Starting the new year on Angel Island

We’ve been meaning to get over to Angel Island for months and on January 1st we finally made it … barely. We were aiming for the 9:45 am ferry from Pier 41, San Francisco and planning to pick up some sandwiches for a picnic lunch along the way. There is a cafe on the island but it’s closed in the off-season. Be sure to check the website ahead of time so you don’t get stuck without food and water. Pro-tip: there is a little counter on the ferry that sells drinks and snacks but it’s cash only so you’ll still need to plan ahead, I rarely have cash on me – trying to be better at always having some handy. Long story short, we ran out of time and ended up with a CVS lunch of granola bars, cheese sticks and Hot Cheetos (delish!). Boy was it worth it though. I’m madly in love with this spot and will be back for sure.

The visit is worth it for the ferry ride alone. Lasting about 25 minutes it has incredible views of Marin County, both bridges, the city, Alcatraz and of course Angel Island itself. There is indoor and outdoor seating and room for bicycles. It would be fun to go back with bikes and ride around the Perimeter Road. You can’t take them on some of the hiking trails but there are bike racks around so you could easily lock them up for a little while if you also wanted to explore on foot. In peak season there’s a bike rental place on the island but it wasn’t open when we went.

When you disembark the ferry there is a visitor area with maps and info for hikers and bikers (and washrooms, thankfully). We opted for the North Ridge Trail which is on the left when you disembark the ferry. It starts a little steep and with some stairs but, while it’s mostly uphill to Mt. Livermore, the trail is very manageable and we saw a number of kids doing it with no problem. I love that there are picnic tables and benches dotted around near the top of the trail. Lots of room for people to stop and take it all in.


After lunch we headed to Battery Drew. I just can’t get enough of exploring these old military buildings we keep coming across since we moved to San Francisco. We had the place to ourselves so took our time checking out all the rooms and the amazing views.




Next we headed to Fort McDowell. There is so much history on this island. It’s been used over the years as a cattle ranch, fort, missile station, quarantine station and immigration processing facility. You can almost imagine what it must have been like when these buildings were bustling with activity.


Wandering through the old infirmary we could still smell the smoke of hundreds of fires as we passed the ruins of the fireplace.


There’s a path that’s easy to miss beside the barracks that leads down to Quarry Beach. Definitely worth a quick detour to take in the ocean and yes, more incredible views. Again, we had the place to ourselves although there was evidence of some raccoon recent activity. No doubt they were spying on us from the bushes waiting to get their little piece of paradise back.



Passing by the immigration museum on our way back to the dock we saw by far the most people we’d seen all day on the island. It was closed but we were out of energy by that point anyway so it’s on the list for next time. I imagine that for many visitors this would be the highlight of the trip. It’s a short walk from the ferry (if you go the opposite direction than we did when we started our hike) and during peak season there’s a tram to shuttle folks back and forth that can’t manage the hill.

We got back to the dock with a bit of time to kill before our 3:45 pm ferry back to the city so we checked out if the fishermen and crabbers were having any luck (they weren’t) and then settled in on a bench to soak up the last of the sun before it disappeared behind the hills. What a perfect way to start a new year.


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