Strollin’ in the Park: Benicia State Recreation Area

Pop quiz: After First Street, what is the next most popular promenade in Benicia for walking, strolling, bicycling, and taking a family outing?

That’s easy, you’re probably saying: Dillon Point Road in Benicia State Recreation Area. That’s the road that leads to Dillon Point, another popular hangout. On a sunny weekend day as many as 300 people can be seen strutting their stuff there. At the height of Covid, when people were not traveling as much but still needed to get outdoors, more than a thousand came out on the weekends.

The Davises are one family you may see out there.

“We love it,” said Mom, beaming. “We come here all the time.” She was pushing their baby in a stroller while Dad was busy tending to their daughter, who had tired of riding her pink trike and was going on foot.

Where you park your car will influence what you do. Many park (free) on West K Street rather than in the ($6) east lot which, in the late 1940s, was the site of a Spenger’s fish restaurant located in a converted ferry boat on the shore of Southampton Bay. You can then walk or ride along the paved Taugher Trail until it connects with Dillon Point Road.

Another place to park is in the neighborhood behind Columbus Parkway. Cross the freeway bridge and you’ll find yourself at the vehicle entrance for BSRA. It costs $6 to bring a car in for the day (nothing for walkers and bicyclists). The road curves around the mudflats before it dead-ends at the Dillon Point parking lot.

Dillon Point Road on a nice day is Benicia’s version of JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park on a Sunday when they keep out the cars and let the pedestrians and cyclists take over. Families like the Davises go strolling, women walk and chat, a father watches warily as his young son rides his bike hands-free, and cyclists in colorful garb whizz past. Unlike at JFK Drive, vehicles are permitted in but they generally drive cautiously, and there is a dirt trail to one side of the road where those on foot can feel safe.

Up the road is a grassy, shaded picnic area and a native plants garden tended by the California Native Plant Society.

After the gold rush, an Irish immigrant stonecutter named Patrick Dillon set up a quarry business and built a ranch house here with his wife Bertha. The house and quarry are long gone, but the rocky bluff became so identified with Dillon that they named it after him. Its original name was Rocky Point.

Dillon Point is a scene unto itself. A walking trail bends along the water’s edge with sparkling views of the Carquinez and its bridges. The afternoon we were there we saw a young couple taking engagement pictures, a Filipino family hosting a boy’s ninth birthday party, and some men with weathered faces packing up their fishing gear and heading home after a long morning.

Behind the picnic area on Dillon Point Road, a trail runs up to the top of the bluff. If you take it, look for a grouping of sandstones on the hillside; these were ancient grinding rocks used by the Patwin tribe. They lived here before the Spanish and Americans arrived, and for a time after. Using stones, the Patwin women pounded oak acorns for food, and they did it so much and for so long they created indentations in the rock—bedrock mortar holes. There aren’t many holes and they’re not big, but they’re there.

With a little imagination you might be able to picture those women doing their work, chatting and gossiping while keeping an eye out for their children playing nearby, as the men of the tribe fished down at the shore. People have been enjoying this unique little habitat for centuries. Be sure you’re one of them.