Posted in North America, Travels, United States

Independence Day Festivities

The 4th of July is known as Independence Day in the States. It commemorates the time when a group of men who grew annoyed and frustrated with a tyrant, decided to stand up to him, and became American heroes in the process. So the story goes. I’m not going to debate conspiracies here.

Anyways, I don’t know how people around the world celebrate their own Independence Day, but in the States we drink, launch explosives in the sky, and hopefully avoid a trip to the local hospital. The next day we check the local shelters for our runaway pets.

These sky-bound explosives, known here as “fireworks,” cause such a commotion that many cities offer shows for spectators. I attended such a show at Angel Island, a small island situated in the San Francisco Bay. Living the single life, I made the Sibling tag along with me.

Tiburon dock

Angel Island is situated in the bay between San Francisco and Marin counties, making it an ideal place to view the fireworks shows of both San Francisco and Sausalito. In the past, Angel Island was like a West Coast Ellis Island, sans welcoming statue. It was also used as a military base back when most photographs were in black and white.

I took the ferry to Angel Island from Tiburon, but you can also take one from San Francisco. The plus about going through Tiburon is that I didn’t have to cross any bridges and it was way easier to find parking. Make your way to the dock and tell the girl with the list your name. Her coworker gives you a cheap festival bracelet and you board the boat. The ferry ride is so short that if you don’t find seats on the ferry, as most people didn’t, it doesn’t matter unless you have some sort of medical issue. We left Tiburon around 19:00. Ihe entire ride was 10 minutes at the most; it actually took longer to board the ferry than to travel to the island.

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Landing point was Ayala Cove. Viewing area is Battery Ledyard.

The passes for the 4th of July viewing were about $70ish per person (I’m too lazy to look for the actual price). This includes fare on the ferry and some admission charge for the island. You can also get a cup of hot chocolate, but any other food you need to pay extra for. There are trams to take you from Ayala Cove to Battery Ledyard, but they take FOREVER. The Sibling and I opted to walk ourselves. It’s about a half hour walk and after the first hill, it’s pretty easy.

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Karl the Fog creeping in

This was my first time to Angel Island, and it’s beautiful. According to some people I eavesdropped on, it’s also a great place to hike. I definitely have to come back here in the daytime. We got some beautiful views of the sunset as we walked to the viewing area, BUUUTTTTT in the distance, we saw Karl creeping in. Karl the Fog. He’s a thing. He has a Twitter.

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TIL that iPhones take shitty nighttime pictures

The fireworks show started around 21:30, which gave us a good 90 minutes to walk around and explore the southwestern part of the island. We passed the old military hospital, the mini quarry, and what I think was some outpost that gave the Sibling the heebie-jeebies so I didn’t get to explore it. We went up a short, uphill trail that led to a small campground with people actively camping out and photographers setting up equipment. While the view was advantageous, I’m not one to intrude on someone who is already established on site. We also walked up on several couples hidden in tall grass or behind old concrete walls, and I started to feel like I was going to walk up on someone having sex. And I’m already really socially awkward and felt that I didn’t have the ability to handle a sight like that.

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Top is a view of Sausalito; Bottom is a view of San Francisco

Fireworks time! In all honesty, I think that the position of Angel Island makes it a great place to view the fireworks from San Francisco and Sausalito. HOWEVER, only the display from Sausalito was spectacular. Karl foiled my 4th of July by hanging low over San Francisco. We caught just the bottom of the display from San Francisco. Everything else just made it look like Thor was attempting to come through the clouds. But because the weather can’t be controlled, I’m not going to fault this experience solely because of the fog. The fireworks I did catch were absolutely beautiful, and one day I’ll learn how to photograph them. Overall, I think it was a nice experience, but I don’t know if I’ll do it again. It was expensive and I only saw Sausalito’s fireworks. According to several natives, most years Karl makes an appearance right before the fireworks display and blocks the show in San Francisco.

Afterwards, we lined up for trams back down to Ayala Cove (because it’s friggin’ dark) and boarded ferries off the island. No lie, but my favorite part of this experience was riding the tram back down to Ayala Cove. It was a quick ride to a Michael Jackson soundtrack.

If you decide to come to Angel Island and watch the fireworks, there are a few things I would suggest:

  • Bring something to sit on. The Sibling and I were vastly unprepared for this experience. Most people brought folding camping chairs. Pretty much what you would bring to a tailgate.
  • You can bring food for a picnic. Not barbecuing, but picnic stuff like chips and sandwiches. Or eat before you get to the island or after you return to your home port.
  • Think hard about whether you want to bring young children to this experience. A lot of parents were pushing strollers and it looked difficult to use them effectively along dirt paths. They also seem really hard to load into the trams and take up a lot of space on the ferry. But know that you can bring young children in strollers.  It just seems like a hassle to me. Plus about half of them became cranky on the ferry ride home around 23:00. Children, not strollers.
  • Dress in layers. It gets cold on Angel Island. I wore a long sleeved T-shirt and a light jacket, which was fine for me because I walked a lot and I tend to overheat. If you’re not used to San Francisco weather, bring thicker jackets and wear long pants. While the weather report may only read 60F, it also gets windy out on the bay, which makes it much colder. Comfortable walking shoes are also a must. Of course, I did see several women in short and sleeveless dresses, platform heels, and a few people in flip-flops, and they seemed to make it okay.
  • Bring something to occupy yourself. You have a lot of free time between the time the ferry brings you to the island and the time the display starts.

So that’s all for now. Has anyone else gone to Angel Island to watch the fireworks? Where else is a great place to catch the display?

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