Everything You Need To Know About Visiting Alcatraz
Do you have what it takes to escape to Alcatraz?
If you have a free day to explore San Francisco, visiting the #1 landmark in the US should be at the top of your list. Once home to the world’s most notorious criminals, today Alcatraz is a top-rated attraction that includes gorgeous ferry views, striking prison ground walks, and an award-winning cell house audio tour.
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Alcatraz — from landing ferry tickets, booking an Alcatraz day tour, learning interesting facts, and planning your great escape to and from the island.
What is Alcatraz?
Alcatraz Island is the home of an abandoned federal prison located off the shore of San Francisco bay. With the powerful currents and freezing temperatures of the bay, this prison was believed to be inescapable. Although it was only in operation for about 30 years, Alcatraz built a name for itself that stands the test of time.
Alcatraz Island held historical significance long before it was a federal penitentiary. From housing the first lighthouse on the West Coast to the grounds of an impactful American Indian Occupation, Alcatraz Island stories extend much farther than the walls of the federal prison itself.
This tiny, rocky island is packed with interesting facts from history, amazing sights, and ghostly mystery. From stories about the famous criminals sent to Alcatraz to those that roamed the halls long after they passed, you’ll find mystery and intrigue around every corner.
How Tours Began at Alcatraz
Today, Alcatraz is run by the National Parks Service and is an integral part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986, the island was opened to the public in a limited fashion in 1973.
Due to its protected status, there are very specific procedures for visiting Alcatraz. Only one ferry company — City Experiences — has a contract with the National Parks Services to transport people to and from the island. Local tour companies, like Dylan’s Tours, partner with City Experiences to offer Alcatraz Tickets as a part of a tour package.
Benefits of Visiting Alcatraz Through Dylan’s Tours
There are two ways to get Alcatraz tickets with Dylan’s Tours:
- You can book Dylan’s Famous Tour with Alcatraz, which includes exploring the city, Sausalito, Muir Woods, and Alcatraz Island all in one day. This tour is perfect for individuals or groups booking in advance for a one-day ultimate San Francisco experience.
- You can book Dylan’s Famous Tour of San Francisco and Muir Woods, which includes the same options as above and you reserve Alcatraz tickets yourself directly through City Experiences. This is a great option if we have run out of our reserved Alcatraz ferry tickets.
With both of these options, you get a more well-rounded experience than simply booking an Alcatraz ferry ticket!
Dylan’s Famous Tour with Alcatraz Allows You to Book 4 Tours in 1
People who have a limited amount of time in San Francisco but want to squeeze in all of the fun you possibly can — this one’s for you.
Dylan’s Alcatraz day tour includes exploring four must-see San Francisco areas in one day.
- Explore the most unique and interesting neighborhoods of San Francisco with a guide who will give you the inside scoop on all the facts and stories you should know.
- Enjoy a delicious lunch and a quick stroll in the quaint and cute waterfront town of Sausalito. This sweet area tends to have a warmer, sunnier microclimate than across the bridge in the city, so you may even catch some rays during this break!
- Visit Muir Woods with direct transportation to the forest when you book a tour with Dylan’s. Enjoy over an hour of exploring the majestic redwood trees and gorgeous coastal and forest views.
- Have a convenient drop-off right at the ferry to Alcatraz to start your self-guided adventure of this historical prison.
Essentially, we cover every popular checkmark on the “visiting San Francisco” bucket list.
This tour will give you a valuable overview of all the must-see San Francisco spots in a single day. That way, you have a lay of the land and can spend the rest of your trip taking a deeper look at other areas of the city that caught your eye.
Have a Better Chance to Book Sold-out Alcatraz Tickets with Dylan’s Tours
Tried to book a ferry ticket with City Experiences, but spots were filled during the entirety of your trip? That’s not an uncommon problem. Ferry tickets sell out fast, even months in advance. But if you can’t find a ticket on the official ferry site, fear not!
