It is always a highlight, for me, to walk across one of the Bay Area’s major bridges. It is special to experience the water crossing in a more up-close-and-personal and leisurely fashion, as the freeway traffic whizzes by just a concrete barrier and chain-link fence away. In this case, in addition to the bridge walk itself, there is a Vista Point with wonderful views of the bridge as well as nearby Mt Diablo, and a short passage through part of the old Benicia Arsenal area.
This ended up being a 2-part hike, separated by several months, even though the Bay Area Ridge Trail segment is fairly short. When I first walked across the Benicia-Martinez Bridge I didn’t realize where the Benicia endpoint was. Later, I learned that a recently dedicated approach section was in the process of being added to the segment description and map, so I was able to include that in the second part of my hike. And, as is evident from the pictures, the weather was different for my two walks.
In the first part of the hike I started at the Vista Point parking area on the Benicia side, walked across the bridge to the Martinez side, explored around the segment endpoint at Mococo Road, and returned to visit the Vista Point proper above the parking area.
In the second part of the hike I again started at the Vista Point parking area in Benicia, but this time (once I reached the actual Ridge Trail) I walked the other direction, including the more recently dedicated approach section that passes through part of the old Benicia Arsenal district. I continued until I reached the eastern endpoint of the Benicia Waterfront segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail at East 5th and East H Streets. These two segments will get connected once the city of Benicia decides on the route, which may end up on other streets. After I returned to the Vista Point parking area, I went back up to the vista point itself to enjoy the views of the Carquinez Strait and Mt Diablo.
From the Vista Point area you can get a good overview of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, which has 3 major components: separate bridges for north and southbound car/truck traffic and an older bridge inbetween for rail traffic. The bike/pedestrian path is at the far right of the southbound bridge, on the right in the picture.
The bike path goes slightly downhill to loop around underneath the bridge, then back up to the level of the roadway. This is easier to see in the GPS track for the approach. (However, I note that both GPS tracks place the route a few hundred feet east of its actual location!) From this loop you have an interesting perspective on the northbound bridge, since it almost looks like it is standing on the railroad bridge.
The actual Ridge Trail route begins when the bike path reaches the side of the freeway, I-680. The bike path is separated from the roadway by a concrete barrier topped with fencing. This makes for an interesting sign placement: the 65 mph speed limit is not relevant for bicyclists or pedestrians! Mt Diablo can be seen in the background at the left. It is in view for the entire bridge crossing, though of course obscured by the bridge structure itself.
Off to the right (heading southbound) is the Al Zampa Bridge which carries I-80 across the Carquinez Strait between Vallejo and Crockett. The Benicia Waterfront segment of the Ridge Trail nearly connects the Solano County approaches to these two bridges. The buildings in the foreground are part of the old Benicia Arsenal.
It seems that there is always a freighter moored at (at least) one of the port stations along the waterfront, an ever-present reminder of the commercial activity that drives the local economy.
Walking down the Martinez-side approach, there is a view some of the oil refinery towers that define the skyline.
Once the bike path is at ground level there are almost continuous plantings of colorful flowers.
After reaching the end of the segment at the bottom of the approach ramp, I turned around and walked back. Before I reached the bridge, I noticed a western bluebird perched on the top of a post. Approaching Benicia there was a view of nearby hills, most likely the Lake Herman Open Space and/or Sulphur Springs Mtn. Between the regular array of lights for the roadway are yellow oil storage tanks associated with another refinery.
The second part of this segment explored some of the Benicia Arsenal area, which includes both historical buildings and some newer-looking houses. The bike and pedestrian routes follow parallel streets for a couple of blocks before the current end of the Ridge Trail route at the intersection of Military East, Jefferson, and Adams. I ended up walking down the hill along the bike route and up the hill along the pedestrian route. This was one of the stately houses overlooking Carquinez Strait and the regional shoreline areas on the other side.
After returning up to the bridge approach area I continued up to the Vista Point. From this higher vantage point the view of Mt Diablo behind the northbound bridge is spectacular.
There is also a clear view toward Suisun Bay, including a windmill farm and the local portion of the Navy’s mothball fleet.
A bridge crossing provides a different kind of open feeling than walking across hilltops in an open space preserve. Both are great feelings, though, and enhance the outdoor experience.