8 miles N of San Francisco
A California State Park, Angel Island is the largest of San Francisco Bay’s three islets (the others are Alcatraz and Yerba Buena). The island has been, at various times, a prison, a quarantine station for immigrants, a missile base, and even a favorite site for duels. Nowadays, its dark past exists only in the ghosts rumored to haunt the former military buildings. The island is now the domain of visitors who are looking for 360-degree views of the bay, sunshine, trails, grassy picnic grounds, and a scenic beach. Hike, bike, take a tour, or just relax on this picturesque, car-free island.
Connected by ferry to Angel Island, uberwealthy Tiburon, situated on a peninsula of the same name, is a living postcard, almost too beautiful to be real. It looks like a cross between a seacoast town and a Hollywood Western set, as Main Street has been preserved to reflect its roots as a Gold Rush train town. Palatial, multimillion-dollar homes perch on the hills, overlooking the proud yachts and sailboats below. The view from the waterfront of San Francisco’s skyline and the islands in the bay explain why residents happily pay the precious price to live here. For the visitor, it’s a lazy touristy jaunt, mostly worth exploring—especially in summer—if your idea of a good time is perching on a sunny bayfront deck at a pricy restaurant, peering at the stunning city views (provided it’s not blanketed in fog, which is often the case), and lingering over brunch and Bloody Marys. It’s also a nice stop on your way to Angel Island if you want to drive to Marin and hop a ferry from there.
Getting There - Ferries of the Blue & Gold Fleet (blueandgoldfleet.com; tel. 415/705-8200) from Pier 41, Fisherman’s Wharf, travel to both Angel Island and Tiburon (but not via the same boat). You can also hop a ferry from The Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street on weekends. Boats run on a seasonal schedule; phone or look online for departure information. The round-trip fare to Angel Island is $20 for adults, $11 for seniors 65+ and kids 5 to 12, and free for kids 5 and under when traveling with an adult. The fare includes state park fees. A one-way ticket to Tiburon is $13 for adults, $7.50 for seniors 65+ and kids 5 to 12, and free for kids 5 and under.
To go directly to Tiburon by car from San Francisco, take U.S. 101 to the Tiburon/Highway 131 exit and then follow Tiburon Boulevard all the way downtown, a 40-minute drive from San Francisco. Good luck finding a parking spot in Tiburon; try the lot behind the Tiburon Playhouse movie theater at 40 Main St.
The Tiburon – Angel Island Ferry (angelislandferry.com; tel. 415/435-2131) connects the two destinations, a 15-minute crossing. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $13 for children 6 to 11, $5 for kids 3 to 5, and $1 for bikes. One child 2 or under is admitted free of charge with each paying adult (after that it’s $3.50 each). The dock in Tiburon is at Tiburon Boulevard and Main Street. Boats run on a seasonal schedule, but usually depart hourly from 10am to 5pm on weekends, with a more limited schedule on weekdays. Call ahead or look online for schedules. Tickets can only be purchased when boarding and include state park fees.
What to See & Do on Angel Island - Passengers disembark from the ferry at Ayala Cove, a small marina abutting a huge lawn area equipped with tables, benches, barbecue pits, and restrooms. During the summer season, there’s also a small store, a gift shop, the Cove Cafe (with surprisingly good grub and a boxed lunch option available for pickup if you order in advance), the seasonal, weekends-only Cantina restaurant, where live music makes for a fun afternoon, and an overpriced mountain-bike rental shop. If history is of interest, you can check out The United States Immigration Station Museum (if you don’t want to walk, you can pay $7 for a shuttle ride).
Angel Island’s 12 miles of hiking and bike trails include the Perimeter Road, a paved path that circles the island and offers breathtaking views of San Francisco, the Marin Headlands, and the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. The perimeter path is bike-friendly for all levels, with only slight inclines and clear markers. For more experienced riders, an interior path offers a more strenuous mountain-biking experience. The Perimeter Road winds past World War II military barracks, former gun emplacements, and other historic government buildings that recall the island’s various pasts; several turnoffs lead to the top of Mount Livermore, 776 feet above the bay. Sometimes referred to as the “Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island was used as a holding area for detained Chinese immigrants awaiting admission papers from 1910 to 1940. You can still see faded Chinese characters on some of the walls of the barracks where the immigrants were held, sometimes for months.
Besides walking and biking, there are a number of other ways to get around the island, all of which can be booked at angelisland.com. Schedules vary depending on the time of year. The 1-hour audio-enhanced open-air Tram Tour costs $17 for adults, $15 for seniors, $11 for children 5 to 11, and is free for children 4 and under. The Tram will stop at vistas and riders can get off for photo ops. A guided 2-hour Segway Tour costs $68 per person, and is only available for those 16 years and up. Long pants are recommended; closed shoes are mandatory. For more information about activities on Angel Island, visit angelisland.com.
For a more adventurous way to see the entire circumference of the island and take in the surrounding panoramas from a unique vantage point, try a guided sea-kayak tour ★, available for paddlers over 16. Offered a few times during high season, tours range from day trips to overnights. All equipment is provided (including a wetsuit, if needed), and no experience is necessary. Rates start at $90 per person. For more information, contact the Sausalito-based Sea Trek (seatrek.com; tel. 415/488-1000). Note: Tours depart from Ayala Cove on Angel Island, not Sausalito.
What to See & Do in Tiburon - Despite its historic facade, Tiburon is, in reality, a sleepy, luxurious stretch of yacht-club suburbia. Boutiques, souvenir stores, art galleries, and dockside restaurants flank its one tiny main shopping street at the water’s edge, housed in color-splashed, turn-of-the-century converted boathouses. The main thing to do in tiny Tiburon is stroll along the waterfront, pop into its handful of stores, and spend an easy $60 on drinks and appetizers. For that reason, I recommend popping by only if you’re on your way to Angel Island or somewhere else or simply want a laid-back few hours of alfresco dining with stunning city views (weather permitting). If you do find your way here, stop at The Candy Store on Main Street at 7 Main St. (maincandystore.com; tel. 415/435-0434). With fudge samples, edible Lego bricks, and every imaginable sweet you’d expect to find in Willy Wonka’s factory, it’s a stop you can’t help but love.
Where to Eat in Tiburon - It’s rare that a restaurant with such a tourist-friendly view has solid food to boot, but pricy Guaymas ★★ (5 Main St.; guaymasrestaurant.com; tel. 415/435-6300) delivers on both fronts, which is why it remains a favorite in this discerning community. Sit outside mere feet away from bobbing sailboats and indulge in margaritas, guacamole, ceviche, and a number of authentic Mexican dishes from various regions. Add on a stunning panoramic view of the city, and the damage the drinks do to your wallet might be the only reason to leave. On a sunny day, you’ll find San Francisco’s brunch-time warriors flocking in droves to Sam’s Anchor Cafe ★★ (27 Main St.; samscafe.com; tel. 415/435-4527) a few doors away. Same stunning view, an even bigger outdoor patio, brunch, and top-quality burgers, Bloody Marys, and beer draw crowds of twenty- and thirtysomethings who linger at the sundrenched tables and get good and tipsy before biking or ferrying their way back into the fog. It gets crowded on nice days, so it’s worth getting there early for prime seating.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.