Dylan’s Tours reserves several tickets per month for their tours. So even if City Experiences says they are sold out of tickets, there is still a chance you can get a spot on the ferry to Alcatraz by booking a minibus tour with Dylan’s. Phew!
Important note: Keep in mind that Dylan’s Tours needs to reserve ferry spots at least 10 days in advance — so if you’re trying to book a tour with less than a 10-day cushion, contact Dylan’s directly for your options.
The Price of Alcatraz is Included in the Cost of Your Day Tour to Alcatraz with Dylan’s
If you choose the tour package option that includes the Alcatraz day tour, it is a one-and-done booking process for all of the amazing areas we explore. Skip the logistical mess of trying to match up tour schedules perfectly and count on our experienced guides to get you to the Alcatraz ferry right on time.
If our reserved Alcatraz tickets are sold out during your visit, don’t fret! You still have the chance to book the Dylan’s Famous Tour of San Francisco and Muir Woods, with the Alcatraz add-on. Our booking process makes adding an Alcatraz ticket from City Experiences easy-peasy.
You’ll get a Direct Ferry Drop-off and Can Skip Parking at Pier 33
If there is anything we can promise, it’s two things:
- You’re going to love exploring San Francisco.
- You’re going to hate finding parking in San Francisco.
The area around Pier 33 is notorious for expensive, hard-to-find parking. So if you’re getting here on your own, opt for reserved parking ahead of time or arrive early to maximize your chances of getting lucky.
When you book an Alcatraz day tour with Dylan’s Tours, our comfortable minibus will deliver you a mere few steps away from the ferry — no parking, no long walks. Talk about an entrance!
Reasons to Visit Alcatraz
It is the Top Must-See Tourist Site in San Francisco
Visiting Alcatraz is at the top of every San Francisco bucket list you can find, and for good reason. Alcatraz Island will have you riveted from the moment you step on the ferry. The quick ride offers amazing views of San Francisco Bay, and that’s before you ever even step onto this chillingly, awe-inspiring island. Visitors spend hours exploring the grounds, navigating the different cell blocks, and listening to the legends of Alcatraz.
The Amazing Audio Tour
This tour may be self-guided, but you’re not alone in your exploration. The award-winning audio tour that the National Parks Service provides will transport you. You will learn facts about the history of the island, From Civil War days to its use as a Hollywood movie set.
The audio tour is anything but dull and includes stories and perspectives from employees and inmates who lived on the island, as well as people who spent their childhood on Alcatraz.
Perfect for History Lovers
It’s no secret that Alcatraz is a major part of San Francisco’s history. But even people who are very familiar with the prison are bound to learn a thing or two by hearing the first-hand perspectives offered during the audio tour.
History lovers will learn more about the many phases that made Alcatraz what it is today. Alcatraz Island offers opportunities to learn more about what interests them, from ranger-led talks on American incarceration to a powerful presentation on the impact that the Native American Occupation had on the preservation of the island.
Great for Movie Buffs
There are several reasons why Alcatraz is a household name – and one of those is its prominence in pop culture and the film industry. With big box office hits like X Men, Catch Me If You Can, and The Rock featuring this inescapable penitentiary, it has gained even more notoriety.
A Must-See for Believers of the Supernatural
A unique part of this tour is the chilling ghost stories that are told within the walls of the prison.
As the final resting place of some of the world’s most notorious criminals, Alcatraz is known to be one of the most notorious haunted spots in the country. Many believe that mischievous or vengeful spirits haunt the halls that you will explore. If you listen carefully, you may even hear the moans of the inmates who never found their way out of the walls of Alcatraz – dead or alive.
Things To Know Before Visiting Alcatraz
Where is Alcatraz?
Alcatraz Island is in San Francisco Bay, about 1.25 miles off the shore of San Francisco. The island is about 225 acres of jagged, rocky terrain, and is surrounded by choppy, icy-cold waters that made the penitentiary next to impossible to escape.
