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San Francisco Side Trips: Alcatraz and Sausalito

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Alcatraz and Sausalito

While I was in San Francisco I ventured out on two very different side trips to Alcatraz and Sausalito. I decided that I needed to visit Alcatraz since I have seen the film Escape from Alcatraz several times. The following day I took the ferry to Sausalito, a small town across the bay from San Francisco. I highly recommend both of these trips, but for very different reasons.

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The only way to get to Alcatraz is to take a ferry. It’s a popular destination for tourists, so you might want to book ahead, especially if you want to go on a weekend. I was told the tickets were sold out, but then just went to the another company, purchased a ticket, and hopped on a ferry immediately. So keep shopping around if you are told that tickets are sold out.

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Alcatraz is just a 15-minute ferry ride, and it’s a beautiful ride at that. Honestly, I figured if I didn’t like the tour that at the very least I could take in the view and get some amazing shots of the bridges and city. But, luckily the tour was top notch.

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Alcatraz is a state park, and once you arrive on the island you are greeted by park rangers who welcome you and tell you all about the different areas to explore. I walked up to the prison and retrieved an audio headset. (This is included in the $31 ferry/ticket price). The guided audio tour was given by a former Alcatraz guard, with some additional audio from other guards and a couple inmates. It was utterly fascinating and provided just the right amount of details on daily life, escape attempts, and the dangers the guards faced on a daily basis.

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I had assumed the there wasn’t much on the island other than the prison, but the guards and their families resided on the island too. Apparently they had their own little community. I think it is fascinating, and you can walk around and see these additional buildings on the island too.

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I need to mention that Alcatraz offers simply stunning views of San Francisco. The audio tour said that prisoners were able to see all that they were missing when they glanced across the bay to the city.

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On New Years Eve they could even hear the music and chatter from the country club across the water. The audio guide said that was the highlight of their year.

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So while initially I wasn’t sure about visiting Alcatraz, I very highly recommend it. I even Facetimed my parents so that they could get a virtual tour. It’s an intriguing part of American history, and like many others, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the escape attempts and the successful escape, and seeing the prison in person gave me a respect for that level of ingenuity.

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Alcatraz is very family friendly and there were lots of families visiting Alcatraz too. It is a bit of a dark subject matter for younger kids, but the audio tour is kid friendly and highly entertaining. The tour doesn’t go into detail regarding the crimes committed by Alcatraz’s former residents, it’s quite PG. You also have the option to join in tours guided by the park rangers, which might be a bit more entertaining for children.

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The next day I went over to Sausalito. It was a gorgeous sunny day (which is a big deal when you are a Chicagoan visiting in Feburary). The temperature was in the 70s and I thought that the best way to enjoy the weather would be to take the ferry to Sausalito for lunch. Sausalito is a small village across the bay from San Francisco. Alcatraz lies between Sausalito and SF, so if you want a closer look at Alcatraz without setting foot on the island, this is the way to do it. The bay tends to be a bit foggy, but the ferry ride to Sausalito offers some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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The ferry ride takes just about 30 minutes, and you can spend that time sipping on beer or wine from the shop onboard. Upon arriving I browsed some of the shops.

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Then I walked along the water to Bar Bocce a bar/restaurant with an outdoor bocce court that my friend Lindsey had recommended. The food, view, and service were all excellent. I am sure the view of the city at night is simply stunning.

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This isn’t the best photo – but I ordered a BBLA – it’s like a BLT but so much better – it has burrata, bacon, lettuce, and avocado. It was fantastic. The coleslaw had pomegranate seeds which was a lovely additional ingredient.

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You can also opt to rent a bike, cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito, and then take the ferry back. I really wanted to take some photos (I was trying out a new camera lens) so I opted to take the ferry both ways. Pay close attention to the ferry times. It doesn’t leave very often, and the last ferry leave Sausalito around 4pm.


After lunch, I headed to Lappert’s for an ice cream on my way back to the ferry. While I waited to board the ferry, I snacked on my ice cream and watched the sea lions play in the bay. I stayed in Sausalito for about 2 hours, and it was just the right amount of time.

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Key information:
Alcatraz – I took the ferry to Alcatraz from Pier 33. You should book your tickets in advance online here. The ferry ride is about 15 minutes, and once you are at Alcatraz you can take any ferry back making your time there as brief or as long as you like. I recommend giving yourself about 2 hours on the island. There are no food or drinks on the island so factor that in.

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Sausalito – I took the ferry from the Ferry Building. It only leaves a handful of times each day, so check the schedule here.

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