Guide to Visiting Angel Island in San Francisco Bay

Angel Island, San Francisco

TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

Angel Island is the San Francisco Bay's "other" island. In fact, it's one of several islands in the bay beside the one with the famous prison on it. 

Today, you can go hiking on the island, tour its old military posts, visit the Immigration Station and get some of the best views of San Francisco you'll find anywhere. Here's what you can see and how to see it.

Camp Reynolds on Angel Island
Angel Island Conservancy

Top Sights

Highlights of Angel Island sights, in order going counterclockwise from the Visitor Center, are as follows:

Built by the U. S. Army in 1863, Camp Reynolds is the oldest permanent settlement on Angel Island, and today it's one of the best-preserved groups of Civil War military buildings in the country.

Almost a century later, an underground Nike Missile silo was built on the southeast corner and used until 1962.

In the early twentieth Century, Fort McDowell, also called East Garrison, replaced Fort Reynolds. This facility was used to process and stage troops for the Spanish-American War, World War I and II. After World War II ended, the Army closed the camp and declared Angel Island surplus property. It lay unused until the Cold War.

Perhaps the most famous chapter in Angel Island's history was its life as Immigration Station from 1910 to 1940. During that time, a million new immigrants were processed before beginning their lives in America. Because of exclusionist policies, many Chinese immigrants were detained on Angel Island for extended periods of time while officials checked and re-checked their paperwork. Out of frustration, many of them carved poems into the barracks walls, which are still visible today.

Guided tours of most of these locations are offered on weekends and holidays.

illustration of all the available activities on the island
TripSavvy / Tim Liedtke 

Things to Do

  • Take a tram tour: If you want to see it all but don't want to hike, the best way to get around Angel Island is on the tram tours that leave from the cafe several times daily. Pick up your tickets inside. On this hour-long tour, you'll visit Camp Reynolds, the Nike Missile Site, Fort McDowell, and Immigration Station. Check the tour schedule as soon as you arrive on the island and buy your tickets early, as they sometimes sell out.
  • Take a Segway tour: Riding a Segway is so much fun you may forget to listen to what your guide has to say about the island's history, but you'll enjoy it no matter what.
  • Walk the perimeter road: This 5-mile trip follows the same route as the tram tours. For a shorter stroll, take the half-hour walk to Immigration Station, take the paved road that starts near the Visitor Center (left of the ferry dock). The views from that short walk are some of the best in the San Francisco area.
  • Hike: 13 miles of foot trails and fire roads give plenty of places to go. It takes about 2.5 hours to make the moderate hike to the top of 781-foot-tall Mount Livermore.
  • Rent a bicycle or a kayak: Rent a mountain bike and pedal around the island.
  • Have a picnic: Pick up something from the Cove Cafe, or you can bring charcoal and have a barbecue.
  • Camping: With such a beautiful location, Angel Island is a popular place for camping, but they only have nine sites, and they fill up fast.
Angel Island, San Francisco
TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

Tips for Visiting

  • Leave Bowser at home. Dogs are not allowed on Angel Island.
  • The kids may just have to walk here. Roller skates, roller blades, and skateboards are prohibited, but you can bring a stroller for the little ones.
  • Avoid the cafe during the first few minutes after a ferry arrives, when the lines can get long. Ten minutes later, your wait will be much shorter.
  • Keep track of the time. If you're stuck on Angel Island after the last ferry leaves, you may have to pay a hefty fine to get off. Not to mention how much you'll be panicking until you're rescued.
Angel Island, San Francisco
TripSavvy / Melissa Zink 

The Basics

The state park on Angel Island is open daily. The cafe and bike rentals are open and tram tours run daily from April through October. Daily tour schedule varies the rest of the year.

Reservations are not required, but advance ferry tickets are a good idea on weekends and in summer. 

A day-use fee for the park included in all ferry tickets. The annual state park day-use pass doesn't work here

The best time to go is spring through fall when the tours are running, and the cafe is open. Go on a clear day for the best views of San Francisco.

Angel Island, San Francisco
TripSavvy / Melissa Zink


Angel Island is located on the north side of San Francisco Bay, north of Alcatraz. The only way to get there is by boat.

Ferry services to Angel Island include Tiburon Ferry, Blue & Gold Ferry, and the East Bay Ferry. You can also get to Angel Island in a private boat if you have one. The ferry ride from San Francisco takes a little less than half an hour, and it costs about the same as an evening movie ticket.