This island in the middle of San Francisco Bay is a playground for residents and visitors, a wilderness for wildlife, and a California Historical Landmark revealing a rich history.
As it has been for centuries, the only way to get to Angel Island is by boat. Most people take the public ferry system; private boat access is also available. Ferry schedules vary by season, info below.
The boat ride is an adventure in itself, and sets the scene for a day of merriment. Notice the jellyfish photo at the end of the post–we saw it while on board in the Tiburon harbor.
Once on the island, most people hike or bike or take the tram to explore this 1.2 square mile (3.107 km2) island, usually staying just for the day. There is also camping, and some student and scout groups do overnight trips. Occasionally there are public events, like the upcoming marathon in June.
In addition to recreational outdoor activities, there are plenty of spots to picnic and admire the spectacular views.
Angel Island has a diverse history.
Thousands of years ago, the Coast Miwok Native Americans inhabited much of the Bay Area, including Angel Island. They lived by hunting and gathering, and came to the island on boats made of reeds. They established camps, hunted and fished; typically occupying the island for the summer months.
In 1775 the first-known Spanish ship arrived in the main cove. The commander was Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala, and the island’s main docking port is named after him. He named the island “Isla de los Angeles.”
Thereafter many different ships stopped in Ayala Cove to gather wood and replenish.
From “Two Years Before the Mast” by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.:
In 1835 the island was “covered with trees to the water’s edge.” He tells about his days of gathering wood on Angel Island, difficulties with the weather and tide in landing, frost in the night, and sleeping on a bed of wet logs.
“…before sunrise, in the grey of the morning, we had to wade off, nearly up to our hips in water, to load the skiff with the wood by arms-full.”
The seafarers called it “Wood Island.”
Angel Island then became a Mexican Ranch, for a short time. For much of the 1800s, the island was government-owned, using the island for many purposes.
Located in the middle of the bay, with a 788-foot (240 m) mountain look-out, it was considered a good place for defending the Bay Area.
Artillery and military structures were built here for the American Civil War, the Spanish American War, and both world wars. Remnants of historic buildings remain on the island today.
By the 1950s, most military operations had ceased, but the U.S. Government still owned the island.
Then along came Caroline Livermore, a successful conservationist. She spearheaded the movement to raise funds and purchase the island from the government; turn it into a park.
It was in 1955 when Angel Island became a park, eventually leading to its current status as a California State Park. Angel Island’s highest peak is named after her.
Angel Island has been a park for over half a century. Many individuals, organizations, and civic services have worked diligently to protect and support this sweet island.
As we playfully de-board the boat, stepping onto the island for a day of fun, how lucky we are to have this park in the middle of the bay to enjoy the sea air, and give our minds the day off.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified