Day Trip: Things to Do on Angel Island

Southeast side of Angel Island

Angel Island is often considered the “less famous” Alcatraz, but this simply means that it’s less crowded and less expensive than its Bay Island counterpart. It’s also the “one-stop-shop” of day trip getaways. Historical tours, hiking, biking, and a cute café by the water… This island’s got it all, and it’s easy to do most of it in a single day.

I took the 9:45 a.m. ferry one recent morning and hit it all in time to catch the 3 p.m. ferry back to the city. My first stop—after a quick chat with the oh-so-knowledgeable park rangers at the visitor center—was the Immigration Station. (Tip: Skip the over-touristed tram tour in favor of a breezy 20-minute walk.) Often called the “Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island was the West Coast holding place for immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship. Although many of the original buildings were destroyed in a 1940 fire, they were replaced with informative monuments that detail, among other things, the Chinese immigrant experience (due to strict Chinese immigration laws, some Chinese were kept on the island for years). The park rangers also offer informative, one-hour tours of the station and barracks.

After my trip back in time, I decided to head out on a more “natural” journey, up North Ridge Trail. The trail is well marked, chock-full of stunning vistas, and moderately easy—it took about an hour to reach the top of Mt. Livermore. At the summit, my hiking buddy and I settled into a picnic table to enjoy 360-degree views of the San Francisco Bay, our endorphins heightened from the hike. The bonus: This gem of Angel Island is far less frequented than some of the other attractions, so you can enjoy the views in peace. (In the hour we spent on the summit, we only met three other groups of hikers.)

After a scenic 45-minute climb down the other side of the mountain, on Fire Road Trail, we had time for a quick lemonade at the waterfront Cove Café. This joint is right on the water and serves up large portions of sandwiches, salads and Hog Island Oysters for a reasonable price. I even heard that they have live music from local bands on the weekends. Then, sunburnt but at peace, we boarded the ferry and were back in the city in less than an hour.

A note for cyclists: There is a bike trail around the island, and you can either bring along your own bike or rent one once there at Angel Island Company Rentals. Rentals cost $10 per hour or $35 for the day. It is also possible to camp overnight on Angel Island at one of their 11 campsites.

Photo: Studio Phototrope and author

Take the Blue and Gold Fleet Ferry from Pier 41. The journey takes about 30 minutes and ferries depart at at 9:45 a.m. and 12:20 p.m. daily. An extra weekend ferry departs at 2:00 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $16 round-trip and can be purchased online or at Pier 41. For more information, visit