Drawbridge – San Jose, California - Atlas Obscura


San Francisco Bay's ghost town. 


Formerly Saline City, Drawbridge is a California ghost town that is centered around an abandoned railroad station at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay on Station Island.

Created by the narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad on Station Island in 1876, Drawbridge has been abandoned for over three decades and is slowly sinking into the marshlands it was built on. When the town was founded, it consisted of only one small cabin for the operator of the railroad’s two drawbridges that crossed Mud Creek Slough and Coyote Creek Slough.

Even though the only path leading into Drawbridge was the Union Pacific Railroad Track, several passenger trains stopped in the town daily, bringing nearly 1,000 people into the area on weekends in the 1880s. By the 1920s, Drawbridge, still without roads, had grown to 90 buildings and was known as a gaming town. During Prohibition, the town housed several speakeasies and brothels, taking advantage of its out-of-the-way location. With San Francisco Bay serving as a refuge for hunting clubs that sprung up around the abundant wildlife at the time, the police were hesitant to enter Drawbridge because all of the residents were armed.

With the end of Prohibition, residents started to trickle out of the town. For years, the San Jose Mercury News incorrectly reported that the area was a ghost town and that residents had left behind valuables. These reports encouraged vandals to enter the town, further driving out more residents until the place was completely abandoned.

The railroad tracks, which are private property, are still the only way to get into the town. Be warned: Visiting the area is illegal and trains still run with some frequency on the tracks you must follow for two miles to find your way in. It is currently part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Know Before You Go

From Alviso, a small town close to Milpitas, find the Southern Pacific Railroad track (it's the only track in town) and walk two miles north along the tracks. This is private property and trains still run on the tracks frequently. You do not have to start on the railroad tracks. You can hike most of the way using the path starting at the Alviso Marina. At the railroad crossing (about a mile and a half) you can cross to the other side and walk beside the tracks. The last quarter of a mile will need to be done on the tracks. This is much safer since the trains are fairly quiet. The less time on the tracks the better. This trek can also be done on mountain bikes.

As of May 2023, the access from the Alviso Marina is closed because of construction on the Mallard Slough Trail. There is a little bit of a view of Drawbridge from Alviso Marina County Park. Another access point is via Warm Springs Trail starting in Fremont (there is a gate, which may be closed but is easily bypassed). The flat even trail passes two miles of marshlands, then reaches the railroad bridge about 300 feet long. Cross carefully, as ACE commuter trains run frequently on these tracks, then scramble down onto the marshy and sometimes muddy ground below and you’re in Drawbridge. Exit the way you came in. This route can also be done on most bikes if you leave them at the railroad bridge.

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