There’s finding a hidden gem in the offbeat location via a road “less traveled.” That’s a no-brainer. Then, there’s finding the hidden gem amidst the glitz and gaudy gleam of imposters–of cookie cutter tourist traps and roads well-beaten by bright white shoes and the endless flashing of disposable cameras.
Most New Yorkers like to think of themselves as “locals” on a global scale. If we are jaded by our own spectacle-worthy tourist attractions, and in fact avoid them like the plague (when was the last time you went to the South Street Seaport to eat at Pizzaria Uno?), why on earth would we head to Fisherman’s Warf and subject ourselves to the same crowds, the same knick-knack shops and overpriced ice cream cones? There’s a very good reason to brave that storm: the hidden delight of Forbes Island. And Captain Forbes himself will deftly guide you to the safe haven.
The island itself is a man made structure, built right as the swinging decade of the 80’s began, to be a private party island off the quaint town of Sauselito, just north of San Francisco. The island’s history is notorious, and though the enormous jacuzzi with a waterfall has now been replaced by a dining area, the fun, playful spirit of the original is certainly evident throughout the location. Retired from its partying days, the floating wonder now resides off of pier 39–one of San Francisco’s most notorious tourist strips. It’s easy to miss the small sign where the ferry to the island docks, transporting passengers via three minute boat ride for their dinner reservation. But that’s a big part of its charm. Ask any local San Franciscan and chances are 9 times out of 10: they’ve never even heard of Forbes Island. Try not to gloat too openly.
As you approach the island from water, the lighthouse and palm trees loom ahead, welcoming you to their little oasis. The Best time to come is just before sunset, so you can see the panoramic San Francisco view in all directions from the top of the lighthouse. Then head below deck, into the cozy, underwater restaurant, where portholes looking out into the murky waters of the SF Bay will let you glimpse passing marine life.
The atmosphere of Forbes Island is a wonderful, unlikely mix of playful kitsch, historical quirkyness, and fine dining class. The restaurant is undeniably charming, with its Captain’s quarters ambiance, white table cloths and flickering candles. The cuisine, likewise, lives up to expectations with a great, local seafood selection and playful twists on many classics. The Seafood Chowder, spicy and light in a tomato base, overflowed with fresh fish and seafood, and the Dungeness Crab, Avocado & Bay Scallop Salad was richly decadent and crisply fresh all at once. The staff, too, seem delighted to be there–and composed a wonderful evening with their sincere desire to make our hearts’ desires possible
Forbes Island is like a little dream that stays with you long after you wake up–something that you can’t quite believe is real, but lucky for us all, it very much is!
This hidden gem won’t stay hidden for long. It’s already been featured in the NY Times Travel Section.
Best get yourself there on the next boat!
– Ava Fedorov
Photographs by Jeffery Owens for Socially Superlative
And now just for fun:
7 Wonders of Forbes Island
The English Tudor paneling on the interior walls of the island is decorated with tight fitted molding which is secured with no nails or glue. The molding, if pieced together, would span more than 10,000 feet or nearly 2 miles.
The antique ship’s wheel in the wheelhouse was from the Brigatine, Regina Maris, built in 1906 and she rounded Cape Horn 17 times.
The 40 foot Lighthouse is the only privately built Lighthouse in the United States and is equipped with an authentic Fresnel Lens on loan from the US Lighthouse Society. The Fresnel Lens was built in France in 1820 and was first lit using whale oil.
The island is powered by an actual Sea Mule motor, which is the world’s largest outboard motor and was used extensively in World War II by the US Navy to propel ocean going barges. It can rotate 360 degrees and is a 250 horse power motor.
Forbes Island displaces 700 tons of water, the structure was made with 280 tons of concrete, 120 tons of rocks surround the perimeter, 90 tons of sand top the shores, and 40 tons of topsoil are the earth for the plants and palms.
During the spring the Washatona Palm Trees are the nesting grounds for hundreds of Starling blackbirds and the rocks around the perimeter of the island are the nesting grounds of several seagulls.
Forbes Island launched on December 23, 1980. On launch day the island had 3 staterooms all with private baths, 56 portholes throughout, and the waterfall cascaded into a hot tub. Shortly thereafter it was featured on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and “That’s Incredible”.