THE HAPPY WANDERER – ISLANDS IN THE BAY


CONTRACOSTATIMES.COM    NOVEMBER 21, 2008

Has the economy forced you to put this year’s Hawaiian getaway on hold? One solution is to island-hop closer to home. Some of my favorite boat-only destinations are here in the Bay Area – just a stone’s skip from where we live.

The Crown Jewel of Bay Area islands is Angel Island , a short ferry ride from downtown Tiburon. Since Tiburon is a destination in its own right, book a room at The Lodge at Tiburon and soak up the ambiance of this charming waterfront village that was once a rowdy railroad town. You can walk from the lodge to downtown and dine on the decks of popular restaurants like Sam’s Anchor Cafe (where they still have a secret trap door left over from the Prohibition) or Servino’s. Then grab the Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry (piloted by mother of two Maggie McDonogh) for the 10-minute trip to Angel Island State Park . McDonogh packs a lot into the short jaunt, often pointing out whales and other marine life along the way.

Pull up at the dock and you’ll see signs for the park’s newest adventure – Segway tours. The self-balancing, personal-transportation devices are a fun way to see the old military sites and Immigration Station (circa 1918) as well as sweeping views of seven counties and five major bridges from the top of Mt. Livermore . The cost for the guided two-hour tour is around $75 and includes a short lesson. (You must be 16 or older).

Barbecued oysters and a glass of wine at Ayala Cove cap off your day as you soak up the last bit of sun before catching the boat back to Tiburon – and the night life that awaits.

Only a handful of light stations take overnight guests and we’re lucky enough to live near one of them. East Brother Lighthouse has been an operating light station for almost 135 years. It became a bed and breakfast in the 1970s, as a way to pay for its upkeep.
Just getting to the island is an adventure. Traveling west on Interstate 580, take the exit just before the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge toll plaza. You’ll pass a giant brick fortress that was once one of the largest wineries in the world, but prohibition forced its closure. Millions of gallons of wine had to be dumped into the bay.
Just when you think you’ve completely lost your way on a road marked with more potholes than signs, you come upon another surprise – San Pablo Yacht Harbor . This is your rendezvous spot with the island’s captain, who will motor you across the choppy gray sea to East Brother.
After a warm island welcome, the caretakers show you to your room (there are five on the island – all comfy and inviting with period motif) and invite you to a champagne reception where tales of the sea are told by a crackling fire. It’s a nice way to meet your fellow island inhabitants before dining sumptuously on a multi-course meal (with wine) at a long family-style table.

A good night’s sleep leaves you with a hearty appetite for breakfast – an elaborate affair with offerings like steaming hot popovers and French toast soufflé. Cap it off with a cup of coffee on the outdoor patio, where you can take in the tugboats, dinghies and all manner of marine craft that pass the island. A lighthouse vacation is – pardon the pun – an illuminating experience.

If you go there:

East Brother Lighthouse: www.ebls.org.

Angel Island State Park : www.angelisland.org

Tiburon Chamber of Commerce: www.tiburonchamber.org/visitors

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