What's Up This Holiday Season!


Can you believe that the holiday season is again upon us, and our little town is about to be full of holiday cheer? There is nothing sweeter than a homegrown holiday season, so over the next six weeks, we'll share the best of local events, restaurants to try and places to shop locally this holiday season.  We hope to see you on the streets of Orinda gifting, dining, drinking and spreading the holiday spirit. 

Here are some fun things to do over the next few weeks! More to come after Thanksgiving... 

Fun stuff to Do

Send a Letter to Santa Through December 24th Orinda Hardware (56 Moraga Way) will have a mailbox outside their store for deliveries to the North Pole.  Return letters guaranteed when you add a return address to your envelope!

Earn that Second Piece of Pie! Thursday November 23rd at 8:30am @ MCC. Bring your family and friends to enjoy the start of your Thanksgiving Day with the 1st Annual MCC Turkey Trot Fun Run. Your race contributions go to the Food Banks of Contra Costa & Solano Counties. https://runsignup.com/Race/CA/Moraga/MoragaTurkeyTrot  

Ditch Kitchen Duty

Shhhh...Nobody needs to know your pie is not homemade! Get "Thanksgiving to Go" at Wild Magnolia. Stop by and inquire about a made to order Thanksgiving feast.  Now kick up your feet and enjoy the day.  2 Theatre Square. www.wildmagnoliaorinda.com

See the Big Man... Twice! 

Santa will be in the house at the Orinda Tree of Lights Ceremony. Saturday December 2nd, 4:30pm-6:30pm @ the Orinda Tree of Lights, Orinda Village (near Bank of America). Dedicate a memorial light in honor of a loved one at this time honored Orinda tradition.  Voice ensemble groups from Orinda’s elementary and middle schools perform, Santa makes a guest appearance (selfies encouraged) and cider, cocoa are on tap for all to enjoy! Event proceeds benefit Hospice East Bay. https://www.hospiceeastbay.org/news/calendar/eventdetail/1350/-/orinda-tree-of-lights  

Come get in the spirit at Theater Square. Saturday December 2nd from 5-8pm. Performances by Lamorinda Theatre Academy.  Horse and Carriage rides (you read that right!), ornament workshops, tree lighting and yes, more photo opps with the jolly guy in red. http://www.orindatheatresquare.com/index.php/events 

Shop til you Drop

41st Annual Orinda Holiday Bazaar. November 18th 10-4pm @ the Orinda Community Center, 28 Orinda Way.  Liven up your holiday shopping experience with cheery handmade items, clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, candles, home decorations, knitware, organic food items and more. Admission is free!

Hit the Pop Up Shop! If you haven't tried Hoffsi Chocolates, you haven't lived! Now through December 23rd during the day, Cine Cuvee is transformed into a holiday pop up shop by Hoffsi Chocolates and Hollie's Home Grown - two artisinal brands that are locally owned by amazing Lamorinda women.  Stock up on delicious olive oils, salt blends and more delectable chocolate creations than you can imagine for Thanksgiving day and every event throughout the season.

Get your tree locally. McDonnell Nursery, 196 Moraga Way. McDonnell’s fabulous fresh Christmas Trees will be in the week of Thanksgiving.  Free tree cleaning and delivery with every purchase.  You’ll also find gorgeous holiday decor to fill your home.   

Happy Holidays, Orinda! 

Are You Looking for Ways to Help those Affected by the Fires: Bring Your Donations to the Orinda Thursday Night Street Feast


In the last 48 hours, we have heard of several local efforts to deliver much needed items to those who have been affected by the ongoing fires in Northern California and the first responders fighting the fires.  We are grateful to those of you who have gathered supplies from friends and neighbors and brought them to shelters and other agencies for distribution.

We have learned that Taste of the World, the food truck operators behind Orinda's Thursday Night Street Feast will be collecting items and distributing them to shelters in Petaluma, the City of Santa Rosa EOC, the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, several foodbanks and The Red Cross.

TOW will be collecting the following at this Thursday's food truck event (Thursday, October 12th, from 5pm - 9pm at the Orinda Community Center):

  • Canned food
  • Boxed cereal
  • Baby supplies (diapers, etc.)
  • Dog food
  • Bedding
  • Blankets
  • Monetary donations

We thank you in advance for your efforts.

Orinda's First Street Feast = SMASHING SUCCESS!


