Lou and I originally chose downtown Napa as our next BRB destination, but Mother Nature had other plans with a violent 6.0 magnitude earthquake that hit the quaint city of Napa at 3:20 a.m. on August 24th – just two days before our scheduled trip. So, with our Napa plans dashed temporarily, we headed for an East Bay waterfront town that neither of us had ever visited before – Benicia. The city’s slogan is “A Great Day by the Bay” and our day trip certainly lived up to that!
First, a little of Benicia’s history. The city’s named after the wife of General Mariano Vallejo, Francisca Maria Felipa Benicia Carillo de Vallejo. She was mother of 16 children, so seems only fair that the general named the town after her! General Vallejo originally named the town Francisca, but changed it when the city of Yerba Buena changed its name to San Francisco. After the town was renamed, Francisca began going by the name Benicia and from then on she was known as Doña Benicia.
… a lively artists community, and home to several amazing world-class art glass studios…
In present day, Benicia is a lively artists community, and home to several amazing world-class art glass studios – more later on a spectacular studio we visited. We decided to zero in on First Street for our focus, the city’s main drag, and, as luck would have it, the Benicia Fine Arts & Crafts Fair was in full swing! Several blocks of First Street were transformed into a pedestrian promenade lined with wall-to-wall vendor stalls full of handcrafted items, jewelry, pottery, fine art, garden décor, and specialty foods, all of which exponentially expanded our shopping options! Oh boy…. hello temptation!
From unique jewelry to great greeting cards to artsy tableware to hand-crafted wooden frames to silky scarves…
But, before scoping out the street fair, we wanted to check out the shops. Our first super-fun find was Studio 41 (700 First St.), a beautifully appointed gift shop whose number – 41 – stands for “gifts 4 every 1″ and they’re not kidding. The store’s been in biz for 24 years – wow! The artful arrangement of merchandise makes for maximum browsing pleasure. From unique jewelry to great greeting cards to artsy tableware to hand-crafted wooden frames to silky scarves – well, let’s just say Lou and I spent a chunk of time looking around at all the goodies. I bought a couple of cute retro birthday cards by “Shannon Martin/Girl Designer“, and a pair of colorful hand-knit ankle socks — perfect for my sister’s birthday. Lou and I both agree, Studio 41 is simply a must-stop shop!
Shabby chic furniture? Yep. Vintage clothes? Uh-huh. Retro outdoor furniture? You betcha.
If you’re into antiquing, Benicia has several antique stores, and the first one we visited was Benicia’s largest one – the Benicia Antique Mall (918 First St.). The mall occupies a huge space with over 18 dealers offering just about any antique thingamajig or doodad (to be more specific) you can imagine. Shabby chic furniture? Yep. Vintage clothes? Uh-huh. Retro outdoor furniture? You betcha. Estate jewelry? Oh yeah. Roseville pottery? Okay, we didn’t see any, but I’m sure there’s some in there! You’ll walk down aisle after aisle full of blasts from the past here – having fun and burning calories at the same time. Store hours: Tuesday – Sunday from 11:00 to 5:30.
The quaint farm-homey arrangement on the front porch … had us at “hello.”
The second antique store we stopped into was more on the diminutive side, with just a couple of small rooms to wander through. But small is good too! Blue Goose Antiques (622 First St.) specializes in primitive antiques which the owner purchases mainly on the East Coast. The quaint farm-homey arrangement on the front porch – pictured here — had us at “hello.” We saw some attractive oak furniture pieces inside, but we were unable to make a full scale evaluation because there were quite a few antique oglers milling about, and, even though we call ourselves bitches, we didn’t feel like having a nudge-fest. But, if antiques are your passion, this place is definitely worth a look-see.
Lou and I love to find stores that are a mix of old and new, and this cute place was just that…
And our last adventure into the world of yesteryear…. was venturing into Honeysuckle Rose (620 First St.). Lou and I love to find stores that are a mix of old and new, and this cute place was just that – full of nice quality shabby chic décor, housewares and accessories. The store’s been in business for 15 years, so the owner must be doing something right. Store hours: Tuesday thru Sunday from 11:00 to 5:30.
