6 Reasons to Make Mare Island Your Next Weekend Trip

Get into boozy drinks, artist studios, hiking, and more at this former naval shipyard in Vallejo that’s just a quick ferry ride from SF.

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

Aside from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, the city of Vallejo in Solano County isn’t usually on many San Franciscans’ radar. But there's a reason for that to change. Less than an hour 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 surviving a shipwreck, 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, hiking, architectural gems, and of course, plenty of naval history to behold. It’s worth a day trip as it is, but this is just the beginning of large, long-term development for this peninsula that’s bordered by the Napa River. Mare Island’s waterfront will soon be home to more artisanal makers, like coffee roasters and bakers, in addition to continued promenade development like benches and lighting. Bonus: You can take the ferry from SF to visit Mare Island. Here’s everything you can do once you arrive:

Savage & Cooke American Distillery

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

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

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

Victorian Admiral’s Mansion

A little history lesson with your island boozing should balance out the day nicely. The Mare Island Historical Park Foundation offers Saturday morning sightseeing tours that include the St. Peter’s Chapel, which was built in 1901 and is the oldest naval church in the country. It features a ton of gorgeous Tiffany stained-glass windows. You can also book a combo tour that adds the Victorian Admiral’s Mansion and surrounding gardens, plus the USS Vallejo Submarine Sail Memorial and a few more historic sights. In addition to the tour, there’s also the cemetery to check out, which is the first naval graveyard on the West Coast.
How to visit: Book tours (1-2 hours each) in advance online, conducted at 10 am every first and third Saturday.

Mare Island Art Studios
Photo courtesy of Mare Island Art Studios

Located at the northernmost end of the waterfront, the art studio co-op was one of the first entities to repurpose the old shipyard buildings. See the fruits of 20-plus years of labor and community-growing in the galleries, retail shops, and classes offered by the 19 artists who currently work there.
How to visit: Open on Wet Mile Sundays 12-4 pm, during art shows, and by appointment.

Vino Godfather
Vino Godfather

Vino Godfather Winery specializes in small-batch, handcrafted wines, like its smoky 2018 Prohibition Tempranillo and full-bodied 2016 St. Peter’s Church Clone Old Vine Zinfandel. It opened its tasting room on Mare Island in 2015, in a former officers’ mansion that’s more than a century old. Book a tasting, or walk in to enjoy live “Music at the Mansion” on Saturdays for just a $10 cover. Smokey T’s BBQ is often there slinging ribs and chicken. Vino Godfather also has a wine club with complimentary tastings and first access to new releases.
How to visit: Walk in, or book ahead (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’s more than 100 acres large. The Shoreline Heritage Preserve has the old naval cemetery, osprey nests for bird lovers, a steep one-mile hike to the top of the island for 360-degree views, as well as an easy four-mile San Pablo Bay Trail along the water.

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