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Angel Island

by Cyndy Ainsworth

The largest island in San Francisco Bay, Angel Island was used as a military installation, a prisoner of war camp, a quarantine station and an immigration center before becoming a state park in 1962. When you visit the island today, you can explore the history of the island or simply enjoy the hiking, biking and camping opportunities.

Access to the Island is by ferry from Fisherman's Wharf, Tiburon, Oakland, and Vallejo; all lines are seasonal. All ferries debark at Ayala Cove, named for Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala, the first European to sail through the Golden Gate. Ayala's boat anchored in this bay in 1775 while his crew completed the first detailed mapping of San Francisco Bay. We can thank Ayala for naming Angel Island (Isla do los Angeles), Sausalito (Saucelito or "little thicket of willows"), and Alcatraz (Isla de los Alcatraces or "island of pelicans").

At the visitor's center at Ayala Cove you can watch a 20 minute video on the island and its history and pick up a map. In the last year new services, such as mountain bike rentals, kayak tours and a motorized tram tour, have been added in an effort to increase the number of visitors to the island. The park service would like to provide more facilities, but only if they can be added without compromising the natural and historic integrity of the park.

Two of the most interesting historical sites on the island are Camp Reynolds on the western shore and Immigration Station on the northern shore. Between 1860 and 1890 Camp Reynolds was used as a Civil War outpost and as a prison for Native Americans. During the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II it was also used as an embarkation point for troops fighting in the Pacific. The officers' quarters at the top of the meadow date from the 1860s and are among the finest examples of wooden Civil War building in the country. Right by the water you can visit the restored quartermaster's building, where goods shipped to the island were first unloaded and sorted before being moved to other locations on the island. If you're around Camp Reynolds in the early afternoon, you may hear the sound of cannon fire; on spring, summer and fall weekends docents fire a cannon at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

In 1910 the United States government opened Immigration Station as a detention center for immigrants awaiting entry papers and the results of medical examinations. Most of the Chinese immigrants processed on Angel Island were subjected to long delays and detailed interrogation as the Bureau of Immigration tried to verify their claims to citizenship, and the cramped facilities and uncomfortable conditions made Angel Island a dreaded destination for new arrivals. Over 175,000 immigrants passed through the facility between 1910 and 1940, when a fire destroyed the administration building and the detention center was closed.

The barracks were scheduled to be razed until in 1970 a park ranger discovered Chinese ideographs on the walls. These ideographs turned out to be poems that the Chinese immigrants had written to express their anger, misery and loneliness as they waited to be processed. Because of the historical significance of the poems, the barracks are now preserved as a museum, and a visit to the barracks is a moving experience as we feel the pain of the unfortunate detainees.

Today the inhabitants of the island include black-tailed deer, raccoons, red tailed hawks, and great horned owls. The rolling hills of the island itself are covered with forest and laced with hiking trails and biking trails. Large stands of eucalyptus compete with native oak and bay laurel. There are picnic areas scattered across the island plus nine campsites for overnight stays. At Ayala Cove a large meadow with picnic tables and barbecues is popular with day trippers, and the nearby cafe serves much better food than most places that cater to a captive audience. There are also slips for private boats that want to stop on the island and anchoring buoys for boats that want to spend a night at Ayala Cove.

There are twelve miles of roads and trails for hiking and ten miles of road open to bikes. You can hike to the top of the island for a 360-degree view of the bay or follow the six-mile Perimeter Road that circles the island, stopping at Camp Reynolds, Fort McDowell and Immigration Station along the way. Mountain bikes allow you to cover more territory than you would on foot, though you need to be in pretty good shape for some of the uphill stretches; you can bring your own bike on the ferry or rent one at on the island. For the less energetic there's a motorized tram with a headset audio tour.

Angel Island Details

The park is open daily year round 8 a.m. to sunset. Some services are available on a more limited schedule as noted below.

Park information line: (415) 435-1915

Information and maps may be ordered in advance of your visit for $2 from:

The Angel Island Association
PO Box 866
Tiburon CA 94920
(415) 435-3522

Visitor's Center
Ayala Cove
Open from 11 a.m. to late afternoon daily from May to October and on weekends in March and April depending on the weather

Docents are available at some of the buildings to give tours and answer questions from May through October. The Angel Island Association can also provide guided tours at other times by special request.

Angel Island Company
Provides tram tours and bicycle rentals and operates the Cove Cafe
Services available daily from mid-March through October and on weekends from mid-February to mid-March and until mid-November
(415) 897-0715
Cove Cafe is open from 10 am to midafternoon, summers only
Mountain bike rentals: $9/hour, $25/ day, includes helmet
Tram tour with personal audio tour costs $10 adults, $9 seniors, $6 youths ages 6 to 12.

Nine environmental sites
Reservations through ParkNet: (800) 444-7275

Charcoal fires only (no wood)
Sites have pit toilets and picnic tables
You must carry your gear two miles to the campsites and carry out all trash.

Kayak Tours
Sea Trek Tours
(415) 488-1000
Full-day naturalist-led tour
Leaves when 10 a.m. ferry arrives, returns in time for 4:20 p.m. ferry
$100 per person, includes lunch
Available weekends and holidays from mid-May to October; any time for groups of six or more with advance reservations.

Angel Island Tiburon Ferry
21 Main St., Tiburon
(415) 435-2131
Summer Schedule (April through October):
Monday to Friday: leaves Tiburon 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.
leaves Ayala Cove 10:20 a.m., 11:20, a.m., 1:20 p.m., 3:30 p.m.
Weekends: leaves Tiburon hourly from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
leaves Ayala Cove hourly from 10:20 a.m. to 5:20 p.m.

Winter Schedule (November through March):
Monday to Friday: by charter only for groups of 20 or more
Weekends: leaves Tiburon hourly from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
leaves Ayala Cove hourly from 10:20 a.m. to 4:20 p.m.

Fare (includes park entrance):
$6 adults, $4 children ages 5-11, one child under 5 free per paying adult, bike $1

Blue and Gold Ferry Schedules
From San Francisco:
Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays
Effective through November 29, 1998
Leave PIER 41 -- 10:40 am
Arrive Angel Island -- 11:55 am
Leave Angel Island -- 12:00 pm
Fares (Round Trip)
Adult $10.00
Junior (12-18) $9.00
Child (5-11) $5.50

From Vallejo:
Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays
Effective through November 29, 1998
Leave Vallejo -- 9:00 am
Arrive Angel Island -- 10:10 am
Leave Angel Island -- 4:00 pm
Arrive Vallejo -- 4:55 pm

Fares (Round Trip)
Regular $13.00
Senior (65+) $9.50
Child (6-12) $9.50

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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