Mare Island Travel Guide: Plan the Ultimate California Weekend Getaway


Photo courtesy of Mare Island Brewing Co.

Aside from the now-defunct Marine World, the Solano County town of Vallejo isn’t typically on the radar of many San Francisco’s. But there’s a reason to change that. Just a 75-minute drive northeast of SF, the hot-weather city 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 it was shipwrecked, the island’s naval base operated until 1993. Since then the waterfront has transformed into The Wet Mile which currently includes a brewery, distillery, winery, art studios, walking, architectural gems and of course plenty of naval history to see. It’s worth a day trip, but this is just the beginning of great, long-term development for this peninsula, bordered by the Napa River. The Mare Island waterfront will soon be home to more artisans such as coffee roasters and bakers in addition to continuing boardwalk 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:

American distillery Savage & Cooke

Founded by a former winemaker, Savage & Cooke offers tours that include a peek inside the barrel and production rooms, gorgeous rooftop views, and a tasting of signature spirits like The Burning Chair Bourbon, led by a senior member of the team . For a more casual experience, head to the bar for a shorter tasting session, or drop by the restaurant for lunch or dinner Thursday through Sunday. Feast on Southern Fried Chicken and sides, paired naturally with S&C spirits or craft cocktails.
How to proceed: Book tours and tastings online. Walk-ins in the restaurant only.

Mare Island Brewing Co.
Photo courtesy of Mare Island Brewing Co.

With a total of three taprooms, including one in Vallejo and Benicia, it feels a little more special to drink and eat at MIBC’s Coal Shed Brewery, which is actually on Mare Island. Founded by two former winemakers, enjoy beers like the Hydraulic Sandwich IPA and Saginaw Golden Ale against a backdrop of darts, foosball, a corn hole, a beer garden, and plenty of indoor seating. Pub grub like sandwiches and salads come from the Pie Wagon.
How to order: Stop by or order beer online (California shipping only)

Victorian admiral's mansion

A little history lesson with your island booze should balance the day nicely. The Mare Island Historical Park Foundation offers Saturday morning sightseeing tours that include St. Peter’s Chapel, built in 1901 and the oldest naval church in the country. It features a lot of beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows. You can also book a combo tour that includes the Victorian Admiral’s Mansion and surrounding gardens, as well as the USS Vallejo Submarine Sail Memorial and a few other historical attractions. Along with the tour there is also a visit to the cemetery, which is the first naval cemetery on the west coast.
How to visit: Book guided tours (each 1-2 hours) in advance online, every first and third Saturday at 10 a.m.

Mare Island Art Studios
Photo courtesy of Mare Island Art Studios

Located at the northernmost end of the waterfront, the art studio cooperative was one of the first institutions to repurpose the old shipyard buildings. See the fruits of over 20 years of work and community growth in the galleries, retail outlets, and classes offered by the 19 artists currently working there.
How to visit: Open on Wet Mile Sundays from 12pm to 4pm, during art shows and by appointment.

wine godfather
wine godfather

Vino Godfather Winery specializes in small-batch, handcrafted wines like the smoky 2018 Prohibition Tempranillo and the full-bodied 2016 St. Peter’s Church Clone Old Vine Zinfandel. In 2015 it opened its tasting room on Mare Island in a former officer’s house more than a century old. Book a tasting or come in to enjoy live music at the mansion on Saturdays for just $10. Smokey T’s BBQ is there often, flinging ribs and chicken. Vino Godfather also has a wine club with free tastings and first access to new releases.
How to visit: Stop by or book in advance (email or call) for groups of six or more.

Shoreline Heritage Preserve
Flickr/Pacific Southwest Forest Service

At the southernmost part of the island lies a wooded park that is more than 100 hectares. Shoreline Heritage Preserve features the Old Naval Cemetery, osprey nests for bird lovers, a steep 1 mile hike to the top of the island with 360 degree views, and an easy 4 mile San Pablo Bay Trail along the water.

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Margot Seeto is a Bay Area freelance writer and contributor to Thrillist.


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