The city's name derives from the Spanish word tiburon, which means "shark". Whether Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala saw a number of sharks near where he anchored the San Carlos in August 1775, off what is now Angel Island, or whether the tree-covered Tiburon Peninsula looked like a shark we may never know. He named the land Punta del Tiburon, or Shark Point. The Coast Miwok Indians had lived here for thousands of years, but there is no clear concept of what they called the peninsula. They have left rock carvings on Ring Mountain.
Tiburon was formerly the southern terminus of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. The town was created as a result of the railroad, and a long line of ferries carrying passengers and rail cars the six miles across the bay to San Francisco. The first elegant homes were built, mostly by wealthy San Franciscans, as summer retreats.
The last railroad operated passenger ferry left Tiburon in 1941, but the passenger and freight trains ran until 1967. Passenger ferry service was resumed in the 1960s. It is now a commuter and tourist town, linked by fast ferry services to San Francisco and with a concentration of restaurants and clothes shops. It is the nearest mainland point to Angel Island and a regular ferry service connects to the island.
There had been numerous attempts to incorporate a City of Tiburon over the years, but they had all failed to come to a vote due to the opposition of the large land owners. In March 1964 an election was held to create the City of Tiburon, and on June 23, 1964, the incorporation was final and a City Council seated, and mayor elected. A city manager was hired and a contract for police services was made with the county sheriff.
Following a large and successful Millennium Party the Town has pursued a policy to revitalize Main Street and the rest of downtown Tiburon. Main Street was reconstructed to make it and the shops and restaurants handicapped accessible without ruining its quaint charm. In the summer of 2004 a series of "Friday Nights on Main Street" community parties was inaugurated. Main Street was closed to automobile traffic on Friday nights during the summer and the restaurants created special menus for the occasion. Tables in the street in front of each restaurant added to the festivities. As of 2010, the festival continues. In November, 2006, a commissioned fountain with a nautically-themed sculpture titled "Coming About" was at the entrance to Main Street was formally dedicated.
Tiburon is now a beautiful enclave of historical landmarks, parks, world-class restaurants and shopping areas. The residential architecture is a mix of small cottages, many of them beautifully remodeled, contemporary showplaces located in the hills with spectacular views, and sensational examples of engineering that jut out over the water. The San Francisco and Corinthian Yacht Clubs provide berths for hundreds of sailboats for local yachtsmen; public and private tennis and swimming facilities are also available to residents. Visitors from around the world come here to enjoy the natural beauty and many varied activities that this delightful harbor community provides.