Angel Island State Park is a natural island located in California's San Francisco Bay. It covers 1.2 square miles (3.1 kilometers). The island is in the northern part of the bay, and is almost entirely in Marin county. Angel Island has had a varied and colorful history, and is accessible by ferries from Vallejo, Tiburon, and San Francisco, as well as by private boat. During the summer, many tours of the island are available, and visitors can also wander most of the island at will, although access is restricted after dark, as it is in most California State Parks.
The human history of Angel Island started with settlement by the Miwok Indians, who were displaced by Spanish explorers. The Spanish used Angel Island as a base of operations for exploring the bay and surrounding regions, and when California became a state, the Americans did likewise. In 1863, the United States army established Camp Reynolds on the Western side of Angel Island, beginning a long settlement by the United States military.
In 1891, part of Angel Island was designated for use as a quarantine station, to prevent infectious diseases from entering California. The first ship to be quarantined at Angel Island was a steamship, China, which had smallpox on board. Quarantined ships could dock in the harbor until they were cleaned and determined to be safe, and quarantined individuals were sheltered on land. In 1898, with the Spanish American War, another section of the island was set aside as a detention center for prisoners of war and other questionable individuals, and it continued to be used for this purpose until after the Second World War.
In 1910, the more sordid part of Angel Island's history began. From 1910 until 1940, part of Angel Island was used as an immigration processing center, almost exclusively with the intent of keeping Chinese immigrants out. Although Angel Island was called the “Ellis Island of the West,” there was a heavy focus on preventing Asian immigration to California, rather than merely processing newcomers to the United States. Chinese in California were already limited by the Asian Exclusion Act and other measures designed to make it impossible for them to own property or businesses. These laws were not struck down in entirety until the 1940s.
Angel Island has been continuously occupied by the United States military since Camp Reynolds was established. Another army installation, Fort McDowell, was built on the eastern part of the island. When the military took over entirely during the Second World War, all of Angel Island was known as Fort McDowell, and it was a major staging center, along with Bay Area bases such as Treasure Island, Alameda, Mare Island, Hamilton Shipyard, and others. Most of the island has been given over to the Parks Department, but the United States Coast Guard continues to maintain a small presence on the island.