Things to Do on Angel Island
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Angel Island is often considered the “less famous” Alcatraz, but this simply means that it’s less crowded and less expensive than its Bay Island counterpart. It’s also the “one-stop-shop” of day trip getaways. Historical tours, hiking, biking and a cute café by the water. This island’s got it all, and it’s easy to do most of it in a single day.
Start your adventure with the 9:45 a.m. ferry and you’ll still have time to catch the 3 p.m. ferry back to the city. Make your first stop at the Immigration Station. (Tip: Skip the over-touristed tram tour in favor of a breezy 20-minute walk.) Often called the “Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island was the West Coast holding place for immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship. Although many of the original buildings were destroyed in a 1940 fire, they were replaced with educational monuments that detail, among other things, the Chinese immigrant experience (due to strict Chinese immigration laws, some Chinese were kept on the island for years). The park rangers also offer informative, one-hour tours of the station and barracks.
After this informative trip back in time, head out on a more “natural” journey, up North Ridge Trail. The trail is well marked, chock-full of stunning vistas, and moderately easy—it takes about an hour to reach the top of Mt. Livermore. At the summit, settle into a picnic table to enjoy 360-degree views of the San Francisco Bay. The bonus: This gem of Angel Island is far less frequented than some of the other attractions, so you can enjoy the views in peace.
After a scenic 45-minute climb down the other side of the mountain, on Fire Road Trail, enjoy a quick lemonade at the waterfront Angel Island Cafe. This cash-only joint is right on the water and also serves up large portions of sandwiches, salads and Hog Island Oysters for a reasonable price. They often feature live music from local bands on the weekends. Then board the ferry and you’re back in the city in less than an hour.
A note for cyclists: There is a bike trail around the island, and you can either bring along your own bike or rent one once there at Angel Island Company Rentals. Rentals cost $10 per hour or $35 for the day. It is also possible to camp overnight on Angel Island at one of their 11 campsites.
Where is Angel Island?
Sitting in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island is the second largest island in area in the bay. The island is so large that on a clear day, Sonoma and Napa can be seen from the north side of the island; San Jose can be seen from the south side of the island. The highest point on the island is Mount Caroline Livermore at a height of 788 feet (240 m). The island is almost entirely in the city of Tiburon, in Marin County, although, there is a small sliver (0.7%) at the eastern end of it (Fort McDowell) which extends into the territory of the City and County of San Francisco. The island is separated from the mainland of Marin County by Raccoon Strait, the depth of the water approximately 90 feet (27 m).
Take the Blue and Gold Fleet Ferry from Pier 41. The journey takes about 30 minutes and ferries depart at at 9:45 a.m. and 12:20 p.m. daily. An extra weekend ferry departs at 2 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $16 round-trip and can be purchased online or at Pier 41. There is also ferry service available from Tiburon. For more information, visit angelisland.org.