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Angel Island
San Francisco Bay

Your own 740 acre island.

In the middle of San Francisco Bay.

Sound too good to be true?

My lovely angel on Angel Island looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge
My Angel on Angel Island looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge

As motorcycle destinations go, you can't exactly ride over to this one.  Nor can you ride around it on your iron ride.  However, you can ride to Tiburon, Vallejo, Oakland, or San Fran.  From there, you take a ferry to the island and you've got the place to yourself.

The beauty of the island is only a set amount of ferries come here each day so it is likely once you get here, I doubt it will ever feel crowded.  This is a very good thing for those of us who like to get away from it all.

The island is a former Civil War camp.  In fact, the island has the largest collection of wooden Civil War structures in the entire United States.  Here, in California, on an island, in the middle of San Francisco Bay.  And you thought it was somewhere back east near Gettysburg.  In 1860, Camp Reynolds became the hub of activity for Union Soldiers.  Several other Civil War displays can be found in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area just on the northwest side of the Golden Gate bridge.

During WWII, it was used as a military base for sending young men off to war.  At the end of the war, a large 'Welcome' sign greeted returning troops from the Pacific Theater to Fort McDowell.  Angel Island was used as the primary processing center for the troops.  As many as 40,000 troops a year passed through Angel Island.

There is also a museum on immigration.  The island was the hub of activity of incoming Latin & Asian immigrants in the early 1900's.  For many, it was the first American soil they set foot on- the West Coast Ellis Island.  And some waited years to be let off the island as citizens.  The buildings were saved from demolition in the 60's and today are treasured.  Poetry scrawled on walls gives a tiny glimpse of the endearment of the Chinese- and remains to this day.  During the wars, these same buildings were used to detain German and Japanese-Americans.  Remnants of this internment camp are stark reminders while visiting the island.  (Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville, is another nearby locale where Japanese-Americans were detained during WWII.)

Looking East into bay - The ferry is headed back to Vallejo from Ayala Cove
Ayala Cove

To boot, it was used in the post-war 50's and 60's as a Nike Missile base.  All that's left is the launching pad atop the island- now just a slab of concrete full of weeds.  You will find another of these on the north side of the Golden Gate bridge.  The Nike Missile system soon became obsolete, and was removed from the island.  Sorry, there aren't any neato missiles lying around.

The island is primarily someplace you would come to with the intent on walking around the island, but you can also rent bicycles once on the island (or bring your own of course). There is even the option of renting a sea kayak to paddle around the island.  There is also a one hour tram ride that circles the island and gives the skinny.  Much of the island's features are wheel-chair accessible.  

For the walkers, the two mile long Cove to Crest Nature trail heads up to the top of Mount Caroline 781 ft above the sea.  At the top, is one of the best panorama views of the entire Bay Area, and largely unrealized by those who've never been to Angel Island.  Marin County, Sausalito, & Tiburon to the North (You may even catch a glimpse of San Quentin Prison which is due north of the island).  To the south, the high rise buildings and apartments streak white into the sky as the Bay Bridge shoots out of the Financial District, touches briefly onto Treasure Island, and continues on to Berkeley & Alameda (and the USS Hornet).  To the west, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge seems close enough to touch- and are often shrouded in fog.  Massive super ships plod on by.  Patches of white triangles atop sailboats race across the bay with the endless wind.  And if you stand in the right place, this same wind may blow you right over on a gusty day.  Welcome to the Greatest Natural Harbor in the World.

There is a campground on the island and this is a favorite among Bay Area backpackers and bicyclists - No Cars!  So if you're a card carrying member of the International Order Twice Removed Brotherhood & Sisterhood Campers of the Universe- Angel Island might just provide the tranquility and serenity your looking for.  After the last ferry leaves- you're the only one on the island. Imagine that!

In order to get here you'll need the aid of a ferry so plan this aspect of the day into your visit.  Although for the adventurous-  you can rent sea kayaks in Tiburon and paddle over.  For the full experience, we came here on the one-hour ride down from Vallejo.  Shorter rides (minutes long) are available from the ferry terminals at Pier 39 in SF and Tiburon to the north.

In April, an Easter Egg hunt plies to families to bring the kids and locate the treasure hidden around Ayala Cove.  A puppet show and crafts round out the day.

One of the best ways to learn about the island is hang out with the Docents.  There are even nature hikes led by Angel Island Docents can be requested by calling 415-435-3522. Anything that is scheduled, a $2 per person fee is asked for.  Plan to be at the island by 10 at the latest.

Camp Renyolds - Note what's left of the dock
Camp Reynolds

View Alcatraz prisoners had of Angel Island
Angel Island (left) as seen from the Exercise Yard on Alcatraz

Tours of the Immigration Station Detention Barracks Museum, Fort McDowell, and Camp Reynolds are offered by State Park Volunteers on weekends during the peak season, April through October and into November, depending on the weather.

On June 3rd, 2000, a mock Artillery Battle will take place between Union soldiers at Camp Reynolds on the island and Confederate soldiers on historic ships just offshore of the island.  It'll be quite a show with plenty of black powder cannon and musket fire. 

In August 4th & 5th, three of the historic Victorian homes are opened up to the public for tours.  They are usually not open to the public any other time of the year.  Bread baking in the 1860's vintage oven, California wines and three historic vignettes focusing former on island residents round out the two day event.

In September, a special ferry leaves Tiburon enroot for Fort McDowell's chapel for a private concert.

Angel Island is one of those places largely unrealized.  While most San Francisco visiting persons head for Alcatraz, Lombard Street, the intense tourist-suckage-zone of Pier 39 (also home of the nearby USS Pampanito WWII Submarine), the Coit Tower or walk the Golden Gate- Angel Island fits right into your inner desire to find a untouched paradise surrounded by 10 million people.  It fits right into the endless stream of mountain tops you have stood upon with peaceful complacency and gazed down upon all the earth and simply said, Today, is a very good day.

Island:  415-435-1915
Tours: 415-877-0715
Tram Tour Info: 925-426-3058
Ferry service: 415-435-3522

Angel Island Company
Kayak Tours
: 415- 488-1000
Angel Island Tiburon Ferry
Baylink Ferry

More info about Angel Island:

Angel Island Association Homepage | Photo Gallery

Journeys remembered by detained Chinese Houstonians

Camping on Angel Island with BikeSummer

The Bicyclist's Day Trip on Angel Island - pics


More Bay Area Attractions:

Alcatraz Island

USS Pampanito WWII Submarine

USS Hornet Aircraft Carrier - Alameda