Part Four: Suisan Bay, Benicia, Napa
This is the fourth 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.
Many years ago I saw a documentary about hundreds of military ships that had been decommissioned and were floating dormant in a big harbor somewhere in the U.S. I found out recently that Suisan Bay was that place. So while in this area we just had to see these old ships and possibly take a boat tour out in the bay to get a closer look at these relics.
Suisan Bay is a continuation of the larger San Francisco Bay and is filled with industry , refineries, and what looks like a home port for other ships as well as the yet to be seen old military ships.
As we arrived in town we saw the sign for a vista point and I took that exit to get a prime view of the bay and all of the ships. It was a gray morning and almost on the verge of raining so visibility wasn’t great. This part of the bay is where the ghost fleet, or moth ball fleet as it is sometimes called, is located. As we were presented the first view of the bay, I could see the ghost ships, all… four of them. Four? Where were the rest? We were going to have to investigate further.
While trying to get back to town we actually took an exit into the town of Benicia. While there, a local man told us that most of the ships were no longer in the harbor. For many years they have been scraped for the metal or sent to various other areas. As an example, the U.S. Iowa now acts as a museum and is on display near Long Beach Harbor for tours. Later I researched it, and sure enough the ships were gone save for a few. I am going to have to investigate my destinations a little more closely next time.
Since the ships had been long gone, we decided to stay in Benicia and check out that charming town.
The city of Benicia, is called the “jewel” of the Bay Area because it is a waterfront community filled with that small hometown charm. This was evidenced as we drove down a tree lined street filled on both sides with specialty shops, antique stores, and restaurants. The trees framing the road were rich in fall colors and beyond you could see the bay.
Down the road towards the harbor we came upon a park and a cute little marina, all adding to charisma of this area.
There are over 30 historical points of interest in this city and even before I Googled that tidbit, I had the strong feeling that this was very much a historical town. Driving around and seeing the old military buildings, the amazing Clock Tower Fortress and Victorian style homes, gave me that sense. Also, it could have been all of the signs we saw that said, “Historical Landmark.”
Anyway, I am sure if you have time, you could spend a whole day just visiting all of the various points of interest.
We decided to drive along the bay and get out of the car for some fresh air. As I surveyed the bay through my telephoto, I noticed another marina across the harbor and on the opposite end; a bridge in the distance which I think is the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. On the other side near that other marina, industry was in full swing with refineries and holding tanks dotting the hills. Swinging the telephoto further right it was an opposite scene with green empty hills as colorful as they could be on this gray ugly day.
It was a city with many contrasts but one that I am glad I was able to see.
As the clouds grew darker we wanted to see one more area before the day ended, Napa.
I am not a wine drinker so I didn’t care about all of the tasting rooms in the area; I just wanted to see the beautiful vineyards that lined the hills. I wanted a chance to snap just one photo if Mother Nature would just give me the opportunity. At this point raindrops were now cascading on the car and the visibility was becoming difficult by the minute.
We drove down a few streets in Napa and it looked like any other town except for an amazing area they call the Riverfront which featured fine dining and shops. This new modern complex is in the heart of downtown Napa and sits right next to the river.
We saw what looked like a fun trip, the Napa Valley Wine Train. This is something I would do regardless if I liked wine or not. The train traverses through the Napa Valley scenery and serves up gourmet meals in vintage rail cars that were restored to make you feel like you have gone back in time. Did I mention they serve wine too?
There are also highly rated hotels and charming bed & breakfasts in Napa as well as the whole valley. Top rated chefs work in fine dining restaurants and the wine from local wineries is featured throughout.
Another interesting adventure that I would like to try is taking a hot air balloon ride over this magnificent valley. What a scenic view that must be. Also, while reading a brochure, The Sterling Vineyards caught my eye as it gives gondola rides up to its winery.
I am sure you could spend a lot of time here exploring the wineries, activities, and eating at first class restaurants, or just relaxing at the many hotels and spas. If you are a wine connoisseur, you would be in heaven.
For me, I just wanted to see and photograph the vineyards. By miracle of miracles the rain stopped and the sun strained through the clouds long enough for me to get a couple shots of the grapevines. On the way back to the car it resumed its steady downpour so back to the hotel we drove.
The next day the forecast called for clear skies so we were looking forward to our journey through the California Delta in part five.
Story and photos: Debbie Colwell