At first, arriving in Benicia feels like entering another era. The palm-tree lined marina and postcard-perfect downtown—complete with old military buildings, Queen Anne Victorians, and charming storefronts—make it easy to imagine what life was like during the Gold Rush.
But after only a few minutes, you’ll quickly realize Benicia isn’t a city stuck in the past. The energy is palpable, fueled by an influx of new residents and businesses that are refreshingly friendly and unpretentious.
Located east of Vallejo and north of Martinez, across the Carquinez Strait, Benicia is one of the oldest cities in California. Little known to most, the town served as the state's capitol for about 13 months back in the 1850s (the tour of the restored capitol building is actually pretty fascinating).
To put it simply, Benicia has everything you'd want in a California small town: sprawling waterfront views, a lively main street with independent businesses that the community supports, and plenty of green spaces. Prepare to spend your day here eating pastries that rival Tartine (yes, we said it), shopping at boutiques that won’t break the bank, and strolling along the water while passersby actually wave hello—all with some yoga, art, and history sprinkled in as you wish.
Restaurants, Destination Pastries + More Eats in Benicia, California
The view from the balcony at One House Bakery in Benicia, opened by a former French Laundry baker.
(Courtesy of One House Bakery)
Benicia has no shortage of coffee and pastries. A favorite for a cup of joe (or an oat milk latte) is States Coffee X Bread(700 1st St.), a light and airy coffee shop with plenty of seating, freshly roasted beans, and a selection of toasts made on their house-made sourdough bread. // Whatever you do, save room for pastries from One House Bakery(918 1st St ), a stop so good that it alone is worth a trip to Benicia Owner Hannalee Pervan previously baked bread for Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery and three Michelin-starred The French Laundry. She now runs her own business that makes everything fresh (even milling her own flour). Locals show up in droves, so be prepared for a line on weekends. There’s a lovely secret patio out back with extra seating. One House also features a full lunch menu, with seasonal salads, sandwiches, and soups. Grab it to go for a picnic in the expansive grassy areas at the end of First Street along the town’s waterfront.
Other solid to-go options include Got Plate Lunch(1034 1st St), which serves Hawaiian dishes like fresh ahi poke, chicken katsu, and heaping piles of mac salad, or Sprankles Deli(155 Military E) for a classic sando. // If you haven''t had your fill of sweet treats (or even if you have), stop by Fox & Fawn Bakehouse(305 1st St) for a selection of cupcakes, cookies, and even edible cookie dough.
If you’re looking to sit-down for lunch, First Street is lined with a surprising amount of selections. Craving Asian? Head to Aung Maylika(333 1st St.), a beloved local and family-run Burmese restaurant. // How about some Creole? The Workshop(511 Claverie Way) has won over locals with its perfectly crunchy yet moist shrimp po boy, hearty chicken pot pie, and classic red beans and rice. // If a sunny outdoor spot (with rosé, perhaps) is what you’re after, head to Lucca Bar & Grille’s backyard (439 1st St) to find picnic tables and plenty of happy dogs. // Mare Island Tap House(440 1st St.) also has a spacious sidewalk patio and more than 20 beers on tap.
Several restaurants have views of the water. Most famous is Sailor Jack's(439 1st St), a former sea captain’s home turned restaurant named after author Jack London who lived in the area circa the 1860s. // Bella Siena(127 1st St ) is perhaps the nicest dining experience in the city, featuring modern takes on Italian-American classics and large windows that make every table a fantastic lookout spot.
Things to Do in Benicia, California
Time your day trip with the Benicia Wine Walk (June 17, 2023).
(Snapped with Love Photography, Courtesy of Benicia Magazine)
In between eating and drinking, spend time popping into other shops—some new, some around for decades—along First Street. Stores such as Collektive(935 1st St) and Pink Arrows Boutique(372 1st St) offer trendy clothes at a reasonable price point, making boutique shopping fun again. // Benicia Bookshop(636 1st St) is a quintessential indie bookstore. // Tilth & Oak(880 Southampton Rd) offers eco-friendly beauty and cleaning products as well as a refill bar to replenish products. // Succulents & More(433 1st St) is a plant lover’s paradise. // Incredible antique shops abound, including Fabulous Finds in Benicia(131 1st St) and the Steffen Collection(627 1st St), both packed to the brim with potential discoveries.
Benicia was the third city in California to incorporate, just a month after San Francisco and Sacramento. The downtown area has more than 30 historical points of interest, so if you’re one to stop and read historical plaques, you’re in for a real treat. Even the non-history nerds should find a tour of the restored State Capitol(115 West G St), dating back to 1853, pretty interesting. Just next door, check out the Fischer-Hanlon House(135 W G St) as an example of the architecture and furnishings of the Gold Rush era.
Art + Yoga
New to the block is the Elevate Company(901 1st St.), a modern and sunlit yoga studio in a renovated 1800s building offering varying class levels. // If art is more your thing, check out the classes at Arts Benicia(1 Commandant’s Ln) or Once Upon a Canvas(940 Tyler St, Ste 29), which include printmaking, painting, and drawing. Both spaces also offer rotating exhibitions. // Happy Life Pottery(632 First St) is both a teaching studio and a boutique store. // First Street is home to other galleries, including Benicia Plein Air(307 1st St) and the Little Art Shop(129 1st St).
Wine Walks + More
Benicia hosts a ton of events throughout the year, including parades on many major holidays, antique fairs, and the Benicia Waterfront Festival in July which features live music, beer tastings, and food stalls. One of the most popular events is the Wine Walk, which takes place several times a year and features dozens of wineries pouring tastings along First Street.
The waterfront and marina are perfect for walks, picnics, or bike rides. If you’re up for venturing away from First Street, the Benicia State Recreation Area offers 720 acres of marsh, grassy hillsides, and rocky beaches along Carquinez Strait. Walkers, runners, and bicyclists can take advantage of more than two miles of paths.
Where to Stay in Benicia, California
(Courtesy of the Inn at Benicia Bay)
Benicia is a great day trip from the Bay Area, but if you’re looking to stay the night, the town has a few options downtown in addition to chain hotels further out.
The Inn at Benicia Bay(145 East D St) is a small B&B built in 1854 with a lovely garden and free homemade breakfast. The six rooms are basic but nice and clean with antique furnishing and balconies. // The Shorelight Inn(153 West E St), renovated in 2012, is situated directly on the waterfront in easy walking distance to everything. // The Union Hotel(401 1st St), dating back to 1852, offers 12 large, basic suites.