When you think of islands in the San Francisco Bay Area, Alcatraz is the one that comes to mind. However, sitting just north of it is beautiful Angel Island. Originally inhabited by the Coast Miwok as a seasonal hunting and gathering location, it was also used by Spanish explorers like Juan Manuel de Ayala as a supply stop. Angel Island is also sometimes referred to as the “Ellis Island of the West” as it served as an entry point to the United States for many immigrants between 1910-1940. Today, it is part of the California State Park system and available for day and overnight use by the public. Read on for tips about visiting Angel Island with kids…
1. Book your Angel Island ferry tickets well in advance.
You can access Angel Island from both Tiburon (Marin) and San Francisco via two different ferry companies. These operate on set schedules and do require advance purchase (especially during the reduced capacity for COVID protocols). Plan to book at least a month out to get your preferred day. You options are:
- Blue & Gold Fleet – goes from Pier 41 in San Francisco on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00am and 1:30pm. Return ferries are at 2:15pm and 4:15pm.
- Angel Island Tiburon Ferry – mostly just weekends now but several options on timing. Check their website for the latest. Weekday service will resume later in spring and into summer.
The crossing is relatively gentle so everyone in my party, including a few of us super prone to sea sickness, were completely fine. If you’re worried, bring some Sea-Bands along (they have adult and child sizes). I had one in my purse, just in case!
2. Bring your own food.
In normal times, there is actually a restaurant on the island. At the present time, there is only a small snack bar selling items like popsicles. With that said, bringing food and drinks is a must, especially if you are planning to stay for an extended period of time. The good news is that picnic tables are plentiful on the island so you will have no trouble finding a spot to enjoy your food.
We packed our favorite Sistema lunch cubes with sandwiches, fruit, veggies and some crackers. We did opt to bring our stroller so we had room for a small cooler.
3. There are paved trails for strollers but your access will be limited…
Upon arrival at Angel Island, you will be greeted by a few friendly Park Rangers who are more than happy to give you guidance. Since we had our stroller with us, the Ranger recommended using the perimeter road (thicker white line around the island on the map below). This 5 mile loop allows you to see most of the key places on the island with the exception of Mount Livermore.
We went from Ayala Cove (ferry pier) to Camp Reynolds with our stroller. We found a spot in the Camp Reynolds area with a picnic table and water views. From here, there was a small trail leading out to the tip of this spot which gave us the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge view we had hoped for. This short walk was not stroller friendly so I explored with just my oldest daughter while my husband watched the other two children.
For those wanting to hike to Mount Livermore with kids, you will definitely need a hiking backpack to carry little ones. The trail itself is a relatively easy hike so older children would have no problem. Just be sure to pack plenty of water (and consider investing in a Camelbak kids so they can even carry their own water).
Need a great family vacation idea just north of San Francisco? Check out Lucky Bend Lookout in Guerneville (Sonoma County).
4. Plan Your Timing
There are limited ferries to and from Angel Island so you should try to plan out a rough time table for yourself. For visiting Angel Island with kids, our schedule was:
- 10:30am – parked, used restrooms and lined up at Pier 41
- 11am – scheduled departure
- 11:20am – actual departure
- 11:40am – arrival at Angel Island (Ayala Cove), we headed straight onto the perimeter trail to get a jumpstart from the group who all stopped at the restroom
- 12:00pm – found a nice lunch spot in Camp Reynolds area
- 1:00pm – made our way back to the Visitors Center area which has a small beach and let the kids play for about an hour
- 2:00pm – lined up for departure
- 2:15pm – scheduled and actual departure but went via Tiburon
- 2:45pm – back to Pier 41
If you desire to walk the entire perimeter trail or do Mount Livermore, you could opt for the later ferry (4:15pm back to Pier 41). But, don’t miss it, as you will have to pay for a private charter to leave if you miss the ferry and are not registered for overnight camping!
5. If you don’t want to walk, there are other ways to see Angel Island.
While Angel Island has extensive hiking and walking trails for pedestrians, it is also very popular with bikes! You can bring your own over on the ferry (they are grouped together on the bottom deck) or rent them on the island. They have mountain bikes and e-bikes but, unfortunately, no bikes for children.
There is also a tram tour available for a small fee ($17 adults, $16 seniors and $11 for children ages 5-12). Book in advance here. This is a great option for families so you can see more of the island.
Other Common Questions about visiting Angel Island with kids.
Where do you park for the Angel Island Ferry (Pier 41)?
Pier 41 is right next to Pier 39 which is good (lots of choices) but also bad (crowded and expensive). We parked a few blocks away at the Riu San Francisco hotel. Why did I pick a hotel over a traditional garage? It is all about the bathrooms! After parking in an underground lot, we went through the lobby and used a nice, clean bathroom before walking over to the Pier. They also have a barista/snack bar so you can grab something quickly.
Is it safe to take the ferry boat during COVID?
We felt very safe taking the ferry from Pier 41 to Angel Island. Everyone was wearing masks and the crew was sanitizing in between routes. They are also running at a reduced capacity so it didn’t feel at all crowded. The bottom deck is enclosed but usually empty since most people go straight to the top for the open air seats. We chose the bottom deck and there were only a few others down there and we were very spread out.
Do I need to print my tickets?
Nope, no need to print tickets. Just show the barcode on your phone at Pier 41.
Can I bring food on the ferry boat?
Absolutely. Some people ate their lunch on the boat so they could immediately set off. The boat does sells drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) as well as snacks.
Do I need to pay an entrance fee for Angel Island State Park?
If you purchase your ferry ticket through a company like Blue & Gold Fleet, your park admission is included in the ticket price. The only time you would need to pay the state park admission is if you arrived on your own vessel.
Will kids enjoy Angel Island?
Yes! My kids (7, 6 and 2) had a great time. We purposely brought the stroller and did the shorter walk to appease the two younger kids and then made sure we brought plenty of snacks, including a sweet treat (some cookies) as an incentive for finishing the walk. I also made sure we had plenty of time left before the return ferry so the kids could play in the water. The current was very gentle and they had a lot of fun.
What do I need to pack for Angel Island with kids?
- Comfortable clothes and shoes for walking and running around
- A change of clothes if you want to let the kids play in the water (I packed water shoes, too, so they wouldn’t have to put their socks back on)
- Hat and sunglasses
- A light jacket in case the wind picks up
- Water, lunch and snacks
- Stroller or Hiking Backpack for those with little ones
- Binoculars for kids (helps make exploring a little more fun)