Hero Image

Hot Rod Heaven

Head to the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton on the right weekend, and you may feel like you’ve traveled back in time. A 1934 Ford with an original Henry Ford body sits just down the way from a ’69 Ford Torino with its hood propped open, revealing a shiny, beefed-up engine. Nearby, a father walks hand in hand with his daughter, and a group of men surrounds a ’72 Corvette, studying its most impressive features.

This particular scene, from the annual Goodguys West Coast Nationals show, is a common one in the Tri-Valley. Year-round sunshine, beautiful open spaces and quaint downtowns that evoke Americana and its classic rides make ideal backdrops for the many car shows, cruises and meets that dot East Bay car enthusiasts’ calendars. Add to that the region’s proximity to Sonoma Raceway, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and other car-loving hubs, and it’s easy to see why people here get revved up about car culture.

Flex Your Muscles With Goodguys

Those with an affinity for American horsepower and vintage cars should head to the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, where the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association presents four events each year. The company is the largest association of hot rods in the nation and hosts 20 annual events across the country, including the enormous West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton, where more than 3,500 hot rods, custom cars and muscle trucks are showcased every August.

“It’s definitely a bucket list event for the hot-rodder,” says Andrew Ebel, the vice president of business operations for Goodguys. “You see traditional hot rods that are worth $30,000 to $40,000, but they could sit next to a hot rod that’s worth half a million dollars.”

Goodguys also hosts “get-together” events in March, May and November that are reserved for American-made cars only. These events attract a more diverse crowd, Ebel says, including younger car buffs looking to show off their personal projects and join the scene. “Everybody knows when it’s a Goodguys weekend; you see all the hot rods roll into town,” Ebel says. “Four times a year, it changes our streets. It’s like you’re driving in 1954 again.”

Vintage Vroom

To experience even more retro rides, cruise to the Blackhawk Automotive Museum in Danville to see one-of-a-kind custom cars from the jazz era. This place is all about presentation: Classic, sports and concept cars gleam against dark floors, punctuated by pinpoint lighting.

Enter the main-floor showroom to witness the candy-apple-red Ford Thunderbird built for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the only trio of Alfa Romeo BAT cars in existence, or Chrysler’s first fiberglass car.

Don’t miss the 1953 Ferrari formerly owned by racing legend Phil Hill, and check out the vintage gas tanks dating back to 1915.

“It’s all about how the whole building looks,” says Tim McGrane, executive director of the museum.

A self-admitted “stickler for fingerprints,” McGrane explains that the museum proudly “showcases these cars as a jeweler would showcase a diamond under light. They’re works of rolling art.”

Hot Summer Nights in Danville

Among the more family-friendly car events are the Danville Hot Summer Nights Car Shows, hosted once in July and again in August. More than 400 classic cars pull into town and line up on Danville’s downtown streets—creating a sort of time warp in which you’ll see vintage T-Birds, ’vettes and Mustangs parked outside historical buildings including Elliott’s, a local watering hole dating back to 1907.

Although cars set the scene, the event (started in 1994) is intended to be an evening that brings the entire town together. Grab a table at one of the many outdoor restaurant patios for some grub and prime people-watching. Or browse the storefronts while enjoying live music, and stop to let the kids hang with Tank, a 20-year-old, 150-pound tortoise.

“It’s an opportunity to walk our town in a safe environment and reflect on the fabulous memories of yesteryear,” says David Miller, executive producer of the events. “We turn back the hands of time.”