Tiburon: A Seaside Town on the North Side of San Francisco Bay
By Lee Foster
Tiburon is an engaging place to consider visiting when you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area.
This small town lies on the north side of the Bay. One aspect of Tiburon is that you can drive there or take the Blue and Gold Fleet ferry from Pier 39 in San Francisco to Tiburon and back. Getting out on the Bay waters is a major adventure in itself.
Tiburon offers two pleasant destination lodgings if you want to overnight. One is right on the waterfront, called Waters Edge Hotel. Its second-floor rooms and a communal deck offer views of the sailing boat harbor, outdoor restaurants, and the Bay. The other accommodation—The Lodge at Tiburon—is two blocks away at 1651 Tiburon Boulevard. A major draw at The Lodge is its own fine dining restaurant, Tiburon Tavern, managed by chef Annie Hongkhan.
Tiburon allures with additional restaurants at the water’s edge, where you can hang out for a drink or meal. Three of the most prominent at Guaymas, with Mexican fare; Sam’s Anchor Cafe, noted for its seafood; and Servino, with Italian cuisine and pizzas.
An intriguing art object at the center of town, near the water, is a fountain called Coming About. The sculptural fountain consists of a set of steel sails, which catches the wind and moves back and forth over a pool of water. It is art epitomizing a reality of the community, which has sailing recreation on San Francisco Bay as one of its main rationales.
The waterfront area presents a long grassy stretch with a paved path, allowing a bracing walk in the fresh air. The path leads to the Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum, 1920 Paradise Drive. Located in a gray wooden building, the museum is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday. This charming small museum presents a scale model of thriving Tiburon (circa 1900-1910), before the Golden Gate Bridge was built. Tiburon was a busy railroad terminus and ferry point. Goods and people had to be shipped from the north coast to San Francisco, and much of the traffic went through Tiburon. Besides the ground floor model of the railroad yard/ferry operation/town, there is an upstairs with period rooms depicting family life of the railroad manager, who lived here. Tiburon received its name in the Spanish/Mexican period and means “the shark.”
The walk along the waterfront is part of a 12-mile trail that circles the Tiburon peninsula, offering many pleasing views along the water. You can walk a stretch starting at several locations, such as Blackie’s Pasture, named after a beloved local horse. Picnic supplies can be sourced at Woodlands Market.
An ultramodern and easy way to experience this trail would be on an electric bike, which can be rented by the hour or day from Pedego Electric Bikes, at 10 Main Street, the corner of Main Street and Tiburon Boulevard. Pedego is now one of the best-selling brands of electric bikes in the USA, known for its comfortable ride, strong 500-watt motors, and ample batteries. A Pedego bike offers a 45-mile range and speeds up to 20 MPH. Maps of the paved paths along the Tiburon waterways are available at the bike shop. The 12-mile tour around the Tiburon/Belvedere peninsula, with perhaps a picnic stop at Blackie’s Pasture, could be fun. Guide tours are also a possibility.
Main Street winds along the water and then up a side road known nostalgically as Ark Row. Tiburon had a bohemian houseboat-life phase in the past. These “arks”—former houseboats transformed as land infill occurred—are now used for shops. Among the buildings that most look like the earlier arks are 104 Main, an 1895 ark that houses offices, restaurants, and shops. There’s a double ark (one on top of another) at 116 Main Street. One interesting shop, which seems to epitomize Ark Row, is designer Ruth Livingston’s showplace for her interior design creations, at 74 Main. Restaurant Dan Antonio Trattoria, with rustic Italian fare, is at 114 Main.
If your schedule is flexible, consider the annual festivals in Tiburon and time your visit accordingly. See the list on the local tourism website. One special annual event is the Tiburon Classic Car Show, always the Saturday before Father’s Day. Fans of restored classic cars gather here on that day and show their vehicles. Usually about 90 historic cars are displayed on the Paradise Drive roadway between the center of town and the Railroad Museum.
Another positive for Tiburon is that it is the main access point to nearby Angel Island State Park. A local ferry motors back and forth for the 20-minute ride between Tiburon and Angel Island. The ferry runs roughly hourly, between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Check the website for the changing times over the course of the year. Once on Angel Island, you can walk or take a tram around the island on the six-mile perimeter road. The main experiences are the views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, as you breathe refreshing air. Legacy military encampments and buildings from the 19th– and 20th-century can be perused. A substantial museum, the Immigration Station, portrays the struggle of Chinese and other Asian immigrants entering the United States. Angel Island was the immigration processing place, a kind of Ellis Island west, but without the warm welcome that greeted migrants from Europe to the New York gateway.
Two landmarks are worth savoring while in Tiburon.
Old St. Hilary Church is a Carpenter Gothic structure on a promontory off Beach Street at 201 Esperanza Street. The view from here can be stunning, especially on a clear day in spring or autumn. This church, built in 1888 for the spiritual guidance of the railroad workers, sits on a large and open grassy hillside. The hill itself is a wildflower preserve with many rare species, and it offers good views of the Bay and San Francisco in the background.
China Cabin is an elegant former social hall of the steam paddle wheeler China that ventured between San Francisco and the Far East. This fin de siècle example of Victorian opulence resides at 52 Beach Street in adjacent Belvedere. Check the website to visit these two landmarks when they are open.
IF YOU GO
The local tourism authority is Destination Tiburon at https://www.destinationtiburon.org/ Their Social Media hashtag is #hellotiburon.