Trip Date 07/16/2018
Posted On 09/04/2018 17:42:48
Destinations | California | San Francisco | Angel Island | Ellis Island of the West | Hiking in San Francisco | Day Trip from San Francisco
Nearly everyone has heard of Alcatraz but its lesser known neighbor Angel Island is an excellent alternative for those who enjoy hiking, awe-inspiring views, a bit of history and want to avoid a crowd of tourists. Angel Island, known as the "Ellis Island of the West" is just a day trip away from San Francisco - and a fun one at that.
If you have at least 5 or 6 hours early in the day to devote to a ferry ride, some hiking (or biking or tram riding), Angel Island might be just the ticket for you. Take a look at this post for information on how to get there and back for under $20.00 per person, options for your breakfast and / or lunch as well as what to do while on Angel Island for both adults and kids (there's both fee and free alternatives).
San Francisco to Angel Island Round Trip Ferry Tickets
Ferry service from San Francisco to Angel Island is provided by Blue and Gold Fleet. Tickets can be purchased on-line, at the Blue & Gold Fleet Box Office or through an ATM-style self-service kiosk located on the Pier 39 side of the box office building. (Tickets purchased online must also be picked up at the kiosk.) Each ticket is for one-way transportation, however is not for a specific day or time - entrance to the ferry is on a first-come, first-serve basis.
While our original plan was to purchase tickets at the box office, we opted to use the self-serve kiosk due to the box office hours (9:00 AM opening year round). After following the on-screen menu and instructions, we selected two round trip tickets and inserted our credit card to pay the $39.00 total charge ($9.75 per person each direction). The kiosk was extremely easy to use, and if we ever have the opportunity to return to Angel Island, we'll go the self-service route once again. (It was quicker than purchasing on-line and then having to pick tickets up at the kiosk - plus it provided more flexibility if we were unhappy with the weather on the day that we planned to visit Angel Island.)
Breakfast and Lunch Options for a Visit to Angel Island
There are a wide variety of breakfast, lunch and snack options for the day that you plan to visit Angel Island including:
- a small selection of snack type food offered on the 30 minute ferry ride to the island (fruit, chips, drinks, etc,);
- sandwiches, salads and appetizers can be purchased at Angel Island Cafe beginning at 10:00 AM;
- box lunches can be ordered in advance for those wanting to skip the line to get an earlier start on a day of hiking;
- live music and food can be enjoyed at Angel Island Cantina on weekends between June and October (11:30 AM - 4:30 PM);
- bring your own picnic supplies - breakfast, lunch, snack or whatever you desire for your day on the island (alcoholic beverages are even allowed on Angel Island); or
- although breakfast options are more limited, you can purchase snacks or a meal at one of the restaurants at nearby Pier 39. (We had plenty of time before the first ferry, so we chose to eat breakfast at Boudin Bakery. Like most restaurants in the city, our meal was a little pricey, but it was good and we had a little time to stroll through the uncrowded Pier 39 - and even see a few sea lions!)
Ferry Ride from San Francisco to Angel Island
The Blue and Gold Fleet ferry leaves from a well marked dock at Pier 41 at 9:45 AM, 11:25 AM and 1:45 PM for the journey to Angel Island. As entrance to the ferry is on a first-come, first-serve basis, it is suggested that you arrive with tickets in hand at least 30 minutes in advance of your preferred departure time. (The last ferry with return service to San Francisco departs Angel Island at 4:10 PM so it's best to take one of the first two ferries to the island. The morning ferries will allow you enough time on the island to soak in some of the views, get some hiking in and see some of the island's history before one of the last two return departures.)
You can enjoy the 30 minute journey from wooden benches on the outside deck of the ferry or seated at tables and chairs inside, or a combination of the two! We started our trip outside, however it was quite windy so after snapping some photos of the skyline, we moved to the more comfortable inside cabin.
History of Angel Island
The Coast Miwok (a native tribe) and the Spanish explorers who stopped at Angel Island for supplies were the original inhabitants of the island. Nicknamed the "Ellis Island of the West", Angel Island was the entry point for hundreds of thousands of people immigrating to the United States from countries in the Asia-Pacific region and Russia for 30 years beginning in 1910. The island also has a long military history beginning with its use as a cattle ranch during the civil war and ending as a missile base.
