While fifty-plus years of suburban sprawl seems to have washed away much of Contra Costa County's rural character, it never quite reached the county seat of Martinez. Incorporated in 1876, the friendly town of around 36,000 is nicely situated along a lovely stretch of the south shore of the Carquinez Straits, not far from the Martinez-Benicia Bridge. The city's well-preserved, pedestrian-friendly downtown seems unchanged from when baseball legend Joe DiMaggio was born there in 1913. Around that time, pioneering environmentalist John Muir was spending his last years in a towering, lovely Victorian at the southern edge of town. Drinking folklore claims that the first martini was stirred in Martinez. Despite the Gothic-looking Shell refinery on its eastern edge, Martinez is surrounded by many parks and open space preserves, including one of the East Bay's best parks, Briones. The city has worked hard to preserve its blue-collar, small-town atmosphere — even making room for beavers — but old-fashioned doesn't mean square. Two unique entertainment offerings are the Martinez Opera and the Magic Dinner Theater, plus summer music and art festivals, and for bikers, the Contra Costa Canal trail. There's nothing hurried about Martinez. Here, time stops to take a breather.
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