Home Bay Area Three Must Visit Islands In the San Francisco Bay Area

Three Must Visit Islands In the San Francisco Bay Area

written by ParoChak July 29, 2017

Every year, thousands of tourists descend upon San Francisco to explore this charming fog city. Many also cross the Golden Gate bridge to visit Muir woods and Wine country. However, those are best reserved as full day trips. If you want shorter, half day or even evening trips and tours, the following San Francisco Bay Islands are a good option. These are as follows:

San Francisco Bay Islands #1 Alcatraz Island

USA’s most famous federal penitentiary (prison) stands on this  island and has been the subject of many Hollywood movies such as “Escape from Alcatraz” and “The Rock”.  Chicago’s famous gangster Al Capone was imprisoned here for some time too. The prison shut down in 1963 but its sordid saga continued in the form of a native American occupation that lasted for 19 months. As of now the island thrives with native flora and fauna, thanks to the state’s conservation efforts. Tours are held regularly, both during day and night and ferries depart from Pier 33 (see the official tour provider’s website here). Food and drinks are allowed only at one designated spot (landing area) on the island. Also, advance ticket reservations are recommended due to the popularity of this tour. For more details, read my full Alcatraz tour experience in this post.

San Francisco Bay Islands #2 Angel Island

Often referred to as the “Ellis Island of the West”, this island served as the first point of entry for nearly a million Asian immigrants (mostly Chinese) from late 1800s to 1940 (when a fire closed the immigration station) who came to the shores of California in the wake of the gold rush. This island, once home to the Coast Miwok native Americans, was named Isla de de Los Angeles by Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala, a Spanish Naval officer who first sailed into the SF bay in 1775 with his crew. The island also formed a heavy artillery and military base for California during the Civil war to ward off attacks by the Confederacy. Today, it is not only a conservation center with several hiking trails, but is also a reminder of the immigration woes of Asian Americans that can be viewed at the Immigration station and detention center, now converted to a public museum (entrance fee is $5 for adults). There is also an “immigration wall” (paved with tiles named after family members) built by current  Asian Californian Americans in memory of their ancestors who landed in San Francisco after a harrowing time at these detention centers, located right of  the bell tower area overlooking the bay. You can hike along the periphery of the island or simply hike (1.3 miles) to the immigration center and call it a day! If you are not up to too much walking, then I recommend taking the paid shuttle ($7 for round trip) to and from the immigration station that starts from the ferry landing area /Ayala cove which also has a cafe. Ferries depart from San Francisco to Angel island and Tiburon from Pier 41. For more information on this history of Angel Island, visit the official website here. Dogs are not allowed on Angel island except service dogs.

San Francisco Bay Islands #3 Treasure Island

Ending this short post with one of the most fun San Francisco Bay islands to visit, which you can actually drive to! Yes, just take the I-80 east and you will be at Treasure Island in no time! Not only do you get fantastic views of San Francisco from here but also this place hosts a flea market every last weekend of the month with lots of stalls and food trucks. This is also a man-made island (built during 1936-1937 for the 1939 Golden Gate International exposition) and considered part of San Francisco, along with the other Yerba Buena island (Yerba Buena is actually one of the oldest names for San Francisco). A naval station was built here as well in the 1940s which closed down in 1997. Besides these boring facts on the omnipresent military and Federal government, a little known fun fact is that the aircraft hangars in this island have been used as sound stages for famous movies such as The Matrix and Rent and was featured movie setting for Patch Adams, What dreams may come and Flubber (all native Robin Williams movies) amongst many others. Treasure island used to be the home to a 40 foot “bliss dance” statue/ dancing woman statue that debuted at Burning man. The statue has recently been relocated to Las Vegas (BOO) owing to rusting caused by harsh sea winds and foam. I highly recommend visiting the Treasure island flea market (you can check their FB page here) and spend and afternoon with great food,music antique hunting and friendly Bay area folks! Dogs are welcome on Treasure island. For more ideas on how to spend your day at treasure island, here is a guide from Thrillist.

(Bliss Dance Photo credit: Iranian in Vienna)

Thank you for stopping by! For more great ideas on how to make the best of your San Francisco trip, click to read my previous posts with links below:








San Francisco Bay islands includes three small islands that you can easily visit by car or ferry and make for great half day trips. As a local, I highly recommend visiting these islands for their history, hikes, natural beauty, flea markets and to get some of that wonderful Pacific ocean breeze in your hair. Not to mention panoramic views all around!




