Review: Forbes Island San Francisco


“H” Dock, Sea Lion Harbor (between Piers 39 and 41)
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 951-4900

Ever noticed that lighthouse between Piers 39 and 41, out in the water just off from the sea lion hangout? You may have overlooked it, but look again. Just a five-minute boat ride from Pier 39 awaits a cool (and mildly kitchsy) dining experience—on a tiny, man-made island.

There’s something rather heady and “in-the-know” about approaching the tourist-riddled Pier 39 and picking up a courtesy phone to call for a clandestine rendezvous with an eccentric millionaire. Then Forbes Kiddoo, the affable gentleman who dreamed up the world’s only floating island, whooshes up (yes, he runs boat service nightly) and whisks you out to the sandy haven, part Tiki hut, part Pirates of the Caribbean, and part covert lair.

Forbes, a former floating-home developer, built this beauty in the late 1970s and lived on it for 23 years in Sausalito before settling it in San Francisco. The island grounds are everything one could want in one’s own private island, replete with sand, palm trees, and the only privately built lighthouse in the United States.

Hidden underneath? Several rooms, bedecked with many of the original furnishings that Kiddoo lovingly sourced—we’re talking pre-Civil-War-era swords and early-20th-century nautical doodads. Don’t miss a trip to the powder room and neighboring (still furnished) boudoir.

The hearty fare here (think braised short ribs, creamy sauces, and rich risottos) is not cheap, but it’s also not outrageous for the experience. For the best experience, head out just before sunset and take in the incredible views of the city skyline, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate. And make sure to brave the 55 steps to the top of the lighthouse. Standing there, in the heart of the city yet looking out at it, I felt a magical solace—and I fell in love with San Francisco all over again.

Pick up the courtesy phone at “H” dock (left of Pier 39, below the pedestrian overpass) and the free shuttle will pick you up (after 5 p.m. nightly)