Angel Island State Park offers some of the best views of the Bay Area with 13 miles of hiking trails, 16 campsites, thousands of years of history, and incredible historic sites to visit on the 740-acre island. We have hiked the island 2 times before, one time hiking up to Mt Livermore the other time playing tourist and experiencing the civil war era reenactment. Each time we learn something new and find a great new spot. Next time, we are camping.
Angel Island is only accessed by boat. Make your reservations ahead of time for the ferry ride over at Angel Island Tiburon Ferry, they also have reservations for the tram tour and bike rental rates on their website. We caught the first ferry out to the island at 10 am and were lucky enough to hit the trails before everyone else did. The Immigration Station was top on our list to visit and we wanted to get there before the crowds. When you leave the ferry, look to the left for some stairs that lead up to the Perimeter Road. It’s a great way to warm up after the chilly ferry ride!
The Perimeter Road goes all the way around Angel Island and is about a 6-mile hike if you just stay on the road. We have a difficult time doing this with so many places to explore so our hike ended up being 7.5 miles.
At the beginning of the hike, we were rewarded with views of the Richmond Bridge and a bench to enjoy the views. If you’re tired after climbing the stairs, this is a great spot to chill and soak in the views. Head down the hill a little further and drop down to the Immigration Station. Promise it will be worth the walk!
The first two times we visited Angel Island SP we didn’t go inside the Immigration Station, this time it was top of the list. We were one of the first visitors for the day to head down to it which allowed us to wander around and fully absorb the enormity of the site. Nearly 1 million immigrants from more than 80 countries were processed through the Immigration Station from 1910-1940. Most of the Europeans were allowed to go through without a problem but many Chinese were detained for long periods of time due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
We paid $5 each (absolutely worth it) to enter the Immigration Station and do a self-guided tour. They let us know to not touch the walls because there are poems written in Chinese carved on the walls. Many of them have been translated into English for you to read. It felt very heavy to be there knowing how scared some people may have been and desperate to see their families again.
As you enter the first floor you will see a wide-open space with lots of windows and some beds remaining on the poles that are still intact. Here you will find most of the poems carved in the walls as well as large interpretive signs and some recordings of people talking about the poems. Take your time as you move about. It’s good to feel the enormity of this place. Walk through the first-floor rooms. It is so interesting how they have history laid out before us to show what it was like during that time.
To reach the upstairs rooms, exit the building and go up the stairs on the outside. The men’s quarters are upstairs as well as an office and a game room. Honestly, we couldn’t imagine living this way for any length of time uncertain of your future. We are so thankful for what we have now and that our ancestors made these difficult journeys so many years ago for us to have what we do. After quietly walking through all of the rooms we headed across the way to the remodeled hospital.
The hospital will soon open to the public, can’t wait to go back and see the inside. We did notice when walking around the building that the entrances were segregated by Europeans and Asians as were the European playground and Asian recreation yard. Interesting right? After walking around the Immigration Station buildings we headed back up to the Perimeter Road to reach Fort McDowell.
Starting in 1863, the US Army started to inhabit Angel Island. During this time buildings were starting to be built and camps set up on the other side of Angel Island. Fort McDowell was built around 1910, according to the buildings, and served as a recruitment and replacement depot and a discharge point for returning troops. At one point it housed 1,500 soldiers. There is a quarry there and Quarry Beach is a great spot to escape any crowds that might be on the island.
Some of the buildings at Fort McDowell can be “toured” but be careful as the buildings are not stable and Mother Nature has started to take over the land. The architecture of the buildings is interesting, a Spanish Mission Revival of sorts. It’s beautiful and so great to see it used on military buildings instead of the hard lines we normally see. There’s an old baseball field now with picnic tables and some of the buildings house park employees.
After exploring Fort McDowell, head up Perimeter Road and at the top, you can start enjoying the spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, San Francisco, and the Bay Bridge. The trail to reach the top of Mt Livermore can also be found here as can the Nike Missile site.
