How to visit Alcatraz Prison: Travel Tips + Review

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San Francisco has a lot going for it. The stunning views of Golden Gate bridge, the various city attractions, the boutique cafes and restaurants, the engaging museums: our 4 days in San Francisco just flew by. One of the rewarding experiences in the city was a visit to Alcatraz Prison. Yes, we took our daughter and she loved the Alcatraz Prison Tour. Here are my top tips and guide on how to visit Alcatraz Prison.

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A rewarding tour from San Francisco.

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Brief History

Once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals, the federal penitentiary on Alcatraz Island was operated from 1934 to 1963. The presence of infamous inmates, like Al “Scarface” Capone and the “Birdman” Robert Stroud, helped to establish the Island’s notoriety.

The isolation at Alcatraz Island was infamous.

During the period the Federal penitentiary operated, 36 prisoners were involved in 14 separate escape attempts. 23 men were caught, 6 were shot and killed, and 2 drowned. 5 convicts disappeared and were never seen again, but the overwhelming odds are that they drowned and that their bodies were never recovered.

Book Alcatraz Prison tickets in advance

Alcatraz Island is only accessible via a ticketed ferry. This is an immensely popular destination, so make sure you book the tickets to Alcatraz Prison tour much in advance. The ticket includes the ferry ride, the audio guide you get at the Alcatraz Prison Island and the tour fee.

These get sold out quickly especially, so make sure you book yours 2-3 months in advance. For our dates in early June, the Night Tour had already got sold out 2 months in advance, but there were plenty of day trip options left.

Here are some popular Alcatraz Combo Tours to check out:

  1. Alcatraz Prison Tour + Golden Gate Bridge Bay Cruise
  2. Alcatraz Inside with Fisherman’s Wharf Lunch Credit
  3. Alcatraz with Muir Woods and Sausalito Tour
  4. Alcatraz Inside and One Day Bike Rental

Ferry is the only way to reach Alcatraz Island

Every ferry ride to Alcatraz Island departs from Pier 33 near Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the landmarks in California. You can walk upto Pier 33 if you are staying close by in Embarcadero. Or take an Uber/Lyft to reach here or a F streetcar line from Union Square.

Expect a lot of walking around on the island.

Your ticket is timed, so make sure you reach the ferry 15-20 minutes in advance. There are no storage lockers at Alcatraz Prison, so bring only a light daypack with you with a water bottle. Do carry a light jacket as the ferry ride to the island can get chilly. Wear comfortable walking shoes as there is a lot of walking in and around the prison building.

Listen to the Alcatraz Prison Audio Tour

When you arrive to visit Alcatraz, everyone on the ferry will get off at the one and only stop. Everyone goes to the main prison building after a quick briefing and welcome. You get an audio player for a self-guided tour at the main cell-house.

The audio tour really makes the visit to Alcatraz Prison interesting, so do listen to it. Lucid, with information delivered in a crisp and engaging way, the drama of the Battle of Alcatraz and another escape attempt comes through clearly.

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This comes alive on the audio tour.

The audio instructions direct you to various sections of the prison in a structured way so that even with the crowds, your experience doesn’t get diluted. At any point along the way, you can pause your audio player to spend a little more time in a certain area. 

Get to know about life at Alcatraz Prison

After collecting the audio guide, you first come upon the room where new prisoners would come, collect their prison clothes which they would put on after taking a shower. You see the rows and rows of cells across corridors and get a feel of what life for inmates here would have been like.

You get a picture of what life was like for the prisoners.

We then saw the recreation yard, the prison library, the activities that inmates did to kill time. 

Step outside the Main Prison Building

Make sure you have some time left to explore the garden area once you finish with the main prison building on Alcatraz Island. The 4 acres of gardens that thrive on the island today are flourishing. You also get beautiful views of San Francisco skyline and of the Golden Gate bridge from the island. If you are carrying some snacks on you, this would be a good place to have them.

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Nicknamed ‘Persian Carpet’

Visiting Alcatraz Prison FAQs

  1. What are the opening hours for Alcatraz Prison Island?

Monday – Sunday, from 10 am until 9 pm. The Alcatraz Prison is open all ALL Days except January 1, December 25 and Thanksgiving (4th Thursday in November).

2. What is the cost of Alcatraz Prison tour?

Ticket cost$41 for adults, $25 for children (5-11 years), $41 for juniors (12-17 years), $38 for seniors (62+ years)

Notorious Prisoners!

3. How long is the ferry ride to Alcatraz Prison Island?

The ferry ride is about 15 minutes long.

4. How long is the audio tour for?

The self-guided audio tour lasts for about 45 minutes.

5. Is there food available on the Alcatraz Island?

There is NO food available for purchase. But you can bring your own snack and have it in the garden area outside the prison building.

6. Where are restrooms located?

There are bathrooms on all ferries, and also on the Alcatraz Island: one beside the ferry terminal and another outside the cell-house.

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The Prison Library.

7. Is there a souvenir store on Alcatraz Island?

There is a small souvenir store at the end of the Tour. You could pick a T-shirt or a mug / plate (the same shape as used by prisoners) and several other items from here.

Planning a trip to California? Here are some other posts that would be helpful –

4 days in San Francisco: You can’t have a better introduction to the US west coast!

Amazing wineries & vineyards to visit in Napa Valley

18 California Landmarks for your USA Bucket List

Yosemite National Park with kids: Our top experiences

Disneyland Hacks: Planning a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth

Disneyland California Itinerary: Enjoy the best rides with your kids


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Author: Shweta Singhal

Hi! I am Shweta, the zest behind this blog . I play several roles – parent to a 6-year old, adventure enthusiast, travel blogger, generally open to trying out new things in life. Besides travel, I love books and theatre and art. I would love to hear from you; do drop a comment. Join me on Instagram / Twitter @zestinatote.

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