On the Move
By VRTG Travel Writer, Cindy White
Tucked behind a protective little hill on the northeastern bank of the San Francisco Bay is the richly historical residential town of Richmond, California, also known as The Hidden Jewel. Point Richmond comprises the oldest part of Richmond (population 105,000) and is one of Richmond’s 16 neighborhoods.
Driving into the heart of Point Richmond, turn left on Washington Avenue to find The Annex Accommodations. This 1910 historic landmark building is the former home and office of Dr. William S. Lucas, the town’s long-time physician. Now, The Annex consists of several long-term residences and two unique vacation rentals — The Studio and The Cottage.
My stay at The Studio kept me on the move giving me an informative peek at early American transportation. The area showcases many transportation innovations established in and weaved throughout Point Richmond’s history all the way to present day.
Richmond began as a hay and cattle ranch in the 1800s; and near the end of the century, Richmond developed as an early hub of the transportation industry. Much of Point Richmond was bought in 1890 by the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railway Systems, today known as the Santa Fe Railway. Point Richmond became a booming oil community, in the early 1900s, when Standard Oil developed a refinery now known as Chevron, which paved the way for the emerging automobile industry.
Local, Historic, and Charming
Atop a flight of impressive wooden stairs, inside a four-unit building, The Studio is an inviting stay by any comparison. Upon getting unpacked and settled, I instantly slipped back in time to enjoy my vacation rental with its rich array of elaborate dark woods. Wall paneling soars up to nine-foot high walls. Original built-in cabinetry and bigger-than-life doors complement bold beams which crisscross to make an attractive pattern across the ten-foot high ceiling. Many of the fixtures are solid brass. Buttery amber walls contrast the wood harmoniously to make what originally was the front room into a handsome and soothing single-room respite.
Windows that span across two of the walls fill the studio with light, and provided me with a wonderful feeling of spaciousness. There is plenty of room for the king size bed, an L-shaped love seat sitting area, coffee table made from a glass-topped trunk, desk, and dining room table for two. Most luxurious is the Tempur-Pedic bed with high thread count linens, flat screen TV, and remodeled mini-kitchen.
Lighter woods, brushed steel fridge, and countertops in the kitchen are visibly appealing amidst the old world style. I appreciated that the décor in the unit is completely local, historic, and charming. A bouquet on the dining room table seems to come from the flowers growing just outside the front door.
Also impressive is the bathroom’s 12-inch rainwater showerhead in the sizable shower, giving plenty of room to get squeaky clean. White hexagonal black-grouted floor tiles the size of quarters took me back 45 years to the flooring in my childhood home in Oakland, California.
Gazing out the bathroom window you can see an old brick building, a historical landmark and former seat of Richmond’s second City Hall. The street inclines to the right offering a view of unique Victorian style homes, and declines to the left, down into town. In the distance looking over Richmond is the picturesque ridge of national forest land called Wild Cat Canyon. This preserve of rolling green hills and oak trees spans south to meet Tilden Park just above Berkeley, California.
On the property is another vacation rental called The Cottage. Distinctively different, The Cottage is an attractive one bedroom, positioned under a large oak tree and next door to the main building where the studio is located.
On the Move
Today, all Bay Area cities are required to pave their part of a 1300-mile Bay Trail. If you are one to stay on the move, catch the trail to cycle, jog, or walk through Richmond’s 32 miles, which covers more bay front trail than any other city nearby. It curves through Point Richmond’s Lucretia Edwards Park, Marina Bay Park, Barbara & Jay Vincent Park, Shimada Peace Park, and Stege Marsh.
Walking is the most basic form of transportation. The self-guided walking tour of Point Richmond will take you to many historical buildings which begins at the Point Richmond History Association, a doll-size relocated structure. Downtown on Park Place is a tavern called The Baltic which serves German-American cuisine by day and thrives with live music and Karaoke by night. The Baltic is mentioned in the writings of Jack London, the famous local author of many novels, most notably, The Call of the Wild published in 1903.
The walking tour will lead you to The Municipal Natatorium, also known as The Plunge. This indoor public swimming pool, built in 1925, was donated by John Nicholl after his unsuccessful attempts to drill for oil on this spot. Drilling 1232 feet deep produced only 250 thousand gallons
of water per day. When the pool was later sanctioned “seismically unsafe” in 2001, the Save the Plunge Committee rescued and restored it using environmentally sustainable technology. The Plunge is a model of green operation using solar heating, and providing water cleaned by ultraviolet light instead of chemicals. Public swimming is still available in Point Richmond, thanks to the “Save the Plunge” movement.
Moving along, across from The Plunge is the Trainmaster’s Building, the oldest surviving Santa Fe Railroad structure circa 1903. Outside, you will discover old-fashioned railroad crossing signals called wigwags, possibly the last of their kind in the country to operate. The non-working wigwag signals remain as a memorial of the old Richmond railroad heydays. Reflecting on those days, I guessed that a railroad running through town translated into financial boon.
Richmond was once a wild town. On Contra Costa Street you can find The Frosini House which used to bootleg wine. Nearby, the firehouse and jail built in 1910, included several cells and could hold up to 70 drunks per night in their large drunk tank. I imagined wild scenes of money flying as restaurants and saloons bustled with business.
Today Richmond prides itself on their restaurants namely, Salute E Vita, an Italian restaurant providing great food, service, and views of the catamarans and yachts in Marina Bay. Also at the marina is The Artisan Kitchen and Assemble. Another notable restaurant in Point Richmond is Pikanha’s Brazilian Steak House. In greater Richmond, try Sawad Dee Thai Food, and Nibs Restaurant.
