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Northern Cal’s Tri-Valley

Photos courtesy Tri-Valley CVB

Green and golden rolling hills dotted with vineyards, the sometimes snow-capped peak of Mount Diablo on the horizon, lakes occasionally interrupting the landscape: This is northern California’s Tri-Valley, a region that embraces five diverse cities in three distinct valleys across two counties.

“The best reason to have a meeting here is because of all the other things you can do besides have a meeting,” said Geoffrey Sarabia-Mason, vice president of tourism sales and development for the Tri-Valley Tourism Bureau. “Our cities really have something for everybody.”

Just 35 miles east of San Francisco and less than 20 miles from Oakland, the Amador, San Ramon and Livermore valleys are home to Danville and Dublin, with populations in the mid-40,000s, and Pleasanton, San Ramon and Livermore, each with about 70,000 to 80,000 residents.

Danville, Dublin, San Ramon and Pleasanton line a 13-mile, north-south stretch of Interstate 68; Livermore sits about 10 miles east of its neighbors on Interstate 580.

In the area are nearly a dozen golf courses, miles of trails for walking and riding bikes, distinctive downtown areas, great shopping — including a new mall in Livermore — and “some of the best restaurants in the East Bay,” Sarabia-Mason said.

That’s not to mention the wineries. There are about 50 of them in the Livermore Valley.

Convention center study begins

But what the Tri-Valley doesn’t have is a dedicated convention center, and the tourism board plans to study whether it needs one. A task force this year will assess the region’s convention and event needs.

Linda Smith, economic development director for the city of Dublin, said the task force will look at market demand and determine what the Tri-Valley region has, what it’s missing and what assets it needs to draw more visitor- and convention-related activities.

“There are companies that are fairly sizable out here that need to have a 1,000-person meeting, and they can’t have it,” Smith said.

During the six- to eight-month process, market demand will be evaluated to determine whether the area can support a convention center or an entertainment venue.

Although the Tri-Valley region doesn’t have a convention center, it does have the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, which are “basically our convention center,” Sarabia-Mason said.

The fairgrounds’ 267 acres is dotted with trees and trails, 10 buildings with 131,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space, and parking for 12,000 vehicles.

“The biggest obstacle is getting people to overcome the word ‘fairgrounds,’” Sarabia-Mason said. “They think there are pigs running around, but it has beautiful buildings that are blank slates. You can make it whatever you want.”

Among the 300 events held there each year are meetings, outdoor festivals, weddings, animal shows and, of course, the county fair, which drew just shy of 535,000 people last year, said Faye Cater, supervisor of special events.

A full-service facility, the fairgrounds has catering and decorating, and its on-staff meeting coordinators work with planners to bring in florists, food trucks, ponies, anything an event could want, even elephants.

“Really, our only limitation is that we get booked — a lot,” Cater said.