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LC July 29, 2017 at 6:39 am

I visited SF ten million years ago (okay, more like four) and visited Alcatraz Island – found it so interesting. Would love to go back and see more of the city. Angel Island sounds like it would be worth a visit, at the very least.
Also want to go back and consume more seafood chowder – damn that stuff is good!

Victoria July 29, 2017 at 6:43 am

I love San Francisco. If I ever return there I will follow these tips. The islands look lovely.

Travel And Bite July 29, 2017 at 8:06 am

I have always been fascinated by the history of Alcatraz and all the criminals that were imprisoned there. However, I had no idea it was in San Francisco! Thanks for sharing this article 🙂

Michelle July 29, 2017 at 8:20 am

I’m such a sucker for island hopping already and these sound so fascinating! Here in Brisbane we also have an island that you can drive to easily called Bribie island – got to love how cheap and easy they are to travel to – really nice to know there’s one in the San Francisco bay area too.

Rhiannon @ Rhiannon Travels July 29, 2017 at 9:53 am

I’ve only ever visited San Francisco once, but I fell in love with the place! So beautiful, everyone is so friendly, and the islands truly are beautiful! I loved the view of the city from Alcatraz. Very impressive! Great post 🙂

Lisa July 29, 2017 at 10:48 am

I have done Alcatraz but not the others. I’ll be sure to check them out on my next trip.

Anekha July 29, 2017 at 5:42 pm

I can’t wait to visit San Francisco. Will add this to the things to do!

Mel and Marcus July 29, 2017 at 5:55 pm

We loved San Francisco but only did Alcatraz when we were there. You’re right about getting tickets in advance it can be sold out for a very long time.

Nicole July 29, 2017 at 6:28 pm

I’ve been to Alcatraz and it was fascinating. I didn’t know there was a Treasure Island, I so want to go there now!

Ivana July 29, 2017 at 6:28 pm

I’ve been dying to see more of Cali, especially the national parks and Bay area! Alcatraz has always pulled me in – its history is fascinating! Hopefully I can find a cheap flight sometime soon 😉

Lydia Smith July 29, 2017 at 8:36 pm

I also have a personal relationship with San Francisco. The three Islands you discussed are dope I like that you spiced your post with bits of history.

Reena July 29, 2017 at 9:00 pm

Been to San Francisco so many times but never to the islands! If I go back again, will definitely check them out!

Katie July 29, 2017 at 10:01 pm

Great ideas! Whilst I’ve been to Alcatraz I’ve never thought about other islands – now I have new things to add to my travel list!

Katherine July 30, 2017 at 1:27 am

I’ve been to Alcatraz and heard of Angel and Treasure islands, but I’ve never actually been to them before. I better stop procrastinating and get out there soon!

Danielle July 30, 2017 at 3:37 am

Cool post! I love exploring San Francisco (I’m there once a month for work) so will add some of these to my list. Thanks for sharing!

Ruth | Tanama Tales July 30, 2017 at 4:56 am

I have been to Alcatraz and it was a great experience. The only thing is that you have to make reservations beforehand if visiting during high season. I was planning to visit Angel Island but wasn’t able to make it. And, thanks for the advice on Treasure Island. Had no idea that place existed.

Liz July 30, 2017 at 9:29 am

That is so cool. I am planning a trip to California and I have been to San Fran already. So, this is a great new perspective on the area, thanks!

Sara White July 30, 2017 at 12:24 pm

I love San Francisco! I’ve visited several times but haven’t made it out to any of the islands – actually, embarassingly, I wasn’t even aware that there were three of them (having only heard of Alcatraz)! I’m not sure when I’ll be back in San Francisco, but I’d definitely add these islands to my to-see list!

Lisa - The Wandering Lens July 30, 2017 at 2:32 pm

Just like after reading your other SF posts, this one made me realise I never saw enough of this beautiful city and all it offers! Really need to plan a return visit to explore a lot more!

Annette Richmond July 30, 2017 at 3:27 pm

Great post! Being a NorCal girl, I’m very familiar with all of these islands. I’m bummed I’ve never made it to Treasure Island Flea. I heard it’s LIT!

