The city of Martinez is the county seat of Contra Costa County in northern California. Martinez has seen two building booms in its long history as a major shipping and trading port along the southern shore of the Carquinez Strait in California's Bay Area. The first occurred during the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, when the ferry across the strait played a major role in transporting prospectors and Pony Express riders. The second, in 1915, was sparked by the construction of a Shell Oil refinery in the area, which remains a major employer of Martinez residents today.
A great many of the original buildings and homes remain, leaving a physical record of the town's extensive history as one of the Bay Area's busiest ports, while Martinez's location between the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers also provides abundant opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to explore more than a dozen parks, miles of hiking trails, a marina and three nearby mountains.
NEIGHBORHOODS AND DISTRICTS
Martinez is divided into two sections:
- Downtown: Located on the city's northern edge, downtown Martinez features a bustling main street with numerous turn-of-the-century brick buildings blended seamlessly with contemporary Spanish-style homes and condos. Shopping and dining opportunities abound, with antique and collectable shops, record stores, art galleries and restaurants lining Main and Ferry Streets. Just across Marina Vista Avenue lie the Martinez Region Shoreline Park, Waterfront Park and Rankin Park, all three featuring access to Carquinez Strait and numerous marinas along the shoreline. Alhambra Creek runs south through downtown from the strait and was prone to frequent flooding until the city commissioned a realignment project in 2001, widening certain stretches of the creek and restoring flood plains and wetland areas in other parts.
- Southern Martinez: The area south of Highway 4 expands into suburban Martinez, stretching into the unincorporated areas of the Alhambra Valley. Alhambra Avenue and Pine Street serve as the area's main roads, and Buchanan Airfield lies just miles to the east, making travel to and from Martinez convenient. Neighborhoods in southern Martinez range from modest and affordable to upscale hillside communities. Houses farther north and nearer Highway 4 and Interstate 680 tend to be older, dating back to the early 20th century and the refinery boom, while developments farther south and in more rural areas were built in the 1990s and early 2000s. At the southernmost region of incorporated Martinez is the Contra Costa Country Club and the Virginia Hills neighborhood, a rural suburb featuring the Virginia Hills shopping center.
ECONOMY AND INDUSTRIES
The Shell Oil refinery has been a major employer in the Martinez area for over 100 years. And while its stacks, cooling towers, oil tanks, and large tankers give Martinez the reputation of an oil and industry town, that isn't truly the case.
Shell is only the area's third-largest employer, with government and health care being the top employers.
County government positions make up the largest number of jobs in Martinez, with over 50 percent of city employees working for the regional government.
The medical industry, including the local Kaiser Permanente office and the Veterans Administration Medical Center, employ nearly 2,000 residents.
Downtown Martinez hosts numerous events and festivals along Main Street and throughout the year. Notable activities include:
- The I (Heart) Downtown Martinez Wine Stroll, held every Valentine's Day, including wine tastings in a number of participating downtown businesses and galleries.
- The Martinez Celebrates Cycling annual bike race and bike expo in April, featuring vendors and demonstrations by professional cyclists.
- The Peddler's Faire, held in May and August, with over 100 vendors selling arts, crafts and food.
- The Martinez Car, Truck and Bike Show, featuring classic vehicles throughout downtown, held in September.
- The Martinez Chalk Art Festival, featuring murals and works of chalk art, food vendors, a farmers market and musical performances, also in September.
- The John Muir Birthday/Earth Day celebration, held downtown and at Mount Wanda in the John Muir National Historic Site in April.
- First Night Martinez, a New Year's celebration with parades, music, dining, dancing and more.
- Martinez is known as the bocce ball capital of the United States, with numerous leagues and courts in the downtown area.
- Notable historic buildings in downtown Martinez include a Victorian home built in 1890, which presently houses the Martinez Museum, and the Court Street Finance Building, built in 1901.
- A replica of the Hollywood Walk of Fame in downtown Martinez pays homage to many of the city's notable residents, including pioneering naturalist John Muir and baseball great Joe DiMaggio. There is even a plaque to commemorate the Martini, supposedly invented in Martinez during the Gold Rush in 1874.
- East along Highway 4 lies the John Muir National Historic Site, a large nature reserve.
- Martinez Adult Education: Offers certificates in a variety of fields, including business, architecture and advanced technology.
- Waterman Training Institute: Offers one-year training programs in opticianry.
- Contra Costa Community College District: Coordinates enrollment for a number of CCCC campuses in Contra Costa County.
- Newspapers: The Martinez News Gazette, a daily paper with a circulation of 13,000 copies, is the only paper published in the city. The Contra Costa Times, a regional daily paper, also circulates in the area.
- Radio: KFJO-FM3 92.1 FM is the only radio station broadcasting out of Martinez.
- Television: There are no local television stations in Martinez.