Tiburon CA and Other Unexpected Wonders of Northern California

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Tiburon CA, one of the most expensive real estate markets in Northern California, actually offers an affordable way to enjoy San Francisco and one of the many wonders of California: Angel Island. Leave the car in Tiburon and ferry to San Francisco for sightseeing one day and outdoor paradise, Angel Island, another. Three hours south of Tiburon is the Central Coast, home to most of the produce grown in the US. Drive another 90 minutes east and you might hit snow in the breathtaking Sierras. These are just some of the  California treasures to discover on a Northern California road trip with college-age kids.

Barracks on Angel Island near Tiburon CA.
Barracks on Angel Island, CA. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Discovering Northern CA Wonders

My college kids are 2,000 miles away from home, each in a different state, so I am always “strategizing” – er, plotting – ways for us to spend time together.  Spring break is a great option, but I have to compete with friend-trips to get time with them. The only way for me to win is to one-up the friend-trip. And pay for it.

The answer for us was five nights through some of the unexpected wonders of California.

Over the years we have done other California trips: the requisite Pacific Coast Highway 1 road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles and via the infamous zip code, 90201, (gorgeous, never gets old); college visits (times 3!); house swaps in Hermosa Beach; and a girls-only trip to San Diego.  This time we changed it up and met in northern California to check out Tiburon, take a scenic drive through the Bay Area, then head to national parks, Central California and Southern California. We created our own west coast tour that was close-ish to their college towns and counted as a vacation – to them and to me.

Riding cable cars near Tiburon CA
Riding cable cars with my college kids. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Where is Tiburon CA?

Never heard of Tiburon? It’s the unexpected affordable alternative to pricey San Francisco. But it’s still close enough that you can check out all the cool San Francisco stuff: ride the cable cars (my college kids still love this), visit the world class museums, eat at Dragon Papa (molasses pastry), get a haircut in Chinatown (OK, my son’s thing) and more. It’s our mini-paradise.

Several years ago, we took a family vacation to San Francisco and we did all of the touristy stuff: Lombard Drive, Ghiradelli Square, the Wharf, and Embarcardero. We even biked the Golden Gate Bridge.  What do my college kids remember and want to do again? Ride the cable cars.  Up and down and sideways.  Thankfully an hour was enough this time. Last time we rode all day!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Stay in Tiburon.  Leave the car there and take the ferries.  The Blue & Gold Tiburon ferry is a scenic ride across San Francisco Bay. It’s an unexpected wonder itself in car-obsessed California. Captain Maggie, owner of the Angel Island Ferry Company, will take you from Tiburon to Angel Island in just 12 minutes at a cost of just $15 — far less than you’ll pay to park in San Francisco, assuming you can even find a parking spot. 

Fire pit at The Lodge at Tiburon CA
Fire Pit at The Lodge at Tiburon. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Stay in Tiburon CA

San Francisco is a beautiful city with lots to eat, see, and do. But everything, from parking to lodging, can cost a bundle. Instead, we chose to stay across the Bay at The Lodge at Tiburon on the Tiburon peninsula. Zip code here: 94920.

Tiburon, Sausalito and Mill Valley are upscale suburbs of San Francisco in swanky Marin County, directly across the Bay from the city. On a clear day, you can wave at Tiburon from the Pier in San Francisco. And you can see all of the gorgeous lights and bridges in San Francisco from Tiburon.  Golden Gate Bridge? Check.

The Lodge at Tiburon, our home for three nights, is a quaint retreat within walking distance to several cute stores and restaurants.

Unlike the bustle of hotels in the city across the bay, the vibe at The Lodge is cozy and relaxing. The rooms open to an outdoor courtyard secured by alarmed gates. Rocking chairs surround the rock-wall fire pit and the pool is a warm 80-plus degrees.  Our room and, our most importantly, our mattress was very comfortable, but the furniture was a bit worn.  The small balcony overlooked the pool, and the town of Tiburon, with bay views in the distance.

