Things to Do On Angel Island | San Francisco Travel
A visitor enjoys the wide views from Angel Island

Things to Do
On Angel Island

Enjoy a day trip to Angel Island and learn about its history as the “Ellis Island of the West” at Immigration Station, as well as take in the island’s stunning views on numerous nature trails.

Angel Island is often considered the “less famous” Alcatraz, but this simply means that it’s less crowded and less expensive than its counterpart. It’s also the “one-stop-shop” of day trip getaways. History 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.

Where is Angel Island?

Sitting in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island is the second largest island in the bay. The island is so large that on a clear day, Sonoma and Napa counties can be seen from the north side of the island, and San Jose can be seen from the south side!

The highest point on the island is Mount Caroline Livermore at a height of 788 feet (240 m).

The island is separated from the mainland of Marin County by Raccoon Strait, where the depth of the water is approximately 90 feet (27 m). Keep your eyes peeled for some local sea life, including sea lions and dolphins.

A Day on Angel Island

Start your Angel Island adventure with the 9:20 a.m. ferry from the San Francisco Ferry Terminal. Make your first stop at the Immigration Station for a self-guided visit in the museum. (Tip: Skip the crowded 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 Asian 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 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 only 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 San Francisco Bay. This part of Angel Island is far less frequented than some of the other attractions, so you can enjoy the views virtually to yourself.

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. The cafe 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’ll be 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 your own bike or rent one at Angel Island Company Rentals. Rentals cost $16 per hour or $64 for the day, including a helmet. It is also possible to camp overnight on Angel Island at one of their 11 campsites.

Directions to Angel Island

Angel Island can only be accessed by boat. With the exception of maintenance and emergency vehicles, the island is car-free.

Take the ferry from either San Francisco (Ferry Building) on the Golden Gate Ferry or from Tiburon (downtown) on the Angel Island Tiburon Ferry. The journey takes about 30 minutes and ferries depart from San Francisco starting at 9:20 a.m. and from Tiburon starting at 10 a.m. Extra ferries run on weekends. 

Tickets cost $14.00 one-way for adults from San Francisco (you will need to purchase round-trip tickets) and may be purchased online in advance. The Golden Gate Ferry accepts Clipper Cards.

Tickets cost $17.40 round-trip for adults from Tiburon and can be purchased online or at the terminal (depending on space availability). This ferry does not accept Clipper Cards. 

Carol High
Carol High

Carol is a digital marketer creating media-rich content for global audiences covering travel, San Francisco and the Bay Area, food & drink, outdoor experiences, and cross-cultural storytelling. Her work is found in the San Mateo Daily Journal and The Skyline View (Skyline College). Before travel writing, her professional background included working internationally in business, nonprofits, and government. She lives in San Francisco with her family and regularly explores the parks in her city, especially untamed McLaren Park.

The Golden Gate Bridge at sunset with a multicolored sky and the San Francisco Bay in the foreground.
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