How do you get to Alcatraz?
Alcatraz is only reachable by ferry, and only one ferry company has permission to bring tourists to and from the island. The Alcatraz ferry departs from Pier 33, a quick walk from Fisherman’s Wharf.
What is the history of Alcatraz?
The history of Alcatraz is a long and varied one.
- In 1775, Juan Manuel de Ayala mapped and named the Island “Isla De Los Alcatraces,” or “Island of the Pelicans”.
- In the 1850’s, President Fillmore, reserved Alcatraz for military use, building a fortress with over 100 cannons installed across the island, as well as the west coast’s first lighthouse. It quickly became a holding place for military prisoners, confederate sympathizers, and American Indians fighting for land against the federal government. Inmate numbers continued to increase until the late 1800’s.
- In the early 1900’s, the inmate population built the 600 cell structure (which you can visit today) as well as a mess hall, hospital, and other concrete buildings. This was known to be the biggest reinforced concrete structure in the world at the time.
- From 1934 to 1963, this island was in use as a fully functioning federal prison that housed some of the most infamous, dangerous, and hostile criminals including Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly.
- The Penitentiary closed in 1963 due to higher than average prison expenses.
- In 1969, a group of Native Americans claimed the island in hopes of building a university and museum on behalf of “Indians of All Tribes.” While the university was never built, their efforts protected Alcatraz from being purchased by private parties and it became a part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area in 1972, managed by the National Parks Service.
- In 1973, the island was opened to the over 1 million tourists that visit Alcatraz each year.
How much time does it take to visit Alcatraz?
You should budget for about 2.5 to 3 hours when visiting Alcatraz. Each ferry ride takes 15 minutes, and the overall trip takes 2-3 hours for the average visitor.
When should you arrive for your Alcatraz tour?
When visiting Alcatraz, you should arrive at Pier 33 earlier than you think. Budget at least an extra 30 minutes once you get to Pier 33 for grabbing your tickets, going to the bathroom, and viewing the 3D replica of the island as a functional prison. And if you need to find parking, allow even more time.
Good news – if you are visiting Alcatraz through Dylan’s Tours, you don’t need to worry about parking and timing! We will get you to Pier 33 with no worry of being late or rushed.
How much does it cost to visit Alcatraz?
Ticket prices for day tours are about $40 for adults, $25 for children, and free for infants 0-4 years old. There are also discounts for seniors and family packages. If you are visiting Alcatraz with a tour company like Dylan’s, the price of the tickets can be baked into the cost of the overall tour.
Can I buy discounted Alcatraz tickets?
Do not trust third parties selling Alcatraz ferry tickets without a confirmed partnership with City Experiences! These are a scam, and you’ll end up monumentally disappointed. A good rule of thumb is to ignore any third-party company that isn’t selling Alcatraz tickets as a part of a tour package. This goes against the agreed-upon rules for tour companies selling Alcatraz tickets, so you know it’s shady at the very least!
When is the best time of year/day to visit Alcatraz?
The high season for visiting Alcatraz is between late spring and early autumn, due to the mild weather of the summer. Holiday breaks are popular as well. Tickets are extra hard to reserve during these times and tours can be sold out months in advance.
As with most tourist attractions, the best time to visit to beat the crowds is by visiting during the workweek, as the weekends can get busy. Also, buying early bird tickets means you are the first group to pave the way for the rest of the tourists. So if feeling as alone as possible while visiting Alcatraz is important to you, being the first on a boat and the first off will put you ahead of the crowds – literally!
Can I use my National Parks Pass to visit Alcatraz?
Your National Parks Pass will not get you onto Alcatraz Island, as there is no price to enter this historical site. The price of the ticket covers the ferry ride to and from the island.
What are the hours of Alcatraz?