Tiburon Tavern

The Lodge’s restaurant, Tiburon Tavern, promotes farm-to-table American fare with a unique, locally sourced menu. For breakfast, I had the Tiburon Fresh Farm Herb Omelet with thyme and basil grown in their garden. My son ate every bite of his ricotta pancakes with berries and lemon butter.  Absolutely fresh and delicious.

Dinner didn’t disappoint, with hearty comfort food like steak or grilled salmon over mashed potatoes and amazing desserts. When you go for breakfast, you’ll want to go back for lunch. And for dinner, too. Locals told us it’s a favorite.  And if you have to stay in San Francisco the next time you visit, “reverse commute”- ferry over to Tiburon and enjoy a meal at Tiburon Tavern.  It’s fun and worth it.

Pancakes at the Tiburon Tavern in Tiburon CA. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Servino

This is the place for pasta and gorgeous calming views (the Golden Gate bridge view isn’t the only great one in California). Italian restaurants are always a challenge with my family. Inevitably my husband, a first generation southern Italian, and/or our 50% Italian kids will want Italian food when we travel. Thanks to my mother-in-law’s cooking, they are usually disappointed.

Servino’s pasta is good – not Nani good, but good. Calamari is one way we test Italian restaurants and Servino’s passes, but is not a recommend.  We tasted several dishes and our favorite was the Branzino tucked in a Mediterranean sauce of capers, tomatoes and olives. And we loved the Brussels sprouts.

Enjoying pizza at Waypoint. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Waypoint Pizza

This is the spot for pizza and more pizza. My Italian teens said they would return here, for sure. Freshly made pizza with light tangy tomato sauce and a tasty cheese topping won us over. We thought it was better than the pizza we ate in North Beach, the Italian section of San Francisco, and it was far less crowded.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Grab a pizza to go and eat it on the ferry ride over to San Francisco. Plan ahead – the pizzas are made fresh and can take up to 30 minutes. They’re worth it. We love trying pizza everywhere we go in the United States to really get a feeling for the area, and this didn’t disappoint.

West Garrison on Angel Island near Tiburon CA
West Garrison on Angel Island. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Hidden California Wonders Near Tiburon CA

Angel Island

This hidden gem is the west coast, California version of Ellis Island. It’s a national park and the place where 175,000 Asian immigrants entered America for the first time via the Pacific between 1910 and 1940. Unlike Ellis Island, which processed immigrants within hours, the goal at Angel Island was to keep most Chinese immigrants from entering the United States. Most were detained for weeks, some for months or even years.

Red hospital building on Angel Island. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

According to the California Parks Department, “Interrogations could take a long time to complete, especially if witnesses for the immigrants lived in the eastern United States. Some detainees expressed their feelings in poetry that they carved into the wooden walls of the detention barracks. Others simply waited, hoping for a favorable response to their appeals, but fearing deportation. Many of the poems that were carved into the walls of the barracks are still legible today.”

As we toured the center, we followed a middle school group led by the son of an immigrant who arrived via Angel Island as a “paper son.” He explained that Chinese parents who were in the United States were allowed to have their children sent over.  Back then, it was difficult to verify whose children were whose so parents would forge papers to show that their son was someone else’s – “a paper son,” and send them to the US to work.  He pointed out the poems etched into the wooden walls of the barracks, which are a bittersweet memory for the many immigrants who were detained at Angel Island.

poem etchings on barracks walls on Angel Island near Tiburon CA.
Poem etchings on the walls in barracks on Angel Island. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Angel Island History

In 1863, Angel Island was known as Fort McDowell. During the Civil War in 1863, the military mission was to protect the coast from Confederate sympathizers and naval attacks. Between World War 1 and WWII, about 30,000 men were trained at Fort McDowell. Many of the buildings, including the red hospital, still stand today.

