The largest of the islands that dot San Francisco Bay, Angel Island has an especially strong appeal for the camping and backpacking set. No surprise why: Just a short ferry ride from downtown (or a kayak ride from Sausalito), this rocky island and state park beckons with an intriguing paradox: the feeling of being in solitude, yet smack in the middle of the bay, surrounded by San Francisco, the East Bay, and the Marin headlands. The drawback? It’s so popular, you’ll have to snag reservations for its nine camping spots about six months in advance.
What Makes It Great
Though some of the campsites seem a tad close together, and you’ll likely run into other hikers on the island’s Perimeter Road (there’s even a Segway rental spot), 13 miles of hiking and biking trails make it possible to find some solitude. Be sure to venture to the peak of 788-foot Mount Livermore—but the good news is that, from your campsite, you’re already about halfway to the top.
Plus, the small island packs in a surprisingly large amount of fascinating history, much of which is still reflected in several time-worn buildings. Before becoming a state park in 1958, Angel Island served as a resting spot for Spanish explorer Juan de Ayala, a cattle ranch a U.S. Army post, and the site of immigrant processing from 1910 to 1940. It was also a holding spot for Japanese and German POWs during World War II and a stopover spot from American soldiers returning from the Pacific. In the 1950s and 60s, it housed a Nike missile base. The island’s historical significance still continues today, with two active Coast Guard stations, at Point Blunt and Point Stuart, and remnants like WWII-era Fort McDowell, with its abandoned, stripped-out barracks.
Keep in mind that Sites 4, 5, and 6 have unforgettable views of the Golden Gate Bridge, but whipping winds that just might snap your tent up, so stake it accordingly. Sites 7, 8, and 9, on the east side, offer views of the East Bay and more protection from the wind. Sites share a common open space, an outhouse, and are equipped with barbeque pits and picnic tables—sadly, no fire pits.
Who is Going to Love It
Urban adventurers looking to escape the grind of the city without having to drive for an hour (or three, depending on traffic), as well as families with kids, will love the easy accessibility of Angel Island. Coming in on a kayak? The Reynolds campsite is the one for you, with space for up to 20 people.