Hours of Alcatraz vary depending on the season and the tour you choose, but the general hours are from 10 am to 6 pm on weekdays and 9 am to 6 pm on weekends. If you book a night tour, your tour will last until closer to 9 pm.
Alcatraz is open every day except Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day.
This schedule is dependent on the ferry departure schedule from City Experiences, so make sure to check that schedule for the most accurate times during your stay.
How accessible is Alcatraz?
The Alcatraz prison cell house is at the top of a pretty steep hill, but don’t worry! From accessible parking stalls, ASL dock orientations, and trams to take people with mobility limitations to the top of the island, the National Parks Service has taken many steps to make the island as accessible as possible.
The Following areas are completely wheelchair accessible:
- Alcatraz dock area
- Prison building main floor
- All bookstores
- Museum displays
- Island theatre
- Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing
- All City Experiences vessels
Important note: The tram is not available for individuals with strollers – so don’t consider that a viable option for skipping the steep walk to the top of The Rock!
Alcatraz Island is a bird sanctuary — so there are no food opportunities on the island.
Most folks are surprised to learn that Alcatraz is one of the largest nesting grounds for waterbirds in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is taken pretty seriously considering Alcatraz is a National Park. This means there isn’t any food available on Alcatraz Island. There are a few picnic tables on the dock — in case you decide to pack a picnic. But aside from a few pre-packaged cookies in the gift shops, there isn’t much in the way of food on The Rock. Be sure you don’t head out to Alcatraz with an empty stomach! Luckily, if you’re visiting the island as part of the Dylan’s Famous Alcatraz Day Tour, you’ll have a lunch stop accounted for in the itinerary prior to exploring Alcatraz Island.
How to prepare for visiting Alcatraz?
Alcatraz is one of those tours where regardless of how much you know about the island beforehand, you will have a great time. But if you want to familiarize yourself before getting to the island, doing some light research may give you a stronger appreciation for The Rock and help you find things that you’ll be excited to see in person.
When preparing you and your group for your tour, we recommend having something to eat before the excursion. As there are no opportunities to purchase food once you get on the island and the average tour lasts about 3 hours, you’ll have to sit with that empty stomach for quite a while. Skip the hanger (especially with young children) by eating a snack beforehand.
What should you bring when visiting Alcatraz?
There are a couple of key things to bring that will make or break your trip to Alcatraz. Here are the things you should have on you when getting on the ferry:
- If you’re going to Alcatraz via a combo San Francisco Alcatraz tour, everyone over 18 will need to provide a photo ID to pick up their tickets. Please note, if you’re bringing printed tickets with you, or if you purchased tickets directly from Alcatraz Cruises, then only the person who booked the tickets will need to show their photo ID to pick up the Alcatraz Island tickets.
- Bring layers for everyone. From a chilly ferry to the body-heating trek to the top of the island, you’ll constantly need to shed and add layers. Make sure you are always feeling comfortable to fully enjoy your exploration.
- Good walking shoes are important to enjoy your tour from start to finish. Those flimsy flats and easy flip flops may be cute, but leave them behind for sensible sneakers during this excursion!
- Some cash for exploring the big gift shop on Alcatraz will help you bring home some cool souvenirs from your adventure!
- Having a bottle of water for everyone is crucial for an enjoyable trip. With all of the walking everyone will be doing and limited water stations, keeping your group hydrated will keep them happy and healthy!
Getting to Alcatraz
How To Get To Alcatraz
Alcatraz was considered an inescapable prison at the time it was in operation. While it’s much easier today than it once was, getting to Alcatraz is still not very simple to do. The island is only accessible by a single ferry company, City Experiences. Ferries from Pier 33, a stone’s throw from Fisherman’s Wharf. City Experiences is the only company that has a contract with National Parks Services to transport visitors to and from Alcatraz.
City Experience ferry tickets and Alcatraz tour tickets are in very high demand, and can be sold out months in advance. However, they have partnerships with different tour companies, like Dylan’s Tours, in the city to reserve a certain number of ferry tickets to include in tour packages.