The island itself is a beautiful spot to spend a day or a weekend (think camping). We were greeted by 360-degree views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. The San Francisco Bay is stunning. We spent the day hiking and touring the barracks, but you also can rent bikes (electric available) or take a tram around the perimeter road.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Request a private tour of the west coast island of Angel Island. It’s not Paradise Dr., but it’s incredibly scenic. It’s also the spot to enjoy live music and a bite to eat right on the water.  The cafe food is fresh and tasty!

views in the Sierra Mountains in Sequoia National Park near Tiburon CA
View in the Sierra Mountains in Sequoia National Park. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Sequoia National Park

My teens loved this four-hour drive through California’s Central Valley. The New York Times calls it the “Land of a Billion Vegetables” for its roadside produce stands. We bought 20 avocados for $5 and a 10-pound bag of oranges for a buck, and ate them throughout the rest of our trip. This was a clear highlight.

Equally enchanting are the Instagrammable views in the Sierra Mountains in Sequoia National Park. My 20-something kids were all over that. So, too, would middle school kids, I bet.

Within a few miles, the climate changed from moderate and cool to crisp and snowing. We stayed at Hume Lake Family camp in the Sierras. Picturesque cabins and dorms are surrounded by giant Sequoias on the shores of a spectacular lake. I cannot wait to return with our whole family to this section of California.

Driving a Chevy Traverse near Tiburon CA
Driving the Chevy Traverse through the Sierra Nevadas. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

What I Drove

Chevy loaned me a Traverse for my trip to Tiburon CA and I was happy to have it on the long open road. It fit the kids, our gear and the 20 avocados with ease. Likewise, I was happy to be able to park it in Tiburon and take the ferry over to San Francisco and Angel Island. I can’t imagine being able to find a parking spot in San Fran to fit this large SUV.

Space is always a leading factor when we travel; everyone in the family wants their own, especially on a road trip. There is plenty of space in the Traverse; however, this time, technology was the star.  The Chevy Traverse is loaded with everything from Apple Car Play to wifi to lane assist.  A double moonroof and cushy leather seats made the trip super easy. Even thought the Traverse is large (seats 7), it was comfortable to drive. And I did a LOT of driving in Cali! It’s perfect for a single family.

2023 Chevy Equinox parked at Tenaya Lodge, near Yosemite.
The 2023 Chevy Equinox helped me travel more responsibly on my solo hiking trip to Yosemite and Mariposa. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Responsible Road-Tripping

Road-tripping is an incredible opportunity to embrace responsible travel and leave a positive impact on the environment and the communities along the way. While responsible road-tripping can include sustainable travel elements like reducing your carbon footprint by driving an electric vehicle, even if an electric vehicle is not in your garage there are many other ways to travel responsibly. Responsible travel is about conscious choices that minimize the negative impacts of travel. Choosing local hotels and services, and engaging locals in conversation contribute to a positive travel experience.

If you’re not driving electric, choosing a vehicle that offers safety features to assist in courteous driving is a solid alternative. For example, Chevy loaned me a 2023 Chevy Equinox for my first solo hiking trip to Mariposa and Yosemite, CA. It was not electric, so instead I looked for other ways to contribute to responsible travel.

Take the Traverse, shorten the length a bit but keep the roomy interior and you have an Equinox. The Equinox is loaded with safety features like lane keep assist, following distance alert and adaptive cruise, warning me if I needed to give other drivers more room on the highway. I especially appreciated the assist while traveling alone. Intelligent stop/start shuts off the engine when power isn’t needed (like at a stoplight), which saves fuel and power. The engine starts back up once driving resumes.

Beyond safety features, I looked at ways that GM, Chevy’s parent company, engages local communities and found that their Ultium cell battery plant in Tennessee is committed to replanting local vegetation around the site perimeter and they sponsor youth sports across the US.

