by Ginger Dingus
“A great day by the Bay,” as Benicia’s tag line proclaims, was had by all BATW members and guests attending the July meeting. We gathered in the outdoor patio of the trendy, nearly new Bella Siena restaurant where owners Liz and Yilmaz Kurt treated us to a delicious lunch.
But first, we were welcomed by Mario Giuliani, Benicia’s Economic Development Manager and Teri Davena, Benicia’s Economic Development Specialist. According to Teri, her town is “the best kept secret in the bay area.” Benicia, as we learned from Teri, is one of the oldest cities in California, founded in 1847. It served as state capitol for all of 13 months, starting in February 1853. Of course, much has changed over the years. A former speakeasy is now a smokehouse and deli. The bakery is housed in an old movie theater and has an oven named Buttercup. Although, the historic Union Hotel of 1852 has been renovated, it still offers period rooms together with ghost stories and maybe even ghosts.
While Teri enlightened us about our charming surroundings, we enjoyed Bella Siena’s superb lunch of a mixed salad, choice of pastas or grilled chicken and yummy blackberry sorbet. Later, a table displaying several of the restaurant’s most popular dishes was available for photo-ops.
Following lunch, we were on our own to explore First Street’s art galleries, quirky shops, bakeries and saloons. Molly Blaisdell, meeting coordinator, helped organize a booklet of coupons offering discounts and treats on First.
A highlight of the afternoon was a docent-led tour of the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park at First and G, the only still-existing former California capitol building. We toured the downstairs Senate chambers and upstairs Assembly, both filled with period furnishings (some replica, some authentic) including a U.S. flag with just 31 stars. Supporting columns in the Senate were originally the masts of Gold Rush sailing ships. Next door, docents showed off the Fischer-Hanlon House containing mid-1800s to mid-1900s belongings from three generations of the home’s upper middle-class owners. The house has since been acquired by the state and is part of the historic park complex.