When you are sitting out on the deck of the Water’s Edge Hotel with a glass of wine, looking out over the San Francisco Bay at the city of San Francisco, it is easy to fall in love with Tiburon. The sound of sea birds mixes with the creaks and squeaks of the boats at the Corinthian Yacht Club. You watch the ferry to Angel Island arrive, unload, refill and head off again. This is a pretty great place to take a weekend break.
I traveled to Tiburon as a guest of the Tiburon Tourism board who paid my way for this trip.
Tiburon is located on a peninsula north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. It is across Richardson Bay from Sausalito. It is only 30 minutes to San Francisco by car and 20 minutes by Ferry.
Table of contents: ()
- Angel Island
- Things to do Around Tiburon
- Where to Stay in Tiburon – The Water’s Edge
- Places to Eat in Tiburon
Tiburon’s star attraction is Angel Island State Park which is 740 acres of parkland in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Angel Island spent almost 100 years as an army base in San Francisco Bay as well as an immigration station and now attracts hikers, bikers and history buffs.
Ferry to Angel Island
The island is accessible via a ferry from Tiburon or from the San Francisco Ferry Building. From Tiburon, the ferry leaves on the hour but the number of ferries depends on the season.
The cost of the Tiburon to Angel Island Ferry:
- Adults (ages 13 -64) $15.00.
- Seniors (ages 65+) $14.00.
- Children (ages 6 â€“ 12) $13.00.
- Small Children (ages 3 â€“ 5) $5.00.
Our last visit to Tiburon and Angel Island was in April 2021 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was encouraged to see that the Angel Island Company that operates the Angel Island Ferry and concessions on the island as well as the people of Tiburon were taking appropriate precautions. On the ferry, masks were required and there was no eating. They loaded and unloaded with proper social distancing and had hand sanitizer available. They also divided the indoor space into smaller “pod” spaces. On the Angel Island Tram, masks were required and no eating was allowed.
Ferries to the island will dock in Ayala Cove which is named for one of the first Europeans to sail into San Francisco Bay. The Spanish officer Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala and his crew anchored in this sheltered harbor for a month in 1775 as they explored the bay. Now the cove has a dock for boats as well as the cafe, bike rentals, and visitor center. Tram tours of the island also start and end at Ayala Cove.
In 1814, the British sloop HMS Racoon anchored in this cove to make repairs and gave the name to the narrow body of water separating Angel Island from Tiburon which is known as Raccoon (or Racoon) Straight. From 1889 until 1946 the cove was used to quarantine any foreign ship coming into the San Francisco Bay that was thought to carry infectious diseases.
Hiking on Angel Island
By far, the most popular activity on Angel Island is hiking. There are 13 miles of hiking trails on the island. The two most popular hikes are around the ring road or up to the top of Mount Livermore.
The ring road is 5 miles long and paved but because of the topography of the island, it does not go along the shore but further up the hill with a fair number of ups and downs.
The hike to the 788-feet tall Mount Livermore is 5.1 miles from Ayala Cove round trip. Mount Livermore is named for Caroline Livermore who was a local conservationist who fought to create Angel Island State Park.
Biking on Angel Island
You can rent a bike on Angel Island from the Angel Island Company or bring your own over on the ferry. It is a great way to circle the island on the ring road. You will either want to have the ability to ride hills or rent an e-bike for some extra power for those hills. Even with the e-bike, I still had to walk the bike up one of the steeper hills down by the Nike Missle Site.
- Mountain Bike Rates:
$16 per hour
$64 for a full day (including a helmet).
- New E-bikes:
$26 per hr / $99 for a full day (including a helmet).
Bikes are first come first served.
Our bike rental, ferry, and tram tour were sponsored (paid for) by the Angel Island Company to whom we are grateful. They also provided us a tasty box lunch and tchotchkes from the cafe at Ayala Cove. We took a break on the southern part of the island to have our picnic lunch in a field of California Poppies with a view of San Francisco. On a warm spring day, it was an unbeatable lunch spot.