From 1954 to 1960, the island transitioned from the military into a California State Park. The second largest of the islands in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island is also a wildlife preserve. Over 99% of Angel Island is actually located in Marin County in the city of Tiburon. Today, the island is known for having outstanding views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County and San Francisco.
What to do on Angel Island
Before setting off to enjoy whatever you choose to do, take a look at the white board located near the ferry landing. You'll find lots of up to date helpful information specific to your day on the island. Most importantly, take note of the return ferry service - you don't want to miss the last ferry of the day back to San Francisco!
Depending on your interests, you will surely find something that you enjoy to occupy your time while on Angel Island. Activities for visitors include:
Ride aboard one of the open-air trams for a one hour tour around the perimeter of the island ($16.50 for adults; seniors $15.00 and $10.50 for children). The recorded audio (available in multiple languages) includes both historical and present day information about Angel Island. A stop is made at Battery Ledyard for riders to capture the views that the island is known for. Check for posted signs for the tram departure schedule upon your arrival on Angel Island. (From November - February, the tour is offered on weekends only.)
United States Immigration Station Museum on Angel Island
The Immigration Station Museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays for one-hour ranger led guided tours ($7.00 adult and $5.00 children) of both the museum and detention barracks. The museum tells the story of the immigrant processing that took place at the United States Immigration Station (USIS) on Angel Island between 1910 and 1940. A fire destroyed the original building in the mid-20th century, however it was restored and reopened in 2009. For those wishing to tour on their own, the museum and grounds only can be visited without a guide at a cost of $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children.
Getting to the museum requires a 1 1/2 mile walk along Perimeter Road from the dock, or a shorter one mile hike along the Northridge Trail which requires climbing 140+ steps at the start and ends with a downhill hike to the museum. Visitors with bicycles can bike 1 1/2 miles along Perimeter Road and then hike down to the museum. For those not interested in the walking, hiking and/or biking options, an Immigration Station Museum Shuttle is available for round trip travel ($7.00 additional per person) from the Angel Island Cafe.
Two hour long Segway Tours of Angel Island State Park are available for $70.00 per person. After getting acquainted with the segway, an experienced tour guide will lead the group around the six mile perimeter road while sharing both historical and present day information about Angel Island. Bring your camera as you'll make stops along the way where you should be able to get some awesome shots of the bridge, skyline and more.
Hike up and Down or Hike all Around
Whatever your hiking ability, there is a hike on Angel Island that will match your preferred level of difficulty. In addition to the hike directly to the Immigration Station Museum described above, hikes include:
- At a distance of five miles for those who walk around the entire island, the Perimeter Road Hike is one of the
easiest. If you start the hike immediately upon departing the dock, walk to the right and follow the paved road for as
long as you desire. During the first part of the hike, you'll pass the group picnic areas and Camp Reynolds
where you can take an unpaved path down to the parade ground, surrounding historical buildings and picnic table by the
water. Next up is a stop at Battery Ledyard for its awesome views, followed by the Nike Missile Site,
Fort McDowell, the US Immigration Station and back to the dock area.
Hospital Building at Camp Reynolds Officer's Quarters & Bake House at Camp Reynolds Enlisted Men's Quarters at Camp Reynolds Golden Gate Bridge from Camp Reynolds Picnic Table
- Due to the elevation gain, the Sunset Trail is a more difficult hike, but in addition to the panoramic views from the summit of Mount Caroline Livermore, you'll enjoy scenic views along the way as well. If you are planning on eating a picnic lunch, the island peak is a great option as it is usually less crowded than most other picnic areas. When you are ready to make your way back down, you can either retrace your steps or follow the North Ridge Trail for some different views. (Of course, another option would be to ascend on the North Ridge Trail followed by a descent on either of the two trails.)
- Although the hike along the Fire Road Loop doesn't take you to the highest point on the island, it does take you around the island at a higher altitude than hiking along the Perimeter Road. Accessing the Fire Road starts near USIS and passes near several of the camping areas on the island. Part way around the loop, you will pass the Ida Trail which will intersect with the trails leading to the summit should you decide you want to hike up.
