Photo courtesy of Mare Island Brewing Co.
Aside from the now extinct marine world, the town of Vallejo in Solano County is generally not on the radar of many San Franciscans. But there’s a reason that’s changing. Just a 75-minute drive northeast of SF, the hot town is home to Mare Island, built in 1854 as the West Coast’s first naval base. Named after General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo’s white horse that swam to the island after surviving a shipwreck, the island’s naval base operated until 1993. Since then, the waterfront s is transformed into The Wet Mile, which currently includes a brewery, distillery, winery, art studios, hikes, architectural gems and, of course, lots of naval history to see. It’s well worth a day trip, but it’s just the beginning of a great long-term development for this peninsula bordered by the Napa River. The Mare Island waterfront will soon be home to more craft makers, such as coffee roasters and bakers, in addition to ongoing promenade development such as benches and lighting. Bonus: You can take the ferry from SF to visit Mare Island. Here’s everything you can do once you arrive:
Founded by a former winemaker, Savage & Cooke offers tours that include a look inside barrels and production rooms, great rooftop views and a seated tasting of iconic spirits like The Burning Chair Bourbon, led by a senior member of the team. For something more casual, have a shorter tasting session at the bar or pop into the restaurant for lunch or dinner, Thursday through Sunday. Feast on southern fried chicken and sides, of course accompanied by S&C spirits or craft cocktails.
How to get there: Book tours and tastings online. Walk-in restaurant only.
With three taprooms in total, including those in Vallejo proper and Benicia, it’s a little more special to drink and eat at MIBC’s Coal Shed Brewery which is actually on Mare Island. Launched by two former winemakers, sample beers like the Hydraulic Sandwich IPA and Saginaw Golden Ale against a backdrop of darts, foosball, corn hole, beer garden and plenty of indoor seating . Pub food like sandwiches and salads come from the Pie Wagon.
How to order: Enter or order beer online (California shipping only)
A little history lesson with your drinking island should balance out the day nicely. The Mare Island Historical Park Foundation offers guided tours on Saturday mornings, including St. Peter’s Chapel, built in 1901 and the nation’s oldest naval church. It features a ton of beautiful Tiffany stained glass. You can also book a combo tour that adds the Victorian Admiral’s Mansion and surrounding gardens, plus the USS Vallejo Submarine Sailing Memorial and a few other historic sites. In addition to the visit, there is also the cemetery to visit, which is the first naval cemetery on the west coast.
How to visit: Book tours (1-2 hours each) in advance online, conducted at 10:00 a.m. every first and third Saturday.
Located at the northern end of the waterfront, the art workshop cooperative was one of the first entities to repurpose the old dockyard buildings. Discover the fruits of more than 20 years of work and community development in the galleries, retail stores and classes offered by the 19 artists who currently work there.
How to visit: Open Wet Mile Sundays 12pm-4pm, during art shows and by appointment.
Vino Godfather Winery specializes in small-batch artisanal wines, such as its smoky 2018 Prohibition Tempranillo and the full-bodied St. Peter’s Church Clone Old Vine Zinfandel 2016. It opened its tasting room on Mare Island in 2015, in a former officers’ mansion more than a century old. Book a tasting or pop in to enjoy “Music at the Mansion” live on Saturdays for just $10. Smokey T’s barbecue is often there to toss ribs and chicken. Vino Godfather also has a wine club with free tastings and first access to new releases.
How to visit: Come in or book ahead (email or call) for groups of six or more.
At the far south of the island is a wooded park of over 100 acres. The Shoreline Heritage Preserve has the old naval cemetery, osprey nests for birdwatchers, a steep one-mile hike to the top of the island for 360-degree views, and a trail easy four miles from San Pablo Bay along the water.
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