COMMUNITY PROFILE: Port Costa
Port Costa, while not an incorporated city is considered a "census designated place" and has a dedicated post office. The population is less than 200 people. Police and administrative services are provided directly by Contra Costa County. While this is a very small community with few options for home buyers, it’s a fun little place with a rich history. At one time this was a busy grain port and railroad hub.
Port Costa is located on the south bank of Carquinez Strait, between Martinez and Crockett. It is directly across the water from Benicia and Vallejo, and just upstream from the Carquinez Bridge. Port Costa is surrounded by park land. The East Bay Regional Park District maintains 1,305 acres of rolling hills, bluffs and shoreline along the Carquinez Strait from Crockett to Martinez. About a mile west of Port Costa, at Eckley, the Park District has installed a fishing pier and group campground. Hiking trails wind through oak and eucalyptus, with spectacular panoramic views of the water and East Bay hills.
The town consists of a Main Street and several side streets, with several retail buildings and a residence hotel at the water-end of the street. There are two active restaurants: Bull Valley Road House and The Wharehouse, the latter was built as warehouse near the turn of the twentieth century. Both are fun and the food is reasonable – the ambience is worth the trip.
While incomes are statistically low, this is a low crime environment with a strong sense of community.
The Port Costa School is a local landmark, which served the community of Port Costa from 1911 until it was closed in 1966 due to consolidation. The building's architecture is Classic Revival, with four columns supporting a gabled portico. The building was purchased from the John Swett Unified School District in 1988 by the Port Costa Conservation Society (PCCS), an all-volunteer non-profit organization. Since then, thousands of hours have been spent restoring and repairing the building. The building is now an event center.
Port Costa was founded in 1879 and the Post Office was established in 1881. It was the southern landing for the railroad ferry Solano, owned and operated by the Central Pacific Railroad. This put Port Costa on the main route of the transcontinental railroad. The Solano, later joined by the larger ferry, Contra Costa, carried entire trains across the Carquinez Strait between Benicia and Port Costa. Tracks to the south continued to Oakland and San Jose.
For a time, Port Costa was the United States' busiest wheat-shipping port and had a reputation as a colorful, sometimes violent community.
At one time the wooden wharf at Port Costa extended halfway to Crocket and hundreds of feet from shore. Very little port activity happened on dry land, with most buildings and a large turntable being built over the water on wooded oiling driven deep into the muddy bottom.
After California's wheat output dropped in the early 20th Century and especially, after the Southern Pacific constructed a railroad bridge at Martinez in 1930 and train ferries became obsolete. Port Costa lost population and importance.
Since the late 1960s, it has mainly been a small shopping venue for antique hunters and a gathering place for bikers and motorcyclists. A landslide in the early 1980s closed the coast road from Martinez, which had a tremendous negative impact on businesses in Port Costa; however, the County has never repaired the road. Over time Post Costa has recovered with a different focus.
Kids living in Port Costa attend schools in the John Swett Unified School District, where schools are in common with Crockett, Rodeo and part of Hercules. This district has reasonable test scores and has significantly upgraded its infrastructure within the past decade. Kids attend Rodeo Hills Elementary schools to the 5th grade, then attend 6-8 grades at Carquinez Middle School, then attend John Swett High School.