Angel Island San Francisco is the largest island in the SF Bay. It is just over a mile from the shores of Fisherman's Wharf. The only way to and from it is by taking one of the Angel Island ferry rides or your own boat.
This California State Park is just a little north and east of Alcatraz. Although it's a sleepy island today, this place has played an important role in the history of this area.
It is an easy day trip from any location in the bay area. Hiking, biking and photography are its three key activities. Along the way, you can also visit some of its historical buildings. It is a great way to spend the day for those looking for a more serene outdoor environment that is still close to the city.
Here is a map showing its location within the SF Bay.
Before we get started on the activities here -- let's take a step back a few decades -- and dig into its rich history.
Angel Island San Francisco was a sleepy site used by local Indians for fishing and hunting for thousands of years. In 1863, the federal government needed more land in the San Francisco bay to protect the area. At that time, they took control of it.
It became a US Army base called Camp Reynolds. The military used it as a base for the remainder of the Civil War and for a few years after.
In 1910, Angel Island San Francisco turned into a detention center for unwanted immigrants arriving to the US through San Francisco. Most of these immigrants were from China. At the time, strict laws were in place to minimize immigrations from China.
Almost all that made the journey from China ended up here first. While here, they faced tough questioning before entry was granted. Some spent months or even years here trying to become US citizens.
In 1940, the main immigration building burned down. All immigration related business moved to a new facility at a different location.
The military reclaimed it during World War II. This is where they detained many prisoners of war, specifically those from Japan and Germany.
After WWII, the military moved off and it was vacant for a while. In 1963, the State of California declared it a state park and that is still its purpose today.
Here is a map to help you get acquainted before your visit. These are the key areas to visit during your time on the island. You can find out more about what there is to do at each location in the sections below.
No one realized the importance and the history that remained in the buildings. The state scheduled the demolition of the buildings in the 1970s. However, shortly before demolition, a park ranger noticed poems and other writing on the wall and carved into the woodwork. The state decided to leave the buildings standing.
Many people and organizations stepped in to determine a way to raise funds to restore the buildings. The park was able to get money from both the state government and through private donations.
Restoration on the buildings started in the mid-1970s and continues to this day. The great news is that a few are already open and welcome visitors.
There are three main buildings that house small Angel Island San Francisco history museums. Here is a little about the three buildings open for visitors:
If it is your first time here, I recommend starting at the Visitors Center. It contains all the information about activities and places to see. Even if you have your day planned, it is a great way to take a quick look at the layout of the island before you set out.
Most people head over to Angel Island San Francisco for the outdoor activities. This is such a beautiful place to go for some hiking, biking and other outdoor fun.
These are my three favorite things to do here. There are over 13 miles of hiking trails and 8 of those miles allow the use of bikes.
One of my favorite hikes is up to the highest peak, Mount Livermore. It is 788 feet high and is about a 2.5 hour round trip hike from the ferry drop off point. The summit is about 2.5-miles from the ferry, making it a 5-mile round trip hike.
From the top, you get some amazing views and pictures of a number of places around the bay. Alcatraz Island is just off to the west of the island, so you get a unique look of it from this angle. You can also get a great shot of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
If team sports is your plan, then you will find both a baseball diamond and two volleyball courts.
The baseball field is an old field used by soldiers when Angel Island San Francisco was a military base. The field is open for use on a first come, first served basis.
There are two places to play volleyball. The first is near Ayala Cove. Reservations are required for this court, so call ahead for availability before heading over. The second court is open and is at Ft. McDowell. The second court is more of a gamble, since the park does not guarantee availability of these courts.
Angel Island San Francisco allows overnight camping. There are nine camping sites and reservations are required. Contact Reserve America at (800) 444-7275 to reserve a spot.
I have never camped here but can imagine it would be fun! I recommend bringing along some warm clothes as the bay is windy and chilly at night.
There are a few tour options. The easiest is an hour tram ride. It picks up at Ayala Cove and drives along the flat fire road the circles the entire island. Do not confuse this with the shuttle ride over to the Immigration station.
Last time we were there, we also noticed that you can also take a Segway tour. It lasts two hours and takes you to most of the historical sites. This is a unique experience and it looks like a lot of fun.
The tours run a couple of times a day. Call the reservations office to book your trip at (415) 897-0715.
Angel Island San Francisco is also a great place for a picnic. They have a number of picnic sites. You can choose from a larger site for a big group picnic or one of the many smaller picnic sites around the island. The larger sites take reservations.
You can also grab a quick bit and a drink, after a long day of hiking or biking, at one of the two restaurants. One is a simple cafe but is open most of the year. The other is a restaurant, but only open during the busier times of the year.
Visiting requires a little more planning, since there are only a few ferries back and forth during the day.
Make sure you bring layers to stay warm on your way over. The ferry ride is a little chilly most days, so you'll want to bring plenty of layers to stay warm.
The weather here is unpredictable also. It's similar to San Francisco weather.
It is nice and cool one day, warm the next and really windy the following day. You can check out the San Francisco weather forecast on the page above for the day you plan on visiting to get a feel for the weather.
The hiking trails are pretty easy. You should bring along comfortable shoes, water, snacks and a lunch for your day. You can also stop at the cafe before or after your hike.
The same is true with the biking. The biking trails are mostly easy with a few steep areas. You should bring along food, water and a jacket to stay warm when you stop to take pictures.
If you decide to camp overnight, prepare for a cool and windy night. Very little blocks the wind on Angel Island, so bring along warm clothes.
Most nights are between 45 to 55 degrees. In September and October, it is a little warmer with lows in the upper 50s to lower 60s. It rarely gets below the 40s on the island, so it should be a nice, cool evening.
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The Angel Island ferry is the only way to get to and from this island in the SF Bay. Only a few ferries service it each day.
There are two ferry companies with service two and from the island.
The Blue and Gold Ferry Fleet Company is the only one that runs the between the island and San Francisco. The second company is the The Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry and their service runs between Tiburon and Angel Island.
You can either purchase your tickets online or in person at the pier. The time of departure on the ticket is the time the boat pulls away from the dock.
I recommend you get there at least 15 minutes in advance - or even earlier - to make sure you get on the boat before they close the doors and push away from the dock.
Bring along some warm layers for the ride. It can get a little chilly most days and sitting outside is the best way to see all of the sites along the way.
If you are heading over to go biking riding, you can take your bike on the boat with you. They allow bikes on the first level. You will see a group of bikes when you board. Right before the ferry reaches the island, you will see everyone head to their bike and this is when you need to grab yours also.
Both ferries alter their schedules for major holiday such as New Years Day. They also close on Christmas Day. Always check the schedule before booking your tickets.
Here is a map that shows the terminals in San Francisco, Tiburon and where they drop you off on the island.
This is the only company that runs ferries to Angel Island from San Francisco. In September 2020, they sent a request to the state to allow them to stop this service. No decision has been made at this time.
They currently run just one to two ferries a day back and forth from the island.
There is also a ferry that runs to and from Tiburon. This runs a little more often, but it only runs from Tiburon. It's run by Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry.
Alcatraz History & Visiting Tips: If this is your first visit to San Francisco, a trip to Alcatraz is a must! This amazing attraction is also in the SF bay just a mile from the shores of the city and is close to Angel Island. Discover some of the great tours available to see this infamous site.
SF Districts: Not sure where to start planning your trip? Here you will find the best activities by district.
Museums: You will find more than 70 museums in the city. Here you will find a list (and more details) on the different types of museums and some of the most popular options.