(Photo courtesy Thomas Smith/Gado Images)
As Contra Costa Country continues to ease Covid-19 restrictions and as case counts decrease, some of the region's most populous cities are becoming livelier and beginning to reopen in earnest.
On a recent Friday night, downtown Walnut Creek, California felt vibrant and appeared to be thriving, despite some stores and restaurants along Main Street closing either temporarily or permanently as a result of prolonged shutdowns.
The scene in downtown Walnut Creek has changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic. Although Contra Costa County has now entered the Red Tier, which allows restaurants to open for indoor dining, most restaurants have maintained their outdoor patios, many of which now spill into the streets around the East Bay city.
In some cases, entire streets have been closed down to allow for more pedestrian traffic and expanded outdoor dining areas. Many restaurants have added propane powered outdoor heaters and fire columns. The effect is to produce many outdoor patios filled with people, spilling into the streets, with the area lit by glowing warmers, store lights, and fire columns.
Although the expansion of outdoor dining was driven primarily by lockdowns, now that restaurants have set up outdoor patios and have taken over more downtown space, the presence of so many people outdoors--along with bistro string lights on nearly every patio and glowing fire pits and warmers--creates a buzz and an exciting ambiance downtown.
At Ramen Hiroshi restaurant, diners lined up outdoors to place orders, and waited in a socially distanced line while wearing masks. The restaurant has expanded its seating into a nearby street, adding warmers and globe lights to create ambiance, and vehicle barriers to protect diners.
Elsewhere in the city, restaurants such as Extreme Pizza have gone all-in on their outdoor dining spaces, adding a surfing theme with decorations, and placing televisions on stands outdoors so that patrons can continue to watch TV or catch a game while eating, even though they’re on an outside patio spilling into the street.
Parking remains a challenge downtown, especially as more spaces have been eliminated to accommodate outdoor dining spaces. The best options for parking are the city’s large parking lots, as well as the downtown parking lots of several banks and offices which allow outside parking after 5pm.
For those who don’t want to venture out just yet, most downtown Walnut Creek restaurants offer takeout options. Doordash and other delivery drivers also frequently visited the restaurants downtown on a recent evening, picking up orders for people to eat at home.
As the pandemic continues to abate, Walnut Creek and other cities will likely open more indoor activities. But one can hope that some of the outdoor dining which has been created during the pandemic--and which gives the city a lively feel and exciting ambiance at night--will persist.
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