We spotted teens, tweens and toddlers; a DJ, cornhole sets and giant Jenga; an enterprising OIS student who set up a make-your-own-slime table for kids; we saw old friends and made new ones; we chatted with City Council members, folks from Orinda's Parks & Rec and the Planning Departments who were instrumental in getting this event going; we saw diners grabbing take-out from nearby restaurants and bringing it over to join the fun and Street Feasters heading to Rite Aid for ice cream cones at the end of the night; and we saw Orindans of all ages participating in what was, by every account, community-building in action.  

Taste of the World staffers made their own observations, too, and were extremely happy with the turnout and enthusiasm. Among the comments they heard were requests for more kids and vegetarian food options with highly visible signage, more tables in the shade and other suggestions. If you have other comments, please send them to us to be passed along at info@whatsupdowntownorinda.com.

And, drumroll, please...Here is the line up of all different trucks for Thursday, August 24th, 5pm-9pm:

- Grab & Go Kabob (Persian/Iranian cuisine)
- Curbside Kitchen (Filipino-inspired gourmet)
- S&K Wings (Chicken wings and more)
- Ceviche & Co. (Ecuadorian bites)
- Canasta (Mexican)
- Izzy A’s (Ice cream, frozen custard & other treats)
- The Guzzler Bar on Wheels
- Live tunes by Peter Feliciano

August 24th is also OIS's Back to School Night but we hope those with middle-schoolers can still stop by before or after. The City is piloting the program through mid-October, at which point it will decide whether to make this an ongoing event. 

Oh, and another great community event is coming up: the annual Orinda Car Show on September 9th. It kicks off with Dancing with the Cars the night before, benefitting many worthy Orinda causes. Buy your tickets!

See you at the Street Feast! 


New Thursday Night Street Feast kicks off August 17th!

Hope you're hungry!

Starting August 17th, Taste of the World will host a Street Feast every Thursday night in Orinda, featuring yummy food trucks, live music, and cornhole. Trucks will fire up in the Orinda Community Center parking lot from 5 to 9 pm with tables and live music on the Library Plaza. Come sample delicacies from the following purveyors at the very first Street Feast!

  • Copper Skillet on Wheels - all American fare
  • Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen - hot sandwiches
  • Southern Comfort Kitchen - cajun/creole cuisine
  • Golden Gate Gyro - halal truck
  • Street Steam Bunz - fresh, gourmet Asian food
  • Got Italian Ice - gluten-free and dairy-free dessert
  • The Guzzler Bar on Wheels - draft beer and wine
  • Tunes by DJ Bizkit

Trucks and music will rotate every Thursday, but will always consist of 5-6 savory options, a dessert truck and The Guzzler pouring microbrews and wine on tap. 

We are big fans of food trucks and the fun sense of community that a vibrant night market can create. We hope you'll join us and invite your friends from nearby communities. The city is piloting the program through October, at which point it will decide whether to make this an ongoing event. 

See you at the Street Feast!

Food Truck Night Market, coming Thursdays to Orinda!

With WUDO’s support, Orinda will be embarking on a new weekly Thursday Night Food Truck Market from Taste of the World. Every Thursday starting in mid-August, seven food trucks will pull up to the community center from 5-9 PM and the Library plaza will be buzzing with live music, cornhole and socializing al fresco! Walk from BART after work, or bring your family and friends for dinner and drinks.

Taste of the World partners with 60+ different trucks, so offerings will rotate weekly and range from pizza and ceviche to gelato to tacos and more. Craft beer and wine will be flowing from The “Guzzler”. We hope you’ll come join in a fun new Orinda tradition.

More details about the start date to follow!

Which comes first? Vibrancy or investment?

chicken egg 2.jpg

With property owner investment in Orinda’s disfuctional downtown quite a way off, we have shifted our focus to some potentially low-hanging fruit. We call these our what ifs:

What if local businesses were alerted when special events are taking place so they could take advantage of potential extra business? For example, back to back weekend dance recitals just came through the Orinda Library Auditorium. Cafe Teatro had its usual business hours when they could have stayed open later and/or added staff during performance times. For further example, two Orinda teens organized their 4th Annual Breast Cancer Walk for Awareness departing from the de Laveaga Train Depot on Mother’s Day. What if businesses in Theater Square and/or the Crossroads got involved?

