Angel Island, Yesterday and Today

Angel Island, SF Bay

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.

Angel Island Tiburon Ferry arriving at Angel Island, Tiburon in background


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.


Ayala Cove, Angel Island


Wikipedia overview

Angel Island State Park, access and activities

Angel Island Conservancy, history and upcoming events


In addition to recreational outdoor activities, there are plenty of spots to picnic and admire the spectacular views.

Angel Island view, looking out at Alcatraz and SF skyline

Angel Island view, looking at Golden Gate Bridge

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.


Western Bluebird on Angel Island

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.”

Richard Henry Dana, Jr. — 1842


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.


Mount Livermore

Angel Island, ca. 1880. Courtesy California Parks,


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.ย Remnants of historic buildings remain on the island today.


There are Angel Island maps like this posted all over the island for hikers and bikers

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.

Brown Creeper, Angel Island


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.

Caroline Livermore

Caroline Sealy Livermore, 1885-1968. Courtesy California Parks,


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

Jellyfish we saw in Tiburon Harbor from the ferry boat (ghostly image in near-center of photo)


Angel Island from Alcatraz



88 thoughts on “Angel Island, Yesterday and Today

  1. A beautifully illustrated story of your day, Jet. We attended a six-hour performance of “The Odyssey” there a few years back. It was staged all over the island and we had a chance to really appreciate its diverse landscape and flowers.

    • I have friends who went to that same Odyssey performance on Angel Island. It sounded marvelous. Glad to have you stop by, and thanks for sharing your Angel Island experiences, Allan.

  2. Thanks for the tour, Jet. It does look like it might be a bit of a challenge to land there before modern ferry days and to “camp” there in the days before anyone lived there permanently. Great views all around, to and from.

    • Yes, it wasn’t always so easy to stop by Angel Island for the day. I loved reading about Richard Henry Dana’s experiences there, educating me on what it was like there in 1835. And I’m glad you enjoyed reading about them, too, Anneli. Thanks for your visit, always appreciated.

      • It made me think of Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins (fictionalized young people’s story about a woman who was alone on San Nicolas Island for so many years). That would have been in your area too.

  3. That looks like a real nice place to visit Jet and I am very pleased that it is now a park. I love the Bluebird and the Brown Creeper (or Tree Creeper as we cal it) is a bird I love and know we have here in our local woods, but I have only managed to spot it once or twice – very frustrating. Always good to see the photos though ๐Ÿ™‚ – thanks to to Athena.

    • We found a marvelous picnic area that was unoccupied where we watched many birds in the oaks. There were a pair of creepers that Athena chased around for quite some time, because as you know, they’re little devils to capture. I like knowing that you call them Tree Creepers, Alastair. And of course, always a pleasure to “see” you. Warmest wishes and thanks to you–

  4. Looks like a wonderful day out. I’m intrigued though by your reference to a marathon – I guess it must do several laps of the island? (I also note that you have a lot of Michaels following your posts ๐Ÿ™‚ )

    • I’m delighted to hear you’ll be visiting Angel Island sometime, Joanne. I know you are a well-informed traveler, and I think you would like it. Alcatraz Island is the more popular island for visitors, and it gets much more media play, so that might be why you had not heard of it before. Many thanks–

  5. I enjoyed this read about Angel Island, Jet. Such a beautiful island with lots of fun activities to do! It’s wonderful that the conservationist group have taken over and turned it into this lovely park for people to visit and enjoy… thanks for sharing. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks so much, Iris, I’m glad you enjoyed vicariously visiting Angel Island today. I agree with you, it is great the conservationist group has kept things running, generated continual interest, and work hard to make it attractive and fun. I hope you are enjoying a fun weekend.

    • I know you and Chris will enjoy a visit to Angel Island, there’s so much beauty and fresh air and places to roam. It’s not vast, like your mountain, but it’s a great day trip. Many thanks–

  6. One of the best things about hiking Angel Island is stopping in Tiburon on the way home and visiting their bakeries. Yum! I didn’t know there were jellyfish out there – next time I’ll keep a lookout for them!

    • We were completely surprised to see that jellyfish, too, Jan…and delighted. And yes, great bakeries. I’m living in Tib. temporarily while our house is being “repaired” (it hasn’t yet begun, after 5 mos.); and the best bakery we have found is the Woodlands grocery store pastry shelf. It’s great, sometimes too great. Let me know if I missed something. Cheers to you, and many thanks.

  7. Jet that jellyfish looks huge! Not sure I would want to have an up close and personal experience with that fellow. What a diverse history the little island has had. All news to me and is so often the case when visiting you I come away much wiser. Looks like a wonderful spot to explore and we would be keenly interested!

