It was the best 50th birthday celebration I could have ever imagined. In fact, I didn’t even imagine it. It was all a total surprise. As my brother-in-law drove our way through the crowded traffic of San Francisco along the Embarcadero, passing by the baseball stadium, the Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, the cruises to Alcatraz terminal, Piers 9, 19, 29, I had no idea where we were going. Even as we approached Pier 39, I could not even guess where he, my sister, and my niece were taking me to celebrate my 50th.
It was only hours before we took this drive that I even knew that we were going out to dinner. My sister finally mentioned that she should have told me to pack something nice to wear. For what? I wondered. So I borrowed some of her clothes. I was hungry. “Should I eat now, or wait,” I asked? “Wait,” she said, “there will be plenty of food where we are going.” Going? Where? For my birthday? What a surprise! I had no clue.
We parked the car a few blocks from Pier 39, but I still could not figure it out. An ice cream shop appeared. Certainly that would not be the place for dinner. I knew there was a carousel at Pier 39. Certainly that would not be the place. The restaurant that features rock and roll memorabilia? Nope, not there either. A seafood restaurant? Italian? Japanese? Pizza? A wine bar? The aquarium? No, no, no, no, no, no.
Then my sister stopped us in our tracks, pointed in the distance, and asked me, “What do you see?” Well, right in front of me were a couple of mini cruise boats, so I wondered if perhaps if we were going on an evening dinner cruise around San Francisco Bay. Nope. “Look further,” she said. I needed to put on my glasses.
Then I saw something that looked familiar in shape to me, but yet I did not quite comprehend what it was at first. But it was something that I have a passion for visiting, but I had no idea that there was even one in this area of San Francisco. I squinted through my glasses to make sure what I was seeing was what I thought it was. “A lighthouse?” I asked with complete uncertainty. Here? Really? What? “Yes!” my sister exclaimed, as she knew about my love for these intriguing buildings. Not only is this particular building a lighthouse, it is also on an island, a floating island. And not only is this particular one a lighthouse on a floating island, it is a restaurant. What? A floating island lighthouse restaurant at Pier 39 in San Francisco? In all my 50 years, I never knew such a place existed. Even growing up near here, I never knew.
Now my thought had changed from surprise to uncertainty to now excitement and increasing hunger, as we tried to figure out where to catch the small ferry that would take us to the island in less than five minutes. The four of us boarded the ferry, and as the driver explained the history of this floating island lighthouse restaurant, my hunger, and excitement, grew even more. We were on our way to Forbes Island, advertised as “fantasy fine dining aboard the world’s only floating island.”
Forbes Island was originally built in 1975 in Sausalito by a millionaire houseboat designer, Forbes Thor Kiddoo, as a private floating home. Built as an island paradise, due to his love for the tropics, there are also palm trees, white sand patios, and waterfalls.
Of course the first thing I wanted to do when we disembarked the ferry, however, was to climb the 40-foot Forbes Island Lighthouse to the top via its spiral staircase for the 360-degree view of San Francisco, but that would have to wait till after dinner, so that we could make our dinner reservation time. And eat!
Instead of ascending the lighthouse at this time, we descended to the restaurant, as the dining area is located below sea level. With underwater portholes (currently not washed, and at night too dark to see out of anyway), and surrounded by a collection of “nautifacts,” we sat down to what would be a delicious four-course California cuisine meal. Some of my meal included a wild mushroom ragoût, roasted halibut, and a chocolate mousse cake for dessert. Quite the extravagant birthday dinner!
As we made our way back to the ferry after dinner, I had a chance to climb the 54 steps of the lighthouse up the decorated spiral staircase to enjoy the 360-degree view.
They say that it is the only privately built lighthouse in the United States. (Although in my completion of a Bucket List item of my visiting or seeing a vast majority of lighthouses in Washington State, I believe that the Skunk Bay Lighthouse was also privately built.) But in either case, the Forbes Island Lighthouse is equipped with an authentic Fresnel lens which is on loan from the U.S. Lighthouse Society.
During the ferry ride back to Pier 39, the crowded drive back through the streets of San Francisco, I thanked my family over and over and over again for the best 50th birthday surprise celebration at Forbes Island, complete with dinner and a lighthouse!!
Oh, and the picture of the lighthouse during the daylight was taken by my sister the next morning as she rowed passed the island.
Information in this blog from Forbes Island website, and a plaque at the dock while waiting for the ferry.