I have lived in San Francisco for nearly 3 years and one of the things on my SF “bucket list” has been to camp out on Angel Island. It is a 1.2 square mile state park situated in the middle of the SF bay that offers 360-degree views of SF, Oakland and Marin.
Getting a Reservation
Although doing a day-trip to Angel Island is an easy way to experience most of what the island has to offer, if you want to spend the night on the island then you need to reserve one of the 11 campsites. This was actually the most difficult part of the entire adventure. Angel Island happens to be one of the most popular state parks in California and most of the campsites are fully-booked 6 months in advance. It’s more common to see a weekday night opening on the island, but I have NEVER seen an available Saturday night spot in the 3 years that I have been checking the website. For whatever reason when I checked the Reserve California website last week, I came across an open Friday night spot (Campsite #7) at the end of the week, so I insta-booked it.
Since my girlfriend and I were only planning to spend 1 night on the island we knew we could pack relatively light.
- 2 Sleeping Bags
- 2 Sleeping Pads
- Hand Sanitizer
- Lighter Fluid
- 2 Water Bottle
- Wine & Wine Opener
- Disposable Cups & Plates
- Paper Towels
- USB Battery Pack
- iPad (for Movies!)
One thing I wished I had brought was a hammer. When we arrived at the campsite and began to set up the tent we realized the ground was so hard that it was impossible to drive in the stakes with our bare hands. We ended up using large rocks to hammer in the stakes, which tore up our hands.
Getting to Angel Island
The way that most people get to Angel Island is via a ferry from SF or Tiburon. The issue that we faced was that the last ferry on the Friday of our reservation departed SF at 1:45pm and Tiburon at 3:00pm, so we needed to leave work early to catch them. We decided to take the 3:00pm ferry from Tiburon since it would allow us to be at the office a bit longer.
We drove to Tiburon and parked at the Bank of America, which is only a 5-minute walk from the dock. Overnight parking is $5/day and is good until 12pm the following day, which was perfect for us since we planned to catch the first ferry off the island the next morning.
The dock for the Angel Island ferry is clearly marked with numerous signs. Since we were taking the last ferry of the day to the island there were only a few other passengers joining us for the ride. Round-trip tickets cost $14/person and we paid prior to boarding the ferry (Cash Only). Once we boarded, we set off relatively quickly and it was short 15-minute ride to Ayala Cove.
Arriving on Angel Island State Park
Once our ferry arrived at Ayala Cove, a park ranger greeted us and directed us to the check-in booth. Another ranger there gave us a brief introduction of the island, dos and donts and gave us instructions on how to get to Campsite #7.
Campsite #7 is in the Sunrise site on the east side of the island with sweeping views of Berkeley, Oakland and the Bay Bridge. It is grouped with Campsites #8 and #9, each of which has its own picnic table, charcoal grill and food locker. The Sunrise site also has a shared outhouse and water spicket with drinkable water.
The hike from Ayala Cove to the Sunrise site took about 40 minutes and the majority of it was uphill. We traveled with only hiking backpacks, so the hike wasn’t too cumbersome, but some people make the mistake of bringing bulky gear like coolers and bikes which I don’t recommend since the trail is a mix of paved fire roads, stairs and dirt paths.
Enjoying the Evening with our Furry Friends
Once we got to Campsite #7 we set up our tent, unpacked our gear and put away all our food and scented items (toothpaste, face wash, etc) in the food locker. We were warned by the ranger that there were tons of raccoons on the island and one lone coyote, so we were extra careful to store our gear properly.
After we settled in we went on a hike to check out the sweeping views of the surrounding urban landscape from the top of the island. We lucked out and had a relatively warm SF evening with barely any fog, haze or clouds.
Once we got back to the campsite, I fired up the charcoal grill and made some hotdogs and corn while we downed a nice bottle of red wine.
After sundown we got ready to turn in for the evening. We made sure again to store all our food in the locker and I’m glad we did so. We spent a few hours watching movies in our tent on our iPad, but at one point I got up to use the bathroom. I put on my headlamp and opened up the tent to head out and I immediately saw a raccoon run around the camp ground. After getting out of the bathroom, I shined my light into the brush right next to our tent and I saw 3 or 4 sets of shiny eyes peering at me. Luckily none of the raccoons were aggressive so I just went back to the tent without any issue. The rest of the evening I would occasionally hear the sounds of raccoons rustling near us, but they never approached our tent 🙂
Packing Up and Heading Out
Campers can occupy their campsite until Noon and can stay on the island until the last ferry leaves, but we woke up the next morning and packed up our gear with the goal of catching the 10:20am ferry back to Tiburon. The hike back down to the cove was all downhill which was a relief and it took us 30 minutes. And since we were taking the first boat off the island we pretty much had the entire ferry to ourselves.
The entire experience was well worth it although it was a lot of planning and packing for only 1 night of camping. That said, having the island pretty much to ourselves was a really amazing experience and the night time views of the surrounding areas was breathtaking, so I would recommend everyone camp out on Angel Island at least one time.