Escape the crazy and leave behind the traffic, smog and bustle of the Bay or wherever your hustle lies. Take the exit right before the Richmond-San Rafael bridge off of 580 West and you’ll wander down a dusty-dirt-road barely big enough to squeeze two cars by at the same time. Pass by Pt. Molate and make a mental note of this scenic beach and how you should visit these hidden gems more often. As you snake your way to secluded marina, you’ll meander down this quiet lane (especially for the San Francisco Bay Area) and see an old, fenced off, turn-of-the-century, bright-red brick building with castle like squares and edges. You may think that it doesn’t belong in the marshy-like coast or wonder what it’s doing there.
You’ll step out of your vehicle, a little shaky from the hairpin turns that wind around the coastline of Point San Pablo. Take a deep breath of salty sea air as you take in views of the Marin coastline and Mount Tamalpais. The bay is dotted with eclectic houseboats, sail boats and a burgeoning construction site in this secret side of the North Bay. Lock up your car and carry your overnight bag over some old train tracks and a few dotted buildings. If you pack as much as I do, you’ll roll your wheel-y suitcase down the silver ramp next to a hip and fresh coastal restaurant that’s just newly opened and plan to sample their menu after the trip.
A friendly group of other interesting pleasure seekers will be congregating nearby also wondering what little island can exist (that they didn’t already know about) in the view of the infamous Bay Bridge? It lies diagonally across from the Marina Headlands while taking spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline.
You’ll excitedly board a small, open-air boat that can seat about 4-6 people comfortably with their overnight or weekend luggage manned by host, Che. He has an extensive knowledge of boats and sailing having worked on fishing boats in the Pacific Northwest. He’ll tell you about lots of interesting facts and tidbits from wildlife to the nearby scenery. Like that unique looking fortress and the rows of ’30’s and ’40’s abandoned houses once stored and shipped the world’s largest inventory of wine from nearby vineyards.
The spectacular Victorian Lighthouse that was created in 1873 greets you and looks as it would’ve nearly 150 years ago.
Jillian, who is ever so friendly and hospitable, is Che’s partner in Lighthouse keeping. She warmly welcomes you with interesting facts about the lighthouse use, wildlife, history and interactions with the comical seagulls that make their home on the island too.
You’ll step in awe into the Victorian Mansion adorned with vintage antiques and ocean views from every window and can’t help but be amazed at the beauty. No TV’s reside in the charming and airy decorated rooms, yet you’ll find that you won’t be missing one anyway. Wine bottles are uncorked and a satisfying snack of goat cheese and bacon wrapped figs or crackers and a sophisticated array of snacks to tie one’s appetite over until dinner. You’ll cheerfully chat with your companions if you so choose while getting warmed up with the chilled wine and let the windy waves greet you as you settle into the splendor of your new home for the next night or two.
Time and the worries of home will start to melt away as you start to settle into your new abode. Languishing in the photos and relics of old, you’ll imagine your favorite scenes from whichever old flick reminds you of yesteryear. Pretty soon, your only woes will be that you have to get up from your book, lazy nap or picturesque view in order to walk about 30 steps for dinner. Stepping into the cozy dining room you’ll be treated to a gourmet dinner, rich in taste, abundant in variety and comforting in ingredients. You’ll happily chat with your fellow companions about the beauty of the island, the delight in seeing cargo ships and other boaters pass by and the rarity of its location.
Rolling yourself out of the dining room, you’ll decide to wander the island, which doesn’t take too long to cover. You’ll find a few views away from the others and bask in the scenery and crisp breeze. Fog may drizzle over the horizon or the sunset sparkle with the clearest of skies once again causing you to pause from your usually busy and hectic life and remember what calm and zen is about. Your pulse will start to slow, your breathing becomes a little deeper and your mind begins to relax as you accept this gift from above and smile in its splendor.
Remembering that there is a light above the dining room, you’ll climb the stairs and visit the still operating light and see its parts up close. You’ll direct your thoughts in wonder at the function of this light and how its keepers must have labored decades ago with such minimal technology. You’ll watch as the dusk settles in painting the sky with pastel colors and puffy clouds.
Hearing the roar of the waves and power in its majesty and be humbled by how such a beacon of light safely guided ships home. The dotted shoreline of city lights will remind you that you are nearer to civilization but at the same time so far away. You can climb out to the top of the light, on something of a widow’s walk and see 360 views of the bay. Marvel at the most exotic of items, a fourth order Fresnel lens and the light that stands 48 feet high with a fog signal that blasts every 30 seconds when in use.
While nestling in for the night, kick back in the cozy guest living room with a magazine, book, puzzle, game or the uncommonly found stereoscope and collection of a few hundred pictures. You’ll force yourself to stay awake after such a full meal and the warmth of having a nightcap or drink later into the night. You’ll want to absorb every second or finally succumb to the lulling waves that will help you drift off easily to sleep. With a window slightly cracked, the seagulls will squeak into the night with a constant hum of waves lapping the sides of the island and you’ll contentedly forget about the shrill sound of the city just beyond the bay.
While awakening to the water, you’ll remember where you are and forget that you haven’t checked your phone in quite some time. Strangely enough, you won’t care and will decide that the smell of coffee or that blue sparkling water is more of a draw for rising out of bed. You may take your coffee to a different part of the island, only steps away with an entirely different view. No fighting traffic, no rushing around, no effort to be so sweetly rewarded with the ocean views at every turn. Your delightfully surprised as you walk up some steps or over to a bench that another spectacular view awaits you. Peering at the garden on the cliff’s edge, you’ll be enchanted to see the harbor seals that are lounging on the rocks over at West Brother island, just yards away from East Brother. Some looky Lou’s may wave from a ferry or boat passing by, curiously wondering how they too can escape to your island.
You’ll feel a sense of ownership as it is so sparsely populated with you and only a half a dozen others. Breakfast will eventually rouse you to the same dining room table and you’ll be presented with a delicious array of food that will squelch any hint of hunger. You’ll heartily eat breakfast and relay fun tidbits about home life and rest in the lovely scenery around.
After breakfast, a tour of the island full of quippy history and a fog horn demonstration will blast the irksome, comical and always unsuspecting seagulls. The nuts and bolts of the operation were quite laborious and you’ll appreciate modern technology and the rarity of this equipment so well engineered and still in operation. The patience and ingenuity of the innkeepers from a century ago will astound you in their tasks to keep the ships of the day safe as they approached the harbor.
As you gather your items from the quick trip, you’ll take the last few photos before you embark from the island and leave a little lighter than before. You may exchange information from your new friends or perhaps settle in to be caretakers of the island for a few hours while the inn keepers take the other guests back. Not bad to have an island to yourself for a while!
Come and visit, but don’t tell too many or this place will be taken over!