BENICIA, CA: Art, History, and Small Town Charm on the Carquinez Strait

Benicia, California. Former Rail Ferry Depot
Recently, on a sunny afternoon in late August, I drove with friends from our house in Oakland for an afternoon visit to the small town of Benicia, California, located on the Carquinez Strait at the north end of San Francisco Bay. Once a military outpost, and for a brief time the capitol of California, the town is now known for its arts community and for its restaurants and antique shops.
Looking east from the parking area toward Mount Diablo (elevation 3948 feet)
The motivation for our trip was an event called “Paint Out”, a community art celebration and competition for plein air (open air) painters.
Plein Air painting by Susan Street
During the day the artists spread out around town with their paints and easels and set themselves at work depicting various local scenes. We spotted one artist painting a floral scene after we parked our car near the bayside park and later saw others painting views of the water and bridge. Then at 3:00 all the artists brought their work to a central gallery, where the art was exhibited, judges awarded prizes and refreshments were available to everybody.
Blown glass vase at Lindsay Art Glass
While we waited for the exhibit to open, we wandered along First Street, browsing in some of the many antique and gift shops and visiting an amazing blown glass gallery, Lindsay Art Glass.
Looking west from Benicia toward the 101 Bridge and San Francisco Bay
Although I had passed the exit for Benicia from the 101 Freeway many times, this was my first visit. I remember reading about the Carquinez Strait (which connects San Francisco Bay with the Sacramento River delta) in 1985, when a young grey whale swam into San Francisco Bay on his annual migration up the coast, and mistakenly headed inland instead of back out to sea. Dubbed “Humphrey the Wrong-Way Whale” his journey was watched by millions both in person and on television until he finally turned around and safely made it back to the Pacific.
The Arsenal
For many years Benicia was a U.S. Army post. The beautiful Arsenal building from the former Army Base is now offices and art galleries. Benicia also still has some elegant Victorian homes from its early days. A trip to Benicia is a pleasant day's outing from Oakland or San Francisco and a nice escape from the hurly burly of city life. I plan to go back!

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