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Exploring Angel Island with Kids

One of San Francisco Bay's most prominent landmarks, historic Angel Island is one of the Bay Area's favorite spots for hikers, tourists, history buffs, and anyone who just wants to get away from the busy life on the mainland. It's a great place for a family day trip, with plenty of opportunities to picnic, hike, ride a bike, visit historic sites, and just take in the surrounding natural beauty — plus there's a fun boat ride involved, too!

Angel Island is just a short boat ride away from the mainland via the Angel Island–Tiburon Ferry. The ferry ride is quick and efficient, and it's half the fun of the trip. After the short 12-minute trip, you disembark at Ayala Cove and get ready to explore the island.

At various times Angel Island has been home to Civil War army post; a processing facility for troops in World Wars I and II; an immigration station known as the "Ellis Island of the West;" a World War II prisoner-of-war camp housing German, Japanese, and Italian soldiers; and a Cold-War-era Nike missile base. Currently, it's maintained by the California State Park system and is entirely devoted to recreation.

Ayala Cove Angel Island

When we visit, we like to eat lunch at the Ayala Cove picnic area and check out the nearby visitor center. After that, it's time to explore! Families can bike or hike the miles of trails and fire roads that circle and cross the island, and visit historic sites like Civil War-era Camp Reynolds and the historic US Immigration Station, which processed countless immigrants, mostly from China, between 1910 and 1940.

Camping is a popular activity on Angel Island, too, and it's considered one of the Bay Area's premier camping spots, offering both group campgrounds and individual tent sites. You can reserve a hike-in tent site online at

One of the highlights of a weekend visit to Angel Island is the afternoon cannon firing at Camp Reynolds. Rangers show how to prepare, load, and fire a 19th-century muzzle loading cannon, and are happy to answer questions and let visitors take a closer look — after the firing, of course. Cannon firing demonstrations usually take place at Camp Reynolds; days and times vary but it depends on availability of park staff. Other tours and living history events take place throughout the year; check the Angel Island website for details.

If you'd rather pedal than hike, then bring your bikes on board the ferry and explore the island on two wheels. If you don't bring your bikes, don't worry: you can rent them on the island on a first-come, first-served basis. Electric bikes are available, too. Rates are $16 per hour or $64 for the day for a mountain bike and $26 per hour or $99 per day for an electric bike. Rentals are available daily from 10 am to 3 pm during the summer and on varying days during the off season. 

If hiking or biking aren't part of your plan, you can take a tram tour ($18 adults, $17 seniors 65+, $12 kids 5–12; free for children on laps). Open-air trams include an informative narration about Angel Island and stop at key sights, like Battery Ledyard (a great spot for Golden Gate views and a photo op!) and the immigration station. It's perfect for first-time visitors to the island, families with young kids, or anyone who wants to relax and take in the sights. Tram tours take place from 10 am to 3 pm daily during the summer; other times of the year service is on weekends and select weekdays only. Buying your tickets online in advance is highly recommended, although walk-up tickets can be purchased depending on availability.

Electric bike rental on Angel Island

For more information on Angel Island State Park, including an event calendar, maps, and brochures, visit the State Park Service's official website, the website of the nonprofit Angel Island Association, or for tram tour reservations and information about park concessions.

Picnic area and Angel Island visitor center

If You Go

Angel Island is open 8 am to sunset year-round. Park admission is included with your ferry ticket. Weekday ferry service can vary depending on the time of year, so check the schedules before you decide to go. Note that missing the last ferry is not recommended and you'll have to arrange private transport off the island which can be expensive.

To get to Angel Island from Marin, take the Angel Island–Tiburon Ferry, which departs from the waterfront in downtown Tiburon. Advance tickets are recommended; order yours online. Round-trip ferry fares from Tiburon are $18 for adults 13 and over, $16 for seniors 65+, $15 for children 6–12, $6 for small children 3–6, and free for toddlers 2 and under. Bicycles will cost you an extra $1 each. Paid parking is available in lots throughout Tiburon. For complete schedule, visit

From San Francisco, Angel Island is served by the Golden Gate Ferry, which departs for the island seven days a week from the San Francisco Ferry Terminal on the Embarcadero. One-way fares from San Francisco cost $15.50 for adults ages 19–64; $8 for youth 5–18, seniors 65+, and disabled, and free for children 4 and under. Adults fare with a Clipper Card is $9.25. Return tickets to San Francisco cannot be purchased on Angel Island.

Ayala Cove has a large picnic area with charcoal grills available on a first-come, first-served basis. Charcoal is not available for purchase on the island so make sure you bring some with you. Additional picnic tables can be found at other locations throughout the island. The Angel Island Café offers food and drink, including soups, salads, ice cream, coffee, sandwiches, burgers, street tacos, Hog Island oysters, beer, and wine. Cafe hours are 10 am–3 pm and open days depend on the season (daily during the summer with a reduced schedule at other times).

No skates, skateboards, or scooters are allowed on Angel Island. Dogs, with the exception of service animals, are not allowed. Drinking water and restrooms are available, as are food and drink at the Angel Island Café and Angel Island Cantina. Bring hats and sunscreen, since much of the island is unshaded, and dress in layers since weather can change at a moment's notice. Most of the fire roads on the island are perfect for walking with a sturdy stroller.