Tiburon isn’t as well known as other spots to visit in the SF Bay Area even though it’s a hop, skip and a jump over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Not only is this waterside town worth visiting, but the history may surprise you as well. During our August visit, we went with kids in tow, so we’re going to start off with a great family side-trip from Tiburon that is a must-do if you’re in the area: Angel Island.
The nice thing about the ferry to Angel Island is that it’s a short 10-15 minute quick ferry ride from Tiburon, so whether you want to head over early to spend the entire day there or go for a few hours just to catch the historical tram tour and head back, you’ve got options.
We were lucky enough to meet Maggie McDonogh in Tiburon before we boarded, the owner and fourth generation captain of the Angel Island Tiburon Ferry. She gave us a bit of the local history before we took off and shared other events they do, including the Sunset Cruise we’d love to try sometime before winter hits.
You can bring your own picnic lunch over to the island with you or simply head to the cafe once you arrive and pick up sandwiches, pasta salads, chips, drinks or hotdogs.
The Natural Beauty
Angel Island State Park is the largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay so if you love nature, birds and wildlife, you’ll be in for a real treat. It also offers some of the best views of the area, including the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Although there are many places to walk and hike on Angel Island including all the way around the 6 mile Perimeter Trail, we opted to bike it — eBike and mountain bike rentals are available from the Angel Island Company once you arrive on the island if you don’t want to bring your own.
Once you reach the island, you can grab one of their hour long tram tours which we did later in the afternoon. Or, you can simply relax on the beach, read at one of the many picnic tables, take a walk or cycle the Perimeter Trail, which includes a combination of paved road and dirt paths. Below are some of the many views you will encounter along the way.
Below are some fun shots of us cycling the trail.
Below, you’ll see a Eucalyptus tree on the right, which is not native to the island. As a genus of over seven hundred species of flowering trees, shrubs or mallees, it is not only beautiful to look at, but it has many health benefits as well.
Above, we saw a deer while walking through the woods, and was able to get close enough to capture this on our iPhone — that moment definitely marked a regretful moment that we didn’t bring the Canon 7D along.
You might also see raccoons, harbor seals and sea lions. Bird life is plentiful as well including hummingbirds, flickers, hawks, blue herons, pelicans, egrets and owls.
The earliest inhabitants were the Coast Miwok, and later it made for a safe refuge and supply stop for Spanish explorers like Juan Manuel de Ayala, one of the first to map the San Francisco Bay. History doesn’t stop there. From 1910 to 1940, the U.S. Immigration Station processed hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the majority from China. During World War II, Japanese, and German POWs were detained at the Immigration Station before being sent to facilities farther inland.
There’s also military history (spanning about a hundred years) on this magical island. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Angel Island saw its last military service as a home to a Nike missile base and then there was a transition of Angel Island as a California State Park in 1954.
Many people — including locals –– may not know of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which excluded them from immigrating to the U.S. Most of the 175,000 Chinese who arrived at Angel Island were detained for anywhere from 90 days to two years while their applications were being reviewed. Poetry emerged from the stress and anxiety of these detainees. There was also a quarantine station at Ayala Cove in the early 1890’s which served as a place where ships could be fumigated and those who might be carrying disease could remain in isolation at what became known as Hospital Cove.
Two thumbs up — a must do if you’re on a family trip or if you’re a nature enthusiast. The park does offer camping areas which have water and pit toilets nearby. Their Kayak Camp and the North Garrison Group Camp can accommodate groups as well.
During the off–season (November – February), ferry service is limited to weekends and holidays only. During the peak-season (first Sunday in March through the last weekend in October), ferry service is provided daily and there is no ferry service from Tiburon to Angel Island on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The Town of Tiburon
Tiburon is a charming town with tons of fabulous views of the bay. Upon your return (or before you head over to Angel Island), it’s worth exploring the town. If you want to pick up food for an Angel Island picnic, head to Woodlands Market. If you opt out of the Angel Island side-trip, then you can bike the Old Rail Trail to Blackie’s Pasture. Although we didn’t experience it on this trip, we’d love to try it in the fall or spring. Apparently Blackie is a swaybacked horse that stood in a field on the road to Belvedere or Tiburon you couldn’t miss for nearly three decades. Although Blackie is no longer alive, Tiburon’s first mayor contributed a life-size bronze sculpture of Blackie who continues to stand in the pasture.