To keep moving through Point Richmond’s historical journey, sit in style in the restaurant or bar at The Hotel Mac. At The Up and Under Pub, chug a cold beer with a burger and chips while listening to a live singer/songwriter/guitarist playing sultry renditions of Clapton and Hendrix. The Up and Under is located in a distinctive triangular Edwardian style building painted bold red and black. I felt like old-world royalty as my picture was taken in a huge hand-carved chair fit for a queen.
At the marina, I spotted the largest trimaran I’ve ever seen. Taking a closer look, it was revealed to be the L’Hydroptere, an aquatic masterpiece and world’s fastest multi-hulled sailboat. The L’Hyroptere speeds to 51 knots using hydrofoils, which raise the boat to make it soar – talk about a boat that can move!
Located just north of the marina is Kaiser Shipyard #3, where Henry J. Kaiser built 747 battleships for World War II. Because many of the shipbuilders were women, the city of Richmond founded a historic park named Rosie the Riveter Memorial Park. One last battleship of the fleet remains, The SS Red Oak Victory, currently docked in Kaiser Shipyard #3. Fully restored by volunteers, it is open for tours and Sunday brunches.
Another piece of living history is the Ford Assembly Building. Built in 1930, it was the largest auto assembly on the entire Pacific Coast. During World War II, the factory was used for building jeeps and combat mobiles and later resumed service as an automobile manufacturing site, nowRichmond’s convention center. Tucked behind the Ford Assembly Building is a new restaurant called Assemble. Once the boiler room of Ford’s assembly line, The Assemble has preserved the boiler room’s massive factory machinery as artifacts for its décor — a rich piece of transportation history preserved in a fabulous restaurant setting. Stunning!
Visiting the Bay Area would not be complete without access to a car, or the futuristic transportation system, Bay Area Rapid Transit, (BART) to enjoy the greater Bay Area. I hopped into my car for a tour of San Francisco. The closest bridge is the Richmond Bridge. It heads to Tiburon and Sausalito, an area which includes two quaint bayside towns and a thriving residential houseboat community. Traveling south to enter San Francisco, you cross the most beautiful and appropriately named bridge, The Golden Gate. This bridge is the only pedestrian-friendly bridge in the area. Two bridges lead into San Francisco, the other one being The Bay Bridge, which traverses from Oakland.
San Francisco, nicknamed The City, boasts so many attractions that I cannot possibly name them all. My most noteworthy must see’s are Pier 39, which has been turned into a large carnival; Ghirardelli Square, a chocolate factory and mall of shops; and Fisherman’s Wharf. Last, but not lease is Golden Gate Park, which begins with the panhandle, and includes a carousel, museums, The Japanese Tea Garden, and hundreds of acres of rolling lawns with massive evergreens. This is San Francisco’s largest park ending at the Pacific Ocean.
In the City, explore world-class galleries, restaurants, and the theater. Different districts have their own distinctive flair — Chinatown. Pacific Heights, North Beach (the Italian district), and the Financial District, to name a few.
With all the steep hills and hard-to-find parking, it’s nice to find alternative transportation. Take original trolleys, or a San Francisco cable car. Don’t forget to go down Lombard Street, the most crooked street in the world. Hop on a ferry in the bay to get a bird’s eye view of Alcatraz Island, the former island prison and temporary home of Al Capone. You’ll also see a few other islands — Angel Island, Yerba Buena Island, and Treasure Island, which hosted the World Fair in 1939-1940.
Over the River and Through the Woods
Another must do travel destination is California’s world-famous Napa Valley wineries located just 30 minutes north of Richmond. Take Highway I-80 North across the Carquinez Bridge, traverse over to Highway 29, and you’ll find yourself appreciating thousands of acres of rolling vivid green or electric yellow vineyards, depending upon the season. Choose from the hundreds of prestigious wineries that offer tasting rooms and tours of their cellars. Also enjoy world-class dining in the Napa Valley. One of the most famous restaurants is The French Laundry. But with a waiting list of over one year, you may be seated sooner at Mustards Grill or Morimoto. Oakville Grocery offers gourmet take-out.
Returning to The Annex, I appreciated the peaceful and quiet grounds.
Kind-Hearted Service with Lola Coffee
Owner/Manager Linda Newton was warm and welcoming and always present if needed. Prior to my arrival, she asked what type of coffee I liked. In The Studio’s kitchen she left me a bag of the most delicious coffee, Lola Brand by Catahoula Coffee House. This coffee is produced by a local Richmond coffee company, which won the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Best of the Bay,” three years in a row. I was happily hooked! On the way out of Richmond, I pulled off the road looking for one last cup of coffee. As fate would have it, I landed at Richmond’s Catahoula Coffee House! On the move and heading home … in my hands was a final Richmond prize — two pounds of the Lola coffee beans, my new favorite Cuppa Joe.
Without breaking the bank, you can stay at The Annex Accommodations and experience all the Bay Area has to offer, including an exciting history of the pioneering transportation movement. For further information or to make a reservation, contact owners Linda and Chris Newton at (510) 235-0081.
This vacation property is no more than a 20-minute drive to most attractions and restaurants in the Bay Area, also making it ideally located for the best in East Bay values. At $125 a night, The Annex has been selected for our category Value Conscious Vacation Rentals. Many downtown San Francisco hotels are in the $300 range, making it too expensive for many to fully enjoy a vacation. The level of creature comforts and service given at The Annex was above and beyond my greatest expectations, especially with that Catahoula coffee treat!
RELATED LOCATIONS: for more vacation rental options in this general area, check the article recently written about Santa Cruz, California
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