Gaze past downtown Clayton's 19th-century buildings toward Mount Diablo, and it's easy to imagine yourself in a mining boomtown 140-plus years ago. This time of year, when Diablo's slopes are green with spring, the Contra Costa County hamlet is one of the best spots in the Bay Area to enjoy both outdoor fun and the charm of a historic small town.
Start with the mountain, which looms above Clayton ― so close, in fact, that some trails lead directly from town into Mount Diablo State Park. The Mount Diablo Interpretive Association ( www.mdia.org or 925/837-0904) and the Save Mount Diablo organization coordinate a spring program of several months of free hikes, many starting and finishing near downtown Clayton. Other trails run into nearby Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.
The mines played an important part in Clayton's life ― they were, in fact, the reason the town got started in the 1850s. "It was a typical Wild West town," says Connie Rehr, curator emeritus of the Clayton Historical Society Museum (2-4 Sun-Wed and by appointment; 6101 Main St.; www.claytonhs.com or 925/672-0240). "Miners from Black Diamond Mines could walk into town. They could find plenty of entertainment."