Kathleen July 30, 2017 at 5:07 pm

I have a love/hate relationship with San Francisco, due to working there for a year and being way overworked and seeing nothing but traffic. I’ve been back for a very short visit but was able to go to the Muir woods. If I ever get over the trauma, maybe I will go check these places out!

Piia / Ticket to Adventures July 30, 2017 at 6:29 pm

What a great post! Thank you for sharing. I have never visited San Francisco, but when I do I surely will visit these islands.

Lindsey July 30, 2017 at 7:05 pm

It’s funny I’ve lived in San Francisco my whole life, and I’ve only been to the Alcatraz Island… for school. I’ve only crossed over treasure island to head in and out of the city. Didn’t even know it was was a man-made island. So crazy! Great article.

Lia July 31, 2017 at 2:59 am

What, no Alameda? 😛 My husband used to live on Treasure Island … although it’s cool to visit, apparently it’s not amazing to live there! He had to go into the city every time he needed groceries (or anything else). I had no idea there were actually cool things to see on Treasure Island, though – that’s totally new to me!

ParoChak July 31, 2017 at 3:05 am

Haha, I actually wanted to include Alameda, but I have been there only twice and that too many moons ago, so wanted to write about those I have visited before or recently. Staying at Treasure island sucks for sure, I just love the flea market there.

Marion Halliday (Red Nomad OZ) July 31, 2017 at 3:20 am

The islands all sound interesting, but in different ways – so I don’t know which one I’d pick first! I’m a sucker for travelling on ferries – to me that just adds another dimension to a tour – and the intriguing history of Angel Island would probably make that my first choice. One day 😀

Dina July 31, 2017 at 7:20 am

Love this post! I’m going to San Fransisco in 2 months and was thinking about going to Alcatraz and that flea market sounds right up my street!

Niki July 31, 2017 at 3:02 pm

For some reason, I don’t think of island when I think SF. I definitely want to check them out now!

Elise July 31, 2017 at 9:40 pm

Lovely post Paroma! I’m desperate to visit Alcatraz. I’m pretty obsessed with the prisoners who escaped, I really want to see how far it is to decide if I think they made it!

Shruti Prabhu August 1, 2017 at 3:30 am

San Francisco Islands sound like so much fun! I would love to visit the Treasure island flea market. Alcatraz has such an intriguing tale. I would definitely love to visit.

Kasia August 1, 2017 at 3:39 pm

I have been to San Francisco few years ago and I have to admit I loved to travel outisde of the city center. I really liked Sausalito. Sf city center wasn’t very interessting for me, but next time I know I have to go to Angel and Treasure Islands 🙂


Siddhartha Joshi August 1, 2017 at 5:35 pm

I do regret skipping out on Alcatraz now, even though I lived so close by! Bookmarking this post for my next visit there 🙂

Nathan August 1, 2017 at 8:24 pm

I love SF! I would love to visit these islands– Alcatraz is the only one I’ve ever been to. SF is my favorite city in the US!

Sandy N Vyjay August 2, 2017 at 4:22 am

These islands are lovely and great getaways from San Francisco. My pick of the lot would be Alcatraz Island, mainly because of its intriguing past. Hollywood blockbusters, Al Capone and a now defunct penitentiary , all these make for a thrilling experience.

Valerie - Trusted Travel Girl August 2, 2017 at 9:25 pm

I have been dying to visit Alcatraz Island! I didn’t know about the other islands though. Will have to visit! 🙂

Megan Jerrard August 5, 2017 at 6:47 am

We visited Alcatraz while we were in San Fran, and it was incredible to see so much history come to life, from features I’ve seen in historic documentaries and films. Being there gave a real sense or insight into what it must have been like. It was quite spooky just how much so!

Agness of eTramping August 9, 2017 at 2:13 pm

Wow! These islands are simply awe-inspiring! Are there any accommodations on the Angel Island?

Erin August 24, 2017 at 2:35 pm

This is a really neat post! I learned a lot, and it’s good to know about less conventional activities in the San Francisco area. I didn’t know Al Capone was imprisoned at Alcatraz. I got to tour one of his hideouts in northern Wisconsin when it was still open to the public. These places (and the people associated with them) that have been immortalized in stories and movies almost seem fictional until you see them in real life. I also didn’t know about Angel Island being the point of entry for immigrants to the west coast or that it was an important place during the Civl War. The Treasure Island mark sounds fun!


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