Tram Tour on Angel Island
If you want to learn more about the unique history of Angel Island then I would recommend the tram tour around the island. Tram tours can be reserved in advance and usually run Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. There is a taped narration on the tour supplemented by the driver who would stop at significant spots for a more in-depth explanation. Our guide/driver was quite knowledgeable and entertaining.
- Adults $17
- Seniors Ages 65 and older $16
- Children Ages 5 to 12 years $11
The army presence on Angel Island started as part of the defenses to protect the bay, and especially the shipments of gold from California, from potential attacks by Confederate ships in the Civil War.
Camp Reynolds (aka West Garrison) was named for the popular Union General John F. Reynolds who died in the first hours of the Battle of Gettysburg. Reynolds may not be quite as well known as the General who took over his command Abner Doubleday who is credited with inventing baseball. I personally found the connection interesting as some of the troops that fought under him were a bunch of stubborn German immigrant farmers known as the Iron Brigade… which included my great great grandfather. This camp still has a view of the entrance of San Francisco Bay, which, of course, is now spanned by the Golden Gate Bridge.
There are other gun emplacements that guarded the Golden Gate dating from later eras on the island as well. Battery Ledyard is a concrete gun battery built in 1900 as part of an upgraded series of defenses around the bay. There is also a Nike Missle site on the island that was part of a series of sites in the area that were the last line of defense of San Francisco against attack by nuclear missiles in the Cold War. The best preserved of the local Nike Missle sites is at the nearby Marin Headlands part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Fort McDowell (aka East Garrison) dates back to the Spanish American War. With the island already in use for quarantining ships, it probably seemed like a natural place to quarantine soldiers returning from fighting in the Pacific in the Philipines during the Spanish American War and the later Philippine Insurrection. Some of these soldiers were returning with more than their wounds, scars, and medals. They had picked up tropical diseases and serious infectious diseases like smallpox.
At that time, Tiburon was still a rail hub for the North Pacific Railroad. So when a soldier finished his quarantine it was a simple matter to ferry him across the Raccoon Straight, put him on a train, and send him home.
These days Fort McDowell has mostly abandoned buildings although a few of these have been renovated to house park service personnel. The fort is named for General Irvin McDowell who fought in the Mexican American War and led the Union forces unsuccessfully at the first Battle of Bull Run in the opening days of the Civil War. He later served as the commander of the Department of the Pacific which was headquartered in the Presidio of San Francisco.
Unites States Immigration Station
The U.S. had the well-known immigration station of Ellis Island in New York Harbor, but for many years it also had an immigration station on Angel Island to process immigrants coming to the country from countries on the Pacific, particularly China. The immigration history on the west coast had a darker side. In 1882 the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which excluded the immigration of Chinese laborers. Through a series of various laws the U.S. blocked or heavily restricted immigration from China until 1952.
There was a loophole in the immigration rules which was that relatives of U.S. citizens could immigrate. Immigrants, mostly men, were routinely interred here for weeks or months while they were interrogated to determine if their claims of family ties were true. Those that passed were allowed entry and those that failed were sent home. Inside the Immigration Station, there are Chinese poems carved into the boards of some of the dorms that speak of the hope, anger, and despair that filled this facility.
Things to do Around Tiburon
Tiburon is not a big place but has more than enough to do for a weekend. It can also be a base for exploring San Francisco, Marin County, or the wine country. You can take a ferry from Tiburon to San Francisco in 20 minutes. There are ferries that run to either the Ferry Building at the end of Market Street or to Pier 41 right by Fisherman’s Wharf ($13 adult / $7.50 child one way).
Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum
As mentioned above Tiburon used to be a railroad hub for the area with goods arriving by rail and then being transferred to ferries and carried into San Francisco. The San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad came to Tiburon in 1884 and the last train left the city in l967. When the railroad left they donated the land they owned to the city which has become parkland along the water both east and west of main street and downtown. The old train station became the Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum which documents the local railroad history. The museum has a working HO scale model of the city in the early 1900s downstairs. Upstairs the stationmaster’s house is preserved as it would have been at the time.
