With famed tourist destinations within such easy reach, it's possible we are ignoring what's in our own backyard. Solano County's downtowns are historic, quaint and worth checking out either as a destination or a detour on your next adventure.
In a 3-part series, we'll spotlight things to do and see in the seven cities here in our own county. You might be pleasantly surprised to see what's just off the I-80 freeway.
Part I: Suisun City & Benicia
First let’s get the name right: Suisun is pronounced "Soo-Soon," not "Sis-Soon." Perched along the Suisun Slough, a channel connecting to Grizzly Bay, the town is adjacent to it's big sister Fairfield. Suisun’s tiny downtown features public art, a kid-friendly park and restaurants with a view. It’s a great jumping off point for local birding, biking or hiking, or a leisurely breakfast with a view on the way to the mountains.
Getting there is half the fun—take the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train from Martinez—it takes about 20 minutes and costs $12 each way for adults. Trains run frequently so getting there and back is easy. You can take your bike on the train, there are plenty of scenic spots to explore once you get there and the Historic Suisun Railway Station is just a few blocks from the downtown core. If you are a boater, you'll enjoy the scenic trip to the Suisun Marina and Yacht Club.
Whether by boat, car or rail, start your morning at Bab's Delta Diner, a 1950’s themed local icon of "real down home cooking and family hospitality." You are likely to be served by three generations of women: owner Babs Curless, who started the restaurant in 1991, her daughter Deby or granddaughter Rebecca. Go with an appetite and be prepared to wait 30 minutes to an hour at peak times. It's worth it; meals here are huge and tasty. If you think you can manage it, try the Long Haul, an extravaganza that includes two eggs cooked to order and a thick ham steak that covers half the large plate, and sits atop the eatery’s special home fries. As if that weren’t enough, the dish includes a whopping homemade biscuit alongside a huge side of gravy. The restaurant also features omelets, pancakes, a rib-eye breakfast steak, pork chops and homemade corned-beef hash.
Suisun City lacks a retail area, so choose a warm day and ride or walk off your breakfast indulgence along the waterfront promenade, or peruse the art gallery or history center inside the regal Lawler House, a 1850’s era building said to be the oldest home in Suisun City. As a family-friendly option, pack a picnic to enjoy in the waterfront park and watch the boats go by. Downtown Suisun has a Cape-Coddish feel, and makes for a fun half-day weekend diversion.
Benicians probably don't take full advantage of the many reasons we choose to live here. Playing tourist in your own town may seem boring, but consider the weekend options—you can design a full day of activities while saving yourself the gas money, bridge toll and traffic hassles.
Limiting those options to just downtown, in a day you could hit some of Benicia's high notes: art, history, dining and shopping. You could also plan a trip around the Arsenal with its art studios and retail shops and a trip to the Historical Museum; but that’s another story).
Start the day with a pastry indulgence at Roseanna's Europpean Delights, or if you want a full meal, have breakfast at Nine 0 Seven Grill where you can dine alfresco in the rear courtyard. Pick up a map of downtown's shops, restaurants and galleries/public art at Benicia Main Street. Many shops and galleries don't open until 11am, so walk along the pier and chat with the fishermen while you wait—one of Benicia's best views is looking back in at the town from the pier’s end.
As part of a self-guided art tour, stop by Lindsay Art Glass and watch a glassblowing demonstration. The Plein Air Gallery features landscapes by local painters and the 621 Gallery, fine art by member and guest artists.
Downtown Benicia has over 70 retail shops and restaurants. A whole day could be spent perusing clothing and jewelry stores, specialty and gift shops, antique and vintage stores from the diminutive (Elisa’s Closet) to the unique (Joyous Spaces). Bookshop Benicia recently relocated to 636 First Street and the Tannery building has been completely refurbished, opening up the waterfront view, and is filling up with new shops.
There's enough history for an entire afternoon, but at the very least, even if you've done it before, stop in at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park and visit the Senate and Assembly rooms, spittoons and all. If you find yourself craving more, there are historic markers the entire length of First Street.
A great way to end the day is upstairs at Sailor Jack’s, where you can enjoy a cocktail and watch the sun set over the Carquinez Bridge. Order several of the excellent appetizers to share, or tuck into one of Chef Maynard’s specials for dinner.