What is Yerba Buena Island?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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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.


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.

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.


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