What if we hosted a Three Bears bike race that started and ended downtown, named after the popular 19-mile loop that draws hundreds of cyclists through Orinda regularly? Baby bear loop for little ones? Goldilocks beer tent for grown-ups?

Speaking of beer, what if we grabbed Orinda Historical Society's list of Orinda's landmarks (the Casa, the Theater, the old bridge, etc.) to create a "pub crawl"-type community event? Titled "Site to Site, Drink a Pint".......who's in?

What if McCaulou's Village Square wasn't a ghost town on Sundays? Kudos to Orinda Books and Village Cafe for bravely staying open and breathing some life into that corner of our town. Bonus what if: what if (gasp!) McCaulou's moved their furniture out of the vacant space at the end and tried to find a tenant?

What if Orinda hosted a weekly or monthly food truck event on the Library Plaza? Off The Grid reached out to Drummond Buckley, our intrepid Planning Director, about this months ago. He followed up with enthusiasm but then it fizzled on the OTG end. Currently we have reached out to Taste of the World Market and a meeting is set including our new Parks & Rec guru, Todd Trimble. Fingers crossed!

What if Orinda restaurants connected to CalShakes to promote themselves?

What if someone bought a plot of land in Orinda and built us our own Westbrae Biergarten? Something open, visible and community-building...and called it de Laveaga Biergarten. Or something. Just spit-ballin' here...

What if we put the space in front of the Library parking structure to good use and built a dog park over half or some portion of it? 

What if the idea for a temporary outdoor "living room" on a quiet stretch (i.e. Avenida de Orinda or the aforementioned area adjacent to the Library parking structure), complete with astroturf, ping pong tables and more, became a reality? 

What if there was a better way to enhance and promote the existing events Orinda has that bring people downtown? The 4th of July Parade is perhaps our greatest success. But we also have the Farmers Market, Orinda Action Day, Concerts in the Park, Movies in the Park, Classic Car show, Lamorinda Idol, Restaurant Tour, Lamorinda Arts Council events, Library events, and yet residents are finding reasons not to bother.

What if we create vibrancy, and that vibrancy begets investment downtown??

*Idea credits to Steve Salomon (interim City Manager), Drummond Buckley, Main Street America, MHS students, us WUDO folks, and Cindy Powell.

**Please email us if you’d like to pitch in in some way. Doing any of these will require a committee of sorts, and volunteers like you! Short of offers of help, we welcome other creative ideas to create more vibrancy downtown via email at info@whatsupdowntownorinda.com


ULI Findings, in a Nutshell

Last Tuesday night drew a packed house to hear the preliminary recommendations from the experts at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) who were in town conducting a two day Technical Assistance Panel (TAP). The study was run by six land use professionals who volunteered their time and expertise to bring some fresh thinking to Orinda's downtown. 

The study involved a careful review of Orinda's physical assets (land, infrastructure, buildings, etc), interviews with stakeholders, and a report on our opportunities and challenges. The full written report will be delivered in the coming months, and last week's PPT can be found here

The list of challenges was not new - it included our 30-year old General Plan (the oldest they'd ever seen), the physical division by highway 24, lack of parking and enforcement, seismically unsound buildings, and retail revenue leakage to nearby cities, among other items. The panel concluded that the town is "too car centric" and lacks a "Third Place" (the concept is that home and work are your first two places, and a community gathering spot could become your "third" place). Orinda "was robbed" of an identity over the years, they concluded, but we have many enviable assets to leverage going forward. 

Among them:

  • Our highly educated and involved citizen base, in particular our "exceptional teenagers" who brought frank feedback and creative ideas to their interview 
  • BART: "Most cities would kill to have a major transit stop" and we have an opportunity to maximize its benefits
  • Some buildings with fantastic architectural character that we could build upon, particularly County Club Plaza/Phair's/Orinda Motors
  • The San Pablo Creek and Orinda's beautiful natural setting
  • Existing spaces that could easily be "activated" and marketed for free community use and events
  • A few engaged property owners such as Joanna Guidotti who now owns the Phair's property, and other upcoming properties that will be turning over. And more... 

There was a lot of goodness coming out of the TAP Panel. Here are some of the most exciting recommendations we heard.

