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Bay of Angels

By Jo Piazza

There are few cities in the world where a quick ferry ride can whisk you away on an adventure in the wilderness. As a transplanted New Yorker who believed nature was something you handled with closed windows and bug spray, I was more surprised than anyone when I developed a crush of sorts on Angel Island when I moved to San Francisco in 2015. With its meandering hiking paths for even the unheartiest of hikers, campsites that boast some of the best (and most Instagrammable) views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and secret beaches and rich cultural history, the island became like a second home to a city girl just learning to embrace the outdoors. Last year, I joined the Angel Island Conservancy to help give back to this Bay Area treasure that’s also beloved by Olympian Jonny Moseley.

And speaking of Moseley: This holiday season, the Conservancy—an incredible organization that raises funds to help protect the island and promote it as a unique visitor destination—is teaming up with the gold medalist and Tiburon resident for its annual Angel Lights dinner that takes place at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon on December 6. Proceeds will also benefit an initiative to bring underserved students from local schools to Angel Island—for many of them, it’s their first experience spending time in nature.

Leading up to the big event, I caught up with Moseley to chat about what this special place means to both of us.

Jo Piazza: I became obsessed with Angel Island when I moved here from New York. I thought a nature hike was strolling the reservoir in Central Park and was shocked to find this virtually untouched wilderness so close to the city. My husband and I try to get out to the island as much as possible, even now with a four-month old baby. How often do you guys get out there?

Jonny Moseley: I think we talk about Angel Island at least once a day in our house. The island is central to our family’s lifestyle. Admittedly, we fish and sail, so everything is either “south of Angel” or “in the lee of Angel.” My 7- and 10-year-old boys are obsessed with fishing and there are some great spots for halibut right off the island. The first one they ever caught was close to shore on the south side.
What still strikes you about the island after all this time? I am always blown away by how much there is to do. I feel like I’m visiting a different island every time I take the ferry there.

Drifting around for hours near the island, we get a good a look at all the different natural and man-made features. I try to take the opportunity to give some history lessons, which I hope will eventually take root with my kids. One of the reasons I wanted to support the Conservancy is because of the scholarships you guys raise money for to bring kids to the island for the first time. I can’t imagine how incredible it must be for a kid who never gets the opportunity to get out of the city to get to spend a day exploring.

It’s amazing, actually. The best part is the looks on the kids’ faces. A lot of them have never even been on a boat or a hike. We’ve gotten letters from teachers telling us that it inspired a whole new interest in nature, in the sea, in the forest and in the history of the Bay Area. … Tell me a little more about what you guys like to do on the island. I am personally partial to the baseball diamond and Ayala Cove.

My kids love the beach at Ayala Cove. We often dock right there in the cove. I also love the leeward side of the island where the water is always flat, calm and warm. I took my wife Malia there when we first started dating. I’ve also skinny-dipped there. It’s a very versatile place!

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