Livermore will keep the light on for you. The city’s Centennial Light is the world’s longest-lasting lightbulb, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, burning since 1901 and maintained by the fire department. The city, an overlooked getaway on the far southeastern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area, has a small-town feel. It has about 50 wineries and is one of the state’s oldest wine-growing regions; my husband and I usually try one or two we haven’t visited. Downtown is a pleasant place to stroll, thanks to shops, bars and restaurants that offer both indoor and sidewalk dining. Relax for a bit at the pocket park by the clock that’s a local landmark; the water feature is a magnet for kids on summer days. The tab: We spent $149 for a night at Hawthorn Suites and about $145 for meals and wine tasting.
I chose Hawthorn Suites for its central location — close to downtown and a short hop to the wineries — and because it had been recently renovated. Many hotels in Livermore sit next to Interstate 580, as does Hawthorn Suites, which doesn’t have much outdoor ambience unless you’re a fan of gas stations and mini-malls. Nevertheless, the hotel’s interior is quiet, clean and modern, and stays include a breakfast buffet. Our largish room was not a suite but had a comfortable king-size bed, a sitting area and plenty of drawer space.
We had pulled pork and turkey sandwiches for lunch at the Garré Cafe, behind the Garré Vineyard & Winery tasting room. The cafe serves Italian specialties as well. It’s a good place to stop for lunch while wine tasting. For dinner we joined the crowd downtown at the lively First Street Alehouse. The food was yummy: We split a Caesar salad, a basket of chicken wings and an Alehouse Original burger washed down with that night’s beer special — Firestone Walker Nitro Merlin Milk Stout.
The downtown Vine Cinema & Alehouse is a treat. It shows indie art-house films along with classic works. You can order food, wine and beer delivered to your table or couch in one of the two theaters; the rows of regular seats are comfy as well. The theater, built in 1956, is a nice alternative to newer cookie-cutter movie venues; tickets cost $10.50, and the staff is friendly. As for my ongoing exploration of local wineries, McGrail Vineyards & Winery hit the spot. Sip some vino on the comfortable patio. (A tasting flight costs $10; I liked the Cabernet Sauvignon best.)
THE LESSON LEARNED
Summer offers some enticing arts opportunities. Wente Vineyards hosts the annual Livermore Shakespeare Festival (Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” through July 15; “The Winter’s Tale” July 12-29) as well as concerts (Steve Martin and Martin Short, Aug. 23) under the stars. The city’s premier arts space, the Bankhead Theater, offers music, dance, theater, cabaret and more year-round (Rita Coolidge, July 7).
Centennial Light, Fire Station 6, 4550 East Ave., Livermore; (925) 454-2361, centennialbulb.org
Hawthorn Suites, 1700 N. Livermore Ave., Livermore; (925) 606-6060, hotellivermore.com. Wheelchair-accessible.
Livermore Shakespeare Festival, Wente Vineyards, 5565 Tesla Road, Livermore; (925) 443-2273, wentevineyards.com/concerts. Wheelchair-accessible.
Bankhead Theater, 2400 1st St., Livermore; (925) 373-6100, lvpac.org/bankhead. Wheelchair-accessible.