Angel Island State Park

Story and photo by Jill Hedgecock

Angel Island, a California State Park and the largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay, is a hidden gem for Bay Area tourists. Not only is it one of the most historically significant features of the bay, but on clear days, its scenic views are unparalleled. 

The rich history of the island began with the indigenous Coast Miwoks, who used its 740 acres as fishing and hunting grounds. By the time Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala came across the island in 1775, significant change would be afoot. The island was to become an important military asset spanning nearly 100 years. During the Civil War, Camp Reynolds was established on Angel Island’s western shore to defend the San Francisco Bay against Confederate invasion. Today, Camp Reynolds houses the oldest standing group of Civil War buildings in the country. 

The U.S. Immigration Station and designated fog bell located on the northern shore, one of 146 designated California National Historic Landmarks, shouldn’t be missed. The Angel Island Immigration Museum (open only on weekends with free admission) is compelling, but the detention barracks (well worth the $5 fee) is the star attraction. The tough conditions endured by Asian immigrants are memorialized through poems carved into the barrack’s walls during its 30 years of operation.  

In addition to the historical features of the island, recreational opportunities include picnicking, bicycling, hiking and wildlife viewing. Overnight camping is an option for those who want to get a little closer to the island. 

Limitations exist on the ferry services from either San Francisco or Tiburon, so plan ahead.