Longing for a day along the waterfront that’s not fraught with dodging tourists on rent-a-bikes? The chilled-out atmosphere of downtown Benicia brings together the natural beauty of the Carquinez Strait with enough restaurants, shopping, art studios, and other amenities to make a perfect day trip.
Go: Fog creeps into the strait, so your best time of day to go is typically mid-day, after the previous night’s accumulation has burned off.
Approximate travel time: Benicia is about 35 miles from San Francisco, north and east.
What to do: You’ll want to spend most, if not all, of your day in Benicia along First Street, which stretches from Military Way all the way down to the water. Get the kids out of the car at Jensen Park (at Military and First) and let them stretch and run and play in the fortress-like play structure for a bit. Don’t let them wear themselves out, though, there’s plenty of strolling and exploring to do.
Where to shop: The art studios and antique shops lining First St. make fun stops, though you might want to keep your kids out of the stores featuring art glass to spare yourself a coronary. A unique shopping experience awaits at Shirocos, where the owner Erick Martinez’s eye brings in gorgeous functional design, along with gourmet treats (local honey is a featured item). Kids will enjoy checking out the toys at Little Bird, while you browse the well-edited selection of children’s clothing.
Once you’ve made it to the end of the street, you can check out the historical building at the foot of the pier, and stroll the pier out into the strait while marveling at the views of the Carquinez bridge. Then, take East B St. as it winds around and leads you over to the marina. Giggle with your kids over some of the silly boat names, and ogle the big Bayliners and other astounding yachts moored here.
Possible lunch spots: There’s a restaurant for every food craving on First St., but we recommend you wait until you get down by the water and plant yourself somewhere with a water view. Our personal pick is Sailor Jack’s, in a historic building that used to be a brothel. Parents can enjoy a bloody mary from the full bar and order up some fresh oysters, and kids will dig the kids’ menu, which includes an ice cream sundae after every meal. Waitstaff is adept at dealing with little ones, and are happy to keep you happy (and did we mention the view?). But if a sit-down finer dining experience isn’t in the cards, fuel up with a giant burger at the nearby Frankenburger.
How to dress: Layers for the fog, and don’t forget the sunscreen!
Bonus: If your kids still have energy after all of that, and you’re not in a rush to get home, head further up the hill a couple of miles to Benicia Community Park. With a pair of large play structures, big concrete slides, soccer and baseball fields, and plenty of room to roam, it’s a fitting final stop for the big day out.
Cost of trip: cheap to moderate, depending on where you eat, and what you buy.