Wednesday, February 8, 2017

80 North: Benicia


Founded in 1847 by General Vallejo and originally named “Francisca” for his bride, this low-key town was the state capital for a short time in 1853.  (The name was changed to Benicia the same year, 1847, that San Francisco was named.  Old-timers pronounce it “Bah-nish-ah,” though newbies say “Bah-nee-shah.”)  Situated on the Carquinez Strait, about 30 miles northeast of San Francisco, it became a very busy port when the town built the area’s first deep-water harbor and gained the ability to dock large ships.  Visiting permits stepping back into a quieter, less crowded time.  Street parking is still free, and the town is bike- and dog-friendly.  Plus, currently city officials are proud to say that they have their first all-female police patrol.

view of Carquinez Strait from Benicia, California
view of Carquinez Strait from Benicia, California

First Street clock in Benicia, California
First Street clock in Benicia, California

First Street is the town’s downtown.  It begins at Military West and runs for 11 blocks, ending at the Carquinez Strait waterfront.  At night, the leafy trees the street is lined with sprout romantic lights.  At the waterfront, you will sometimes see sea lions (you can also often hear them as you wander around the town).  It is also a popular place to watch the sunset.

leafy First Street in Benicia, California
leafy First Street in Benicia, California

sunset at Benicia waterfront with rock heart in Benicia, California
sunset at Benicia waterfront with rock heart in Benicia, California

A plethora of antiques shops is found in the 300 and 600 blocks.  My favorites are:

Blue Goose Antiques  622 First St., (707) 745-1715.  W-Sun 10:30am-5:30pm.  Located inside a vintage house, this focused shop specializes in primitives. 

Charlie’s Attic  632 First St., (707) 205-6960.  Vintage and collectibles.  Named for Charlie, the boxer dog who hangs here. 

The Steffen Collection Antiques  627 First St., (707) 745-1170.  Tu-Sun 10:30am-5:30pm.  Here you’ll find lovely collections of aprons, teacups, and Lucite bracelets.  I saw a two-pronged cherry pitter that I came close to buying.

aprons at The Steffen Collection Antiques in Benicia, California
aprons at The Steffen Collection Antiques in Benicia, California

tea cups at The Steffen Collection Antiques in Benicia, California
tea cups at The Steffen Collection Antiques in Benicia, California

bangle bracelets at The Steffen Collection Antiques in Benicia, California
bangle bracelets at The Steffen Collection Antiques in Benicia, California

At the waterfront end of town, you'll see Benicia Main Street, a well-maintained building that was once the Southern Pacific Train Depot.  It was where both the train and individual passengers boarded “the largest ferry in the world” to be transported across the Carquinez Strait to Port Costa.  Now it holds a multi-purpose shop that dispenses town information and displays town memorabilia in addition to purveying a variety of Benicia-related merchandise and local art.  Additionally, it is the only outlet for See’s candies in town.

painting of Benicia Main Street by Ebba Navas in Benicia, California
painting of Benicia Main Street by Ebba Navas in Benicia, California

See's candies at Benicia Main Street in Benicia, California
See's candies at Benicia Main Street in Benicia, California


As you wander around town, look for the small yellow “This Place Has History!” plaques on historic markers.  Use your smart phone to read the QR code for on-the-spot connection to a website that contains photos and info about the history of that location.  No QR code reader? The same information can be found at m.historicalbenicia.org

purple morning glory in Benicia, California
purple morning glory in Benicia, California

More things to do in Benicia.

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images ©2017 Carole Terwilliger Meyers  


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