Main Street and Ark Row
The Main street of Tiburon is only a couple of blocks long but has some great restaurants, boutique shops, and one great hotel, the Water’s Edge. As Main Street turns the corner from along the water and heads inland there are a series of small shops, houses, and restaurants known as Ark Row. Look twice at these buildings. In the late 1800s, the Tiburon lagoon was filled with houseboats with sea captains, artists, and summer residents. When the lagoon was later filled in, some of these houseboats were converted into more permanent buildings. Checkout, for instance, 104 Main Street which used to be an ‘ark’, and 116 Main Street where two arks were combined, one on top of the other.
Driving or Biking Paradise Loop
If you are not too tired from your bike trip on Angel Island you can bike around the Penninsula of Tiburon on Paradise Loop. I borrowed one of the bikes from The Water’s Edge hotel where we were staying and got up at first light on Sunday to have the road to myself. This is a hilly route and I missed the electric bike from the previous day. There is no bike path and no shoulder in much of the loop so doing the ride early in the morning seemed like a good idea.
From main street bike along the bike path towards the Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum. You will quickly run out of bike path in this direction. Continue on Paradise Drive and you will come the Lyford Tower.
This stone tower used to be part of the entrance to a planned community called Lyford’s Hygeia (named after the goddess of health). Dr Benjamin F. Lyford was a Civil War surgeon who had invented a better system for embalming bodies. When he married Hilarita Reed, she had inherited huge tracts of local land. When he retired from Medicine he created this new community. He said of it:
“Of this marvelous spot, which even now events are shaping to become the most far-famed health resort the world has known, of its matchless combination of location, climate, water facilities, freedom from fogs, noxious vapors, and in a word, total immunity from all those elements which retard growth and ultimately destroy life…”
I told you it was easy to fall in love with Tiburon.
Lyford only accepted people of high moral character and forbade gambling and dancing. He also tried to forbid drinking and smoking but that was a step too far, so you could drink and smoke in your home if you kept quiet about it. The community failed. I leave it to you to judge the moral character of current residents of Tiburon, but these seemed OK to me.
Paradise Beach County Park
Paradise Drive winds around to the north where you will find the Paradise Beach County Park which is popular with locals. This part of the peninsula faces the Richmond Bridge and also has a view of San Quinton Prison further north by Larkspur.
When you get to Trestle Glen Road, turn left to cut back across the peninsula to the south. Where Trestle Glen Road connects with Tiburon Blvd you will see a statue of a swayback horse. If Tiburon is a one-horse town, then that horse is Blackie who used to live in this pasture. Blackie was an old army cavalry horse from the San Francisco Presidio.
Blackie’s Pasture has a playground and even a bike repair station where you can fix your tire pressure. From here back into town there is a wonderful bike/hiking/walking path called the Old Rail Trail. This is a rails-to-trails path along what used to be the train tracks heading into town.
The Hippy Tree
For a short hike with some fun views and a tree swing, follow your GPS to 100 Gilmartin Dr. Park and walk on the fire road to the Hippy Tree. This is a huge old tree which had 3 different swings on it when I last visited and a gorgeous view. You don’t have to be a hiker to enjoy this short walk. I want to say it helps if you are a swinger but I am afraid I might be misconstrued.
Hike Ring Mountain
For some of the best views of any hike in the Bay Area, hike to the top of Ring Mountain on a spring day when the grass is still green and the wildflowers cover the fields. Bring your binoculars or a good telephoto if you want to capture the view above. You can take the Phyllis Ellman Loop Trail from the bottom of the mountain starting on the north side up to Turtle Rock and Petroglyph Rock (I can’t say I could identify the original petroglyphs).
If you don’t have the time or energy for the entire hike you can cheat and drive to the end of Reed Ranch Road and then hike in on the fire road to the top.
Old St. Hilary’s
If I was going to suggest to someone where to get married in Tiburon then I would have to mention the Old St. Hilary’s chapel up the hill in a field of wildflowers. This old chapel was built to provide services for the railroad workers. The building is a beautiful white church on the outside and redwood on the inside. You may have to keep the wedding party small as there is limited parking.
