FIRST STOP View of the old military hospital within Camp Garrison on the western side of Angel Island also the known as the Ellis Island of the West.
FIRST STOP View of the old military hospital within Camp Garrison on the western side of Angel Island also the known as the Ellis Island of the West. Photo: Ron Erskine

Here is a bit of trivia perfect for a bar bet that will surely win you a free round: From what Bay Area mountain top do you overlook seawater no matter which direction you face?

In my footloose single days many years ago when the earth was still mostly molten lava, I lived in a little mother-in-law cottage on Belvedere Island. Through the row of windows at the front of the unit, I had a fabulous view across Raccoon Strait to Angel Island. In the center of the island, 788-feet above San Francisco Bay, the summit of Mount Livermore enjoys a setting unlike any other in the Bay Area.

While Mount Livermore doesn’t reach the clouds, it is often shrouded in fog. As we awaited the ferry in Tiburon, wind-driven fog piled up on the island’s windward slope and trailed spindrift wisps from the crest. Shorts and a T-shirt felt comfortable on the ferry dock, but I feared that we might stand on top of Mount Livermore cold, wet and cut off from the world class views we sought.

I have visited Angel Island many times, but never to climb up Mount Livermore. So many buildings still stand to mark the island’s varied history that any visit can only touch all there is to explore. Two military garrisons, one on each side of the island, remain from Camp Reynolds that was established during the Civil War. A U.S. Immigration Station, the west coast version of Ellis Island, processed almost a million immigrants from 1910 to 1940. Add old gun batteries, Nike missile sites, hiking trails and backpacking campsites to the list of sights and activities. My wife’s favorite attraction is the mostly level bike ride on the island’s paved perimeter road. Bring your own bike or rent one on the island.

The ferry tied up in peaceful Ayala Cove, the same location Juan Manuel de Ayala anchored in 1775. We walked past the visitor center, cafe, and picnic grounds up to the foot of Sunset Trail—our path to the top of Mount Livermore. The trail switches back and forth up a protected ravine defined by two ridges that widen as they descend from the peak down to the cove. Wisps of fog still streaked overhead, but for us on the trail below, all was quiet and still.

All that changed when we stepped out of the ravine and onto the ridge top that faced the Golden Gate. The forest gave way to chaparral, and our gentle trail was replaced by a direct path up the final portion of the mountain.

The summit of Mount Livermore had cleared, but the river of fog streaming in the gate hid the San Francisco skyline. Never mind. In the other direction, the East Bay, San Pablo Bay, southern Marin, and Mount Tamalpais stood out with stunning clarity. And of course, no matter which direction we faced, we looked down on seawater.

A trip to Angel Island is a day well spent. Ferries serve the island from San Francisco, Oakland, and Tiburon.

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Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker. Visit him online at, his blog at or email him at [email protected].