Point Richmond is a little-known, charming enclave within the far rougher city of Richmond, Calif., nestled a few blocks from the 580 Freeway and a massive Chevron oil refinery. It's a cool find for anyone looking for a mellow Bay Area weekend, with Marin County, the East Bay, Napa Valley and San Francisco all easily accessible. Many of the buildings in the cute downtown are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The tab: Rooms at the Hotel Mac are $135 to $225 a night; my husband and I spent $130 for meals and drinks.
The Hotel Mac (10 Cottage Ave.;  235-0010, hotelmac.net), built in 1911, has been nicely restored. Each of the seven rooms in the original three-story brick building is unique, giving it the feel of a homey bed and breakfast (minus the breakfast). We stayed in Raffles, an immaculate room with a queen bed and a floral bedspread, plastic flowers, white shutters and bookshelves. (Grandma would have approved.) Next time, I'll choose a suite with a fireplace because they don't cost much more. There are a few rooms in the Annex across the street and studios with kitchens in the recently opened Carriage House.
We met friends for drinks and dinner at the Hotel Mac Restaurant & Bar (50 Washington Ave.;  233-0576) on the ground floor. The bar is a knockout, and you'll feel as if you're stepping back in time. There's a gorgeous solid brass bar top, brick and wood, and a lot of history on tap. They make a great Manhattan. We had dinner in the main dining room (once praised by Duncan Hines — yes, the king of cake mix — as one of the country's exceptional dining establishments). Standouts included drunken mussels, watermelon salad, twice-cooked duck breast and Yankee pot roast, topped off with dessert. Yummy breakfast sandwiches across the street at Little Louie's Cafe & Deli (49 Washington Ave.;  235-3108, littlelouies.com) were a nice start to the day.
It's a short walk or drive through a tunnel at the edge of downtown to reach Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline (900 Dornan Drive; http://www.ebparks.org/parks/miller_knox), a 307-acre waterfront park with hiking and biking trails and picnic areas. There's also a secluded beach, a fishing pier and a hilltop with spectacular views of Mt. Tamalpais and the San Francisco skyline. For entertainment, check to see if Masquers Playhouse (105 Park Place;  232-4031, www.masquers.org) downtown is open. The nonprofit community theater has been staging shows for decades.
The lesson learned
We needed to check in, drop off our luggage and rush out to meet friends. But there was no front desk; check-in is upstairs in the manager's apartment. She was out buying soap for the rooms, so we had to wait until she returned, about 30 minutes. Expect small glitches. Go with the flow; it's part of the charm.