Number 42 - August 2013
Welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's quarterly newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website,, to learn more about our private, custom tours.

Bay Area Military Historical Sites - Part II: Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano Counties

The May 2013 issue of Rick's Tips covered military historical sites in San Francisco. In this issue, we'll visit old military sites in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano Counties on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

Alameda County

Alameda Naval Air Station

Alameda Naval Air Station sits at the west end of Alameda Island. The Army created this airstrip by filling bay wetlands. The air station was the site of the first Pan Am China Clipper flights starting in 1935. (As readers of the last issue of Rick's Tips know, these flights later took off from San Francisco's Treasure Island.) In 1936, the army closed its airfield and the Navy assumed control in 1938. The end of the cold war resulted in the Naval Air Station closing in 1997. Today the old air station is known as Alameda Point and the City of Alameda is trying to develop the site.

To learn more about the Naval Air Station, visit the Alameda Naval Air Museum. The museum is located at 2151 Ferry Point Road in the town of Alameda, which is Building 77 at Alameda Point, and is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

One of the most interesting attractions at the old air station is the USS Hornet Museum. This aircraft carrier served in World War II and recovered Apollo 11 and 12 space capsules after they splashed down in the Pacific. Today, visitors can tour the Hornet and learn about the ship's history and operations as well as see aircraft that landed on the carrier. The museum is open daily from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

If you are in the mood for a little winetasting while you are at the air station, visit Rockwall Wine Company and Rosenblum Cellars. Rockwall is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon until 6:00 p.m. Food is available at the tasting room, although offerings are limited on weekdays. Rosenblum specializes in Zinfandel (red, not pink) and is open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. For something a little stronger, visit St. George Spirits to taste gin, absinthe, bourbon, eau de vie, and other spirits. Tours with tastings are offered daily on the hour. Reservations are recommended if you want to take the tour, which costs $15/person. In addition to tasting St. George's spirits, you can also taste their Hangar One Vodka in the same facility.

USS Potomac

The USS Potomac was originally commissioned as the Coast Guard Cutter Electra. This is not why you should visit the ship. Rather, the Potomac is famous for serving as Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidential yacht. Today, the Potomac is docked at Oakland's Jack London Square. The ship is open Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. for docent-led tours that last 45 minutes. The ship also cruises the bay. A schedule is available on the Potomac's website.

Contra Costa County

Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park

Rosie the Riveter is an unusual park in that it is not one contiguous park but a series of sites in and around the city of Richmond in the East Bay. The park honors the role of civilians at home who supported the military during World War II. Start your visit at the park's Visitor Education Center, which houses very good exhibits and shows films about war life in the city of Richmond and on the home front. The center is open daily from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day and is located at 1414 Harbor Way South. The Rosie the Riveter Memorial is accessible year round in Marina Bay Park. The SS Red Oak Victory, the last remaining Victory Ship in the country, is docked within the park's boundaries at 1337 Canal Blvd. The ship was built at Kaiser Shipyard #1 and is being restored by the Richmond Museum of History Association. It may be visited between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Other historic buildings lie within the park's boundary and may be seen from the street. The Rosie the Riveter website includes a map for a driving tour of World War II home front sites in the Richmond area.

Port Chicago Naval Magazine Memorial

This memorial honors the 320 men killed when two ships loaded with ammunition exploded on July 17, 1944 in the small East Bay town of Port Chicago. This is a tough park to visit as it inside an active military base. Tours are offered on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. and last about 90 minutes. Reservations must be made at least two weeks in advance.

Solano County

Mare Island Naval Shipyard

Mare Island Shipyard, located in the city of Vallejo, was founded by David Farragut in 1853 and closed by the Navy in 1996. Over 500 ships were constructed during the 143 years of operations. Today the shipyard is home to a variety of activities, some of which are interesting to visitors.

The Mare Island Historic Park Foundation's mission is to preserve the shipyard's rich history and present it to the public. You may want to start your visit to Mare Island at the Foundation's museum, which is located in Building 46 - an old pipe shop. The museum is home to a wide variety of artifacts from Mare Island's history and is open on weekdays from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. and on the first and third full weekend of every month from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.

St. Paul's Chapel opened in 1901 and is home to 29 stained glass windows honoring individuals and groups with a connection to the Navy. Twenty-five of the stained glass windows are known to have come from the Tiffany Studios. Visitors can see the chapel as part of the Foundation's tours of Mare Island. To arrange for a tour, call the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation at (707) 644-4746 or (707) 280-5742.

While you are out at the old shipyard, make an appointment to stop by The Coal Shed Studios to see the works of local artists. Seventeen artists currently work at the old coal shed. Visitors are welcome by appointment and during the annual open house and other events.

A unique tour at Mare Island can be taken at Blu Homes' factory. Blu Homes is located in historic building 680 where submarines were built. Today you can learn about the construction of pre-fabricated homes by taking one of Blu Homes' tours. You must sign up for a tour in advance on the Blue Homes website.

Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum

To learn more about the Navy's activities in the city of Vallejo, visit the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum in Vallejo's Old City Hall at 734 Marin Street. The museum has historic exhibits on the Naval Shipyard, the US Navy, and the city of Vallejo and also houses the Vallejo Sports Hall of Fame. The Museum is open from Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Admission is $5, except for seniors and students who are charged $3 and children who can enter for free.

Benicia Historical Museum

This small museum in the Sacramento River town of Benicia is located in the old Benicia Arsenal, which was active in the 1850s and 1860s. The museum includes exhibits on the role of the US Army in early Benicia history as well as on the history of the city. A unique exhibit is on the Army's experiments with camels as pack animals. The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. at 2060 Camel Road.

Now that we've made our way through military historical sites on the east side of the Bay, we'll head over to Marin County, on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, in the next issue of "Rick's Tips."

If you would like to take a private tour of San Francisco that includes some of these sites, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

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See you on the road,

Rick Spear
Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel
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