Angel Island State Park
Angel Island sits in the middle of the bay just off the coast from the town of Tiburon. The Miwok people are known to have used the island for 2000 years as a fishing and hunting site. In 1775, Lt. Juan Maniel de Ayala anchored in this cove and developed the first maps of the Bay. He named it Isla de Los Angeles. Starting in 1891 it was used as a quarantine area for ships coming from foreign ports. lt was also used by the army, who established Fort Reynolds here, and later Fort McDowell. From 1910 to 1940 it was a US Immigration Station, often called the Ellis Island of the west.
Angel Island was established as a state park in 1963, after the army declared it surplus property. Today, only three small Coast Guard areas and an old Nike Missile battery remain off limits to the public. From its south side, the island offers unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Its position in the middle of the Bay between San Francisco, Oakland and Tiburon make it an ideal place to understand the immense size of the Bay and the difficulties inherent in bridging this body of water. From the island you can also see the Richmond San Rafael and Oakland Bay bridges.
The only access to the island is by ferry or private boat. All ferries dock at Ayala Cove on the north side of the island, facing Tiburon. If you haven't brought your own picnic, you can find food at the Angel Island Cafe, and on weekends, the Angel Island Cantina in Ayala Cove, both operated by the Angel Island Company. You can book tours of the island with the Angel Island Company by tram, Segway or Diggler electric scooters. You can also book a shuttle service between Ayala Cove and the immigration station.
Ferries are operated by the Angel Island Tiburon Ferry, providing service from Tiburon, and the Blue and Gold Fleet, providing service from Pier 41 in San Francisco. By using the one-way options that both ferry companies offer, you can construct a trip from San Francisco to the island, then to Tiburon at the end of the day for an early dinner and a glass of wine on the deck of one of the local restaurants, before returning to San Francisco.
There are many pay-parking lots in Tiburon where you can leave your car in while on the island. In San Francisco you can park in the Pier 39 lot.
The preferred way to get around the island is on a bicycle. You can rent bicycles as you exit the ferry at Ayala Cove; they are well-maintained and cost $12.50 per hour, up to a maximum of $40 per day. You can also rent children's bikes and the rentals come with helmets, but no infant carriers are available. Credit cards are accepted. You'll need to leave your card, a driver's license or some other acceptable security until you return the bike.
A much cheaper alternative is to bring your own bicycle, if you have one; the ferry surcharge from Tiburon is only $1.00 per trip. Bring a lock, because you cannot take your bike into the immigration station and you won't be able to see it while you're there.
You can traverse the perimeter road around the island on a road bike, but you'll probably want to walk over a few rough spots, especially if you follow the bike route from the ferry terminal up to the perimeter road. A mountain bike is the better choice for most people and will give access to all the bike trails the island has to offer.
Distance: 10 miles.
To get oriented, see this map of the island. From Ayala Cove there is no view of the bridge. The views come as you travel around the island to the south. You can certainly walk, but given the time between ferries and the amount to see, it's not recommended except to visit Mt Livermore (788 feet) where bikes are not allowed. Keep some cash in your pocket because there is an entrance fee for the Immigration Station museum and they don't take credit cards; see details below.
The Perimeter Road around the island takes you by all the historical locations. There are a few steep hills. If you don't want to ride them, just walk your bike. Think of it as a walking stick with wheels. Bikes are also allowed on the Fire Road that is located further up the island. There are several campsites on the island; you can bike to most of them. Reservations are required. Tell the ferry company you are camping, so they don't charge you the park admission fee.
The slopes are gentler and the effort less strenuous if you ride counter-clockwise around the island. Follow the road from the dock towards the visitor's center. Stop to look at the exhibits and films, then follow the Bike Trail signs. The trail takes you up to the Perimeter Road on a (mostly) graded trail. When you reach the road, turn right. Your first stop will be at Camp Reynolds, also known as the West Garrison. In 1863, during the Civil War, it was established to protect San Francisco Bay and after the war it continued to be used as a garrison for infantry companies serving in the west. In 1900, the army designated the entire island as Fort McDowell, after General Irvin McDowell, and the former Fort Reynolds became simply the West Garrison. There is a loop trail that takes you by the remaining buildings and a picnic area near the water. On either side of the camp, the Coast Guard maintains areas that are off limits. Ride out of the area to the south, towards Battery Wallace. Notice the boarded up school house as you rejoin the road. The school was established by Allen Allensworth, a chaplain and the highest ranking African-American army officer at his retirement in 1906. He later founded the town of Allensworth, California.