If wine is your thing, head to Tiburon Wine although there are other spots where you can taste as well, all a stone’s throw from interesting shops and cafes that wind through the town.
If guitars are your thing, head to Schoenberg Guitars which offer its own line of top quality, tradition-based hand-built guitars along with vintage and new guitars by other builders. Although I didn’t meet him, owner, Eric Schoenberg, has performed, toured, recorded and written extensively.
Or, if lounging, relaxing and people watching is your thing….
There’s The Candy Store on Main, a thrift shop and other adorable spots to meander into during a morning or afternoon stroll. Local Spicery is a fun stop on Ark Row, which offers more than 200 all natural spices, herbs and salts, locally milled in small batches. And, Ground is great for all things home and garden, while Diana’s is a great pick for stationary, cards and gifts.
Papparazzi and Ella Lafay (below) is a fun clothing boutique that offers a great collection women’s jeans, tops, sweaters and accessories.
Let’s not forget the ever so precious Lola’s Taqueria which has cute outdoor tables — it’s also a great spot for people watching.
You’ll love making your way in and out of local cafes and art galleries as well.
Brunch at Sam’s Anchor Cafe
Sam’s Anchor Cafe is a bit of a legend in Tiburon. Known for its stunning views of the harbor and beyond, you can also catch the San Francisco skyline off in the distance. Although they offer inside dining, the outside deck is the place to be whether you dine there for brunch or dinner, especially during the warmer months.
I was flooded with fond memories of Sam’s from my very first visit many years ago with a group of six women. It was a brunch that lasted for four hours and was filled with fabulous views, great conversation, plenty of oysters and margaritas. To re-capture some of it on this trip, we ordered a dozen oysters but rather than pair them with margaritas, we went with Prosecco and a buttery Napa Valley Chardonnay, a much better fit.
On their menu, they have plenty of great plates for a table share, including steamed mussels, garlic prawns, polenta cake, crab cakes (yum!) and fried calamari. If you’re there with a group and everyone loves seafood, I’d recommend their Fresh Fish & Oyster platter, which we’d love to try next time. It includes a tower of oysters, green lipped mussels, jumbo prawns, lobster, poke and rock shrimp ceviche. OMG, right?
Although we didn’t order it this time around, they have one of Anthony’s favorites on the menu: Cioppino, a delicious seafood combo that includes crab claws, prawns, mussels, clams and white fish, all tossed in a tomato broth.
If sandwiches are your thing, then try their smoked lobster roll with lemon aioli or their seared ahi sandwich, accompanied by Napa cabbage, pickled watermelon, radish and onions with a siracha aioli which has a bit of a kick to it. For kids, they offer a separate menu (think chicken tenders, fries, pasta, burgers) or a great alternative on the main menu is their fried chicken sandwich with anchor sauce, slaw and kettle chips.
I wanted to try their catch of the day which was swordfish on that particular Wednesday afternoon. The chef served it with fennel, one of our personal favorites, rice and asparagus.
If you’re less about the wine, then there are plenty of beer and cocktail choices as well — Julissa went for a Pina Colada although they also offer Mai Tai’s, Pomegranate Sparklers, Pineapple Ginger Coolers, a Sam Vella Manhattan and other scrumptious mixed drinks.
If you are traveling with kids, then how can you pass up dessert? We certainly couldn’t especially with these gems on the list: Cheesecake with Blueberry Compote, Butterscotch Layered Cake with Caramel Sauce, Vanilla Creme Brulee, Chocolate Mousse with Berries, a Boylan Rootbeer Float, Affogato and Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce. All of it was so delish!
For more information about Tiburon and the surrounding area, visit the Destination Tiburon website, which has tons of interesting things to do, from nature and water activities to shopping, food, wine and beyond. We can’t wait to return — two thumbs up!!
Note: we were hosted by some of the vendors with assistance from Destination Tiburon, but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.