Caltrain tickets for two: $28. Ferry tickets for two: $32. Hiking and biking on Angel Island: priceless. Getting to the island on public transit can take a while and the last ferry leaves the island at 4:30 p.m. Plan accordingly to maximize time on the island. Even though the polar ice caps are melting and the sea levels are rising, we still have plenty of time for another visit. Geologically speaking, this may not be much time at all as only 10,000 years ago the island was part of the mainland.
Our entry onto the island was Ayala Cove which from 1891 to 1946 served as a quarantine station for immigrants; the Western equivalent of New York’s Ellis Island. Here you can find food, overpriced beer, as well as other visitor services. Of particular interest was the visitor center with its exhibits on the history of the island. Outside we observed small dirt piles, topside evidence of the activity of moles endemic to the island.
We decided to bike in a clockwise direction around the island, and after climbing from the cove to the Perimeter Road, we made our way to the U.S. Immigration Station. A million immigrants were processed here between 1910 to 1940, and many were detained and forced to live in crowded, inhumane conditions for up to 2 years. The Chinese were especially targeted by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Here, as in other parts of the island, deer were abundant. With no natural predators, there surely must be a healthy population. No wonder that the Coastal Miwok Indians used the island as seasonal hunting grounds. We explored the nooks and crannies and hiked some of the trails, but cut the hiking short as we wanted to make sure we could circumnavigate the island.
The next stop was Fort McDowell. Here, the abandoned military buildings were particularly striking. The crumbling stone walls, missing all their windows, with entrances boarded up could very well have been the set of some post-apocalyptic sci-fi film.
Adjacent to the fort was Quarry Beach. Time permitting, this would have been a nice spot to relax to the sound of crashing waves and take in the views. Unlike beaches in San Francisco, and along the Pacific Coast, this one was surprisingly uncrowded. In fact, most of the island shared this characteristic.
As we biked around the Southern section of the island, we stopped many times. There was the Nike Missle Site, a remnant of the Cold War. Unfortunately, this area was fenced and I could only catch a glimpse by hiking a bit up a nearby ridge. There were the countless views of San Francisco, or rather the very tops of two of its tallest buildings, the Transamerica Pyramid and the Triple Nickel, rising above the fog. We explored Battery Drew and Battery Ledyard, somehow missing Battery Wallace. These were abandoned gun platforms, built to protect the Bay from foreign threat during World War II.
Between the two we found an old mining quarry and a rusting mill.
We then moved back in time from WWII to the Civil War, stopping to explore Camp Reynolds. Yes, I did say the Civil War. The loyalties in California were split between the Union and the Confederacy and Camp Reynolds was built by the Federal Army to protect the West. We could envision the white tents set up on the spacious parade grounds when the barracks around the perimeter were too full.
With miles of trail left unexplored, including the summit of 788 foot Mt. Livermore, we arrived back at Ayala Cove with only a few minutes to spare before the departure of the last ferry. We wondered what would have happened if we missed that ride.
I can’t help but to already be forming a plan for the next trip to Angel Island. With 4 campgrounds we hope to kayak to and around the island, spend the night, hopefully watching the sun setting over the Golden Gate Bridge, then hike all the trails, both mapped and unmapped, we missed on this trip.
Other San Francisco Adventures:
- Stairway to Coit Tower – 1 day, plenty of exercise
- Grand Tour of California – 1 day, limited walking
For more state park adventures, visit our California State Parks Guide.