A Charming Waterfront City Right in Our Own Backyard

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This historic town, once the capital of California, makes a wonderful day trip for a bit of post-holiday shopping or just browsing along First Street. On the north shore of the Carquinez Strait, you’ll find plenty to explore with your little ones in tow. The shopkeepers lovingly maintain their stores and take pride in this charming waterfront city.

How to get there: Benicia lies off 1-780 between the Interstate 680 corridor and Interstate 80 in Solano County. It’s located 35 miles northeast of San Francisco. For a detailed map, click here.

What to bring: You should bring a stroller for sidewalk touring and windbreakers and hats for a stroll along the waterfront promenade.

What to wear: Layered clothing is recommended especially along the water as it can be quite windy.

What to do: Walk along the lighted palm tree-lined boardwalk for exquisite views of the Carquinez Strait. At the very end on 90 First Street, you’ll find the old Southern Pacific Train Depot that’s been converted into a See’s Candies Shop and Visitor’s Center with maps and brochures.

Your children will be mesmerized by the local glass blowers (Nourot Glass Studio and Lindsay Art Glass host tours) as they demonstrate how they work in their studios (675 East H Street and 109 East F Street respectively). Arts Benicia also offers exhibitions and special events. In the old brick Tannery Building, little girls will be charmed by Cooper’s Doll House Studio (125 Kuhland Alley) with its lovely dollhouse kits and miniature furniture.

A delightful children’s gift shop Little Bird feathers the nest with a wide array of inventive toys such as secret agent kits, games, nature-themed items, dolls, and knick-knacks like key chains and art supplies (611 First Street). A paint-your-own-pottery studio, Artcentric, also offers children’s parties and classes (733 First Street). Honeysuckle Rose has a splendid selection of ornaments, vintage finds and cleverly displayed holiday items including vintage books like Frosty the Snowman and Robinson Crusoe (620 First Street).
Need a shopping break? Visit Playground of Dreams (behind the Benicia Fire Station on Military Street) with wooden turrets, slides, swings, and plenty of hiding places for your adventurous dreamers. The park features picnic tables and a lush green open space for running and frolicking.

Historic sites not to miss: You can pick up a walking tour map at the Depot. The Benicia Capitol State Historic Park and next-door Fischer-Hanlon House are festooned with decorations for the holidays. This historic district beckons with cheery homes decorated with bright red bows, lights, and wreaths throughout the neighborhood. At first St. Paul’s Episcopal Church seems dark as an old ship, but warm light pours through the stunning stained-glass windows and illuminates this Scandinavian building that has stood for over 155 years. Check their website for special holiday services.

Where to eat: The Camellia Tea Room invites you in to enjoy a spot of tea with finger sandwiches and scones or for the truly famished: a three-tiered, proper afternoon tea. If your darling child doesn’t want tea, they kindly offer milk in a small teapot instead. The tea room also hosts children’s birthday parties. Call ahead for reservations. (828 First Street)
Lucca Bar & Grill has a wide range of appetizers, BLT or ALT, pasta and fish and chips. The barkeep can make Roy Rogers or Shirley Temples on request (439 First Street). For waterfront dining, Sailor Jack’s, named after Jack London, doesn’t disappoint. The building was built in 1868, but the food is fresh and modern with favorites like oysters on the half shell for adults or calamari and crabcakes for your little whippersnappers. The weekend brunch also serves temptations like Eggs Benedict with Dungeness crab and French toast with seasonal berries (123 First Street).

Online: beniciamainstreet.org

— Nicki Richesin