount Diablo Boulevard, but capitalizes on the indoor-outdoor atmosphere with transportive dishes tinged with Latin American flair. The selection of ceviche and other chilled dishes burst with freshness, but it's the dishes that get a healthy lick of flame—whether the grilled Spanish octopus, slow-roasted pollo a la brasa, or pan-seared day boat scallops—that let the complex flavors truly shine. Sip a pisco sour or two and save room: It'd be criminal to not end the meal with the tender and crumbly alfajores filled with dulce de leche. // It's worth springing for a stay at the chateau-inspired Lafayette Park Hotel & Spa at least once, but if you want a taste of provencal France without committing to an overnight, head to the hotel's The Park Bistro & Bar(3287 Mt. Diablo Blvd.). Inside the French farmhouse–inspired interior, you'll find farm-to-table California cuisine with a French twist, including smoked salmon deviled eggs, an unctuous French onion soup, and braised short rib over polenta spooned with bordelaise. The outdoor fire pit proves an especially nice respite from the craziness of the week, especially when paired with one of the bar's award-winning cocktails such as the Chimney Sweeper, made with California-produced vodka, amari, orgeat, and activated charcoal and served in an atomized Laphroaig glass. // No frills, decades-old Mexican joint El Charro Mexican Restaurant (3339 Mt. Diablo Blvd.) manages to capture south-of-the-border flavor at a reasonable price point that locals clearly love, since the oft-packed dining room often spills over onto the covered patio. But don't expect a run-of-the-mill cantina or taqueria: Classic dishes such as smothered enchiladas, crispy fish tacos, and chimichangas come on colorful earthenware dishes; the house margaritas are a step above your standard cocktail; and even the unlimited chips and salsa come with the perk of a piquant cheese dip. // Comfortingly consistent, Uncle Yu's (999 Oak Hill Rd.) gets top marks for upscale Chinese with a modern twist, with classics such as juicy potstickers, rainbow chicken, honey-walnut prawns, and peking duck turned out with reliably high-quality precision. Celiacs and gluten-free diners can also rest easy with an entirely gluten-free menu. // Hidden between a fro-yo shop and a Whole Foods in Lafayette's main strip mall, Blue Ginkgo(3518 Mt. Diablo Blvd.) still manages to be your best bet for familiar Japanese fare, with Japanese izakaya bites and a solid menu of rolls and sashimi.
Drinks, Snacks + Sweets
A local legend for St. Mary's students and Lafayette long-timers alike, The Roundup (3553 Mt. Diablo Blvd.) shills out no-nonsense drinks alongside shuffleboard, pool, and whatever game might be on, with a monopoly on the pockets of Lamorinda's drinkers as the only dedicated bar in the three-city area. The cash-only bar draws an energetic college crowd on weekend nights—especially for Saturday karaoke—but the vibe leans decidedly more mellow any other time, with the bar serving as a haven for "orphans" on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. // While this mini-chain of hip coffee shops started in Walnut Creek and flourished despite a difficult-to-Google name, the Lafayette location of Coffee Shop (50 Lafayette Cir.) manages to bring the same third-wave coffee stylings to a more family friendly, barnesque building with an inviting outdoor patio. Luckily, you'll still find the brand's signature minted ice cold-brew, house-made Pop Tarts, and selection of booze-spiked coffee drinks for the post-work crowd, plus seasonal lattes and events like open mic night. // San Francisco residents are likely already well-versed in the vintage sweets from SusieCakes(3598 Mt. Diablo Blvd.), and you can score that same sugar-laden deliciousness in Lafayette, whether you lean toward decadent slices of red velvet and celebration cakes, two sizes of cupcakes in an array of flavors, or whoopie pies reminiscent of giant Oreos. // Another homegrown chain with a slightly healthier focus, Urban Remedy (63 Lafayette Cir.) specializes in cold-pressed bottled juices crafted from a Chinese medicine perspective, with the idea that food should be functional and healing is possible from the inside out. The Glow and Deep Cleaning green juices help reset the system, whereas the Mint Cacao Chip and Chocolate Banana smoothies taste like your favorite desserts, minus the calories. We dare you to try and keep the sour cream and chive kale chips in your house for more than a week. // Sunday visitors will be sorely disappointed if they try and hit Johnny's Donuts (3629 Mt Diablo Blvd. #A), since it's closed, but stop by any other day of the week starting at 5 a.m. if you're looking for fluffy donuts in classic iterations, with enough raised, glazed, and custard-stuffed donuts to make Homer Simpson proud.
