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|
|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|
|sunset at Benicia waterfront with rock heart in Benicia, California|
●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 CLOSED 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|
|tea cups 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|
|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|
More things to do in Benicia.
More ideas for exploring Northern California.
images ©2017 Carole Terwilliger Meyers