Cruising down the 24, the historic Orinda Theater lights beckon the eyes to look and light up a sleepy downtown that has some vibrant and well-loved businesses. Lafayette boasts the “Hill of Crosses” - which is visible from the freeway and commemorates soldiers lost in the Iraq war - with one cross for every soldier lost...and wholly cared for by community volunteers. . Hacienda De Las Flores in Moraga is a beautiful venue that hosts food trucks, lawn games and family friendly fun on select Fridays in the summertime. While these attractions are defined landmarks of the three towns that make up Lamorinda, each has its own distinct vibe and things to offer the community as a whole. What can you expect from each of these sister-towns?
Lafayette: Conveniences Abound
Lafayette is without the question the retail hub of the region and is quickly giving Walnut Creek a run for its money in terms of urban shops, restaurants and amenities. Each of the three towns has its own Safeway but only Lafayette has the higher-end grocery chains of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Diablo Foods. The downtown is vibrant with a consistent schedule of activities, including the well known regional “Lafayette Art & Wine Festival” in late summer.
Lafayette is also home to coffee shops that have more to offer than the typical coffee shop experience with the hip The Coffee Shop with its specialty mint cold brew and outdoor patio as well as the newly opened Philz Coffee which specializes in customized blends of drip coffee. Not to mention a new Joe & The Juice is on its way, featuring coffee, juices and sandwiches...giving Urban Remedy a little bit of competition. Want more convenience than even Starbucks? Lafayette boasts the only drive-through coffee shop in the area, Caffino – just remember, it’s cash only. On the other side of the drinks spectrum, Lafayette is also home to the only legit dive bar in the region, The Roundup, guaranteed to bring you back to you college days...and with nearly 70 years of serving under their belt, you’re guaranteed a good time with cheap (cash only) drinks; no frills jukebox, pool tables and shuttleboard.
Have a special event coming up? Lafayette has the only blow dry bar in the area – Caroline’s Blowdrys and Base Color. Any guys looking to step up their haircut game? Lafayette has an 18l8 Fine Men’s Salon which delivers men’s hair services that are many steps up from Great Clips or Super Cuts. 18l8 even offers a photo-worthy Young Master haircut for the little dudes in your family ages eleven and under.
Lafayette also has the only hotel in the area – The Lafayette Park Hotel (& Spa!), reminiscent of a French chateau in the most central location for East Bay exploration. In the summer, the delightful pool is open and usage is included with the purchase of a spa treatment (discounted during the week.) This is where you go to ‘staycation’ or when the girls need a place to unwind. The Lafayette Park Hotel is also known to host “Pliny at the Park” an event featuring the very limited productions of the Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Younger and Pliny the Elder beers.
The bottom line: You’d be hard-pressed to need anything you can’t get in Lafayette.
Moraga: Marvelous Hidden Gems
Moraga at first glance may seem to be all housing on account of its relative seclusion tucked south of Lafayette and Orinda, but behind every residential stretch is a diamond in the rough, waiting to be discovered.
Ethnic food is definitively less easy to do well in the suburbs, but Moraga is a treasure trove specifically for Asian eats. Sushi Fighter features really fresh fish and as an added bonus has an all-you-can-eat sushi deal most nights. Noodle Theory earns rave reviews across the region while Royal Siam and Golden Palace have loyal followings for their Thai and Chinese cuisine respectively. iTea, hidden on the backside of Moraga Center serves bubble tea and ramen. So, while Moraga may be a bit off the beaten path; there are definitely reasons to make the drive there!
Town Bakery & Cafe serves fantastic brunches and dinners only rivaled by its delicious pastries. Town also has an outdoor patio with cornhole games to keep the kids occupied while you nosh, with the best part being that they are the only BYOB spot we know of in Lamorinda until they obtain their liquor license. Not to be outdone by food options, Moraga is also home to the only winery in Lamorinda, a family vineyard offering hand-crafted wines grown in Moraga with wine tasting, tours, classes and consulting. Coming soon, Moraga will also be getting a family-friendly brewery and restaurant, the Canyon Club.
If you’ve spent time in Moraga, you probably already know that you’ll find both a HomeGoods store and a TJ Maxx for your discount shopping needs. But did you know that the Moraga TJ Maxx is one of only two TJ Maxx stores in Northern California that has the The Runway department where you can find the best steals on high-end designer goods? On the other end of the shopping spectrum, Moraga also has a Dollar Tree, the perfect place to buy anything from holiday decorations to piñata innards.
Lastly, while there are many services out there that take care of basic needs, it’s the ones you don’t need that really stand out. Moraga has the area’s only laundromat which doesn’t seem needed until you need to wash that gigantic comforter that doesn’t fit in your washing machine or god forbid if your washing machine breaks down altogether. Another unique shop service-wise is Moraga Jewelers which takes on any task including untangling cheap jewelry.
The Bottom Line: Moraga has more than meets the eye.
Orinda: Small-Town Charm
Orinda is likely the most unique of the three towns, known for its rustic topography and original older homes full of character. Not surprisingly, entering the town is like walking into a time capsule and one can’t help but think that not much has changed since Orinda’s inception in the 1800s.
Located on the Theater Square side of downtown, the aforementioned Orinda Theater offers a retro cinema experience and shows hits but retains nostalgia with its original lobby and main theater. A great night out (which you’d never know about) is Sunday Night Open Mic Night at Cine Cuvee (attached to the theater). Skilled locals with music in their bones and amazing voices come to belt out music in an intimate environment - the talent will surprise you and make the hair stand up on your arms! Across the street is Loard’s Ice Cream which offers an old-fashioned ice cream parlor experience, which combined with the movie, completes a perfect little outing. Also within the Theater Square shopping area is Sweet Dreams toy store, a great way to shop local for toys. Sweet Dreams has a doll house in the center of the store so it’s a fun destination with kids in tow and they even offer complimentary gift wrapping. Further down the stretch is True Value hardware store which as all hardware stores should, has a toy train in the window and one that kids can ride for merely a quarter right in front of the store. A visit to the old-timey side of downtown Orinda would not be complete without mention of Casa Orinda, which despite the name doesn’t serve Mexican food, but rather serves gut-lining fare that you’d expect to find in the Wild West (fried chicken! fried chicken!). The décor matches the menu with Western artifacts, antique art and a gun collection adorning the walls. Casa Orinda is most well-known for its fried chicken and prime rib, but we also find the mud pie to be spectacular.
On the other side of the freeway, you’ll find more modern services, all served up with the friendly attitude that gave Orinda its #2 ranking by Forbes in 2012 in its list of America’s friendliest cities. Genuine Goodness, a quaint neighborhood café, was founded by two local moms and serves up delicious health-minded smoothies, sandwiches and salads. Established by a local husband and wife team, Parker Thatch, makes personalized handmade bags that have been featured in InStyle and Better Homes & Gardens to name a few. Lastly, for its small size, Orinda has several consignment shops, our favorite being relative newbie Rechic 101, which consigns without appointment and features a more casual section in the back of the store for mall brands that are harder to buy and sell used.
The Bottom Line: For a blast from the past where everyone knows your name, look no further than Orinda.