What’s so nice about an indie bookstore like this is that you can find little hand-written notes sticking out…
If you’ve been paying attention in our past posts, you’ve noticed that Lou and I are die-hard bibliophiles. So, of course, we had to go into Benicia’s locally owned neighborhood bookstore, Bookshop Benicia (636 First St.). It’s been in biz for 21 years! We loved the place – so much fun to browse around and look at everything. They sell new and used books, cards, games and toys, and cool gifts – plus there’s a wonderful children’s books section. What’s so nice about an indie bookstore like this is that you can find little hand-written notes sticking out of some books, with a blurb about what the book is about and what the booksellers thought of it. We both just love that – it definitely humanizes the whole book-shopping experience! Sure, we can all order books online from Amazon with a few clicks, but it feels great to shop locally for books! Store hours: Mon-Weds 10:00 to 7:00, Thurs-Fri 10:00 to 8:00, Sat. 10:00-7:00, and Sun. 11:00-5:00.
It’s like he’s captured all the tropical colors and shapes of ocean life in an orb of glass.
Just a stone’s throw from First Street, you’ll find Lindsay Art Glass (109 East F St.), an awesome art glass gallery and glass-blowing studio. Artist and owner David L. Lindsay was born and raised in Vallejo and taught himself the art of glass-blowing. After graduating from high school in 1975, he became an apprentice at Nourot Glass Studio (675 East H St., Benicia) and eventually became a partner there for 15 years, and then went on to open his own gallery and studio in 1998. Lou and I were wowed by his artistry – gorgeous eye-popping vases. The gallery also carries art glass, silk scarves, ornaments and jewelry items from more than 20 artists. I fell in love with a display of his colorful glass paperweights with what looked like a Hawaiian underwater scene inside. It’s like he’s captured all the tropical colors and shapes of ocean life in an orb of glass. The woman we spoke to there said that on certain days you can actually watch David blowing glass – that would be a cool thing to see! Open Tues-Thurs. 11:00-5:00, Fri. and Sun. 11:00-7:00, and Sat. 11:00-7:00. Closed Mondays.
At this point, our hunger pangs began to signal lunchtime, so we put our names on the waitlist of First Street Café (440 First St.), which was packed wall-to-wall with diners – always a sign of “good eats”. Never ones to waste valuable shopping time, Lou and I ventured into the bustling street to browse the vendor booths at the arts and crafts extravaganza. Lou was in the market for a new pair of earrings, and I’m always on the lookout for pretty shiny things myself. Right off, we found an artist named Jeffery Potter who, along with his wife Jo Anne, makes fine hand-forged copper jewelry. Their company, named after a San Francisco trolley line, is F-Line Fashion and their home base is in Crockett (across Carquinez Strait from Benicia). Now, Lou and I aren’t in the habit of dressing like twins, but we both ended up getting very similar pairs of dangly earrings – each with just a little different patina. They are, in a word, fabulous….we bitches were all smiles with our new purchases. Take a look at their website for some beautiful examples of their artistry.
Both Lou and I were mesmerized by the quality of her work and the vibrant glazes…
Next we were drawn to a stunning pottery display — Sue Fox Pottery – with multiple shelves full of pottery bowls, plates, coffee mugs, and platters. Sue Fox herself was staffing the booth — she’s been hand-throwing pottery for 40 years and has truly mastered the art. Both Lou and I were mesmerized by the quality of her work and the vibrant glazes — in deep blues, greens and browns. We both got the buying bug here, with Lou getting two blue glazed pasta bowls as well as matching blue glazed colander and saucer / drip-catcher. I bought a nested stack of four miniature condiment bowls, also in the blue glaze. Sue’s creations are all lead-free, as well as oven, microwave and dishwasher safe. Too bad Sue doesn’t have a website – she said she’s simply too busy to keep one up-to-date – but if you go to an arts and crafts fair in the Bay Area, you just may happen onto her artistry. She does create made-to-order dinnerware, so if you have an interest in finding out more, she can be contacted at email@example.com or (530) 621-4151.
