Eat, drink and bike near the Rosie the Riveter museum in Richmond

Welcome to the Bay Area Bucket List, where readers suggest things to do around the Bay, and we go out and investigate them. Got an idea for something to do (no bear wrestling, please) or a question you want answered? Send it to us!

Today, reader Paul asks that we take a “bike ride from Emeryville along the Bay up to Richmond and have lunch at restaurants near the Rosie the Riveter museum.” Good suggestion! There’s nothing like burning off a bunch of calories and then quickly replacing them with seafood, beer and buttery garlic bread. (More on that in a bit.)

For those who haven’t been to this small, but engaging museum, it’s inside the visitor center at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park by the Richmond Inner Harbor. It’s devoted to the incredible surge in American manufacturing during WWII, which opened the door to many women and people of color entering the industrial workforce. (Though, as the museum is careful to note, most were promptly laid off when the war ended.) Here’s what I learned from my trip there:

The bike ride is windy, beautiful and full of birds

You can pick up the San Francisco Bay Trail basically anywhere near the water. When finished, the 500-mile trail will follow the waterfront all the way around the Bay. (Right now, we’re at the 350-mile mark.)

I picked up the trail at the Berkeley Marina, where a handy snack shop offers seafood sandwiches and beverages, and then pedaled 40 minutes north to the museum. The trip takes you right along the water’s edge through a new stretch of trail with stunning views of the San Francisco skyline and a horse-racing track, if you happen to be in the mood for betting.

The trail passes by one of the biggest dog parks in the region at Point Isabel, where I stopped to watch hounds chasing each other in circles, then traverses a marshy area with boardwalks where herons stand like feathered totems in the reeds. The Bay wind will fight you – it’s like being buffeted with flying pillows, but just focus on how your calves will look if you do this a few times.

Rosie the Riveter was one person, or many

The iconic poster of a bandana-clad woman flexing her muscles while hollering “We Can Do It!” was likely based on a photograph of a real person, Naomi Parker Fraley, who worked near here at the old Naval Air Station in Alameda. During WWII, Rosie was a general term – used in popular songs and images like Norman Rockwell’s 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover – to describe women who helped build ships, aircraft, munitions, rifle parts and more.

A film playing in the museum claims the women were often better at these jobs than men, who tended to try to get things done quickly. You could tell the difference between welds made by men and women, for instance – female welding was “like creating an embroidery in metal.”

An art installation depicts a Rosie having lunch at the Rosie the Riveter museum in Richmond, Calif. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

Richmond was not ready for population growth

Richmond became a hotbed of defense manufacturing due to its shipyards, factories and deep-water harbor perfect for launching vessels. Once a semi-rural region with cows tied up in people’s yards, the city experienced explosive growth and surged from 23,000 residents to roughly 130,000 in just two years.

People lived in trucks and boats and slept in all-night cinemas or “hot beds” that rented out for 8 hours at a time. Some workers just swapped the same bed – when one went to work the other would claim the mattress, then switch for the next shift. If that sounds uncomfortable, there were also folks quartered in huts adjacent to a dump, a tidal swamp and a “particularly odorous hog farm.”

35 m.p.h. was called “Victory Speed”

A museum exhibit of ration stamps shows the extreme curtailing of products prioritized for the war. Coffee and sugar were limited to one cup a week per household. Rum and whisky were rationed, because distillers had switched to making industrial alcohol. Gasoline was also precious, with officials asking people to carpool and keep autos below 35 m.p.h., a crawl that became known as “Victory Speed.”

To help pad their larders, Americans were encouraged to grow their own produce in “Victory Gardens.” Some 20 million popped up across the nation during the war – there was even a big one in Golden Gate Park.

Your health insurance might’ve originated here

Defense manufacturing was rough on the body. Richmond’s workforce suffered fractures, hernias and constant vomiting from breathing metal fumes. There was also something called welder’s flashes, according to a former worker quoted in an exhibit: “If you happen to stare at the arc as it takes place, it will blister your eyeballs. I’ll never forget the first time I got a welder’s flash. I woke up in the night and my eyes were just killing me.”

Physician Sidney Garfield and Henry J. Kaiser, the industrialist who ran the wartime shipyards in Richmond, actually instituted an affordable health-insurance plan for the workers. Look in your wallet for your insurance card, if you have one – the program eventually grew into what’s now Kaiser Permanente.

Tourist Bruce Peppard, from Orange County, looks at a historical depiction of a bustling main street in Richmond during World War II at the Rosie the Riveter museum. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

It’s possible to build a huge ship in under a week

The four Kaiser shipyards in Richmond excelled at the fast manufacture of humongous machines. They pumped out almost 750 vessels during the war, including Victory and Liberty ships. At peak performance, more than one new ship left Richmond every day. The record for building a ship went to the SS Robert E. Peary, which took four days, 15 hours and 29 minutes to assemble.

The shipyards were shut down after the war and eventually became the Port of Richmond and the Marina Bay neighborhood. Remaining ships were sold off or mothballed in places like Suisun Bay, once home to a sprawling “ghost fleet” of inactive vessels. A survivor, though – the SS Red Oak Victory – is still right here in Richmond. It’s now a floating museum you can tour for $10-$20, depending on how far into its metal guts you want to explore.

Good food is just a few steps away

Patrons have lunch at Assemble Marketplace next to the museum. The food hall has restaurants serving fresh seafood, Texas barbecue and cocktails. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

Outside the museum is Assemble Marketplace in an airy space filled with old machinery. “The Ford Assembly Plant was built for producing the Model T in the ’30s and then converted to a tank-production factory during WWII,” says Michael Petrilli, one of the folks behind the venture. “It was renovated by the owners in the early 2000s. Assemble Marketplace is situated in what was the boiler room, and the Craneway (Pavilion) was the craneway.”

Inside Assemble, you’ll find a cocktail bar, a Texas barbecue joint and a sandwich-and-salad place with fish tacos. We grab a Tom Collins festooned with mint and a sour-guava ale from Oakland United Beerworks. Then, being a stone’s throw from the water, we head to Rocky Island Oyster Co. The restaurant specializes in oysters plucked from frigid New England waters and served raw over ice, plus local Point Reyes bivalves grilled and slathered in herb and miso butter. Plates of fat grilled shrimp, clam chowder and smoky trout dip stream from the kitchen to picnic tables outside. And for folks who want to celebrate like it’s the end of the war, there are succulent lobster rolls and a caviar service.

Details: The museum is inside the park visitor center at 1414 Harbour Way South, Suite 3000, Richmond. Free admission. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except certain holidays); nps.gov/rori/index.htm


The Bay Area boasts near-endless options for outdoor adventures, tasty bites and unexpected day trips. So we created the Bay Area Bucket List, a project that asks our readers to help us find the best activities — exploring San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden and its intriguing history, for example, and where to find earthquake faults around the Bay Area. Next up: Half Moon Bay’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

Send us your ideas below. We’ll post a sampling so readers can vote and help us pick what cool activities to explore. Be sure to include your contact info, so we can ping you if we select your idea to investigate.

Wondering about those reader votes? Check below for our latest voting round.

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