By Tammy Hansen
'Tis the season of the free concert. Gratis venues are so ubiquitous during the hot months it can be hard to winnow the choices. Would a bluesy Saturday with the kids at Waldie Plaza be better than Friday karaoke with a sweetheart at a cozy Pittsburg coffee shop?
It might help to categorize the summer fun. Park settings with classic rock 'n' roll tend to bring out the families. Local wine and coffee houses offer smooth acoustic artists for a quiet date. Or try a road trip for free summer tunes. Whichever you choose, be sure to check websites for information on everything from seating to glass containers. And get there early for a good seat.
The summer concert series at Waldie from the Arts and Cultural Foundation of Antioch draws several hundred for some bands. The crowd is mostly families and senior citizens for the free Saturday concerts, said the group's Diane Gibson-Gray. A recent concert drew 300 people.
"In the Waldie Plaza, that's a big number," she said, adding that Delta breezes and even the occasional train whistle only add to the atmosphere. "We cater to a very casual, very family-friendly crowd."
Here are a few other recommendations by category:
Downtown Pittsburg restaurants offer plenty of pre-music dining. Choices range from the recently opened Lumpy's Diner to E.J. Phair Brewing Co. to the venerable New Mecca Café for Mexican food. La Veranda Ristorante Italiano offers upscale Italian food.
Downtown Brentwood is nearby, with the CineLux Delta Cinema Theater, where you can catch a bargain movie before or after your sipping.
Delta breezes can make for a chilly evening, so layer accordingly. Nuce Nuce Deli on H Street can make you a sandwich to go, or head to Bases Loaded at 400 G Street for a preconcert burgers and fries.
With the city's new garage, parking should be plentiful. City Park has a popular playground with a new water play feature, so towels might be in order. Yogurt Jungle is right across the road, or grab some hot dogs to go from Mayor Bob Taylor's Dawg House on nearby First Street. Downtown Brentwood sports several restaurants like the popular Pho Vietnam and venerable Caps Oak Street Bar and Grill.
It's no exaggeration when we say this is a destination spot. Get to Livermore early to snag a free parking spot in the garage or in a downtown lot. Local restaurants and alehouses fill up fast. Reservations are a good idea. Be sure to visit the kitschy Donut Wheel just so you can say you've been there.
Concord offers free music throughout the summer, but this free concert from the California Symphony is a standout, especially for families hoping to introduce the kids to symphonic music. In it's 14th year, the concert is a lighthearted and fun introduction to a more serious style of music. This one draws a big crowd, so get there early. Todos Santos is rife with restaurants serving everything from pizza, bagels, coffee and ice cream. Luna Ristorante serves excellent Italian fare, although it's a bit upscale for the kids. The Old Spaghetti Factory might be a better bet for family dining. Also, hit Half Price Books while you're there for great bargains on just about any tome you can imagine.