By Leila N’Amara
In 1962 three men left behind dummy heads in their bunks and used makeshift rafts made from old raincoats to make their escape into the icy San Francisco Bay. Less than a year later, due to deteriorating buildings and high costs of maintaining a maximum security prison on an island, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary closed its final cell door.
Alcatraz Island didn’t open up to the public until almost 10 years later in 1972. We wouldn’t even be able to visit this former Civil War Era fortress turned federal prison if it hadn’t been for a bold 19 month occupation of the island by Indian American students at San Francisco State University (Go, Gators!) led by activist and student Richard Oakes. If you look closely, you’ll find historic graffiti that has been preserved from the Indian Occupation of Alcatraz. Our personal favorite piece of graffiti is at the entrance to Administration Building (the audio tour takes you through this entry). Look for the eagle above the door, it’s perched on a shield with the American flag and looked between the stripes where you will find the word “FREE”.
You can explore all of this history on both the Alcatraz day tour and the Alcatraz night tour. But what’s the difference between the Alcatraz day tour and night tour? Let’s break it down:
ALCATRAZ DAY TOUR
WHEN DOES THE DAY TOUR RUN?
The Alcatraz day tour runs everyday, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Departure times vary depending on season, but always begin around 9am.
HOW MUCH DOES THE ALCATRAZ DAY TOUR COST?
Adult (18-61): $37.25, Junior (12-17): $37.25, Senior (62+): $35.25, Child (5-11): $23.00, Children 4 and under: Free
HOW LONG IS THE DAY TOUR?
You’re welcome to stay as long as you like. Or at least until the last ferry leaves! Most folks explore for about two hours before heading onto a ferry back to the city. You can leave on any ferry back to San Francisco, only the ferry to ride to Alcatraz is scheduled.
WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE ALCATRAZ DAY TOUR?
Tickets to Alcatraz during the day include a ferry ride to Alcatraz and one back to San Francisco, as well as an audio tour of the cell house. This audio tour is unlike any others, because this was the first. The Alcatraz audio tour was produced by a local interactive non-profit theatre company after interviewing former inmates, guards who watched over the infamous Birdman of Alcatraz and children who grew up on the island — in the shadow of the San Francisco prison. Many of the voices you’ll hear have since passed away. Some of the voices you might recognize in the gift shop. Guest authors can often be found signing books and answering questions in the gift shop. There are various ranger led tours throughout the day — but the schedules aren’t posting until the day of on the island. So be sure to check for extra tours led by rangers and historic interpreters as soon as you’re on the dock of Alcatraz!
WHERE CAN YOU BUY DAY TOUR TICKETS FOR ALCATRAZ?
You can only buy Alcatraz tickets through Alcatraz Cruises, the only official ferry operator to Alcatraz, or from official third parties — like us here at Dylan’s Tours! We explore San Francisco, Muir Woods and Alcatraz on our A Day in the Bay Tour — perfect for those with only one day to see everything. Tickets to Alcatraz can be difficult to get a hold of, so if they’re sold out you can check out our list for What to do if Alcatraz Tickets Are Sold Out.
WHEN DOES THE NIGHT TOUR RUN?
The Alcatraz night tour only runs twices Thursday – Sunday evening during Spring, Summer and Fall. The night tour of Alcatraz is unavailable during winter.
HOW MUCH DOES THE ALCATRAZ NIGHT TOUR COST?
Adult (18-61): $44.25, Junior (12-17): $43.25, Senior (62+): $41.25, Child (5-11): $26.50, Children 4 and under: Free
HOW LONG IS THE NIGHT TOUR?
It’s about two and a half hours. You don’t have an option of leaving early because there are only two ferries that leave the island on the night tour. And the first one heading back to San Francisco usually reaches capacity — so get to the dock early if you want to catch the first Alcatraz night tour ferry back to San Francisco.
WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE ALCATRAZ NIGHT TOUR?
Your tour begins with a guided tour around Alcatraz Island — while the day tour just gets a ride straight to the island! There will also be a guided walking tour to the cell house before taking the Alcatraz audio tour. From there, parts of the prison that are normally closed off become open to the public — like the hospital! There will also be behind-the-scenes tours, cell door demos and other bonus walking tours.
WHERE CAN YOU BUY NIGHT TOUR TICKETS FOR ALCATRAZ?
No third party operators can sell Alcatraz tickets for the night tour. You can only purchase them directly through Alcatraz Cruises. Tickets to Alcatraz are notorious for selling out quick — and the night tour is no exception, so book early if you have your heart set on the Alcatraz night tour!