Bike all Around
Bicycles can be brought along on the ferry at no extra cost or can be rented on the island for those preferring to bike along the Perimeter Road rather than hike. (Bicycles cannot be taken on the hiking trails which lead up to the summit.) If you plan to rent on the island, available bicycles include standard bikes ($15.00 hourly or $60.00 for the day) or electric bikes ($25.00 hourly or $90.00 for the day) - both include a helmet. All bicycles can be rented at the bike shed near the ferry landing and rentals are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Relax at a Beach
Although the Angel Island beaches are not suitable for swimming due to the rough water, strong currents and lack of lifeguards, there are a couple of spots where you can sunbathe or stroll near the water:
- Quarry Beach (near Fort McDowell) can be nice for sunbathing when the temperature is right; and
- A stroll along Perles Beach (near Battery Ledyard) will allow you to soak in some awesome views.
Whatever You Do - Keep Your Eyes Open!
In addition to enjoying the views from the various historic sites around the island, there's even more to see. If your visit is during the spring, you'll reportedly see Angel Island covered in wildflowers. In addition to a variety of birds flying about year round, sea lions swimming in the bay or tanning on nearby rocks, some deer and raccoons also call the island home.
Ferry Ride from Angel Island to San Francisco
Although the island is open from sunrise to sunset, there is no way back to the city other than ferry (or begging someone who has a boat and is headed that way) - so don't miss the last ferry! The Blue and Gold Fleet ferry departs from Angel Island at the same dock where you arrived earlier in the day at 10:20 AM, 12:00 PM, 2:20 PM and 4:10 PM. The return ferry takes about 45 minutes (slightly longer than the trip to the island) as there is a brief stop at Tiburon prior to the final stop at Pier 41. If you misplaced your ticket or did not purchase round trip tickets, tickets are available for sale on the return ferry. (While tickets are collected prior to boarding on the route to the island, they are not collected until passengers disembark in San Francisco.)
Tips for a Day Trip to Angel Island
To help ensure that you enjoy your day on the island as well as your journey to and fro, here's a few tips for planning and making the most of your day:
- As the ferry schedule differs from season to season, be sure to check the schedule several days before you plan to visit the island to plan your arrival and departure times. Plan your day so that you will have enough time to do and see all that you want. Since the last ferry departs at 4:10 PM, it's best to take the first ferry so that you have flexibility.
- Arrive at Pier 39 early enough to purchase (or pick-up) your tickets and then make your way to the embarkation line for the ferry. Remember, tickets are not issued for a specific time or day and ferry service is offered on a first-come, first- serve basis. Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before your preferred departure time.
- Other than service animals, dogs are not allowed on the island.
- Other than bicycles, no other forms of transportation are allowed on the island (including roller blades, roller skates, scooters, skateboards, etc.) All persons under the age of 18 are required to wear helmets when riding bikes.
- If you plan to hike, wear both comfortable clothing and shoes. It is suggested that you dress in layers as you'll likely warm up as you hike, however the winds and temperatures may surprise you. Additionally, as with any hike, bring plenty of water, and don't forget your camera!
- Always stay on the well marked main trails to avoid poison oak which is native to the island.
- Don't miss the boat! Make sure that you arrive back at the ferry landing with more than enough time to spare prior to the last ferry departure. If you don't calculate your timing correctly, there are very limited options for returning to San Francisco. Check for other ferries (including those heading to Tiburon). If there are no ferries, you might want to hang out near the pier in search of an extremely friendly boat owner who may be returning to the city - maybe they will allow you to hitch a ride if you beg nicely! The only other option (other than swimming!) is calling for a water taxi - but that will be quite costly.
Golden Gate Bridge
Between a round trip ferry ride plus a day of exploring Angel Island, you've had the opportunity to see the Golden Gate Bridge from a distance, but not up close. If you are up for some more exercise and awesome views, take a look at our post titled Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on Foot for an overview of our experience as well as some tips for crossing this iconic landmark.
Day Trips from San Francisco
When you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the streets of San Francisco, where do you head for a day away from the city? In addition to the name of your favorite day trip destination, we'd love to hear what tips you have for others who would like to make the most of their day at your favorite destination.
Total FitBit steps today: 21,033
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