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What is Yerba Buena Island?

Yerba Buena Island, nestled in the heart of San Francisco Bay, is a natural gem steeped in history. From its military past to its iconic Bay Bridge connection, the island offers a unique blend of natural beauty and urban development. Discover how this island's evolving story contributes to the rich tapestry of San Francisco. Ready to explore its hidden facets?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Yerba Buena Island is a natural island located in the San Francisco Bay in between Oakland and San Francisco. Many Bay Area dwellers are familiar with the island because it connects the East and West spans of the Bay Bridge with a central tunnel. Yerba Buena Island also hosts a Coast Guard station and a small civilian population. In addition, it serves as the access point for Treasure Island, an artificially constructed island built on the shallows of Yerba Buena Island in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration.

The Ohlone Indians were the first to use Yerba Buena Island. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Ohlone fished on Yerba Buena Island, and probably also established temporary camps. Early explorers visited the island as well, noting a flavorful wild mint which inhabited the island and naming it Yerba Buena, Spanish for “good herb.” It was also used to pasture goats, and in 1895 it was officially named “Goat Island.” Construction of Treasure Island for the Golden Gate International Exposition in the 1930s called for a more dignified name, and the title reverted to Yerba Buena Island.

Yerba Buena Island was once used to pasture goats.
Yerba Buena Island was once used to pasture goats.

Along with other islands of San Francisco Bay, Yerba Buena Island was used for military installations by early explorers. A lighthouse was also constructed along the eastern shore of the island to assist navigators. In 1936, Yerba Buena Island was a hive of activity as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was completed. In the Second World War, Yerba Buena Island fell under the control of the United States Navy, which established a station on Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands.

Yerba Buena Island is located in San Francisco Bay.
Yerba Buena Island is located in San Francisco Bay.

During the Second World War and the years following, Yerba Buena Island formed an active part of the base. Housing for officers was built on the island, and an observation tower, which is still visible, was built on the top of the island. The observation tower offers a panoramic view of the entire Bay, but is unsafe due to earthquake damage and poor maintenance, so is currently closed.

After the Naval base was decommissioned in 1996, much of the former military housing on Yerba Buena Island was given over for civilian use. The Eastern side of the island still hosts an installation of the United States Coast Guard, and portions of the island are also used to store materials relating to the construction and maintenance of the Bay Bridge. Access to the island is available via an exit on the left hand side of the bridge, which is confusing for some visitors.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Yerba Buena Island and where is it located?

Yerba Buena Island is a natural island in the San Francisco Bay, situated between San Francisco and Oakland, California. It is connected to its smaller counterpart, Treasure Island, which is an artificial landform. The island is known for its rich history, which includes serving as a military base, and for its natural beauty, offering panoramic views of the surrounding bay area.

Can you visit Yerba Buena Island and what can you do there?

Yes, Yerba Buena Island is accessible to the public. Visitors can enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, taking in the scenic vistas, and exploring the historical sites on the island. The Yerba Buena Island History Exhibit provides insights into the island's past, and the Clipper Cove Beach is a spot for relaxation and picnics. The island is also home to various wildlife and plant species, making it a great place for nature enthusiasts.

What is the historical significance of Yerba Buena Island?

Yerba Buena Island has a significant historical background. It was originally used by the Native American Coast Miwok and Ohlone peoples. During the 19th century, it served as a fishing and hunting site for Spanish settlers. Later, it became a strategic military site with the establishment of a U.S. Navy base, playing a role in both World Wars. The island has evolved over time, reflecting the changing history and development of the San Francisco Bay Area.

How is Yerba Buena Island connected to the Bay Bridge?

Yerba Buena Island is a pivotal point for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which connects the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. The bridge actually consists of two major spans, the western and eastern spans, with Yerba Buena Island serving as the connection point between them. The island features a tunnel, known as the Yerba Buena Tunnel, which is the world's largest diameter transportation bore tunnel, through which the Bay Bridge traffic passes.

What are the future development plans for Yerba Buena Island?

Yerba Buena Island is undergoing significant development, with plans to create a sustainable and vibrant community. The development includes the construction of new residences, both market-rate and affordable housing, as well as retail spaces and recreational facilities. The project aims to enhance the island's natural landscape while providing new amenities and improving accessibility. This development is designed to respect the island's unique environment and history, creating a balance between new construction and preservation.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • Yerba Buena Island was once used to pasture goats.
      By: Gerhard Seybert
      Yerba Buena Island was once used to pasture goats.
    • Yerba Buena Island is located in San Francisco Bay.
      By: Mariusz Blach
      Yerba Buena Island is located in San Francisco Bay.