X Marks the Spot: Discovering riches on San Francisco's Treasure Island

SF skyline from Treasure Island

Officially a part of San Francisco, yet two and half miles away from the mainland, man-made Treasure Island retains an air of mystery, even in the eyes of many a San Francisco resident. But in the last few years, the island has begun to emerge from ambiguity and is distinguishing itself as a unique neighborhood with some of the most magical views San Francisco has to offer. The island provides a rare and stunning panoroma of the San Francisco skyline and hosts a growing number of enticing events and activities.

Connected to Yerba Buena Island -- which links the two spans of the Bay Bridge -- Treasure Island was built in the middle of the San Francisco Bay during 1936-1937 to host the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. The event highlighted art, innovation, and world culture and was also a celebration of the completion of two of the Bay Area’s most iconic symbols: the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. After hosting another Exposition in 1940, Treasure Island took on a very different purpose when it became a United States Naval base in 1942. The island was used by the U.S. Navy from the start of U.S. involvement in World War II through 1997.  

Today, over 2,000 civilians call the island home, and various nonprofits and businesses are based there as well. You can learn more about the complex history of the island at a free lecture series that highlights the past, present, and future of Treasure Island.

While Treasure Island has changed drastically from its Exposition days, there are still parallels to the artistic fanfare of that time. During the Exposition, an 81-foot-tall statue of a mythical goddess called Pacifica was built by Ralph Stackpole to honor Pacific explorers and promote unity amongst people living on Pacific shores. At night, illuminated by giant spotlights, it became even more of a spectacle. 

While Pacifica is long gone, Treasure Island is now home to a 40 foot stainless steel mesh sculpture of a dancing woman. Called Bliss Dance, the statue is illuminated by colorful LED lights each night. Created by sculptor Marco Cochrane, Bliss Dance  debuted at the 2010 Burning Man and has been delighting Treasure Island visitors since it was moved there in 2011. 

Back in the Exposition days, island buildings were adorned with colorful lights which -- rumor had it -- could be seen from 100 miles away in any direction. Today, the Bay Lights, a two year public light exhibition on the western span of the Bay Bridge, can be admired from Treasure Island. In another echo of the Exposition era, Bay Area residents are again celebrating the opening of a new bridge as the 11 year construction of the Bay Bridge's new eastern span was recently completed.

In recent years the island has become known for the Treasure Island Flea. On the last weekend of every month, this open-air market lures the stylish and budget-conscious to the island in search of bargains on handmade and vintage fashion, upcycled furniture, and handicrafts. In addition to the wares being peddled by 300+ vendors, there’s a characteristic San Francisco emphasis on good food. With 20 gourmet food trucks to choose from and a fully stocked bar selling wine, cocktails, and craft beer, you won't go hungry or thirsty. If you need a break from shopping and eating, enjoy live music and partake in activities like DIY workshops, scavenger hunts, and trampoline jumping. This family and pet friendly event is $3 for adults and free for kids 12 and under.

Treasure Island also hosts notable annual events like the International Dragon Boat Festival which is held in mid-September. From the island's shores you can watch teams race colorful dragon boats; a tradition that began in southern China and has now spread around the world. On land, a variety of performances including lion dancing, Polynesian dancing, and taiko drumming highlight the cultures of Asia and the South Pacific. Another popular event is the Treasure Island Music Festival. Held in October, the TIMF hosts a diverse lineup of bands and musicians against the backdrop of the San Francisco skyline.

Perhaps the biggest surprise about Treasure Island is that it's home to a growing number of urban wineries. It all kicked off in 2007 after Treasure Island Wines founder Jim Mirowski noted that the island's cool weather, humid air, and central location between grape growing regions were all highly conducive to producing and storing wine. He and his former partner, Robert Amox, transformed a building -- which formerly housed a World War II food processing plant -- into a space for a collective of skilled wine makers to create small batches of high quality wine using grapes sourced from various California wine regions. 

Since then, Vie Winery, Bravium, Fat Grape Winery, The Winery SF, Oro En Paz, Heartfelt Wines, Eristavi Winery, and Bodega Wine Estates have all followed suit and set up shop in the formerly Navy-owned warehouses of Treasure Island. With so many options to savor, visitors can make a day out of wine tasting on the island.

No one has to worry about transportation to and from the wineries as Treasure Island is easily accessible via the MUNI 108 bus line (departing every 15 minutes from downtown San Francisco). The island also has plenty of free parking -- a rare occurrence in San Francisco -- and the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge includes a bike and pedestrian path which will eventually link Treasure Island to the East Bay.

Treasure Island is emerging as a hip destination to add to your San Francisco travel itinerary.  Whether you visit for a special event or for a picnic with a bottle of Island-made wine and a superb view of the City, the island will enchant you with its unexpected charm. 

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