    • We were shocked to find a jellyfish in there, and sure got the most out of the five minutes in which it surfaced. Glad you liked learning about Angel Island, Sue. You and Dave would like it, and you can bring or rent bikes there. I enjoyed visiting your site today and have absorbed, with joy, the wisdom of Nana. Many thanks, my friend–

  8. What a lovely island – and definitely appears the perfect spot to “give our minds the day off.” Fully in favour of any location that helps to do that. Your descriptions, and Athena’s photographs, paint a fun picture, and you’ve reminded me to settle down and read “Two Years Before the Mast” – a copy has been on my e-reader since you recommended it a short while ago. Great to learn how a conservation angel in the shape of Caroline Livermore helped to preserve this little park.
    Thanks for this, Jet, and here’s hoping you continue to enjoy sunshine and warmth for the coming weekend (with a view over the water towards Angel Island?)

    • I am so glad you enjoyed Angel Island, pc. I was paging through “Two Years BTM” yesterday in finding the Angel Island part, and I am quite sure you will enjoy reading his two year adventure on the sea. I was pleasantly reminded of this wonderful classic again when re-reading it. I never knew about Caroline Livermore until I “moved” to Tiburon, and would love to research and write an entire biography on this heroic woman. Everywhere I hike in this neck of the woods, it is because she saved the land from development. I am happily located between Mt. Livermore (very small) on Angel Island and Mt. Tamalpais, so weekends always have at least some form of hiking in it, while all our insurance and service providers are not working. Cheers, my friend — and stay warm!

    • Thanks so much, Walt, for your lovely comment. I look forward to returning again soon (these photos are from last month), and when I do, there will probably be more about natural history to share. I am glad you enjoyed what was here. Fishing is allowed, and here’s what they catch: halibut, ling cod, rock fish, striped bass, and sturgeon. Cheers!

  9. So much to enjoy and to learn about this small island,dear Jet.Stunned by the beautiful photos and your references to its long history and its geostrategic position.Fantastic views all over the bay from the island,wonderful its lush greenery.The jellyfish silently welcomed you,it looks gorgeous in the calm,clear waters.Ideal place for an outing on the warm spring and summer days.I’ll deboard with you,I want to spend my day on this small paradise and hear the songs of the Bluebird.Thank you for this “angelic” treat,my friend ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Dear Doda, What a pleasure to “see” you came to Angel Island, thanks so much for joining me. The silent greeting from the jellyfish was such a joy, I was happy Athena could get it in a photo. And the bluebirds were a delight, as they always are. We were in a gorgeous grove of oak and eucalyptus trees, and there were several pairs of them. This is their nesting time, they are one of the earlier nesting songbirds here. Wonderful to have you along for this day of adventure, thanks so much for our lovely visit and delightful words.

      • Thank you for all the extra info about the lovely bluebirds and your experience under the oak and eucalyptus trees.There must be a big variery of trees in this small but blessed island.The forthcoming Marathon in June sounds very challenging;who knows,I may join you there again …
        Wishing you & Athena a peaceful & creative week ahead ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Yes, I’m with you, Eliza, gratitude to Ms. Livermore. She heroically opened up major tracts of this county for open space preserves, and that is not easy here, as it is beautiful vistas of the SF Bay and real estate is highly coveted. I’m happy you enjoyed the Angel Island visit, Eliza, thank you for visiting. In bloom right now, off the top of my head: magnolia trees, daffodils, jasmine; Graham Thomas roses and paperwhites are fading.

  10. It seems to be a perfect place to visit and pass the day exploring the island. Maybe one day I’ll have the time to do that personally. I can just imagine the views from the top of the mountain. Thanks for the tour my friend… ๐Ÿ™‚

    • So lovely to take you for an Angel Island visit, HJ. It was not a birding day, but of course we had our binoculars on and besides the brown creeper and w. bluebird we saw scrubjays, gulls, TVs, lots of yellow-rumped warblers in the eucalyptus, and more. Thanks for your visit, always appreciated….

    • “Charming” is a good word for Angel Island, thank you, Dina. Being a small island, it is not hyped up with a lot of gimmicky stuff, and that it is an island makes it an effort for anyone to get here so that when they do arrive, they are escapees of urban busyness and arrivals to a tree-filled island. Many thanks for your visit–

    • Yes, I think you and Nan would like this sweet little island, Bill. Glad you took the time from your Hawaiian island to visit the Californian island today, Bill — mahalo.

    • I find the history and maps add a dimension to the present, so I’m glad you enjoyed it Sherry. I love knowing history in a place, it sparks the imagination to think about who has all been here. I know you do the same with the wonderful glimpses to the past that you provide us in NYC. Cheers–

  11. What a wonderful tour. Iโ€™m so happy that you and Athena can embrace all that the San Francisco area has to offer. The view from the Angel Island back to the city is spectacular. I love the the armchair travels with you.

    • Our weeks, as you can imagine, Sharon, are still an unbelievable mess in the aftermath of the fire. So the weekends are all about finding fun and visiting great places that SF is loaded with. I’m happy to share them with you, Sharon. BTW, your artwork is in my living room and kitchen, bringing peace and joy every day. Many thanks–

      • I can only imagine what the fire aftermath has brought you. Your joyful weekend adventures are proof of your resilience for life, no matter what. Thank you for telling me about my art in your home. Iโ€™m so pleased! Have a happy day.

