Part Three: Fairfield. Jelly Belly Factory, Grizzly Island
This is the third part in a five-part series of a road trip taking us into Northern California from San Diego County. We visited San Francisco, Sausalito, Fairfield, Benicia, Suisan City, Suisan Bay, Napa, and the Delta. We went to Pier 39 in San Francisco, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge twice, saw the hundreds of houseboats in Sausalito, toured the Jelly Belly Factory, fished on the Delta, rode on two ferry boats, crossed over four large bridges, and many small draw bridges, saw autumn colors, saw the last of our naval ghost fleet, and viewed the gorgeous vineyards in Napa… all in five and a half days.
The big pull for this vacation was the California Delta which I will explain later in part five. So in looking for hotels in the general area, the Hampton Inn caught our eye because it faced and sat at the end of a charming little marina complete with a riverboat and a full sized lighthouse. It looked like something out of Cape Cod but was actually in Fairfield, California. It was also in a perfect location to easily visit some of the places we wanted to see plus close enough to start the last leg of our journey through the towns along the California Delta on Highway 160.
Fairfield is a city east of San Francisco with a population of about a 100,000. It sits on the very end of a waterway that is an offshoot of the neighboring Suisan Bay. The hotel, the marina, and lighthouse were every bit as eye-catching as the photos on their website. The hotel itself was a stone’s throw from the water’s edge and you could actually cast a line out in front and fish from the walkway.
Jelly Belly Factory Tour
Fairfield is home to two major companies that give the public factory tours, Jelly Belly and Budweiser. Unfortunately, we missed the Budweiser tour by ten minutes; however, it was the Jelly Belly Factory tour that we really wanted to see. They give free tours of the factory and have a retail store and café on the premises. While investigating the directions on Google, we saw that they were closed and you would have thought we were kids that just got told there was no Santa Claus. Even though we were disappointed, we realized it was a holiday so that made sense. However, I decided to go by there anyway on the chance that the store was at least open. To our surprise not only was the store open but the factory was too! Santa was back to being real!!
At the beginning of the tour everyone was handed a paper Jelly Belly hat to keep on their heads at all times even though we were separated by a glass partition. My guess it was to keep our hair in place, but I think it was really to make all the adults look like kids.
We were then led to that glass enclosed catwalk that encircled the whole factory from above where you could easily see all of the machines in action.
Even though there were no employees working this day, you could still see all of the machinery and then watch how they operate by tutorials running on big screen TV’s that were hung along the way. It was still fascinating even though there wasn’t any machinery actually running. In some parts you could see vats of colorful jelly beans ready to be packed and soon shipped on their way to various places in the world. You were allowed to stroll at your own pace and there were employees hanging out to answer any questions or to give you information about the plant.
Also, along the way they had a few interactive games you could play. One row had canisters where you could smell a scent and then guess what Jelly Belly flavor it was. I found out I wasn’t very good as I only got two out of ten and the flavors I did pick correctly were licorice and buttered popcorn, which were such obvious flavors. There were also a few other video-type games, one of which pitted Staycationer JoJo against a six-year-old who beat her quite effortlessly.
At the end of the tour, you receive free samples and can visit the massive store where they have every flavor imaginable, some of which you can sample for free. We were enthralled with what I call their “yucky flavors.” They actually have a game where you can guess these flavors. I am talking dirt, skunk, sour milk, soap, vomit, dead fish, rotten egg, and boogers. Yes, boogers, yuk!!!!! I tried dirt and soap and that is the extent of my adventuresome spirit. We lovingly bought some to take home for our friends, or should I say former friends after they taste these flavors. Later that evening they were having a Christmas tree lighting so if we had the time, we would be coming back.
After the tour we drove around the town to what appeared to be its main street which was all festive and dressed up in holiday attire.
Near the hotel there was a row of restaurants, all in the quiet setting on the marina with a view of the boats and lighthouse. Close by there was a tackle shop so we went in to ask about places we could fish. We were extremely amused to discover the tackle shop also served as a bar. I just could just see the locals coming in after fishing and talking story while having a cold beer. We were instructed by the cashier to try the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, so off we headed even though we had no idea what it was.
The Grizzly Island Wildlife Area
The off- ramp to Grizzly Island was just a few miles away and was easy to find.
Part of the journey through this rustic wildlife refuge was on a paved road and towards the end it was a semi-paved road making it a pretty bumpy ride for a while. The beginning of the drive provided views of meadows filled with cows, farmhouses, and green hills as far as you could see. I was surprised on how green it was and wondered if it was like this all year round.
This area is part of the Suisan Marsh with 12,900 acres of land, bays, and sloughs. Along the banks there were openings where you could fish without your line catching on the reeds but almost every opening had people with fishing poles in the water.
Eventually, we came upon a pay parking lot with a bathroom structure and places where you could fish as well as a small dock which was already heavily populated with anglers. However, we wanted to explore more, so deeper into Grizzly Island we drove. There was a large waterway on one side with smaller sloughs on the other. Most of the fishing was concentrated in the larger channel.
Finally arriving at an entrance of sorts, the instructions told us to sign in and it outlined where fishing was allowed. All fishing was open after parking lot six it said, but not before. So I signed in and headed to parking lot six. This is where the paved road ended and the bumpy semi-paved began. For the next six or so miles we slowly made our way past parking lot one, then two, then three. It seemed like eternity as we finally set our sights on lot four. More time passed by as we traveled deeper and deeper and finally past lot five. Further we drove until we saw the small sign designating lot six. Now we could fish.
Parking lot six was just a dirt parking area with a lone portable bathroom. Driving further you could pull over at any opening that wasn’t already occupied.
I made a mental note to leave well before the sun started going down as this was really secluded. We only saw a few cars drive by as we drove further in but there were plenty of anglers on the banks. We continued on to find a place to fish and were lucky when someone was just pulling out and leaving for the day. It was a nice location right on the bank of the delta.
During the next few hours we had many bites but no catch. It kept you interested enough and the setting was peaceful and quiet.
On our way out, we tried one other spot and I caught the beautiful orange sunset against the backdrop of the marsh and reeds.
With time still left in the day, we were able to make the tree lighting and all the festivities back at the Jelly Belly Factory. It was the ending for a perfect day. Later, I was pleased to see that the city had one of my favorite restaurants, the Black Bear Café, so we absolutely had to eat there.
As the day descended into night, the lighthouse was lit up and casting its illumination on the water in the marina. What a beautiful setting, I thought. Part three was a great day and I was looking forward to part four, Suisan Bay. As it turned out, it wasn’t just Suisan Bay, we also saw Napa and Benecia. Stay tuned for part four.