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Every year on Father’s Day, my wife and daughter know exactly what I want: a family day trip to Angel Island State Park. It’s the one day of the year that I can get us all to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, catch the Tiburon ferry and take in the spectacular views of the Bay Area. Our trip involves a bike ride around the island, usually includes a half dozen other friends and always ends with a drink or dessert at the Angel Island Cantina, listening to music in the sunshine. Somehow, we always get the sunshine.  

It’s still what I want, even if it’s not what I’m get. The rest of the family has revolted, and now wants to celebrate closer to home. But Angel Island still beckons, and maybe because it holds so many great memories, it’s even more fun during the several pilgrimages I make there each year.   

Angel Island is a favorite day-trip destination for many others in the Bay Area, too. Although it’s only a few minutes from Tiburon in Marin County, its island location makes it seem far away. 

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There are lots of ways to experience Angel Island, but my favorite is to bring a bike and ride the mostly paved road that follows the perimeter. It takes about 1.5 hours to bike around the island, depending on how many stops we make. When our daughter was younger, we went slowly as she learned to navigate the road. There are no cars on the island, and only occasionally does a tourist tram or service vehicle pass by.  

Eventually, our kid started pointing out how fast she was going as we circled around. In more recent summers, our teenager and her friends wanted to stop for only one thing — to take selfies, with the San Francisco skyline or Golden Gate Bridge in the background.  

Besides cycling, there’s plenty to do, including hiking or visiting museums and other historic sites. Another option is to do almost nothing, but sit, relax and take in the view. This year, my wife and I went in April and enjoyed the purple pride of Madeira, flowering plants that were in bloom.  

Passengers take the ferry from Tiburon to Angel Island for an April day trip. San Francisco shines in the distance. (Alison Sokoloff/Bay City News)

My favorite place to relax is on the patio of the Angel Island Cantina, which is an easy walk from the island’s ferry terminal at Ayala Cove. The adjacent cafe sells prepared food and drinks, including wine and other alcoholic beverages. Visitors can gaze at the houses of Tiburon — or at the sailboats and sea lions frolicking in the island’s marina. Check at https://www.angelisland.com/ to see if music is playing at the cantina on weekend afternoons.  

Another relaxing spot is a few yards away, where visitors can set up a picnic on the tables overlooking Ayala Cove. Nearby is the two-story visitors center, which has a small museum and a replica of the island.  

The easiest way to see the island is to take a tour in an open-air tram, which also starts at Ayala Cove. But many visitors prefer to walk, bike or hike to discover the 740-acre island. The island is well-marked with directions, signs and displays explaining many of the buildings that are there.  

The Angel Island tram arrives at the 15-acre Immigration Station, which operated on the island between 1910 to 1940, during an April weekend day trip. (Alison Sokoloff/Bay City News)

Angel Island has an interesting history, and has housed an Immigration Station, a U.S. Army base and a Cold War missile site. Museums and old buildings are scattered throughout the island. A cluster of old buildings that housed military personnel during World Wars I and II are located at Fort McDowell, which faces the East Bay.  

Those visitors who want to climb to the top of the island should head for the trails for Mount Livermore, and plan for a journey of several hours up to the top, where there’s a marker and picnic benches. On a fall day when I hiked to the top, several of the benches were filled with friendly 20-somethings in Cal sweatshirts, drinking champagne. I have a feeling that’s against the rules, but they were having fun.  

Visiting Angel Island

Purple pride of Madeira flowers bloom along the Angel Island bike trail in April. Ayala Cove can be viewed in the background. (Alison Sokoloff/Bay City News)

One-hour guided tram tours of the island cost $11 for children ages 5 and up, and $17 for adults. More details are available at https://www.angelisland.com/

Ferry trips from Tiburon can be reserved and purchased in advance. Depending on the season, ferries run back and forth several times a day, on a ride that lasts 12 minutes. More information about the Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry, including its schedule, is at https://angelislandferry.com/

Ferries from San Francisco leave from the Ferry Building, and are now operated by Golden Gate Transit. Four boats a day make the 30-minute trip. Clipper apps can be used. More information on rates and schedules is available at https://www.goldengate.org/, under the tab for ferry.  

Masks are not required but recommended on its ferries. Adults pay $15, while seniors and children pay reduced fares. Toddlers under 2 ride for free. Bicycles cost $1. The same website has a map showing five parking lots in downtown Tiburon. Parking Lot B, behind the Chase Bank on Tiburon Boulevard, is a cash-only lot that charges $5 a day. Other lots, which take credit cards, may cost more. Boats run frequently in the summer. 

Bicycles are available for rent on the island by the hour ($16) or by the day ($64). E-bikes can also be rented. Be aware that the supply of rental bikes on the island is limited. Many passengers who arrive by ferry bring their own bicycles, wagons and strollers with them. Demo Sport Tiburon, at 1690 Tiburon Blvd., also rents bicycles near the Tiburon Ferry during the high season. The repairman there also fixes flats, if you discover one with only a few minutes to spare before the next ferry leaves.  

It’s easy to buy prepared foods at Ayala Cove’s Angel Island Café to enjoy anywhere on the island. Picnic supplies can also be bought in Tiburon, at such places as the Woodlands Market, a few blocks from the ferry at 1550 Tiburon Blvd.  

Ferry passengers are frequently warned to make sure to catch the last ferry of the day. But other visitors bring their camping gear and stay overnight at the island’s campsites. Reservations for campsites are available at https://reservecalifornia.com/