Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Guide: Walnut Creek

Walnut Creek is a really wacky town. Its downtown area is like one big open-air outdoor mall. For a while, we spent a lot of time visiting the shopping malls scattered about the Bay Area on weekends. After living in New York City for five years and San Francisco for ten, the shopping mall possessed a certain mystique and novelty. A very foreign concept to the urban dweller, the suburban shopping mall offered a peek inside the world of temperature controlled, TV-advertised chain stores, piped-in music, teen fashions, and bizarre themed-stores. Soon we became proficient in the various types of malls and mall terminology but after a while all the malls seemed the same, and it got pretty tiring.

We abandoned the whole mall scene until we found Walnut Creek. A very wealthy community, Walnut Creek transformed their downtown to a huge open-air upscale shopping mall. Now, it’s not unusual for a community to have a downtown shopping area, that’s precisely the point of building healthy communities, but Walnut Creek’s downtown shopping area is so creepily like an indoor shopping mall, except it’s in the downtown area of a residential community and the roof seems to be missing. There are fountains, curvy walkways, even streets, but walking along you feel just like you are in a controlled mall-like environment. I’m sure it’s entirely by design. I’m sure the entire area is owned, managed, and leased by a mall management corporation. I bet even the streets, which you can drive and park your car on, are outsourced. You almost feel like you are driving right into a mall and parking your car right by the big fountain in the middle of it. (The Bay Street Emeryville mall is another example, offering a similar open-air mall that mimics the traditional urban downtown.)

Adjacent to the mall is the old part of the city, where the streets are straight and connect at right angles to each other, the bubble gum splotched sidewalks have larger trees and you’ll find fewer chain stores. Some noteworthy shops in the alt town are Bonanza Street Books, Leonidas Belgian Chocolates, and the great pizza joint Tomatina.

Another thing that stands out is the wealth and opulence of the community. You’ll find all the trademark shops that your typically find in the more upscale shopping centers; Tiffany, Nordstrom, Coach, and an Apple store. Being so far removed from The City, Walnut Creek is comfortable in its demographic, racial profile, and lifestyle. I highly recommend a visit to those more used to the Lower Haight or East Village.

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