San Francisco offers a sure cure for the summertime blues, but why fight crowds at Fisherman's Wharf when Angel Island floats like a serene green dollop on the horizon?
The 740-acre islet in San Francisco Bay isn't on the first-timer tourist circuit, making it all the more appealing to those in the know. Pack up your bicycle or your walking shoes, make a picnic lunch and leave Sacramento early to catch the 10 a.m. ferry from the Marin County town of Tiburon. Ten minutes after boarding the ferry, you'll be in another world.
There's much to explore as you bike or hike a scenic circuit around the island's five-mile paved perimeter road or 3 1/2-mile dirt fire road. Angel Island, now a state park, was occupied by the U.S. military from 1863 until after World War II, and many abandoned installations remain to delight photographers. Driftwood-strewn beaches offer postcard views of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge. On a clear day, five bridges -- the Golden Gate, Bay, Richmond-San Rafael, San Mateo and Dumbarton -- are visible from the 788-foot summit of Mount Livermore, the island's highest point. Foggy days? Bring a sweatshirt and focus on what's close at hand.
Angel Island's main visitor attraction, the immigration station at China Cove where thousands of Asian immigrants were detained for processing between 1910 and 1940, is closed for renovation until early next year. But other family-centered opportunities abound, from narrated tram and bicycle tours to docent-led programs at historic sites including Ayala Cove, Camp Reynolds, a defunct Nike missile site and Fort McDowell.
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Additional tours explore the island's plants and flowers.
Some tips for travelers planning to make a day of it: Dress in layers, allow plenty of time for parking, and save money by bringing your own bike rather than renting one on the island. Dogs, inline skates and skateboards are not allowed.
WHERE: In San Francisco Bay just south of Tiburon
GETTING THERE: The most straight- forward way is by ferry from downtown Tiburon in Marin County. Four departures are offered daily; the first boat leaves at 10 a.m.
COST: The round-trip fare for the 10-minute ride is $10.25 general, $8 for children ages 5 to 11, free for younger kids, $1 for bicycles. Prices include state park admission. Parking is available at several pay lots near the ferry terminal. Information: www.angelislandferry.com or (415) 435-2131.
ALTERNATE ROUTE: Angel Island also can be reached from San Francisco via Blue & Gold Fleet ferries departing Pier 41 at Fisherman's Wharf.
COST: $14.50 general. Buy an "Island Hop" ticket ($43.50) for a combined tour of Angel Island and Alcatraz, tram and audio tours included. Advance reservations are recommended in summer. Information: www.blueandgoldfleet.com or (415) 705-5555.
Weekend-only service from Oakland/ Alameda is available on the Alameda/ Oakland Ferry ($13.50). Passengers must transfer at Fisherman's Wharf on the way to the island; return service is nonstop. Information: www.eastbayferry.com or (510) 749-5972.
MORE INFORMATION: The nonprofit Angel Island Association organizes volunteer-led tours and special events; www.angelisland.org or (415) 435-3972.
General information for visitors is available at the California State Parks site, www.parks.ca.gov, and at www.angelisland.com, a commercial site with the lowdown on tram tours, bike rentals, food service, etc.
-- Janet Fullwood