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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Graham

Angel Island: San Francisco's Remote Photo & Hiking Paradise

Just 6.2 miles from the Ferry Building in San Francisco is another world, far from crime, thefts, murder, traffic, congestion, homeless issues and all the other ills of urban life in the city.

Try a tiny island that can be explored in a 5.5 mile loop on foot or bike, with just 12 full people residents, the folks who work on the island.

I recently brought the PhotowalksTV cameras to Angel Island to explore with my iPhone 14 Pro, and fell in love.

There is one restaurant and a bike rental shop, no hotels or any other businesses. (You can't stay overnight on a bed, but you can camp. There are 11 campgrounds on the island.)

You can only get to Angel by boat--and most folks take the ferry from San Francisco or nearby Tiburon to visit.

Angel is the biggest island in the San Francisco Bay, but as most folks know, it's not the only one in town. There's another, way more famous island just down the way, the former prison called Alcatraz, which attracts 1.5 million visitors yearly.

There are no tourism stats cited online on Angel--but know that it's way, way less than Alcatraz.

Angel doesn't get the massive tourist love, despite offering "some of the best views of the surrounding Bay Area," notes the tourism bureau. "With great hiking trails and many other recreational opportunities readily available, Angel Island is truly a hidden gem in the midst of the urban Bay Area."

We agree. Little crowds like on Alcatraz. Check. Like to get lost? Check. An open canvas for great photography and exploring.

Angel Island is her name.

And a practical note: San Francisco has suffered from a crime wave that has targeted photographers in recent times. Thieves steal expensive cameras and drive away in their get away cars. But on Angel Island, there are NO CARS! You can run, but you can't hide. Another great plus for visiting.

There are those great views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the island on a clear day, or, if you climb up high, you can get a glimpse of Sonoma and Napa counties from the north, or as far as San Jose on the south side. Those great old buildings. (See photos above and below, or check out our online gallery of Angel Island here.)

Angel Island's history goes back to native times, and then during the Civil War, California was concerned that confederates would make it all the way to California and start attacking, so a battle station was created on the island.

In 1910 Angel became an Immigration station, initially where Chinese immigrants were processed, and often held for quite some time. Then, during World War II, where Japanese and German POWs were detained before being sent elsewhere.

The island transitioned in 1954 to a California State Park, when it began welcoming visitors.

A museum on the island offers an exhibit on what was known as the "Ellis Island of the West."

If you're lazy, you can pay $20 and get a tram ride, guided tour of the island, or you can walk it, which is highly recommended. Go up the hill to get those killer views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. (Or you could cheat, like I did. I took the tour, more to get driving shots for the my video than because I didn't have the energy to walk. But when we got to the top, I told the operator I wanted to get off, and walk back on foot. The best of both worlds.)

The ferry ride from San Francisco takes about an hour; while the boat from Tiburon is much shorter, about ten minutes. For transit info, go to

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