Charming Benicia is Just a Bike Ride Away

First Street is the place to hang in this one-bustling port town where the arts, attractions, and dining are as vibrant as the quaint natural setting.



Charlie, right, rules at Charlie’s Attic, an antique shop and more.

Photo by Lori Eanes

Take away the street parking and people framing Instagram-worthy photos of their brunch on First Street in Benicia, and what you have is an American Main Street frozen in time. This is, after all, the main drag of a once-bustling port city that, in 1853, served as the state capital for 13 months. Spend a weekend afternoon exploring the historic buildings that serve as independent galleries, artists’ studios, museums, and restaurants.

 

PLAY

On a pleasant fall day, take the opportunity to come into town on two wheels. The Benicia-Martinez Bridge bike path affords bicyclists and pedestrians some choice views of the sparkling Carquinez Strait. From there, you can navigate the Bay Area Ridge Trail for what could be a stop at the First Street Green open space for a stretch or a picnic.

Alternatively, pedal or walk over to the nearby Benicia Arsenal. The former army munitions depot, where the United States Army stabled its one (and only) Camel Corps in the 1800s, is now a thriving arts haven. Catch up on lesser-known army history on a tour of the Benicia Historical Museum, or come during an open studio event to admire (and shop) paintings, photography, jewelry, and other pieces of one-of-a-kind art. www.ArtsBenicia.org.

 

EAT

For a hearty breakfast, lunch, or dinner, head over to the First Street Cafe. Among the cozy bistro’s most popular offerings are its sandwiches, including the open-faced crab-artichoke sandwich (served on Berkeley’s own Acme bread) which pairs well with a rotating wine and beer list. 440 First St., www.FirststCafe.com.

If a stiff martini and fresh seafood are what you’re looking for, opt for a seat on the patio of Sailor Jack’s. The two-level restaurant, in a sea captain’s Victorian home, serves a seasonal menu that can range from a farmers’ market frittata during the brunch hours to a juniper-brined pork chop at dinnertime. 123 First St., www.sailor-jacks.com.

Looking for something dainty? Sip from a selection of more than a dozen teas at the Camellia Tea Room, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Indulge in finger sandwiches, soups, and other light fare. 828 First St., www.CamelliaTearoom.com.

 

SHOP

Antiques and art reign in Benicia. See for yourself with a stop into Charlie’s Attic for everything from vintage guitars to Bay Area sports memorabilia. If you see the store’s namesake, a Boxer sitting in his tattered chair, be sure to wave. 6632 First St., www.Charlies-Attic.com.

For 1920s oak dressers, among other classic furniture, scope out the Benicia Antique Mall for treasures from 20 vendors. As for beautiful hand-blown glass vases and paperweights, stop in to admire the surreal designs of self-taught glass artist David L. Lindsay of Lindsay Art Glass. 918 First St., www.BeniciaAntiqueMall.com; 109 E. F St., www.LindsayArtGlass.com.

For those who want to get crafty with gift-giving, pop into Studio 41 for mostly American-made goods including hand-carved wooden bowls, a beginner’s guide to sushi, and colorful kitchenware. Have your finds gift-wrapped—for free. 700 First St., www.Studio41.com.

Plan ahead and call for an arrangement from Smitten Flowers. Founder Kate Gibbs doesn’t own a storefront, but she does deliver in the area for free, making it easy to surprise a friend or loved one with a bouquet of fresh flowers neatly wrapped in a burlap sack or bursting from a jar vase. SmittenFlowers.com.

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