A Stroll in Benicia

It's a wonderful thing when two activities that you enjoy separately surprise you with a way to enjoy them together.

Photo by Joel Williams


Published: October, 2018


It’s a wonderful thing when two activities that you enjoy separately surprise you with a way to enjoy them together. For me, it occurred with the intersection of sailing and hiking.


The Bay Area Ridge Trail is a hiking, biking and equestrian pathway that (when completed) will encircle San Francisco and San Pablo Bays along the ridges and other high points that define the Bay Area. Of the proposed 550 miles, about 375 have been completed and are open to the public. In my non-sailing hours, I have been hiking this trail section by section. So far, I’ve covered a little more than 150 miles.


The trail crosses the Carquinez Strait in two places: on both the Carquinez Strait Bridge (from Crockett-Vallejo beside I-80) and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge (beside I-680). Between the two crossings, the trail is linked by a section along the northern shore of the strait. During those beautiful days we had last February—when it should have been raining, but wasn’t—I decided to explore that section.


The western potion of the trail is routed along the clifftop above the Carquinez Strait past the backyards of many subdivision homes, then down off the clifftop and through the Glen Cove Marina. Once past the marina, the trail follows streets and bike paths through more subdivisions and waterfront parks, and out into the open space of Dillon Point. After rounding the point, the trail enters Benicia State Recreation Area and guides hikers and bikers along the edge of a marsh rich in bird life.


I came out of the natural environment of the State Recreation Area on a mile-long bicycling/walking path that took me into the residential section of Benicia. The trail led me right down the sidewalks of the town.


If you enjoy a variety of distinctive styles of architecture, then the stroll through town will be quite agreeable. From grand, restored Victorians to cute little Queen Anne cottages, board and batten “shacks” from a century and a half ago to newly constructed townhouses—they were all there along my 2.5-mile walk from one end of Benicia to the other. The discontinuous, uneven, and (sometimes) disappearing sidewalks gave testimony to the many different eras in which construction of these homes occurred.


After a pleasant stroll through the neighborhoods, I came to the waterfront. Here I passed the homes of those fortunate few that have a truly waterfront location and a series of small parks. One of these parks is on the former location of the Mathew Turner Shipyard. Mathew Turner, who lived from 1825-1909, was America’s most prolific wooden sailing ship builder. In 33 years he designed and built 228 ships, 154 of them right at this spot on the Benicia shoreline.


A little farther east along the shoreline is another of these parks, called Commodore Jones Point. Being of a nautical nature, I walked out onto the point to read the plaque.  It turns out Cmdre. Thomas ap Catesby Jones founded the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He was also the first person to raise the Stars and Stripes over California. That happened in Monterey in 1842—a bit prematurely as it turned out, because the United States was not yet at war with Mexico. The Bear Flag Revolt didn’t happen until 1846 and California didn’t enter the Union until the Treaty of Juan Hidalgo was signed in 1848. Later, as commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Cmdre. Jones advocated for the development of Benicia as a deep-water port.


A bit later, I came to the restored Central Pacific Railroad terminal at the foot of First Street. Here, the ferry Solano—at 424 feet, the largest ferry in the world at the time—carried entire Central Pacific railroad trains (24 passenger cars or 48 freight cars plus the engine) across Carquinez Strait to Port Costa. Up from the waterfront, First Street is now lined with any number of restaurants with choices including sports bars, Thai, Szechwan, Sushi and Italian. Sprinkled among the restaurants are antique shops, art galleries and other visitor-worthy establishments.      


Nearing the end of my walk, at the east end of the town I came to the Benicia Marina. Here I realized I was looking at a great weekend sailing destination, a richly historic town to explore, and a piece of the Bay Area Ridge Trail to hike.


Ray Wichmann is a US SAILING-certified Ocean Passagemaking Instructor, a US SAILING Master Instructor Trainer, and a member of US SAILING’s National Faculty.  He holds a 100-Ton Master’s License, was a charter skipper in Hawai’i for 15 years, and has sailed on both coasts of the United States, in Mexico, the Caribbean and Greece. He is presently employed as the Master Instructor at OCSC Sailing in the Berkeley Marina.