The incredible views of the bay along Perimeter Road can easily distract you from any dirt trails above but if you want a little time on the dirt, we suggest taking the short trip up to Battery Drew. Don’t worry, the trail takes you back down to meet the Perimeter Road.
Battery Drew, Battery Wallace, and Battery Ledyard were all built to be part of the harbor defense for San Francisco. Along the coast just north of here, there are a few more you can tour through. It’s amazing to us these structures are still intact as are the wood doors.
Battery Drew is a great place to soak in some views of the Golden Gate and enjoy the quiet off the beaten path of the island. It was nice to escape the crowds on the Perimeter Road. When you reach the Perimeter Road again there is a trail that leads down to a great hidden beach or you can keep going and stop at some picnic tables and enjoy the views from there. We opted for the picnic tables and then headed down to Camp Reynolds.
One of our favorite spots on Angel Island is Camp Reynolds. We have been here when volunteers were lighting off cannons during a reenactment, just to visit, and this time we were able to tour a couple of the buildings and chat with volunteers dressed in period costumes. There were three volunteer men dressed in Spanish American War, World War 1, and World War 2 era costumes with displays of what the US army soldiers would carry with them as well as a woman dressed in period costume as a reporter. This was a great last stop on our tour of Angel Island.
They answered all of our questions, showed us what the soldiers would have eaten, explained all about a day in the life of a soldier from each war, and then we toured the Bakehouse. A volunteer had made bread earlier that day to show how it was made back in the late 1800s early 1900s. She’s a pro! After that, we went through the renovated officer’s quarters and were greeted by volunteers dressed in period costumes. So great they open this up twice a year for lucky visitors to get to see! Highly recommend doing this if you happen to be there on the magic day.
We love the feel of Camp Reynolds. It has old houses lined along one side and eucalyptus trees along the other side with a big grass area in the middle. It feels cozy and comfortable and has some great views! If you have the time, this is a great spot to enjoy some quiet along the shore.
After Camp Reynolds the views are good but the road is a little boring until you drop down into Ayala Cove. This is where everyone was hanging out eating and drinking at the picnic tables and enjoying the water. Looked like everyone was having a blast and we were thankful we weren’t on their ferry ride back to Tiburon. 😉
We learn so much about history EVERY time we visit Angel Island. If you haven’t been, make your plans and go!
Angel Island Ferry ride is $15 per adult and includes Angel Island State Park fees. The tour of the Immigration Station was $5 (they take cards). Easy 7.5-mile hike with 290 ft elevation gain. Restrooms spread out around the island. No dogs. Food is available at the Cafe, bikes for rent there as well and a tram tour is available for $17 per person. Dress in layers, it can be windy and cold and then warm all in a matter of 10 minutes.
Things We Love:
Walking on an asphalt road for most of the hike can be painful on the body. While it wasn’t a strenuous hike, we definitely felt it in our feet once we sat down and then got back up. We had been on our feet from before the 10 am ferry ride until the 3:20 pm ferry ride. That can take a toll on anyone.
The hubs recently bought a pair of Hoka One trail running shoes and has been loving them. They are incredibly comfortable and provide good traction when we are out on the rocky trails. Hoka One shoes are known for comfort and quality. Click on the link below to read more about them on Amazon. You just might fall in love with them too!
The bosslady has a hard time not being able to feel the ground and she loves her trail runners so when she knows her feet are going to need the extra help she makes sure to tape up using KT Tape. This is something you’ve probably seen on her several times before in pictures. It’s is a go-to for her to keep hiking long hikes and pavement hikes. Have you checked this out yet?
One more thing, even though we wore sunscreen, we still got a little sunburned from being out soo long and along the water. We have a great salve from All Good that soothes any sunburn and helps heal it faster. Check it out in our shop, here. It works wonders on the skin!