Ride Recap: Pt. Molate, or Sitting On A Dock At The Bay

Was it worth the wait?

This past Sunday Leonard Gabriele, Roger H, and I hosted a ride out to Pt. Molate, which is a spit of land just north of the west landing of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Although Pt. Molate has long been there, it hasn’t been easy for cyclists to get to it. Until the multi-use path was built for the RSR Bridge you had to risk getting on the shoulder of I-580 West for a short distance and exit at Pt. Molate. And that shoulder wasn’t very broad either, barely a car width. But the need to construct an approach to the new multi-use path led to some interesting negotiations with Chevron and got them to cede a right-of-way on their land, which directly abuts the north side of the freeway and on which the bridge path would have to traverse. So now it is possible to get to Pt. Molate safely without having to get on a dangerous freeway.

The ride was Leonard’s idea although Roger and I had already been out there once but had turned around at the scary hill. There is a restaurant at the very end of the road—the road out to Pt. Molate is a dead-end since all the surrounding land is Chevron’s—which none of us had been to: the Nobilis. I had difficulty imagining a thriving restaurant on Pt. Molate because, well, it’s pretty out of the way and not easy to get to, which means you have to have a real draw to get folks to wend their way to your front door. But we were game.

Will Bir, Donald Cremers, Roger Sayre, and Ann Dunn joined us for our little safari. We lucked out with gorgeous sunny weather and almost no wind. From North Berkeley BART we took the Ohlone Greenway before dropping down to the Bay Trail and taking it up to Pt. Richmond. Along the way we lost Leonard a couple of times when he took shortcuts. The good weather brought out the throngs on the Bay Trail but it was never so crowded that we felt impeded in a meaningful way. Once in Pt. Richmond we accessed the new marked bike lanes to get to the multi-use path, which we took to nearly the toll plaza before diving north onto Stenmark Drive, the road to Pt. Molate. The public land on Pt. Molate is limited since almost all of it is Chevron property, running from the water’s edge to just the eastern side of Stenmark Drive. Some of it was previously military and you can see the old naval housing, now all shuttered, and perhaps wonder how many home buyers would snatch them up if they were remodeled and put up for sale despite their modest appearance. Stenmark is by no means flat, with two inauspicious but short ramps. Along the way you pass Winehaven, which apparently was the largest winery in the US before Prohibition shut it down. The other draws are Point Molate Beach Park and the East Brother Lighthouse, where you can take a short ferry from the end of Stenmark Drive out to it and spend the night. If you’re interested in Point Molate’s history, you’ll find a very nice, succinct presentation here.

The pièce de resistance is the very last climb to the Nobilis. Instead of heading to the ferry landing for the East Brother lighthouse, you turn right and head straight up an oh-my-god-I-don’t-have-low-enough-gears chute. It’s just a fifth of a mile but visually it’s intimidating when you’re at the base. The other side drops back down to water level but someone figured out that maybe a few switchbacks would make sense. There are also some awful speed bumps to force everyone to slow down.

At the bottom is a small harbor with the Nobilis Restaurant, a small building with a large outdoor sitting area with tables and sunshades. The small harbor was full of small boats and—surprise, surprise—a few houseboats! What a marvelous location for a home. The parking lot is large and there were a lot of cars already there yet not more than a handful had passed us on Stenmark. This is a popular place!

Was the trek to the Nobilis worth it? Long story short: on a relaxing, sunny weekend day you’re in a for a very long wait for your order. When we saw the cars, we should have sensed that we would be in for an Italian-style lunch, ie. long and relaxing. You order at the register and then go look for a table; we lucked out and got a great table under a sunshade. However we ended up waiting almost two hours for our meal. The voluminous outdoor seating well exceeds what the kitchen can pump out—we weren’t the only group that had an extraordinarily long wait for food. However this particular day no one seemed seriously irked over the incredible delay. For us it meant more gab at the table and since the ride wasn’t hard no one dying of hunger. The good news is that the food is pretty good. You would think the kitchen would just sloppily hurry out dishes to satisfy the crowd but instead the dishes were well prepared. I had a fried chicken sandwich with fries that I thought was quite tasty (you ask, “So, how could fried chicken anything not be tasty??”). Leonard had perfectly poached eggs. Roger H had a scramble dish that he thought was just alright, nothing special. Ann thought her clam chowder was good. (It looked good!).

After that long wait the food didn’t remain on the plates very long. By now the afternoon sun was getting lower in the sky so we headed off—up the short hill and back to civilization after a quiet, sunny respite by the Bay.

At the moment there is no way to continue eastward to connect to the rest of the Bay Trail system since Chevron owns all the land right down to the water. But I expect—perhaps not in my lifetime though—that this will change and when it does there will be a very nice route through Pt. Molate with a decent lunch stop on your way to the Carquinez Bridge. When you’re riding next to the Bay you get to appreciate this vast body of water that we merely deem an impediment for commuting rather than for the beauty and peace it provides.