San Francisco Photo Spot series: Angel Island

» Posted by on Nov 14, 2012 in Featured, location, photo spot, San Francisco

Angel Island is one of the largest islands in the San Francisco Bay. It used to be an immigration center from 1910 to 1940 and a missile base from 1950 to 1962. The immigration center was modeled after Ellis Island in New York. Angel Island is now a California State Park and the buildings of the old army bases and the immigration station (more info) can be visited.
My interest in Angel Island, beside the historical significance, is the incredible views of San Francisco.

Angel Island Map

The best way to explore the island is to use a bike. You can bring your own bike or rent one at the Ferry Pier (Ayala Cove). If you are not up for the workout, you can even go on a Segway tour (more info).

View of San Francisco from Angel Island

If you come by regular ferry from Tiburon (Angel Island Ferry), you will arrive at Ayala Cove. There is a small cafe, an information center, a bike rental shop and a ranger station.
Bikes are the quickest and cheapest way to go around the island ($1 to board your own bike on the ferry). There are only two roads you can use with your bike (Perimeter Road And Fire Road) but it’s easy to lock your bike and then walk or hike to the spot were bikes are not allowed.

We rode our bikes on Perimeter Road (going clockwise) and we locked our bikes to get to our first stop: the Immigration Station. There is a short walk down to the barracks (the Administration Building, which was the first stop for immigrants has been destroyed in a fire, but you can still see where it stood). At the bottom of the hill, next to the bell, there is a 3D map of the station as it was when it was operational.

The barracks (a.k.a the detention center) below were where the immigrants were staying while being allowed or denied US  entry. They were sometimes 600 immigrants at a time and they stayed there for 2 weeks to 6 months. On the other side of the hill, they had a hospital (now closed to public).

Barracks at the Immigration station from Angel Island

Bell from Angel Island’s immigration station

We continued our trip turning to the eastern side of the Island. The road is easy to ride on, and extremely scenic. There are plenty of pictures to be made of Treasure Island or the Bay Bridge from that side of the Island. If it’s a nice day, you should see a lot of sailboats out.

We reached the Visitor Center at Fort McDowell and I spent a fair amount of time in the old buildings. Most of them are not open to the public (they have removed the stairs so you cannot go upstairs easily), but some still have the downstairs open. The buildings of the two army bases are quite nice and there are tons of photographic options. The light indoors was superb and I shoot doors and hallways.

Fort Mc Dowell (East Garrison) on Angel Island

Fort Mc Dowell (East Garrison) on Angel Island

There is a beautiful beach with views of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco and a picnic area South of the Visitor Center. We went down to the beach and then carried our bikes up the stairs to get back on Perimeter Road.

After the McDowell base, the road turns (and climb a little too) and reaches the south side of the Island. There you will find the best view of San Francisco, Alcatraz (right in front of you), and the Bay Bridge. The view is stunning but you will need a fairly long lens to get the most of it. Behind you, you can see the landmark for the NIKE missile launch site. The site closed when the missiles were made obsolete by the ICBMs. There is a picture showing the missiles and San Francisco in the the background. Pretty scary….

We continued our journey on Perimeter Road that turns inland and reaches the intersection to Ida trail. From there, you can lock your bike and hike to Mt. Livermore Peak. Perimeter Road continues and oversees the nicest beaches of the Island. Once you pass Battery Ledyard, the Golden Gate Bridge is fully visible.

Golden Gate Bridge from Angel Island

We managed to proceed to Camp Reynolds in late afternoon and the view was really nice. I think a sunrise there would be amazing.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Angel Island (Camp Reynolds)

Bird and Golden Gate Bridge @Yasmina Chitti

Bird and Golden Gate Bridge @Yasmina Chitti

Finally, it was time for us to rush back to catch the last ferry back to Tiburon.

Tiburon harbor (corinthian harbor)

I’m already planning an overnight trip (there are a few campgrounds on the island). The location is perfect for a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge or even San Francisco at sunrise.