A Day on Angel Island

by Katie Cook

Angel Island is a heavily wooded island that is trapped back in time. It is a 30 minute ferry ride from San Francisco, but it feels like another world. The lush vegetation and the salty sea air are slowly reclaiming the old, dilapidated buildings making this island an explorer’s paradise.

This former hospital is just one of the abandoned buildings open for exploration.

We originally went to Angel Island to ride bicycles in a peaceful setting away from cars and crowded roads, but we discovered so much more. We caught the 11:20am ferry from the Ferry Building and debarked onto our island paradise around noon. We stopped at the Cove Café to rent our bikes and to pick-up a map of the island. (Bike rental was $10 an hour or $35 for the day.) There are nine miles of smooth, paved road available to bicycles in addition to some dirt trails for those who want to do a bit of mountain biking. We decided to survey the island by riding the Perimeter Road loop.  The loop is 8 miles of gradual rolling hills with one or two short, steep climbs.

We ditched the bikes several times along the way to check out the views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate, and explore several abandoned buildings. Up until 1962 Angel Island operated as an active military base. The island is currently uninhabited except for overnight campers and some park staff who live on the island.

Many small architectural details can still be found in the old hospital.

We did the majority of our exploring on the East side of the island. Fort McDowell has several abandoned buildings, including the shell of a former military hospital. The military hospital is a windowless, cavernous building with crumbling staircases and smooth limestone floors. It no longer has electricity, but it has retained the small architectural details like wall tiles that remind its former inhabitants to “turn off the lights.” Behind the hospital are several other abandoned wood buildings that haven’t fared as well as the hospital.

Before boarding the ferry and heading back to civilization stop by the café to enjoy some ceviche, beers, and live music on the café’s sunny patio. On a clear day the café’s patio offers great views of the bay and Sausalito: the perfect ending to a day of exploration.

Getting there from San Francisco:

Board the Blue and Gold ferry from either the Ferry Building or Pier 41. Grab a Bloody Mary from the ferry bar and sit back and relax for the 30 minute ferry ride. Ferry schedules vary by season so check out the times before you leave.

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