You can tell the ingredients are all fresh, and we felt their prices were right.
With a summons that our table was ready at First Street Café (440 First St.), we pulled ourselves away from the street fair to go grab lunch. The café’s considered a landmark in Benicia, and it reminded us of the kind of good old-fashioned cafes that you find situated on Main Street in any small town USA. The menu offers homemade soups and a variety of salads and sandwiches. Because we’re gaga over salads, of course that’s what we ordered, along with a cup of soup each. Tip: there are two sizes of salads, small and large, and the small size is plenty big enough to sate the average appetite, unless you are REALLY hungry. You can tell the ingredients used are all fresh, and we felt their prices were right. Plus, our young waiter was super-friendly and attentive. Their dessert menu is awesome: pies, bars, tiramisu, berry crisps, and cheesecake shooters, to name a few! I don’t know how we restrained ourselves from succumbing to the sweet temptations. We look forward to a do-over trip to Benicia and next time leaving room for one of these decadent desserts! Hours: Mon-Thurs 7:00 am–9:00 pm, Fri 7:00 am-10:00 pm, Sat 8:00 am-10:00 pm, and Sun 8:00 am-9:00 pm.
The store definitely had that New Age vibe, with Buddha and angel statues, crystals, oracle cards…
Still with plenty of time to hit some more shops, we headed into Angel Heart 4 You (501 First St.), a serene, metaphysical gift shop that’s been in business since 2009. The store definitely had that New Age vibe, with Buddha and angel statues, crystals, oracle cards, inspirational books, jewelry, incense and candles. We discovered that they donate a portion of their profits to charity and local causes, including coins collected from their Angel Heart fountain. Charities they support include: Meals on Wheels, Food Bank, Soles for Souls, and The Compassionate Friends. A group of practitioners have partnered with the store offering a large array of metaphysical practices, including psychic intuitive readings, angel communication, aura photography and energy healings. Hours: Tue-Sun 11:00-6:00.
…by far the prettiest, with colorful flowers and wrought iron decorations surrounding the nests of flowers.
As we left Angel Heart 4 You, and were heading to our next destination (as yet unknown) we stumbled across a pretty little community garden. It was the third garden we’d passed that day, but by far the prettiest, with colorful flowers and wrought iron decorations surrounding the nests of flowers. Such a sweet surprise right in the middle of the bustling downtown!
…there was just so much pretty stuff to distract our attention!
Next we popped into Christina S (370 First St.), a super cool women’s upscale boutique that Lou and I spent quite a lot of time in – there was just so much pretty stuff to distract our attention! The store has a wide selection of designer brands, and a nice array of handbags and accessories. Owner Christina Strawbridge goes to several international markets annually to find special items to bring back to her store, always on the lookout for new designers and the latest fashion trends. Canadian company Joseph Ribkoff is one her exclusive clothes lines. I found a casual hand-knit cotton sweater made in Canada that I couldn’t pass up. And, I must have spent 10 minutes trying on several ultra-cool cuff bracelet watches – reasonably priced — that came in a palette of eye-popping jewel tones – I’m still regretting not snatching up one of those! Lou bought a pair of etched silver earrings and really wanted to buy something else, but it just wasn’t in the shopping stars that day. Perusing the store was pure pleasure! It’s definitely a great place to go to tickle your inner fashionista. Open daily: Mon-Sat 10:00-6:00, Sun 11:00-5:00.
…a traditional old-world bakery, offering a tempting variety of treats: cakes, fruit tarts, cookies, macaroons, and eclairs, just to name a few.
