Visitors to San Francisco are probably aware of one famous (infamous) island in San Francisco Bay (Alcatraz), but there are many islands here, ranging from tiny rocks, to Alcatraz, to Angel Island. When you study ESL abroad at EC San Francisco
you probably will want to visit Alcatraz, but you should equally strongly consider Angel Island.
Alcatraz is famous as being “The Rock,” the only “inescapable” Federal prison. Well situated as it is, and historically interesting as it may be, Angel Island tops it in three ways – location, history, and variety of activities. Let me put it this way. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for over 50 years. I’ve never been to Alcatraz. I’ve been to Angel Island at least 10 times.
Historically, Angel Island is the Ellis Island of the West. Although far fewer people came through Angel Island, if you were from Asia coming to the west coast of the U.S., you had to stay on Angel Island. At one time thousands of Chinese lived in barracks on the East side of the island, some of them for months. They left behind poetry written on the walls. For lovers of history, these barracks have been carefully restored, the poetry translated, opening a window into the Asian immigrant experience.
For me, the best part of the island is the view. You can walk all the way around the island in a couple of hours (or rent a bike, and go faster), and the views are amazing. From the landing at Ayala Cove, climb the steep slope to the circular road that takes you around the island. Take a look across the bay to Tiburon, then turn right, and start walking. As you progress, you will get fantastic views of Sausalito, then the Golden Gate Bridge, and then San Francisco. Continuing on, the Bay Bridge, Oakland and Berkeley, and then Richmond and its bridge, returning finally to Ayala Cove. There are many places to stop and nibble the snacks you brought, or eat a picnic lunch, or you can use one of the tables on the grass at Ayala Cove, or visit the snack bar.
Angel Island is a fairly quick ferry ride from San Francisco’s Ferry Building, and makes a great day trip (but make sure it’s a sunny day).