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Walnut Creek Magazine

East Bay Weekend Road Trips

May 09, 2016 02:19PM ● By Deborah Burstyn

East Bay Weekend Road Trips

When you need a break from Walnut Creek, and let's face it we all do ten months into the pandemic, these quaint towns reward visitors with superb waterfront views, ample walking trails, and artsy vibes. With ample parking and minimal traffic, Benicia, Crockett, and Port Costa are close to home, yet feel so far away.  


Visiting Benicia with its Victorian storefronts lining a main street that leads to the water’s edge is a bit like visiting Mendocino. There’s a rustic charm, salty air, and artistic sensibility layered over small-town Americana. The historic downtown waterfront has boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, and a range of restaurants, but there is one big difference between the cities. Benicia is an easy 20-minute drive from Walnut Creek, while Mendocino requires a three-and-a-half-hour road trip north. Of course, the Carquinez Strait isn’t quite the Pacific Ocean. But when you’re sitting on a park bench with a bowl of piping hot chowder or gumbo from Sailor Jack’s and looking out over the water, it’s calming to know you’re not far from home.

Begin your tour of Benicia at the majestic former State Capitol now a state park. Built in 1852, it still holds the original senate and assembly chambers, even though the state government moved to Sacramento in 1854. Benicia’s abandonment by the state legislature lends to its character. Without a major development surge, the city retains architecture dating from the 1860s–70s as well as many 19th century Victorians in its commercial district and surrounding residential neighborhoods.

After paying homage to civic history, fortify with a cup of tea and a scone at One House Bakery where the sweet and savory breads are baked fresh daily from hand-milled flour. First Street in downtown Benicia, set against the dramatic waterfront of the Carquinez Strait, is lined with an eclectic mix of boutiques, art galleries, coffee shops, and restaurants. For home decor, pop in Romancing the Home a specialty gift and garden shop for bath/body, babies, tabletop, and so much more. In the rear is a tranquil garden filled with sumptuous succulents and outdoor benches. 

Set in a charming 1890's Victorian, Antiques on First is a great place to hunt for an authentic farmhouse table or vintage tin cookie cutters. Head over to the back room of The Steffen Collection for adorable vintage baby clothes and booties in pristine condition. Among a handful of contemporary clothing boutiques is Christina S, a hip little place with fun faux fur vests, jeans, and skincare products. 

Restaurant and pub choices range from simple-casual to more upscale. A local favorite is Nine O Seven Grill where chef-owner Randy Ramos dishes up “angel wings” of pork shank in a sweet chili sauce.  At Elvia Ritas, crispy flautas, chimichangas, and margaritas take center stage on the takeout menu at The Rellik Tavern tempts with comforting twists on mac n cheese, fish n chips, and gourmet pizzas. 


A visit to Benicia is not complete without a long walk along the pristine waterfront followed by a brew and battered fish-n-chips at SailorJack’s (123 First Street), named after author Jack London who worked for the California Fish Patrol when he lived in Benicia. Bloody Mary bar with garnishes ranging from bacon to artichoke hearts. 



This quaint little town with a mid-twentieth century vibe is home to roughly 3,100 people, and the C & H Sugar Plant. 

It’s also a place to stumble upon unique works of art like those at the Bailey Art Museum (325 Rolph Avenue). Here Artist Clayton Bailey creates larger than life robot sculptures that hiss, honk and light up. Crafted from scavenged bits of scrap metal, they’re reminiscent of “Star Wars.” Gaining national attention, three of the robots are currently on loan to the Jewish Museum of New York for an exhibit called “Unorthodox”.            

Across the streets sits the eclectic Crockett HistoricalMuseum. Open only on Saturdays, you’ll find an assortment of offbeat oddities including the largest sturgeon ever caught in the local waters, a giant wasp nest, and California’s last working switchboard. (900 Loring Avenue)


With expansive views of the Carquinez Straits from its outdoor patio and a menu rich in shellfish, lunch or dinner at The DeadFish is a must-try foodie destination.  (1200 San Pablo Avenue). This Zagat-rated restaurant is considered one of the best for seafood in the East Bay, especially the killer crab roasted in garlic sauce.




The distinct vibe in Port Costa makes it a fun place to explore. To get there, take Hwy 680N to CA-4W then exit onto McEwen Road, a scenic winding country road that dead-ends in Port Costa. All one street of it. Immediately you get the sense that this is a unique place. The buildings are old and unusual, and the handful of businesses and 250 residents seem connected in an old-timey yet energized way.

The Village Haberdashery stocks its shelves with hats and a rich collection of vintage garments that are retired costumes from the San Francisco Opera. Next door Wendy Addison’s paper goods and tabletop décor shop Theatre of Dreams put Port Costa on the map in 1998 when she appeared on Martha Stewart Living with her whimsically glamorous glitter letters and stars.  One door down, Addison’s newer shop Mercantile presents an eclectic assortment of office supplies and European toiletries.

 Across the street awaits the Bull Valley Road House. (14 Canyon Lake Drive) The once seedy bar has been transformed into an upscale restaurant by a group from San Francisco’s Slanted Door. Sam Spurrier, Earl Flewellen and David Williams serve fresh seasonal fare and Tamir Ben-Shalom crafts antique cocktails. Next door, they run the 1883 Burlington Hotel (2 Canyon Lake Drive) in all its tattered Victorian glory—a convenient spot for restaurant guests to sleep after imbibing. 

Another favorite local bar and eatery is the Warehouse Café, a cavernous space reminiscent of the gold-rush era. The 1800s warehouse was converted to a bar in the 1960s, and claims to serve 250 types of beer.

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