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Discover this Bay Area seaside village sparkling with surprises

  • Summary
  • Official Resources
  • Things to do
  • Gallery
  • Places to Eat & Drink

Amid the hustle and bustle of San Francisco’s North Bay, the quiet waterside burg of Benicia is a hidden jewel, built on military history dating back to 1849.

Things to Do in Benicia

With fewer than 30,000 residents within its 15.7 square miles, Benicia is a relaxed community, offering lots of outdoor fun. The city boasts some 20 parks, the crown jewel of which is the 438-acre Benicia State Recreation Area. Situated on the Carquinez Strait, the area is home to the Forrest Deaner Native Plant Botanical Garden, 2.5 miles of trails ideal for cyclists, runners, roller-skaters, walkers, and equestrians, and fishing at the Dillon’s Point marshland area. Cyclists in particular have reason to visit Benicia—the city has been recognized by the Amgen Tour of California and Ride Chronicles for its excellent cycling, including being part of the 50-mile Carquinez Strait loop, which connects over 10,000 acres of parks and open spaces as well as five historic towns. The city’s waterfront is another al fresco gem; take a stroll along its pathway with bobbing boats on one side and weeping willows along the other.

Historic Benicia

As one of the oldest cities in California—and the third city to have served as the state’s capital, from 1853–54—Benicia is filled with vintage architecture and historic landmarks that date back to the Gold Rush, the Wild West, and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Start at the Benicia Historical Museum, which makes its home within four of the original Benicia Arsenal Buildings, built during the 1850s. If possible, plan to visit during one of the museum’s monthly First Fridays events, when live music and gourmet food trucks take things up a notch. In East Benicia, learn about a unique chapter in the nation’s military history at the Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns. Fun fact:Through the 1850s and ’60s, the U.S. Army experimented with the use of camels as pack animals. The project was ultimately abandoned, and today the four remaining “barns” operate as galleries chronicling Benicia history. The surrounding Arsenal depots, which welcomed military heroes like Ulysses Grant, now serve as working studios for artists.

Restaurants in Benicia

Benicia is home to a diverse food scene filled with hidden gems. Among a variety of casual and fine-dining establishments are standouts such as One House Bakery, where baked goods, sandwiches, salads, and soups are served on their secret back patio. For excellent American food, First Street Cafe has been a favorite for more than two decades, thanks to its signature dishes like the hot, open-face Dungeness crab and artichoke sandwich with melted Monterey jack cheese. Inside the historic Tannery building you’ll find Bella Sienna, with its panoramic views of the Carquinez Strait and classic Italian and innovative Californian cuisine. A short distance from Benicia’s downtown is one of the region’s only authentic German beer–focused breweries, Bruehol Benicia Brewing. On tap, you’ll find German-style pilsners, lagers, West Coast–style ales, and a variety of IPAs.

Shopping in Benicia

The First Street Promenade/Main Street is the heart of downtown, just a short walk from the Benicia Marina and resplendent with Victorian-style buildings, a 19th-century church, boutiques, restaurants, antique shops, day spas, and the historic Tannery Building filled with food and arts emporiums. Browse The Vintage Owl for antiques and gorgeously restored vintage shabby-chic items—a portion of proceeds is donated to the National Canine Cancer Foundation. Adding creative, sometimes whimsical character to Benicia are hundreds of artists who live and work in studios around the city, and showcase their work at galleries along First Street and the Historical Arsenal District.

Where to Stay in Benicia

In addition to familiar chains, Benicia has a good selection of smaller hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. A stay at the Union Hotel, an 1882 B&B mansion with 12 large suites, will put you right in the middle of the Promenade (some rooms boast ocean views). The Victorian home that houses The Inn at Benicia Bay is even older—built in 1854—and guests can choose from six deluxe rooms that feature such amenities as a jacuzzi tub and a private patio.

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