Planning a day trip to Benicia is easy. You can start with one of the trip itineraries we’ve provided here. These itineraries give you a quick look at what to do in Benicia. If you have specific interests or are planning a corporate or group visit, explore this site and create your own Great Day by the Bay.
Itinerary 1 – A Look Back: Historical Benicia
Start your day with a delectable scone and coffee, or a full breakfast at one of Benicia’s quaint cafes. Drive to the Arsenal (a group of buildings that formerly served as a military base of operations) to plan your historical tour. The Arsenal is a fabulous area to start, with mansions built for the Army elite and buildings that were used by the “rank and file” from 1849 through 1964. Here are some historical highlights in this area you shouldn’t miss:
- Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns, 2060 Camel Road
- Clock Tower Fortress in the Arsenal, 1189 Washington Street, and Commanding Officer’s Quarters, 1 Commandant’s Lane (open to public by appointment)
Continuing your journey into the past, make your way downtown to visit these historical landmarks:
- Historic Railroad Depot, 90 First Street
- Benicia State Capitol Building and Fischer-Hanlon House, 115 West G Street
- St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 120 East J Street
Don’t forget to pop into the historic Union Hotel at 401 First Street. Built in 1852, the hotel is within easy walking distance of many restaurants, boutiques, galleries and historic locations.
A visit to the Inn at Benicia Bay, 145 East D Street, rounds out the historic tour. The Inn at Benicia Bay is a historic home that stayed in the same family from 1854 to 1983, when the last heir died. The home was built by sea captain John Paladini for his wife Jane and it’s now a popular Bed and Breakfast Inn.
Cap your day off with a relaxing meal at a fine Benicia dining establishment. Dining choices range from classic American seafood to ethnic cuisine, fine dining to casual food, incredible burgers and hotdogs to gourmet fare, and hearty diner cooking to a multi-course feast with a French flair.
Other historical tours available
If you’d like a more detailed walking tour of downtown Benicia, you can pick up a a “Historic Downtown Benicia Walking Tour” brochure at the offices of Benicia Main Street, the Benicia Historical Museum, or the Benicia Chamber of Commerce. Produced by the Benicia Historical Society, the tour points out 25 different locations within a few blocks of each other.
Check out Benicia’s “This Place has History!” QR code tours! Visitors can look for the small, yellow plaques on poles near historic sites around Benicia, and use a QR code reader on their smart phones to get instant information about that location. The same details are available for mobile devices at m.HistoricalBenicia.org.
Itinerary 2 – Art in Benicia
You can view art almost anywhere in Benicia, from public art on the streets to the world-class works taking shape in artists’ studios.
Arts Benicia and the Arsenal
To really get a feel for the artistic heart of the city, you should start your art tour at Arts Benicia at 991 Tyler Street to peruse the beautiful artwork created by various Benicia-area artists.
Arts Benicia maintains a world-class gallery to display the works of its member artists and often has special, themed exhibits underway. It resides in an area known as the Arsenal, a collection of former military buildings that are now home to many artists’ studios. While there, walk around and soak in the “bohemian” atmosphere that characterizes this artist enclave.
After you’ve experienced the Arsenal, head downtown for a look at some the city’s famed glass art studios and galleries where you can see a full range of media and styles represented. Here are some of our suggested stops:
- Benicia Public Library Art Gallery at 150 East L Street
- Dos Gatos Gallery at 828 First Street
- Studio 41 at 700 First Street
- Lindsay Art Glass at 109 East F Street
- Mernie Buchanan Studio, 117 East D Street
- Gallery 621, 309 First Street
- Benicia Plein Air Gallery, 307 First Street
- Once Upon a Canvas, 129 First Street
- Benicia Arsenal (complete listing of studios)
As you walk the streets of downtown Benicia, make sure you don’t miss the fine displays of public art:
- “Wind, Water, Land” at Benicia Community Center, 370 East L Street work by local glass, metal and lighting artists. Open days.
- Works near the Benicia Public Library, 150 East L Street: “Dicta” by Sandra Shannonhouse, “Untitled, 993” by Gregg Renfrow, and “Us” by Alice Otsuji Hager. Former resident and internationally known artist Judy Chicago has also contributed her work to the library.
- Guillermo Wagner Granizo’s 100 tile murals, depicting his story of Benicia. These murals are inlaid into the sidewalks starting at J Street and in front of the Veterans’ Hall.
- Linda Fleming’s metal sculpture of Dona Benicia’s mantilla over General Vallejo’s chair, called “Envelops the General’s Chair,” near the corner of First and B streets.
- Robert Arneson’s sculpture “The Benicia Bench” at the East Fifth Street side of the Benicia Marina.
- Ceramic-tiled Picnic Tables/Benches by St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School students in City Park, First Street at Military West
- “Caduceus Rose” by Lee Roy Champagne at the Rose Drive Medical Arts Center, 1100 Rose Drive at Columbus Parkway
- Self-portrait Tile Walls by Mills Elementary students, instruction by Guillermo Wagner Granizo at the Benicia Community Center, 370 East L Street.
Taking a Break with a Great Meal
Take a break during your day trip to Benicia for a snack or lunch at one of Benicia’s charming restaurants, then take a stroll on Benicia’s Waterfront Promenade. From the waterfront, you’ll see some of the landscape and waterscape that has inspired, and continues to inspire, Benicia’s resident artists for more than one hundred years.
Itinerary 3 – Girlfriend Getaway
It’s a phenomenon! Women from all over the Bay Area are escaping to Benicia as a fabulous meeting destination. Girlfriends choose Benicia because it’s not only charming and centrally located, but it provides 10 blocks of female-oriented attractions. A Girlfriends’ Day in Benicia is about having lunch at one of the cafés or restaurants whose lovely menus offer everything from a traditional tea to tapas, visiting a spa for a therapeutic massage or facial, and discovering “Fashion on First.”
Benicia, named after the wife of General Vallejo, was founded in 1847. Dona Francisca Maria Felipa Benicia Carrillo de Vallejo could very well have been a fashion leader and trendsetter 160 years ago. How many women actually get a city named after them? (Paris, France was not named after Paris Hilton.)
In 2006 a public art sculpture was unveiled at Harbor Walk (First Street at B Street) in Downtown Benicia. Artist Linda Fleming sculpted General Vallejo’s chair and Dona Benicia’s mantilla in metal entitled “Mantilla Covering General Benicia Chair.” This sculpture is open to the public at all times, and is situated in a plaza offering stunning views of the Carquinez Strait.
Benicia as the original fashionista continues to influence us and future generations of fashion historians. The feminine mystique of the city that began over 150 years ago is continuing today with women in many important governmental, cultural and commercial roles. In fact, the female gender owns 95% of the businesses in the downtown. Could the town be sending out feminine vibes that are capturing the interest of female shoppers from around the Bay Area and beyond?
– Christina Strawbridge, adapted from a column originally appearing in Inside Benicia magazine, August 2008