Buying a direct City Experiences ticket or buying a ticket as a part of a tour package are the only two legitimate ways to get to visit Alcatraz — so avoid any scam tickets! Scams can look like scalpers, third-party companies selling tickets separate from tour packages, or “Alcatraz ticket websites” that aren’t City Experiences. These are scams that won’t get you on the island – so leave them alone!
How to Get an Alcatraz Ticket with Dylan’s Tours
We may be biased, but we think that visiting Alcatraz as a part of our Dylan’s Famous Tour is the absolute best way to get the most out of your San Francisco experience. While other tour companies may pair Alcatraz tickets with a Museum entrance or hop-on-hop-off bus, Dylan’s Tours offers a quality experience of all the must-see areas of San Francisco. On top of that, booking a tour package with Dylan’s gives you a good chance of booking last-minute Alcatraz tickets!
There are a few parameters we need to work within to sell Alcatraz tickets. We offer amazing day tours that will drop you off right at the ferry entrance for your Alcatraz experience. However, we cannot sell tickets separately from a tour package.
As a partner, we also have to send everyone’s name who booked our tour package to City Experiences 10 days in advance. Yes, 10 days! If you’re trying to reserve a spot for a tour within 10 days, there is still an option for you! By booking the Dylan’s Famous Tour of San Francisco and Muir Woods, you can opt to add Alcatraz tickets straight from City Experiences at the end of the booking process (if tickets are available).
If you want to get the most out of your day exploring San Francisco, then this is the best option for you.
Parking at Pier 33 Can Be Tricky
If you booked direct tour tickets and are driving to Pier 33, make sure you reserve ample time to find a parking spot. Thanks to its close vicinity to Fisherman’s Wharf, this area can be pretty packed any day of the week. You’ll have the best luck reserving a parking spot in advance or giving yourself plenty of time to find those rare empty parking spots in the area.
How to Get a Sold-out Alcatraz Ticket
It’s not unusual to find that your ideal time to visit Alcatraz is sold out through City Experiences. Luckily, you’re not quite out of luck! There are certain steps you can take to snag sold-out Alcatraz tickets and break into Alcatraz.
So your ideal direct tickets are sold out. Here’s what to try:
- Booking with Dylan’s Tours. Since tour companies reserve a certain amount of Alcatraz ferry tickets per month, there is a chance that we still have some spots available at your ideal or close-to-ideal trip time. Book your Alcatraz Day Tour + San Francisco + Muir Woods Tour online with Dylan’s!
- Getting in the stand-by line for the night tour. While there is no longer a same-day standby ticket option for the day tours, City Experiences reserves 20 standby tickets in the summer and 10 standby tickets in the winter for the infamous Alcatraz Night Tour. If you are an early bird, have the time to wait, and are feeling lucky, this would be a great opportunity! Just keep in mind it’s not a done deal until you’re on the ferry. Standbys are allowed to board after the passengers of that sailing are onboard and if there is room (no-shows or cancellations). If you are not allowed onboard you will get a refund on your ticket.
- Refreshing the Alcatraz cruises ticket page closer to your trip date. If tour companies don’t sell all of their tickets by 10 days before the tour departure, they have to return the tickets to City Experiences. That means you have a shot to purchase some returned or canceled last-minute tickets. This is a long shot for 1-2 tickets, let alone if you’re trying to book for a group. But, you just may get lucky!
- Enjoy Alcatraz from a distance. None of the above worked out for you? Don’t fret – you can still learn about and enjoy Alcatraz views. You just won’t be able to get on the island. There are tons of tour options that will take you around the island with guides that will explain the history and tell interesting stories of The Rock. It may not be the tour you hoped for, but we promise that taking in the majestic views of the island while hearing the creepy prison stories is going to be worth your time!