    • Thanks very much, Cathy, I enjoyed your comment and appreciation for the park. For an island that imprisoned immigrants, quarantined diseased ships, housed a missile site and aided many wars…that it ended up a park where we all frolic is a human miracle. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Angel Island is great for just that, Val. And there’s something about boarding a boat and sailing away from home that heightens the experience. Glad you enjoyed it, thank you.

    • What a delight to share Angel Island with you, Keng. But you two are such hardy hikers with legs that seem to go forever, that I’m afraid you’ll have to circle Angel Island about a hundred times to make it a hike. lol. I hope you do visit sometime, it’s a sweet place.

  12. I have been to the lovely Angel Islands but many years ago when my parents lived in San Francisco. I was unaware of the interesting history though so thanks for sharing. We enjoyed a wonderful picnic there.


  13. Pity there wasn’t an internet with blogs such as yours to tell me of this delightful little island. I was completely unaware of it during the time I lived in San Francisco. Was it possible to get to it back in 1974 (when I left the Bay Area)?

    • Yes, it was possible to visit Angel Island in 1974. It became a park in 1955 and a State Park in 1962, so from 1955 onward, the public was allowed onto the island. It has always been less known than Alcatraz, and I think that’s what makes it more charming. Maybe you can visit sometime in the future, Gunta. Until then, I’m glad you could join us here, my friend.

  14. Ahh, you’ve made me homesick once more. For many years, the view from our window was of the Bay and Angel Island. It’s a magical place, wonderful for just hiking, or biking, and drinking in the views. For several years our daughter was a camp counselor for the Belvedere-Tiburon Recreation Department, and she brought the campers over to Angel Island every week day during the summer for adventures. Quite a perfect place to work, and to bring the wonders of nature to children.

    • I enjoyed hearing your local version of Angel Island, Pam. When we were there last month I saw a group of young boy scouts marching off the boat and heading for camp, laden with backpacks and sleeping bag rolls. It’s great that your daughter and all the others make this possible for the kids, a great outdoor adventure over the years. Warm thanks–

  15. This was such a fun read, thank you! I used to visit Angel Island a couple of times every summer when I was growing up in the Bay Area. It was always beautiful, with lovely natural surprises. It’s been 40 years since I moved away, but I’d love to see it again. One of these days….

    • How very wonderful it must’ve been to have visited several times in a summer, growing up. Great to hear your experiences of Angel Island, Donna. There’s a tram now that you can take around the entire circumference of the island, but other than that you would probably find not too much has changed. A few more services, but they didn’t go nuts and over-commercialize it. Many thanks for your visit and contribution today–

  16. A little bit of everything in this post! Thanks for sharing… and giving my mind something beautiful and pleasant to enjoy today! I esp. love the last photo…seeing Angel Island filtered through the lovely flowers on The Rock!

    • So glad you enjoyed the past and present of Angel Island, Nan. I like that photo too. Those are geraniums that were planted long ago in the gardens of Alcatraz when people still lived there. Aloha to you–

  17. It is delightful joining you on your exciting visit to Angel Island. California has put nature first in many instances and this is just one of them. Of course, they do have a great diversity to work with few argue with being able to see nature as God intended.
    Thanks so very much for presenting another fine example of this Jet.

    • It’s always a treat when you visit, Eddie, thank you. Yes, we are fortunate in Calif. to have so many advocates for the environment. With so many people here, congestion and development are high concerns, and that’s why people who help create and preserve the open spaces are so vital for our future. So very glad you enjoyed the Angel Island story, my friend. I hope your weekend ahead is a pleasant one–

  18. Thank you again Jet. This is all new to me. I am embarrassed to say that I have never heard of Angel Island even though I have enjoyed times in San Francisco and around the Bay. When I visit next time (hopefully) I will definitely go and see it. Thank goodness for people like Caroline Sealy Livermore. We have a great deal to thank them for. janet

    • Since I am living temporarily near Angel Island, I’ve had a recent renewal of interest in this lovely little island. I visited last month, and am going with friends again this weekend. Hadn’t been there for 25 years, and I am so glad I’ve been able to return again. I think it’s more of a local day trip for Bay Area residents, because tourists usually prefer to go to Alcatraz Island. I am glad to have introduced you to Angel Island, Janet, thanks for your visit.

  19. Thank you very much for this, Jet. I considered going out to Angel Island during my last visit to SF but because of all the smoke I decided against it. Another “to do” for my next visit to SF. It’s good to get out of the city proper and just breathe. I did go to Muir Woods earlier in the trip before the fires which was a breathe of fresh air.

    • You’re right, Draco, you wouldn’t have had a pleasant visit on Angel Island once the fire smoke filled the air. I don’t know when you sleep, Draco, for all the places you visited in SF in that short of time. Angel Island suffered a forest fire in 2008, but fortunately it was contained within 24 hours and you can’t even tell now that it happened. I’m happy, and smiling, that you enjoyed the post, thank you.

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