If you could pluck a small town from the Sierra Foothills, say Placerville or Angels Camp, and seclude it on the Northern California coast long enough that the tourists stop showing up, you could begin to understand the appeal of Point Richmond. Once the end of the line for the Santa Fe Railroad before the cars were ferried over to San Francisco, the neighborhood now sits surrounded by trees and hills that keep the encroaching industrial parks at bay. Within the early-20th-century architecture hides businesses and people that are decidedly coastal — outgoing, artistic, and driven by a love for the community.
The deWitt Gallery and Framing (121 Park Pl., 510-778-1480, PointRichmondArtCollective.org) houses a rotating collection of work by the Point Richmond Art Collective. A variety of mediums such as acrylics, jewelry, pencil, photography, and metalwork line the walls and floor, and local artists are often on site and are happy to talk about their work.
When discussions in the gallery turn from the canvas to the plate, two names often pop up. Kao Sarn Thai Cuisine (130 Washington Ave., 510-233-8585) has an amazing pumpkin curry, but The Baltic (135 Park Pl., 510-237-1000, BalticJoint.com) stands out for its history, feel-good food, beer selection, and live music. Constructed in 1904, the space has housed everything from a brothel and a speakeasy to a funeral parlor and City Hall. Brought over from San Francisco in 1904, the bar and back of the bar escaped the 1906 earthquake and still provide sturdy support for glasses and patrons full of beer. A cold liter of one of the German beers on tap is the perfect accompaniment to a plate of the ultimate comfort food: käsespäetzle — soft, thick egg noodles drenched in melted cheese and onions. Most nights feature live music, though the Thursday night jam sessions are worth a listen if only for their laid-back, coastal coffee-shop feel.
After a big meal at The Baltic, work off the calories by exploring the Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline 888-327-2757, EBParks.org), a 306-acre park with beautiful views of the East Bay and the tip of the Golden Gate Bridge, plenty of fishing spots, a sandy beach, picnic areas, and the Ferry Point Loop Trail (PointRichmond.com/baytrail). Part of the Bay Trail, which winds for more than three hundred miles throughout the Bay Area, the Ferry Point Loop takes you out to the unconventional beauty of the crumbling piers where the Santa Fe Railroad unloaded San Francisco-bound trains. Within the park, a yellow, nondescript building carries on the rail traditions of the area, just on a smaller scale. The Golden State Model Railroad Museum (900-A Dornan Dr., 510-234-4884, GSMRM.org) entails 10,000 square feet of operating model trains and intricate landscapes and buildings. Hop onboard during the museum's limited hours (Sunday afternoons, April-December) and you can tower over the towns, giving your imagination free reign to wreak Godzilla-style havoc.
If the water off Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline looks too chilly, try the Point Richmond Municipal Natatorium, nicknamed The Plunge (1 East Richmond Ave., 510-620-6820, RichmondPlunge.org). Built in 1926, the indoor heated pool sits below a two-story observation deck and a large, colorful mural. A relaxing oasis, it also provides swim classes to visitors of all ages, races, and economic means. After off-and-on financial troubles, the city shut down the building in 2001, but the community rallied together and helped re-open the pool on August 14. Today its doors remain open, just one example of the love and work the residents have put into maintaining the unique value of their neighborhood.