Picnics are one of life’s many simple pleasures, but don’t confuse simple with boring. A picnic can be its own great adventure, especially when you have the opportunity to have one at a naturally, culturally and historically rich destination like Angel Island.
Just inside the Golden Gate, amid sparkling waters and facing the California coastline, sits the San Francisco Bay’s largest natural island. It’s an everyman’s island getaway, an ideal spot for a Bay Area mini-vacation that won’t set you back an entire paycheck or even more than a day. Angel-goers can stroll the island’s ring road, take a hike through the wilderness or just sit and relax on one of the island’s many beaches or picnic areas, all the while enjoying breathtaking 360-degree views of the Bay.
While the island has hosted visitors for relaxing day trips and sightseeing excursions since it gained official California State Park status in 1963, there were many who came long before the tourists you see roaming the grounds today. Some of the island’s oldest settlers, the Coastal Miwok people, reached its shores about 3,000 years ago, using the ecologically vibrant environment as a hunting, fishing and camping site for the tribe.
Flash forward a few millennia, and humankind found new purposes for the land. In 1863, the island became home to Fort Reynolds, a Civil War army base. In the late 1890s, the island saw the rise of a crop of gun batteries as well as the Fort McDowell quarantine station for sick troops. And from 1910 to 1940, the island acted as a U.S. immigration station, earning it the unofficial title of the “Ellis Island of the West.” These historic sites are all still standing, and island visitors are welcome to wander and explore their remains — and tour the Immigration Station and Barracks museums, too — while making their rounds around the island.
However, if you just want to find a nice spot for a quiet island repast, there are picnic-perfect grassy areas and picnic tables outside the Immigration Station and Fort Reynolds as well as grass patches and benches near the visitors center and ferry dock.
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The picnic: The Angel Island Company has a small cafe on the island itself — think wraps, grab-and-go sandwiches — near the ferry dock at Ayala Cove. Or you can get food to go before you embark. If you’re leaving from Tiburon, grab takeout from the historic Sam’s Anchor Cafe — crab cakes, perhaps, or a portobello sandwich. If you’re leaving from San Francisco, grab some bites beforehand from one of the Ferry Building Marketplace’s many eateries, from bagel-centric Daily Driver to El Porteno Empanadas.
The details: The Golden Gate Ferry offers daily service ($14-$28 roundtrip) from the San Francisco Ferry Terminal to Angel Island; goldengate.org/ferry/angel-island-ferry/. Angel Island Tiburon Ferry schedules ($6-$17.40) vary; find details at angelislandferry.com/schedule/.