Fairfield Is More Than a Dot on the Map

The sun-soaked, palm-studded, sparkling-waterwayed swatch of Suisun Valley is a living shrine to East Bay history — wreathed with abundant vineyards, championship golf links, and a famous candy factory.


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Photos courtesy Fairfield Visitors' Bureau

Maybe you’ve tooled through it en route to Davis. Maybe your coworker commutes from there. Fairfield is one of those busy, brightly lit outposts on the East Bay’s outer fringes whose names everyone knows — but that’s about all they know.

Yet this sun-soaked, palm-studded, sparkling-waterwayed swatch of Suisun Valley is a living shrine to East Bay history — wreathed with abundant vineyards, championship golf links, and a famous candy factory.

It’s not a totally pretty history. Before Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga led an 1810 battle that decimated indigenous settlements, the Patwin tribe dwelt in domed willow huts while fishing and foraging along the creeks, marshes, and highlands hereabouts. Founded in 1851 by sea captain Robert “Bully Bob” Waterman — who named it after his Connecticut hometown, having bought 18,000 acres here for $16,000 after a mutinous crew accused him of atrocities — Fairfield became the Solano County seat in 1858.

Travis Air Force Base was built here during World War II. During the Vietnam War, a million servicepersons per year passed through Travis — as did the returning remains of all Americans killed in action during that conflict. Today this strategic “Gateway to the World” hosts the 60th Air Mobility Wing and the Travis Air Force Base Heritage Center, an aviation museum exhibiting dozens of military aircraft.

How better to cheer up after pondering war than with chewy candies? Now helmed by the fourth generation of its founding family and offering popular, surprisingly panoramic free factory tours, the Jelly Belly Candy Company moved in 1980 to Fairfield from Oakland, where its technicians developed modern-day jellybeans — flavored all the way through, unlike retro jellybeans whose coatings contained all their flavors.

And while Jelly Belly makes nonalcoholic Margarita- and draft-beer-flavored treats, Fairfielders seeking the real thing favor Favela’s Fusion, a stylish tequilaria whose owner Veronica Favela-Diaz offers tequila flights, extra-añejos, and over 50 blancos, reposados, and añejos.

Hops hobbyists habituate Heretic Brewing Company, whose owners Liz and Jamil Zainasheff started as home-brewers. Their 6-year-old taproom offers mainly ales but also lagers, a sour, a porter, a stout, and even Blood of Jupiter, a beer-wine hybrid made with grapes from Green Valley Cellars.

Speaking of cellars: Fairfield basks within a corkscrew’s throw of not one but two American Viticultural Areas, the Suisun Valley AVA and the Solano County/Green Valley AVA, both established in 1982. As sub-appellations within the larger California North Coast AVA, they boast such outfits as the Wooden Valley Winery, Galvan Family Cellars, Blacksmith Cellars, King Andrews Vineyards, and Sunset Cellars.

Browse these and more at the Suisun Valley Wine Co-op, founded in 2007 by Sunset Cellars winemaker/owners Doug and Katsuko Sparks, who call their approach “Zen Zin” and who specialize in small-batch reds.

But why let those grapes get all the sunshine while you sit sipping inside?

Just a 10-minute drive apart, Paradise Valley Golf Course and Rancho Solano Golf Course offer the rare opportunity to play both in a single day. And — especially from September through November — Suisun Marsh is a wildlife-watching paradise.

As the West Coast’s largest contiguous brackish water-marsh, it’s a habitat for hundreds of bird, reptile, amphibian, and fish species — not to mention such plants as the Suisun thistle, which grows nowhere else on Earth.

It’s also a stopover point on the Pacific Flyway, a 10,000-mile avian migration route stretching from South America to the Arctic and flown yearly by a billion-plus birds, many of which pause to feed here.

It’s much easier for you. Just drive 33 miles northeast on Interstate 80. As soon as you pass Vallejo, you’re almost there.

 

When You Go

Travis Air Force Base Heritage Center: Building 80, 461 Burgan Blvd., Travis AFB, 707-424-5883, TravisHeritageCenter.org

Jelly Belly Candy Company: 1 Jelly Belly Lane, 707-428-2838, JellyBelly.com

Favela’s Fusion: 1500 Oliver Rd., 707-421-8484, FavelasFusion.net

Heretic Brewing Company: 1052 Horizon Dr., 707-389-4573, HereticBrewing.com

Suisun Valley Wine Co-op: 4495 Suisun Valley Rd., 707-450-8603 suisunvalley.com

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