A visit to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay is actually two perfect outings: First, it’s a spectacular ferry ride to the island, and second, there’s the island itself, with its hiking and biking trails, historic sites, unsurpassed views, beaches and picnic spots.
Once a hunting and fishing ground for coastal Miwok, Angel Island has served as a cattle ranch, immigration station, POW camp for World War II Japanese and German prisoners, and an important U.S. Army post. Angel Island became a state park in 1954.
The 5-mile Perimeter Road around the island is paved, mostly flat and filled with interesting stop-off points. It is also perfect for biking. If you want something more strenuous, walk up the Northridge Trail to the island’s highest peak: 788-foot Mount Livermore. Here you’ll find breathtaking views as well as picnic tables and benches. Hike back down along the Sunset Trail for a just under 5-mile loop.
With so many places to explore, it’s hard to keep track of the time. The last ferry of the day won’t wait for you. Don’t miss it.
Start at the ferry docks at Ayala Cove, once a quarantine station where foreign ships were fumigated and any immigrants suspected of carrying diseases were isolated. Pick up a trail map and take the Northridge Trail just left of the restrooms, climbing up the 140 steps to Perimeter Road. Turn left (clockwise). As you walk, you will see the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, Raccoon Straits, Tiburon and Belvedere.
After about a mile, the U.S. Immigration Station at North Garrison comes into view. From 1910 to 1940, this was the entry point for most of the 175,000 Chinese immigrants to the United States. Although most were processed in a few weeks or months, others were detained for up to two years. Some detainees carved poems into the walls, expressing feelings of loneliness and isolation. These poems are visible today in a museum that has been established in the barracks building. You can explore on your own or, from Wednesday through Sunday, take a guided tour.
Continue around to the east side of the island, where you can view Treasure Island and the new tower of the Bay Bridge. Soon you will come to Fort McDowell (East Garrison), another wonderful place to explore. Established during the Civil War, the fort was busiest during World War II, when more than 300,000 soldiers were shipped to the Pacific Theater from here. Wander the eerily deserted buildings – the barracks, hospital and officers’ quarters are still standing. Take the path down to Quarry Beach, the island’s most wind-protected swimming spot. There are no lifeguards and currents can be hazardous, so take care.
As you continue southward on the Perimeter Road, view the San Francisco skyline, Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. At the Nike Missile Site area, look down toward Point Blunt and the U.S. Coast Guard Station. Harbor seals often hang out at the point.
On the island’s south side, take a side trip (keep an eye on the time) to Perles Beach, where Alcatraz Island almost seems close enough to touch. Finish your circuit with a stroll through Camp Reynolds (West Garrison). Built by the Army in 1863, Camp Reynolds is one of the nation’s best-preserved collections of Civil War military buildings. Look at the old brick hospital, the chapel, the mule barn and the parade grounds.
Circling back toward Ayala Cove, unpack lunch at the Platform picnic area, which offers charcoal barbecues, bay views and shade. Another picnic area is right near Ayala Cove. No picnic lunch? Stop in at the Cove Cafe at Ayala Cove for soup, sandwiches, wraps or pizza. The Cove Cantina Oyster Bar offers beer, oysters and live music.
Good to know
You can get to Angel Island year-round, and admission is included in the price of the ferry ticket. Dogs are not permitted on the island, except for service dogs. Roller skates, Rollerblades, skateboards and scooters are prohibited. Bikes are allowed on the Perimeter Road but not on the trails leading up to Mount Livermore. If you plan to barbecue, bring charcoal, as no wood fires are allowed.
You can rent bicycles on the island. Tram tours and Segway tours are also available seasonally, but private Segways are not permitted. Go to www.angelisland.com for information about tours and bike rentals. Angel Island also has nine popular camp sites. To reserve, go to www.reserveamerica.com.
Unless you have a private boat, you can only get to Angel Island by ferry. The Blue and Gold Fleet leaves from Pier 41 and from the Ferry Building. Go to www.blueandgoldfleet.com for schedule and prices. Ferry service is also available from Tiburon. Go to www.angelislandferry.com for information.
Photo: Serge via Flickr