The Spanish name ‘El Sobrante’ translates to ‘remainder’ or ‘surplus land’ in English. El Sobrante is unincorporated and lies within Contra Costa County. Main roads include San Pablo Dam Road (a major road running from Richmond and San Pablo, through El Sobrante, past EBMUD’s San Pablo Reservoir), Valley View Road and Appian Way. San Pablo Dam Road and Appian Way both connect to Interstate 80 to the west.
El Sobrante also contains San Pablo Creek, running behind the library, ACE hardware store and many homes in El Sobrante. Between 5,000 B.C. and 1,000 B.C., an indigenous tribe of people called the Huichin, an Ohlone people, came to the East Bay, including El Sobrante. After Mexican independence from Spain in the early 19th century, Spanish colonists were given land grants, one of which was Rancho El Sobrante, deeded to Juan Jose and Victor Castro in 1841.
The grant’s boundaries were unusually complicated, as they were to be determined by the boundaries of the surrounding grants: San Antonio, San Pablo, El Pinole, Boca de la Canada del Pinole, Acalanes, and La Laguna de los Palos Colorados. In this sense, the rancho was el sobrante, the remaining area. Legal disputes concerning the borders and the claims of squatters continued for four decades, with much of the land sold to pay court and attorney costs. Victor Castro was left with 549 acres of the original grant. He built an adobe dwelling in what is now El Cerrito, and became one of the first members of the Board of Supervisors of Contra Costa County.
El Sobrante was called “Oak Grove” by industrial concerns in 1887 when the California and Nevada Railroad put a spur into the area for the purpose of carrying lumber cut from the hills. Then the name Sobrante was applied, with the addition of the Spanish definite article “El” coinciding with the opening of the first post office in 1941. By the early 20th century, Rancho El Sobrante had been reduced to a number of smaller ranches, generally following a dirt road along San Pablo Creek. Many of these ranches were further subdivided. As roads were paved and homes were constructed, El Sobrante changed from a rural to a semi-rural community.