Angel Island is located close to Tiburon in Marin County. It was originally just a stomping ground for wildlife and the Miwok native people. When the Spanish arrived, then Mexicans, it was used as a cattle ranch, and, finally, Americans came in the1800s and turned the island into a military. However, the rise in immigration during the second half of the 19th century required a processing station to be set up, similarly to the famous one on Ellis Island in New York. At first, immigrants were housed on the San Francisco waterfront. However, among other racist measures of the times, the Chinese Exclusion Act convinced the authorities that they needed to isolate immigrants arriving from across the Pacific.
The immigration station was inaugurated on 21 January 1910 and remained as such until 1940. The incident that is associated with the closure was quite tragic. A mother was separated from her daughter during their processing. However, since there were no translators available, the mother did not understand that the separation was temporary. She probably thought that they had taken her daughter for good, and she committed suicide. Thankfully, the incident received the attention of the local residents, and the station was closed. Today Angel Island is a California State Park and Wildlife Reserve
Getting there and around
The only two plausible ways to get to the island are by boat or by swimming across. The latter, of course, is a challenge. However, piloting your own vessel or taking a ferry from either Tiburon or San Francisco can be accomplished quite easily. Visit the following websites for schedules and ticket information:
Once on the island, you can either walk/hike around or, better yet, bring your bike aboard the boat/ferry. Cycling is the best way to get around the diminutive 1.2 square mile island. And it would be best to use a mountain bike since many of the paths are not paved and can be kind of rough.
What to see
I have been on the island numerous times, both on my own and as a tour guide for friends visiting from out of town. And it is always great fun to go back, wander around, lie on a beach, and marvel at the great views. As a tour guide, you get to show off your “home” town and its surrounding areas, but on your own, it helps to refocus and detach from day-to-day tasks and the stress that comes with life in general.
Things to see and do on the island:
- Angel Island Immigration Station – the buildings are now part of a historical complex and worth visiting. Access is limited, but you can see most of the outside of the complex,
- Ayala Cove – this is the point of arrival on the island. Therefore you will see it as soon as you arrive. There are a few benches, picnic tables, and lawns on which you can relax and wait for the next ferry to take you home. Also, the only place to buy food is at this cove. Read below.
- Camping – you can pack a sleeping bag, food, tent, etc., and spend a night or two anywhere that feels right and is not prohibited by the park ranger. There are public restrooms just south of Ayala Cove.
- Eucalyptus Trees – these “controversial” trees were planted between 1863 and 1946 when the island was an army installation. Their initial purpose was to mitigate the strong winds, minimize erosion, and “beautify” the island. However, eucalyptus is nuisance vegetation, which is actually found all over California. That said, they are worth checking out getting wafted with the smell of cough drops.
- Swimming – there are sandy beaches at Ayala Cove, Perles Beach, and Quarry Point, but note that there are no lifeguards, and swimming in the Bay waters can be hazardous.
Where to eat
There is only one café, the Angel Island Café, at Ayala Cove near the ferry landing. They typically have burgers, sandwiches, snack foods, drinks, etc. You can, of course, pack in a picnic and find a place with a view where you can sit, eat, and relax for a while.