The views of the Golden Gate Bridge begin after you leave Fort Reynolds. The picnic tables above Battery Drew offer a stunning panorama of the Bay, stretching from Oakland to Sausalito. You will find a telescope here to augment the view. From this point look to your left and you will see a small unmarked beach with a stair case leading down. A sign says the trail is closed, but hikers have made an alternate route down.
When you finish visiting the beach, continue along the Perimeter Road. This stretch offers fantastic views of the bridge all the way to the Nike Missile battery. You will notice some large rusty machinery to your left. There is no obvious signage, but in fact it is a rock crusher, used at one time to mill local rock into gravel for construction purposes around the Island.
Continuing around, you'll come to one of the two connections between the Fire Road and the Perimeter Road. Just after the intersection is a service road that circles the Nike Missile Site. This area is off limits to the public, even though the site has not been in use for many years. To your right you'll see Point Blunt, the third bit of land the Coast Guard controls. Along here your views of the Golden Gate Bridge are gone, and you will see instead the Oakland Bay Bridge, with its picturesque white eastern span still under construction but now recognizable. When the new span finished it will be a striking landmark.
Continue on and you will come to Fort McDowell, also known as the East Garrison. Here you will finds an incredible collection of old buildings, many in ruins; a second visitors center open only on summer weekends; and Quarry Beach, a beautiful stretch of white sand. This fort was used as a recruit camp, a discharge center and sometimes a prison.
When you're ready, return to the perimeter road and continue your journey. Shortly you will come to the North Garrison, which was a US Immigration Station from 1910 to 1940, when the administration building burned down and the government decided to move immigration processing to the mainland. Federal prisoners and World War I enemy aliens were also held here over the years. In World War II, the army used the station barracks to house POWs.
There is a road into the Immigration Station but it is a steep descent and bicycles are prohibited; if you're riding you will have to leave your bike at the perimeter road and descend on foot. Once you arrive, the Barracks Building is open as a museum from 11:00 to 3:00 on weekdays and 11:00 to 4:00 on weekends. The admission charge is $5 for adults and $3 for children, and at this time they don't take credit cards. This museum is well worth a visit; if it's open when you arrive, don't miss it.
In the museum you will be able to see the conditions under which people lived while they were housed here, either waiting to be admitted to the country as immigrants, or as prisoners. To while away the time and to express their frustration at what for many immigrants were long and stressful delays, they carved poetry into the walls throughout the building. Because immigrants from China were often interred here for much longer periods than other immigrants, the majority of the poetry is carved in characters. Interpretive displays throughout the building help you understand the frequently poignant messages.
Outside the Barracks Building there are various exhibits. Most are well described by Park Service signage scattered about the area. The station also has its own small, rocky beach, which is sometimes populated by adult and fledgling Canada Geese, depending on the season. Don't miss the black granite wall located near the beach, paying tribute to various family members once detained here. From the beach you can also see the Richmond San Rafael Bridge. Notice the small island in front of the bridge, which is the East Brother Light Station Bed & Breakfast, a functioning light station perched atop an island in the strait that separates San Francisco and San Pablo Bays.
As you return to the perimeter road, the high ground to your left was once the site of an early project by architect Julia Morgan: she designed twelve cottages used as housing for station employees. Unfortunately, they were burned down in the 1970s as part of a fire training exercise.
After leaving the Immigration Station the ride is mostly uneventful back to Ayala Cove. There are several nice view points along the way, sometimes with picnic tables. Proceed at your own pace (but keep the ferry departure schedule in mind!). When you return to the dock, if you're visiting on a summer weekend, relax on the deck of the Cantina with a beer and some Peruvian ceviche, listening to music while you wait for your ferry home.
In the Area
Save some time to explore the village of Tiburon. There are lots of bike trails in the area.
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