There is a lot to love about Benicia, California, and not just because I lived there for a few years over a decade ago. Briefly the capital of California before the state legislature settled on Sacramento, the brick building is the only one of the Golden State’s early capital buildings to survive – others in Monterey, San Jose and Vallejo no longer exist. The two-story brick structure has been restored with furnishings of the era, which brings it a long way from when it even used as a bowling alley at one point.

Several blocks adjacent to downtown’s Main Street are full of historic Victorian homes, which together offer one of the richest collections of this architecture in California. The continued real estate boom in the Bay Area has led to more development in Benicia’s downtown in recent years, with more mixed-use buildings appearing in this town of 26,000. The views of the foothills behind the muddy Carquinez Strait make it easy to forget that you’re in one of the most congested metropolitan areas in the country.

The pace in Benicia is delightfully slow, and the hills anchoring the city obscure the view of the local Valero refinery (the one in Martinez, however, is in full view). Glass blowing is an art form that has thrived in Benicia for several years, and downtown’s café scene complements the antique stores that line Main Street.

Living here offers the best of many worlds: Sonoma is 40 minutes away, Sacramento is an hour’s drive and San Francisco is an easy ferry route from Vallejo if one does not want to brave the traffic. Depending on where you’re off to in California, your travel here should include a stop for at least an hour in Benicia to enjoy the views and California’s colorful history.

Image credits: Leon Kaye

Benicia, California, travel, architecture, Leon Kaye

The old center of Benicia is full of Victorian homes

Benicia, California, travel, architecture, Leon Kaye

The old train depot in downtown Benicia

Benicia, California, travel, architecture, Leon Kaye

Benicia was briefly the capital of California in the early 1850s

Benicia, California, travel, architecture, Leon Kaye

The muddy waterfront after the recent rains

Benicia, California, travel, architecture, Leon Kaye

Many 19th century homes and buildings still stand tall

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.