What to Do in Lafayette: Arts, Outdoors + Events
Don't dismiss pottery painting as juvenile: Color Me Mine(3541 Mt. Diablo Blvd.) proves that adults can get into the crafting fun, with example mugs and plates for inspiration if you're struck with artists' block. You pick the piece and paint it, Color Me Mine fires it in the kiln, and you get to take home your tasteful (or tasteless) creation. // Town Hall Theatre Company(3535 School St.) still embodies that small-town theater feel after more than 70 years, and its historic two-story brown building houses productions that emphasize empowering new theatre artists while still bringing the community together through top-notch performances. The 2018-2019 season sees the first Bay Area production of The Revolutionists, Dickens' Great Expectations, the California premiere of Brooklyn Bridge, and a musical rendition of the film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. // The crown jewel of Lafayette's trail system, the Lafayette Reservoir(3849 Mt. Diablo Blvd.) draws droves on weekends for fishing, pedal-boat and row-boat rentals on the reservoir, and an easy 2.7-mile stroll around its paved loop path. The reservoir also plays host to Concert at the Rez in May, featuring the Big Band of Rossmoor and local school music program bands, plus the Reservoir Run in October. Hikers looking for more of a challenge can easily access the almost five-mile Rim Trail from multiple trailheads, with plenty of hills to challenge your quads and glutes. // More than 100,000 visitors descend on Lafayette every third weekend in September for Lamorinda's biggest event, the Lafayette Art, Wine, and Music Festival (Mt. Diablo Blvd.), a multi-block party that highlights row upon row of art and handmade crafts booths, plus food from local restaurants, wine in a "Premium Wine Pavilion," microbrews, and four stages of live music.
Where to Shop in Lafayette: Locally Owned Boutiques
Farmyard Darlings brings country flair—ranging from furniture to accessories—to Lafayette.
(Courtesy of Farmyard Darlings)
Husband-and-wife run Venture Quality Goods(3571 Mt. Diablo Blvd.) manages to appeal just as much to the guys as to the ladies, thanks largely to its selection of clothing that's often as fashionable as it is functional. Soft button-downs made in California, selvedge denim jeans, and sturdy Red Wing boots make for all the strappings of an urban lumberjack, and for the ladies, trusty Patagonia pairs well with a bit of bling from local designers. For those hard-to-shop-for people on your list, a quilted blanket depicting the bay coastline or print depicting the Lafayette Reservoir's signature water tower make for easy yet unexpected gifts this holiday season. // It's hard not to fall in love with Farmyard Darlings (20 Lafayette Cir.) when you first enter, in part because of its barn-esque location but mainly due to the welcoming, gregariousness nature of owners Carole Sinclair and Kim Berry (the original "darlings") and staff. Although known as the undisputed local resource for reclaimed wood barn doors, the shop also serves as the perfect place to add a smaller dose of country to your decor, whether its vintage glassware, old-school signs, or rustic cowhide flasks. // Interiors and home goods store Indigo & Poppy (1009 Oak Hill Rd.) can not only help you completely overhaul your home decor, but also offers small delights and accent pieces to give it a less dramatic tune-up. Swing by to pick up colorful printed throw pillows, blown-glass vases, or a modern bar cart, or go big with a new tufted couch, velvet-accented dining room set, or statement chandelier. // You won't find better boozy recommendations or customer service in town than at Wine Thieves(3401 Mt. Diablo Blvd.), which has been offering premium vino at reasonable prices to Lamorinda residents for just shy of two decades. In addition to its selection of wine, craft beer, and premium spirits, Wine Thieves hosts Friday night tastings (5–7pm, $5, free for members); meet the winemaker and food and wine pairing nights; and a monthly wine club, when two bottles (price point and red vs. white dependent on your tier) are released to members. // Berkeley-based Amphora Nueva also has a Lafayette location (7 Fiesta Ln.), where people can not only find premium olive oils and vinegars, but also charming gift sets (that make for perfect wedding gifts), educational classes, and accessories such as stainless steel pour spouts for serious olive oil devotees. Olive oil and vinegar pairing guides and the freedom to sample any of the wares take the guesswork out of making the best choice from the extensive selection.