We’re always game for a little something sweet post-lunch! Hey! We only had salads, AND an hour had passed since then! So, we made a bee-line for the nearest bakery: Rosanna’s European Delights (305 First St.). It’s a traditional old-world bakery, offering a tempting variety of treats: cakes, fruit tarts, cookies, macaroons, and eclairs, just to name a few. The colorful little petit fours lined up neatly in the display case caught Lou’s eye – just mini-treats that couldn’t be too many calories, right? She restrained herself and had just one: vanilla with raspberry filling – yum! I opted for something a little higher on the caloric scale, a dark-chocolate-dipped almond cookie– double-yum! Definitely fits the bill for whatever dessert you’re craving!
I stayed busy trying to NOT allow my gaze to fall on the fellow getting tattooed in the corner.
Next we stopped into a tattoo parlor we happened to walk by – this, after having an earlier conversation with Lou about how I would NEVER (being totally squeamish about getting poked with needles and having a low threshold of pain) get one and her saying that she just might consider getting a tattoo of…. wait for it…. our BRB logo! So, we went into Creations and Illustrations (131 First St., Ste. E) to see if that design was even doable, and how much it would cost. The guy who helped us was very nice as he talked to Lou and took a look at our logo. I stayed busy trying to NOT allow my gaze to fall on the fellow getting tattooed in the corner. I was feeling a vicarious ouch and did my best to avert my eyes. In fact, my one — probably very naive — question to the dude was: “Do you use an anesthetic to numb the skin?” To which he gave a wicked grin and said that people usually just stopped in at the bar next door and threw back a few before coming in to get their tattoo. Well, alrighty then! As it turned out, our logo isn’t prime to have a tattoo made out of, as the lettering would not have been very legible. I could have hugged the guy, because I am convinced that if Lou had gotten that tattoo, she would have tried to convince me that I had to get one too…. and, I promise you, that ain’t gonna happen!! Store hours: Tue-Sat from 11:00 to 8:00.
I hafta say that I love finding artistic wall murals.
One good thing that came from stopping into the tattoo parlor was that, when we left the building, we passed by a very cool wall mural, which I had to take a picture of. I hafta say that I love finding artistic wall murals. I’m going to make it a goal to try to find one in every town we visit!
…a fantastic array of casual clothes and specialty pieces sure to make a fashion impact.
Be Chic boutique (309 First St.) was our last fashionista stopover of the day. It’s a darling, upscale store with a great selection of contemporary women’s clothes, knitwear, handbags, shoes and jewelry. Owner Claudia Mahrt opened the store in 2007, and has truly put together a fantastic array of casual clothes and specialty pieces sure to make a fashion impact. The prices are not for the faint-hearted, but they do reflect the high quality of all the items showcased here, and they do have sales! Open daily: Mon-Sat 10:00-6:00, Sun 11:00-5:00.
It’s the kind of place that’s a throwback to a slower-paced world and simpler time…
A darling tearoom we discovered was The Camellia Tearoom (828 First St.). We only had time to pop in briefly, but next time we visit, we’ll definitely save some time to enjoy afternoon tea there. They have tables both outside and inside, and, besides offering more than 40 kinds of tea, they also serve lunch (soups, sandwiches, quiche, wraps and salads) and desserts. It’s the kind of place that’s a throwback to a slower-paced world and simpler time, when women had more time to find a relaxing spot to languish away and enjoy themselves with friends. When we visited, we noticed a long table inside, set up beautifully for a special occasion like a birthday or shower. And their gift shop has a full slate of loose leaf teas as well as gourmet foods. Oh, for the days when life was a bit more civilized!
…it’s been totally restored and refurbished from its previous incarnation…
One more spot we’d like to mention that we happened upon is called the Shorelight Inn (153 West E St.), a bed and breakfast inn situated right at the water’s edge. Its location is fabulous, just steps away from the shore. The inn has just been open since 2012, and it’s been totally restored and refurbished from its previous incarnation as the Anderson Hotel. Although we didn’t step inside, we can tell from the inn’s website that their six suites have been beautifully furnished, retaining an old-world charm. Rates look very reasonable, with suites ranging from $139 to $149 per night. It’s situated conveniently close to shopping and dining, and there’s a lovely shoreline walking path just a stone’s throw away. Looks like a romantic weekend getaway to relax and unwind!
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