Benicia, Calif.: Weekend Escape

A charming waterfront town on the Carquinez Strait was once the capital of California.

Camellia Tea Room, Benicia, Calif., image

The Camellia Tea Room in Benicia offers tea and cakes with a side of people-watching.

Born as a bustling 19th-century port on the Carquinez Strait, Benicia was California’s third incorporated city and served as its capital for 13 months, beginning in 1853. Today, the sweeping waterfront vistas remain, as well as Victorian homes, artists’ studios, and a lively mix of independent galleries, shops, and restaurants along First Street. Area code is 707.

  • Luminous vases, perfume bottles, bowls, and Christmas ornaments fill Lindsay Art Glass, which carries work by its owner and 50 more artists from around the country. In the workshop you can often watch glassblowing. 109 East F St., 748-1336, lindsayartglass.com.
  • Head to the Camellia Tea Room and pair Darjeeling or one of more than three dozen teas with finger sandwiches, curry chicken salad, or scones with jam and rich Devon cream. 828 First St., 746-5293, camelliatearoom.com.
  • Craft gallery meets gift shop at Studio 41, where the mostly U.S.-made goods include hand-turned wooden bowls, diaphanous scarves, kids’ colorable place mats, and wicker picnic hampers with service for four. 700 First St., 745-0254, studio41.com.
  • You almost expect legislators from yesteryear to materialize at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park. In the restored senate and assembly chambers of the redbrick building, potbellied stoves stand in corners, chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and gentlemen’s tophats sit on desks. 115 West G St., 745-3385, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=475.
  • Looking for a 1920s oak dresser or a baseball signed by Willie Mays? Check out the Benicia Antique Mall, where vendors offer vintage finds. 918 First St., 751-1400, beniciaantiquemall.com.
  • Artists welcome the public during the open studio event Dec. 6 and 7 at the Arsenal, a former army munitions depot that’s now a thriving arts haven. Among the works for sale are paintings, prints, and whimsical scrap-metal sculptures. Tyler Street at Polk Street, 319-5361, beniciaarsenal.com.
  • Menu choices at the First Street Cafe include slow-braised pot roast, fruit crisps, and an open-faced crab-artichoke sandwich, all served in a cozy storefront dining room outfitted with an old bar and dark wood wainscoting. 440 First St., 745-1400, firststcafe.com.

Photography by Mitch Tobias

This article was first published in November 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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