Martinez, a colorful, vibrant city

Martinez, CA – Let’s face it, when traveling by car, oil refineries never evoke that “hey, let’s check out this city!” attitude. They often act as a visual repellent to even the most curious and avid explorers. In the process, travelers can miss out on colorful, vibrant and fun-filled cities bursting with plenty of character.  Welcome to Martinez.

A thousand and one times on journeys throughout California, we’ve passed Martinez without ever a second thought of stopping in. Zipping up highway 680 on a Sunday, a sign for a Farmers Market simultaneously caught our attention. My wife and I looked at each other and said “let’s check it out”.

Martinez, a town of some 35,000+ residents rests along the southern shore of the Carquinez Strait and to the uninitiated is often noted for the Shell oil refineries that dominate the skyline and in a twist of ironic and seemingly cruel juxtaposition was the home of naturalist John Muir. While in town, you can visit the John Muir National Historic Site.

What was intended as a quick stop morphed into a few hour respite that left us wanting for more of this quirky and dare we say beautiful city.

Heading northbound, we took the last exit before the Benicia-Martinez bridge toll and quickly found our way to Main Street. What we discovered was a eclectic downtown area bustling with friendly vendors, ethnic eateries and a very diverse crowd. We spent some time here strolling around while soaking up the sights and sounds. A street band played to delighted visitors who were out shopping for produce and treats while basking in the warmth of the spring sun. Carefree children playfully circled around with boundless energy and enthusiasm. The Farmers Market is an ideal time to check out this city on foot.

Next up, we decided to head over the Radke Martinez Regional Shoreline. The weather was perfect and so was the scenery.

Situated against the Martinez Marina with the Benicia-Martinez Bridge dominating the eastern horizon, the park offers fantastic and broad views of the Carquinez Strait looking north to Benicia. An active gathering place where you’ll find scores of fisherman gathering along the banks and extended fishing pier hoping to land the big catch. We meandered the trails which were bursting with spring blooms and teeming with wildlife. There is also a scenic marina, ball fields, playgrounds and much more to explore.

Time flies and before we knew it, our quick stop turned into an adventure that lasted for hours. We headed back to the car and drove around this working class town of fun and unique neighborhoods before heading back to Roseville.

Martinez was much more fun than we anticipated and offered a great reminder to never judge a community from the freeway.

The next time your heading down 680, remember there’s much more than meets the eye in Martinez. A place well worth some exploration. Can’t wait to visit again.