Angel Island! Isolation in view of San Francisco.

We rode the ferries with our bicycles and visited Angel Island State Park, the largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay, for a bike overnight.

When: July 1, 2015

Bicycle Adventurers: For this trip, I borrowed my nephew Ray, fourteen years old, to join my husband Mark and I.

Accomodations: Primitive campsite number six at the Ridge. Make reservations: www.reserveamerica.com.

Distance: About twenty miles.

Bonus tip for this adventure: Stay two nights if possible to have time to hike around Angel Island and see the wildlife, great views, and historic buildings. 

Day One:

With my young nephew (14 years old) arriving for a visit, I wanted to introduce him to bike touring. I knew nothing of his bike riding ability or his stamina so I looked for an easy, low traffic ride and decided on a bike overnight to Angel Island State Park in San Francisco Bay. I investigated and found I could get a reservation for one night on July 1. 

We got up early, drove to the ferry at Vallejo, and caught the 7:45 a.m. ferry all the way south across the north end of the Bay to the San Francisco Ferry Building. Then we rode our bikes a long mile to Pier 41 where we bought tickets on the blue and gold ferry to Angel Island. (And since we had a camping reservation, we got a discount on the tickets.)

The Vallejo ferry serves mostly commuters, but the interesting Angel Island ferry is all tourists. On arrival, we checked in as campers and visited the island’s visitor center for a little video. 

Time to ride! Going around the island counterclockwise, we had wonderful views of Tiburon and Belvedere Island before we saw the first deserted building. Angel Island has lots of history. It was a military post for many years and an immigration detention facility. Many of the old buildings are standing, some are occupied by staff, and some are gone with concrete structures and foundations left behind. 

The paved perimeter road has a few hills and offers wonderful views. The only traffic is pedestrians, other cyclists, and an occasional tour train. You can rent bikes and segways on the island. 

The camping is a carry-in experience, either backpacking or bicycling. We met a family hiking with backpacks and the woman said the wheels sure looked good to her! We were about a third of the way around the island when we turned up a trail to the Ridge campsites, where we put up our two tents and ate lunch.

And, oh my goodness, our view astounded us! We could see the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco skyline, the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, the new East Bay Bridge, and Alcatraz Island, all from the entrance to our campsite! Every time I looked up, I would gasp at the sight. These campsites are very generous in size and come with a pit toilet and running water. It’s primitive, but so very awesome! 

After lunch, we continued around the island. The Ridge campsites are on the west side of the island near the Wallace Battery. All that is left of the battery is this massive concrete structure with rooms, stairs, odd angles, and holes. Very interesting to explore. 

Continuing around the island, we visited the remains of Fort McDowell, the East Garrison, with its many abandoned buildings and we explored some of the buildings’ first floors. All the stairs have been ripped out and folks are discouraged/prohibited from climbing up to the second and third floors. Some buildings are still in service as residences for staff people and it would be an amazing place to live with the incredible views, no traffic, historic buildings, and solitude, since folks not camping must leave on the ferry by late afternoon. 

Back at camp we ate our simple supper of salad with beans. Ray turned in early, but Mark and I took a hike. We saw lots of deer and some with fawns. We walked around taking in the views. It was a lovely day and we had a beautiful sunset to welcome the night. I meant to stay up to watch the lights of the city and gaze at the near conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, but the bed called and I answered. It was a perfect temperature for sleeping and we had gotten up pretty early to get to the ferry. 

Day Two:

Toward morning, we could hear ships sounding to each other in the fog. We got up, ate breakfast, broke camp, and decided to ride the perimeter road again going clockwise. The fog didn’t burn off until afternoon and the quiet island felt much more like a wilderness without all the houses in view across the water. We stopped by the immigration station, but the museum hadn’t opened yet, so we just surveyed the grounds and skipped the museum for this trip. 

We went back to the campsite and gathered our things. Ray opted for the shortest way back to the ferry and we shipped out on the 1:50 p.m. ferry. What an awesome first bike overnight for Ray. He really enjoyed himself, as did Mark and I. 

On the ferry back to Pier 41, we saw a whale in the bay! We saw its back as it slid out of the water, then it sprayed out of its spout and showed us its tail. So exciting!

Back in San Francisco, we rode our bikes past Pier 39, Fishermen’s Wharf, thousands of people, and dozens of street acts. At the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, we explored a 300 foot long sailing ship, an old ferry, a steamer ship, and their other exhibits. Ray is our expert in all things sailing so he shared his knowledge with us.

We dodged people on the sidewalk all the way back to Pier 1, the ferry terminal. It was quite a different experience than Angel Island. Ray was taking it all in—so much to see and so many people to ride around. One person, looking at his phone, almost walked into Ray, but Ray averted disaster!

This was a great bike overnight and I highly recommend it. Two nights on Angel Island would have been better!

Your favorite local bike shop? Foy’s Bike Shop in Woodland, California

Bike overnight tips and tricks? Be flexible and have fun!

HOW ABOUT YOU? Inspire others by submitting your bike overnight adventure!

2 responses so far ↓

Pedal Power Touring - Aug 17, 2015 at 6:02 PM

Great post Peggy and thank you for sharing. This is great to know should we ever pass through San Fran again. The thought of camping here and looking back at the city lights sounds amazing. Thank you Ron & Petra

Marty Seidel Bond - Aug 17, 2015 at 11:34 PM

Ray keeps talking about this trip! Thanks Aunt Peggy and Uncle Mark for giving him this great experience!

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