  • First things first, the panel urged the city to update Orinda's general plan in a very inclusive Orinda style involving the community. Given that the city has $300,000 set aside to tackle this project, we completely agree and see it as a "no brainer" next step in shaping the future. We will be continuing to advocate for this with CIty Council and the new Downtown Subcommittee of councilwomen Inga Miller and Eve Phillips. 
  • Focus on creating THREE rather than two downtown Districts. 1) Theater District 2) Civic District (Park, Library, Community Center area) and 3) Village Creek District. They suggested creating a "San Pablo Creek Action Plan" to incorporate the creek into Orinda's usable spaces (likely a long process)
  • Consider a property based improvement district (AKA a "BID") which is a public/private partnership between the city and property owners to enhance the streetscape and better maintain buildings (YES! WUDO has advocated for this in the past and strongly believe that Orinda's property owners must be engaged and incentivized to do their part. We also believe that hiring an Economic Development Director makes a lot of sense)
  • "Take the recommendations in the parking study from 2016 seriously," and enforce parking limits downtown. Enforcement or meters seem like an obvious way to reduce all day parking by BART commuters. 
  • "Re-jigger" walking paths from BART to the Theater to direct walkers THROUGH Theater Square, rather than around it. Smart!
  • Build connected, shared parking resources to free up land for better uses. Extra attention was paid to the massive parking lots spanning from Rite Aid to McCaulou's - connect it, share it, and make it pedestrian friendly. 
  • Experiment with short term "activations" of our existing spaces to bring the community together. Market free use of our existing spaces to create community "living rooms". Invite food truck organizers, art shows, pop up retail shops, chess tournaments or even put some lounge furniture and ping pong tables on the Library plaza. Put the unused third screen at Orinda Theater to use for our teenagers. Experiment and see what sticks. Build on our amazing Parks and Rec programs to give the community and our youth exciting places to hang out. 
  • Create low-cost parklets, widen sidewalks and make space for restaurants and cafes to set up tables outdoors. Reward "early adopter" businesses that invest and experiment in Orinda! 
  • Change Orinda's zoning to allow zero setbacks on the sides and fronts of commercial buildings. This will improve window fronts, reduce the number of driveways and ultimately improve walkability. 
  • Develop a signage and wayfinding program to create an identity for downtown (No brainer! More on this in a future post!)
  • And yes, the ULI brought up the idea of housing options downtown, and encouraged the Council to consider a variety of housing types, already allowed within Orinda's laws, to spur commercial development and vitality. A mix of luxury condos, townhomes and senior housing were recommended, along with ideas for how the buildings could be oriented to face the creek and not to overpower the streetscape. 

The meeting lasted nearly three hours and we are looking forward to the final report, which we hope will suggest some concrete next steps. Of course, the logical next question is - PRIORITIES and RESOURCES? What comes first and how do we fund it? 

We'll be continuing that conversation with city leadership while we advocate for progress. 

Pumped about Orange Theory Fitness?

Many of you have been asking "What's up with 25A Orinda Way?"  Over the past months, the developers and their leasing agent have been hard at work seeking tenants for the approximately 14K square feet of ground floor space, so there hasn’t been much to report until now...

We are excited to share that there now a lease pending with Orange Theory Fitness

Even though it's not a restaurant or retail tenant, this seems like good news to us, and we hope it will be a tipping point to attract other businesses to sign up at 25A. For example, consider the Marin Country Mart, which has become a hub of the community of Larkspur since being revitalized in 2009. Very successfully, restaurants and retailers such as Intermix, Rustic Bakery, Hudson Grace, Belcampo Meat Co. and Pressed Juicery happily coexist with SoulCycle, Tutu School, and Barber Lane.  Locals come down to work out or take their kids to ballet, then stay to eat and shop, or vice versa.  In the commercial real estate world they call this a coordinated leasing strategy -  it's something that hasn’t existed in Orinda, but that we could greatly benefit from.

We believe Orange Theory will attract regular, repeat patrons and members, adding to the vitality of our town and increasing the success of nearby local businesses.  And, admittedly, we want more opportunities to get our sweat on right here in Orinda, instead of driving to Lafayette or Walnut Creek. 

Paul Ugenti, owner of 25A Orinda Way is seeking local support because the city will need to approve this use of ground floor space. If you'd like to see Orange Theory in Orinda, please reach out to Derek Farmer at the Planning Department (Dfarmer@cityoforinda.org) and weigh in.