Though still largely an insider secret, the picturesque and charming seaside sailing village of Tiburon – located on the southern tip of Tiburon Peninsula in Marin County, directly across San Francisco Bay from the city of San Francisco – is known to many Bay Areans and a few tourists-in-the-know as a romantic day trip travel destination or weekend getaway.
They often take the 35 minute ferry ride from Pier 41 in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf to Edward Zelinsky Landing, situated right in the heart of the Main Street boutiques and galleries, salons, restaurants, wine shops, and cafes of historic downtown Tiburon.
They’ll shop Main Street’s Candy Store for delectable gourmet chocolates, look for the perfect Margaret O’Leary sweater at Koze, or search for that one-of-a-kind accessory item to pull a favorite outfit together at Citrus. They’ll lunch at historic Sam’s Anchor Cafe for the outdoor seating with breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco’s skyline, and Angel’s Island, or walk along the waterfront to take in those same views. They’ll browse the artworks for home and office at Art Bar Molinar, or the jewels and art of St. Germain.
But if you really want to know Tiburon, you must seek out it’s historical side. Serving as a rail town and the southern terminus of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, Tiburon grew into its own little Industrial Age as a central barge and ferry landing. Lumber and other freight was delivered to Tiburon for distribution via barges to cities and towns throughout the Bay Area, as passenger and commuter ferries delivered commuters, shoppers, and ultimately their automobiles to Sausalito and San Francisco.
Other industries arose on the peninsula during its heyday: codfish canneries canned fish brought down from Alaska; ship dismantlers deconstructed ocean-going vessels; the Navy had a coaling station; brick kilns provided materials for building; and oyster beds were cultivated in the shallow waters just offshore.
Tiburon has preserved much of its history and its historic sites are waiting for you to discover tehm. Here are seven must-visits for the Tiburon history buff.
1. Old St. Hilary’s Church
One of the few remaining Carpenter Gothic churches to have survived in its original setting, Old St. Hilary’s was built in 1888 to give the local railroad workers a place to worship. Sitting atop a knoll, surrounded by the John Thomas Howell Wildflower Preserve, Old St. Hilary’s is a popular venue for weddings and concerts.
2. Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum
The original railroad depot building was restored and converted into a museum after the last train left Point Tiburon in 1967. Located on Paradise Drive in Shoreline Park, the lovely building with the fabulous views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Angel Island houses a to-scale and detailed operating model of Tiburon as a rail town circa 1900 to 1910 on the ground floor. Upstairs is the lovingly restored Depot House Museum furnished with period pieces and details, where the station master’s family lived.
3. Main Street 1800s to 1920s
Though most people stroll Tiburon’s Main Street for the dining and shopping, the history buff will delight in the historic and charming buildings that house those more mundane businesses. Sam’s Anchor Cafe, for instance – a popular spot for outdoor dining with killer views – has been a Tiburon tradition since 1920. The McDonogh Building, which houses Waypoint Pizza, dates from 1886, and the Merchant Bank building, built in 1925, is an office building today.
4. Ark Row 1890s era houseboats
But the real treat is to round the corner to Upper Main and discover Ark Row, a collection of preserved and restored houseboats (called arks back in the day) dating back to the late 1890s. These houseboats were docked at Tiburon Lagoon and lived in by railroad workers, fishermen, and Bohemian-type artists when Tiburon was a wild and wooly railroad town. They were moved to Ark Row and used for shops and restaurants when the lagoon was filled in.
5. Landmarks Art & Garden Center
Believed to be the oldest building on the Tiburon Peninsula, the Landmarks Art & Garden Center was part of John Reed’s Mexican Land Grant, El Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio. The cottage, originally a bunkhouse for brick kiln workers, was built around 1870 and the gardens were created in 1944.
6. San Francisco Bay Trail
The former railroad right of way is now part of the San Francisco Bay Trail – a favorite of hikers and bicyclists – and Richardson Bay Park. Along the trail, which runs from the Depot Museum in Shoreline Park to Richardson Bay, you’ll discover a series of plaques, each of which displays an early photograph taken from the location of the plaque so visitors can compare the then-and-now of each site. Visit Reed School, Hilarita, the Old Boatworks, an oyster feed lot, and more.
7. Blackie’s Pasture
Which leads us to Blackie’s Pasture at Richardson Bay – the last stop along the Tiburon Historical Trail. Blackie was a much-loved swaybacked, former cavalry horse and rodeo cutting horse that lived in the pasture for 28 years, from 1938 to 1966 when he died at the ripe old age of 40. Today a life-size bronze sculpture of Blackie stands in his stead, ready as ever to greet his daily visitors.
For more about what there is to see and do in Northern California, visit my website, DiscoverNorthernCalifornia.com.