Home & Garden Columns

Planning a Point Richmond Getaway

Marta Yamamoto
Friday May 12, 2006

Ever get that midweek feeling of wanting to escape up the coast? Spend some time near the water in a picturesque town? Walk past quaint cottages and historic buildings? Roam the landscape allowing your eyes and mind to expand across open space? Discover a café, deli or fine restaurant and treat your taste buds to new flavors? Even without the time needed to reach Mendocino, a solution for the midweek blues is close at hand. 

Amazingly located along the border of industry, the compact town of Point Richmond seems a lifetime away. It’s one part small village and one part bayside open space, connected by a tunnel under a large hill dotted with interesting dwellings, historic and contemporary.  

Point Richmond gave Richmond its start. The deep water off Ferry Point drew the Santa Fe Railway creating a short-lived ferry service to San Francisco. Standard Oil Company purchased land and its refinery took off. Both fueled Richmond’s economic engines and drew workers by the hundreds resulting in a boomtown initially heavy on tents and soggy land and low on amenities. 

By 1902, families began arriving and settled in. A hotel, bank, merchant shops, grocery and funeral parlor occupied the flatland while residences and churches advanced up the hill. The town of Point Richmond was up and running. 

Today’s Point Richmond retains the foundations of its past with adjustments befitting the current population. Historic buildings, many lovingly restored, have new occupations, but a wander along the main streets still echoes with that small town feel.  

I felt my pace slow as I explored town central, home to a tiny town museum, the Point Richmond History Association. If you don’t know its location, you might mistake the small tan clapboard for a child’s playhouse. Built in 1903 as the Richmond Supply Company it holds the distinction of being the oldest commercial building in town. Inside artifacts, photographs and newspaper articles bring to life the past. 

Sharing Center Square is The Sentinel, a bronze statue by Kirk St. Maur, honoring the first Indian and the quest for freedom and survival. Below is a circle of dedicated bricks, purchased by supporting residents. A small park, library, community center and fire station stand side by side to complete this community oriented space.  

Bricks play a large part in Point Richmond’s architecture as does the attractive tri-color scheme of painted clapboard. On alert for architectural details I admired awnings of different shapes and colors like eyebrows over windowed eyes. The Old Firehouse’s arched brick windows, the round ventilation portholes on The Masquers Playhouse and lovely iron lamp fixtures furthered my interest. One building, The Point, is just that, constructed to fit the triangular shape of a narrow corner property. A more recent mural colorfully portrays workers in Richmond’s past. 

Putting the past to good use resonates throughout town, especially with restaurants. My meander stimulated my appetite; for a small community, Point Richmond has a high density of places to tempt the taste buds.  

The Pub at Baltic Square has had as many lives as a cat. From the town’s first tavern in 1904, it’s been reinvented as city hall, residence, funeral parlor, speakeasy, House of Prostitution and storage area. Today the back bar and mirror hark back to pre-1906 San Francisco, dark wood covers walls and floor and stained glass lampshades reflect light. This boomtown atmosphere is the perfect setting for lunchtime Pub Burger, Reuben or Shepherd’s Pie. 

The pale mustard walls hung with eye-pleasing paintings and peppers take Rosamaria’s Café a long way from the turn of the century bakery once occupying this space. Authentic Mexican food California style using healthy, fresh ingredients fills the menu. You know Mama’s tostada with citrus cilantro vinaigrette over cabbage, red onions, greens, jicama, black beans and guacamole has to be delicious and good for you. 

Little Louie’s draws quite a crowd for breakfast and lunch. More warm yellow walls, wood wainscoting and eye-catching murals of boats and beaches increase the relaxation factor. This must be everyone’s favorite deli, with choices too numerous to list. Pick from hot, deli or panini sandwiches or a three-egg scrambler, but don’t think the choice will be easy. 

Enter the historic building housing the Hotel Mac and you’ll swear you’ve walked into an established sporting club. With colors of rust, blue and forest green, paintings of waterfowl, sink-into easy chairs, club tables, fringed lampshades and a long wood bar leaving may be difficult. Try Wednesday’s “Steak & Shake” for a true club experience. 

Even the market in this town has character. Santa Fe Market reminded me of an old country store where you knew everything was fresh. Displaying produce in baskets and old woodbins; with old labels like Strength Valencia’s, Rhino and Fontana Girl Grapefruit adorning the walls; and stocked with all manner of groceries and wine, I could have been miles away on a rural lane. 

A little shopping always adds to that vacation feeling. The Art Lounge occupies the old Fire Building and its wares could raise a few temperatures. So much fun in a small space. Rhinestones, beads, jewelry, purses, feather boas, dangling candle holders and beaded lampshades—something for the diva in all of us. 

Hydrangea grabbed my attention with its floral theme in gifts, cards and plants. White wood shelves and flowered wall paintings create buy-me appeal. I eyed a French metal flower bucket brimming with yellow callas and a pot of mini daffodils, and then breathed in the fresh scent of Persian pear soap and lotion, wanting them all. 

Much of Point Richmond’s appeal comes from its setting, where bay views and salt-tinged breezes easily clear the head. A short drive took me through the tunnel to Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline. Also known as A Park For the People, these 300-acres of open space surrounded by chemical plants and oil tanks represent the hard efforts necessary for its creation. 

Once there, eyes drawn across the bay toward the Marin Hills, I felt miles away. Shore-side the open grassland is huge, dotted with eucalyptus and pine trees, saltwater lagoon, picnic facilities, multi-use trail and abundant bird-life. At the north end Keller’s Beach beckons with protected cove and swimming beach awaiting happy paddlers and hopeful fisher-people.  

Across the road, narrow trails wind up into hills thick with wild grasses, coyote bush, scotch broom, spring wildflowers and remnants of long-ago Indian villages. Topside panoramic views are icing on the cake. 

It’s amazing how just a few hours away can feel longer. Slowing down expands time. This may not make sense, science-wise, but perception is what counts. Take the time to visit Point Richmond, to partake of its amenities and relish its hard won Regional Shoreline. You don’t have to travel far; you just need to know where to look.