Also, GM’s Sustainable Workplaces teams and interior designers repurpose local oak, cherry, hackberry and beech trees displaced by construction. They enlist a local Tennessee small business Good Wood to design unique furniture pieces and wall treatments from the reclaimed wood to be used in common spaces in the new Ultium plant.

General Motors Commitment: Our Plan to Protect the Environment | General Motors (gm.com)

San Francisco, Angel Island and Tiburon . . we’ll be back. Next time, we’ll also hit that famous zip code, along with Oakland, Los Altos and Belvedere.

Kim Orlando, founder of SheBuysTravel, is a lifelong traveler, an entrepreneur and a sought-after social media and marketing consultant. She has made hundreds of appearances on TV and in digital and print media, sharing advice and tips built on decades of travel experiences. Hailing from the hills of Kentucky and taking her story to New York, Los Angeles, and beyond, Kim built an online platform, the original TravelingMom, that has reached millions of moms and empowered them to explore the world with their families. Today, TravelingMom has evolved into SheBuysTravel. Kim has been featured on “News Nation,” “Today,” “Good Morning America” and on numerous satellite media tours. She has contributed travel guidance to outlets including The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal and more. (Read more about Kim’s media appearances here) Her travel mantra is simple: All travel counts. “You don’t have to go far. Leaving your home is travel,” Kim says. “Wherever you go, even just to the next town over, you can learn something new, see someone and something you haven’t seen before. “It’s good for the brain and good for the soul.” An epiphany in early parenthood started Kim on the journey that led to SheBuysTravel. She’d been a fan of a newsletter for women travelers, and she saw an opportunity. “I thought something like that for moms could be extraordinarily helpful,” she said. “I was traveling for work, traveling for fun, and I was looking for support.” That seed grew into the award-winning website TravelingMom, created as a resource for traveling families of all stripes. Today, TravelingMom has evolved into SheBuysTravel, with an expanded mission to serve women travelers at any stage of life. Millions of readers have visited the site for trip planning help, travel secrets, destination information and gear recommendations. What sets SheBuysTravel’s content apart, Kim says, is its foundation in real-world experience. “Our writers and editors have actually gone out there and done this stuff,” she says. “They’ve booked the flights, tried the tour, tested travel clothing, visited that new hot spot to see if it’s worth the hype. It’s all real.” Memorable Adventures A 2022 tour Kim guided to Bhutan was a particularly standout experience. “Bhutan sounds so exotic, of course,” she said. “But the part where my heart just glows and warms is thinking of the people we met – amazing women doing amazing things in Bhutan.” Their ranks included a former police officer whose ventures into food science helped mitigate food insecurity for residents of Bhutan’s highlands. Top Tips Planning for travel can be daunting, Kim acknowledges. “I always say: Go anyway. No trip is going to be perfect. There’s always going to be something you didn’t expect, something that doesn’t go the way you pictured or planned it. And that something is what’s going to make it a great trip.” And on a practical note: “Go early! Getting to the airport or hitting the road just an hour earlier relieves so much stress.” Kim’s Background Kim, a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, holds degrees in finance and entrepreneurship and has deep experience in developing and running businesses. Her previous work includes developing and running communications workshops and overseeing document management for corporations. SheBuysTravel hits a sweet spot where Kim’s two loves of travel and entrepreneurship meet. “The longer I work in this field, I only want to do more,” she says. “I find the travel world so exciting – not just the trips, but the whole online world of travel. There are still so many opportunities.” The World Awaits “The ‘best trip ever’ probably won’t be the same for an empty-nester or mom of three versus a single woman celebrating a bachelorette party with her friends,” Kim says. “We want to keep it real for traveling women, no matter what their age, life stage, where they came from or where they’re going. “We want to inspire women to travel in any shape or form.” In her free time, Kim enjoys visiting her adult kids, creating trips and traveling with her BFFs to explore the world. Her most recent adventures can be found on InstagramFacebook and LinkedIn.
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