Magazine article Sunset

North Bay Getaway: For a Low-Key Day of Shopping, Drop in on Historic Benicia

Magazine article Sunset

North Bay Getaway: For a Low-Key Day of Shopping, Drop in on Historic Benicia

Article excerpt

If you dread the canned carols and manic wattage of urban mall shopping this month, try giving yourself a present. Make a December escape to Solano County's Benicia. On the north shore of the Carquinez Strait, this historic town, briefly California's capital, offers unpressured browsing for one-of-a-kind gifts. It provides good lunch options too, food being an essential component of a shopping trip.

Art glass and antiques

Named for General Vallejo's wife, Benicia slopes gently uphill from its waterfront perch on the Carquinez Strait. First Street, the old town's main thoroughfare, is pleasantly walkable. Start at the foot of First and head northeast to J Street, a stretch of nine easygoing blocks. Antiques stores abound; explore as you choose.

Some of the buildings you'll walk past on First Street were fabricated on the East Coast, then shipped around the Horn and reconstituted here to satisfy a local post-Gold Rush boom. The fine old Southern Pacific Railroad depot at the water end of First was actually built in Contra Costa County and floated across the strait. It now sells souvenirs.

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In the stolid brick Tannery Building, Cooper's Doll House Studio has wonderful small-scale furniture and dollhouse kits. There's even a furnished miniature lighthouse. Discover Yesterday offers truly vintage clothing and jewelry, plus lace trim and antique linens.

The Soiled Doves Bath House, in a dream of a setting, sells scents and creams from traditional English recipes (and do ask about the shop's name). Romancing the Home extravagantly packs several Christmas trees with unusual and charming ornaments (for sale). At tiny Buttons & Bows, admire sweet clothing for infants and toddlers.

For higher-end art, Studio 41 culls a distinguished selection of American crafts in all media. Don't miss the brilliant work of local wood turner Rigo Santos. And a couple of blocks east, you'll find an art-glass lover's heaven. Benicia Glass Studios contains work by three highly regarded workshops: Nourot Glass Studio, Smyers Glass, and Zellique Art Glass. With luck, you'll find seconds or discontinued items at great discounts.

For lunch, Venticellos prepares excellent Italian food. Camellia Tea Room is a local favorite for salads, sandwiches, or a full (three-tier) afternoon tea. This month it hosts two special events, the Teddy Bear Tea Party and Tea with Carolers. …

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