San Francisco is known as one of America’s loveliest tourist destinations. The bustling city offers lovely natural scenery, stunning Bay Views and a variety of interesting sites. During one of our family field trips, we visited one of the most historic and often overlooked parts of San Francisco, Angel Island. Located in the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island is actually the Bay’s biggest island and it has an impressive history to match.
Long before European settlers came to the San Francisco area, the island was used by the Coastal Miwok Indians for fishing and hunting. Later, it was used as a private cattle ranch and an army post for the U.S. Army during the Civil War. The richest part of Angel Island’s history began in 1910 when the island was transformed into an immigrant processing station. During the early 20th century, the west coast saw many Asian immigrants, particularly Chinese, who wanted to come to the country to pursue the “American dream.” Angel Island was their first stop. It was there that it was determined if they’d be allowed to stay or forced to return home. The island was used as an immigration station for 30 years and until 1940 had a somewhat sinister reputation for cruel treatment of Chinese immigrants and the frequent deportations that occurred. In 1940, a fire broke out on the island and the administration building burned down. After the fire, the government chose not to rebuild the station and shut it down.
When World War II began, the military took over Angel Island. It was no longer used to process immigrants but now served as a home for POWs. Many captured German and Japanese soldiers were held there. The island also became a launch point for soldiers going to fight in the war. Soldiers who were heading off to fight at different sites throughout the world would stop through Angel Island to be processed and would also pass through Angel Island on their way back home.
While the World War ended in 1945, the military character of Angel Island did not. The island became a Nike missile site. The island held many missiles, most of which were kept underground, except when being cleaned or fired. Eventually, in 1962, the Nike missile site on the island was abandoned. The missiles were removed and the site razed.
That same year, the island was given to the government of the State of California. The state decided to turn the entire island into a State Park with a Coast Guard station, which is how it is used today. Visitors and residents of San Francisco can reach Angel Island via ferry from San Francisco, Tiburon, and Vallejo, or they can travel by private boat. The island is teeming with outdoor recreational activities, such as 11 campsites, picnic facilities, scooter and Segway rentals, bike rentals and much more. Visitors are also encouraged to bring their own bicycles to the island via the ferry to explore.
A museum was established to celebrate the rich history of this west coast island. Visitors can tour the former U.S. Immigration station to learn about how it served as America’s entry point for many Asian Americans and get a glimpse of their experiences when they arrived there.