Right next to the chapel is the John Thomas Howell Wildflower Preserve.
Where to Stay in Tiburon – The Water’s Edge
That finally brings me back to where I started, looking at the view of San Francisco from the back deck of the Water’s Edge Hotel in Tiburon. You could not invent a more conveniently located hotel. It is next door to the Angel Island Ferry in one direction and next to two great restaurants with outdoor patios in the other.
They normally have a wine reception in the afternoon, but with COVID-19 they gave us a small bottle of wine and some snacks instead. We enjoyed ours out on that back deck.
As I mentioned, I also made use of their free loaner bikes to cycle the Paradise Loop.
Our room was spacious and bright. Our window and small balcony looked out over the yacht club and the deck for Sam’s Anchor Cafe. The fireplace in the room is functional with a fresh presto log and a lighter. The room had all the plugs and USB adapters that I crave, as well as a microwave and small fridge.
Breakfast was included and delivered to the room. You put out your order the night before.
Places to Eat in Tiburon
The first morning I walked from our hotel over to the Rustic Bakery to pick up a fresh-baked muffin and a breakfast panini. I apologize to you that we have not yet perfected the smell-o-vision (patent pending) features of this website. I leave you to imagine the smell of fresh-baked bread, scones, muffins, etc… but it was delicious. If we had had more time, I would have returned to the bakery for the seasonal strawberry white chocolate scone.
You can take away or grab one of the picnic tables in an interior courtyard.
Salt and Pepper
Our breakfast the next day was at Salt and Peper on Main Street. That was our table there in front but they have more tables inside and out.
Joan, my wife, had the ricotta pancakes with fruit and I ordered the breakfast burrito. Both were quite tasty. They have a breakfast and lunch menu and a separate dinner menu which features seafood, pasta, and grill items. The breakfast/lunch menu was quite extensive running the gamut from tacos, burgers, and sandwiches to eggs benedict, phanaeng vegetable curry, and seared scallop salad. If they don’t have something you will like on their menu… seek immediate medical help.
You can’t imagine how pleased my wife was to have a restaurant that specialized in both seafood and Italian food on our itinerary. Luna Blu is located downtown on Main Street on the water. Their wonderful neighbors have allowed them to extend their deck area for outside dining in 2020-2021 which gives them a great outdoor view to go with the wonderful cuisine.
The menu is particularly strong for seafood eaters like Joan who started with a crab bisque while I had a Ceasar salad.
I was quite pleased with my homemade spinach-infused tagliatelle served with a beef and veal Bolognese sauce. Yum. Joan had one of the weekly specials which was a homemade pappardella pasta served with rock shrimp, wild mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes in a garlic white wine sauce.
Sam’s Anchor Cafe
Sam’s Anchor Cafe not only has a large outside deck but you can sail your boat up to their dock and get boat service. A secret for the outdoor deck is to grab one of the tables on the outside with a metal bench… because those benches are heated. Brilliant! Yes, they have heaters and blankets but we didn’t really need either as we sat there toasty on a chilly evening.
Sam’s menu is a bit more casual than Lulu Blu. I ordered the Sam’s Burger with bacon and Joan ordered the crab cakes and a Ceasar salad. Those were both good but what really made an impression was the blue cheese garlic bread. Yum!
While Sam’s has a bar and an extensive cocktail menu, we kept seeing everyone order the same cocktail. We finally had to ask. The cocktail was their Mai Tai, which they sell 1,000 of on warm summer days. It has dark rum, light rum, lime, orangeat, orange liqueur, and lilikoi foam on the top. They challenge you to find a better Mai Tai anywhere.
I had not spent much time in Tiburon and managed to live in California for 57 years before going to Angel Island. You should learn from my mistake and spend a relaxing weekend in this city close enough to be convenient and far enough away to be idyllic. I am grateful to the Tourism Board for the invitation and you should consider yourself invited as well.