Alcatraz Night Tour vs Alcatraz Day Tour

There are a few key differences between the Alcatraz Night Tour and the Alcatraz Day Tour, read more below to find out which one is more your style!

The Alcatraz night tour is a unique way to see Alcatraz. While it only runs certain times of the year, it can be worth the wait.

Looking for tickets? Book your Alcatraz tours here!


A quick history of Alcatraz

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 Alcatraz 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”.

All of this history can be explored on both the San Francisco Alcatraz Night Tour and Alcatraz Day Tour.

But what’s the main difference between the Alcatraz Night Tour vs the Alcatraz Day Tour?

Let’s break it down to make your tour choice a lot easier!

Alcatraz day tour

When does the Alcatraz day tour run?

The Alcatraz day tour runs every day, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Departure times vary depending on the season, but always begin around 9am.

How do you get tickets?

Looking for tickets? Book your Alcatraz tours here!

How much does the Alcatraz day tour cost?

Alcatraz Day Tour Tickets

Prices of Alcatraz Day Tour tickets vary from about $25 – $41 depending on age. For the most updated ticket pricing, check the official Alcatraz City Cruises website.

How long is the Alcatraz tour?

There’s no official Alcatraz tour length – you’re welcome to stay as long as you like. Or at least until the last ferry leaves!

Most people explore the island for about two hours before heading onto a ferry back to the city. The official Alcatraz City Cruises website recommends three hours to cruise the island.

You can return to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing with any ferry that goes to San Francisco. Make sure to arrive at least one-half hour prior to the departure time. 


What is included in the Alcatraz day tour?

  • Ferry ride to Alcatraz
  • Narrated tour while on the ferry
  • Guided tour
  • Self guided tour of the cell block

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 was the first tour they had, so it’s unlike any others they offer.

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.

Also, there are various ranger-led tours throughout the day, but the schedules of the tours are posted per day. This means you can’t check it before you go to Alcatraz 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 buy Alcatraz tickets through Alcatraz City Cruises; this is the only official ferry operator to Alcatraz. If they sell out you can buy tickets via third parties, like Dylan’s. We offer tickets to Alcatraz which are included in our 1 day Alcatraz Experience tour. During this tour, we explore San Francisco, Muir Woods and Alcatraz, perfect for those with only one day to see everything in the city.

View all of our Alcatraz tours here!

Watch our video on how to get last minute Alcatraz tickets

Tickets to Alcatraz day tours can be difficult to get a hold of, so if they’re sold out and you don’t know what to do you can check out our tips for What to do if Alcatraz Tickets Are Sold Out.

Alcatraz night tour

Alcatraz at night
Photo by Paul Mason via Flickr

When does the night tour run?

The Alcatraz Night Tour usually has two sailings per day Tuesday – Sunday between March and November. Check the official Alcatraz City Cruises website for the most accurate departure information.

How much does the Alcatraz night tour cost?

Alcatraz Night Tickets

Prices of Alcatraz Night Tour tickets vary from about $28 – $48 depending on age. For the most updated ticket pricing, check the official Alcatraz City Cruises website.

How long is the Alcatraz night tour?

The Alcatraz Night Tour is about two and a half hours.

There are only two ferries that leave the island on the night tour so you can’t leave early.

Make sure to check the schedule on the Alcatraz City Cruises website and arrive at least one-half hour prior to the departure time. The first ferry that leaves the island usually reaches capacity so keep that in mind.

What is included in the Alcatraz night tour?

Your night tour of Alcatraz begins with a guided tour around Alcatraz Island, with the day tour it’s just a ride straight to the island so this is a big plus!

Your guide will point out hidden spots used for attempted escapes and prison structures that are unreachable by foot.

Once you arrive at the island a ranger-led walks you up the hill to the cell house while highlighting the history of the island. You can tour the cell house at your own pace while listening to the audio presentation.

The difference with the day tour is that you are able to see parts of the prison that are normally closed off.

There will also be behind-the-scenes tours, cell door demos, and other bonus walking tours. All of these extras make the night tour more of an ‘Alcatraz Behind the Scenes tour’ than the day tour option. 

Where can you buy Alcatraz night tour tickets?

You can purchase tickets for the Night tour directly through Alcatraz City Cruises.

Unfortunately, no third-party operators can sell Alcatraz tickets for the night tour.

Tickets to Alcatraz are notorious for selling out quick and the Alcatraz night tour is no exception, so book early if you have your heart set on seeing Alcatraz at night!

*Note: Because Alcatraz Island is part of the Golden Gate National Recreational, there isn’t an official Alcatraz ghost tour or Alcatraz haunted tour, but we’re still hoping one of these years they’ll make it happen for a themed Alcatraz Halloween Tour. We’ll let you know if that ever happens!


We’re sure that whether you choose the Alcatraz day or night tour, you’re going to have a great time on this historical island. Just make sure to book your Alcatraz tour today or ASAP to make sure you get to see the island during your time in San Francisco. 


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