Types of Alcatraz Tours
Did you know that there are different types of Alcatraz Island tours to consider? While Dylan’s only offers tickets to the Alcatraz Day Tour, there are a few other tour options that you should know about.
Alcatraz Day Tour
When someone mentions “Alcatraz Tour,” this is the one everyone thinks of. It’s the most widely enjoyed tour offered and has the highest capacity for Alcatraz visitors by far. This tour is offered year-round and will be your best bet on getting to the island.
Hours: The Alcatraz Day Tour is offered 7 days a week with the first ferry departing around 9:30 am and the last ferry leaving the island around 6 pm.
Price: About $40 for adults and $25 for children.
Length: about 2-3 hours, but as it is self-guided, you choose how long you stay on the island.
What is included in the tour: A ferry ride to and from the island, a recorded audio tour for you to listen to during your self-guided exploration, and the option for different ranger-led talks around the island.
Alcatraz Night Tour
The Alcatraz night tour is a great choice for those who want to feel even more spooked during their Alcatraz Tour. This tour is even harder to reserve than the day tour, as it only runs twice per day between March and November and 1 once per day during the winter months.
If you want a more intimate, chilling experience visiting Alcatraz in the dark, we absolutely recommend this tour.
Hours: From March to November, this tour leaves Tuesday through Sunday, and the departure times are 6 pm and 6:30 pm. The return times are 8:40 pm and 9:25 pm. In the winter months, the ferry departs at 3:50 pm and 4:45 pm. The return times are 6:40 pm and 7:40 pm. Timing varies, so make sure to check the City Experiences site for the most up-to-date hours!
Price: Adults tickets are a bit pricier around $47 with children tickets around $28.
Length: As this is a guided tour, the length of the tour is more set in stone. Each tour is just under 3 hours including the ferry ride.
What is included in the tour: A spookier look at the island with a guided tour around the island grounds, insider looks at parts of the prison closed off to the day tour, time to enjoy the self-guided audio tour, and behind-the-scenes demos exclusive to the night tour!
Behind The Scenes Tour of Alcatraz
The Behind The Scenes tour of Alcatraz is a bit pricier than the other options, but for good reason. This tour only takes groups of less than 20 people! You get an incredibly intimate experience and insider look at the island with seasoned guides and zero crowds to dodge. If you have a bigger budget and want an exclusive tour, the Behind The Scenes tour is a great option.
Hours: This tour is available on Thursday at 2 pm and Friday-Monday at 1:35 pm. Timing may vary, so make sure to check the City Experiences site for the most up-to-date hours. Because it only leaves once per day with less than 20 people, you should book this tour far in advance!
Price: $93 for adults and $87 for juniors 12-17.
Length: About 3 hours.
What is included in the tour: The ferry transportation, a 2-hour guided tour around behind-the-scenes areas with a National Parks Ranger or historian, the Cellhouse audio tour, and exploring zones that are off-limits to the general public.
Alcatraz and Angel Island Tour
Want to get even more San Francisco Bay Island views in a single tour? Then the Alcatraz and Angel Island tour is a great option for those who want to add to their Alcatraz exploration. Angel Island is a gorgeous hidden gem of history and nature. The largest island in San Francisco bay, it was used as an immigration station during World War II. Today, it is full of hiking trails and the famous tram tour.
Hours: This tour is available daily during summer and on weekends in the spring, from 9:30 am to 3:15 pm. It is not available in the winter. This schedule varies even more than other tours from month to month, so make sure to check the City Experiences website for specific times!
Length: About 5 hours including ferry rides.
What is included in the tour: A ferry to Alcatraz for the cell house audio tour and daily exhibits, a ferry to Angel Island for a narrated tram ride around the island, and a returning ferry to Pier 33.
What To Do and See When Visiting Alcatraz
Thanks to the self-guided aspect of the Alcatraz tour, you can make it your own! There is something for everyone here, so let’s chat about what to do when visiting Alcatraz.
Visiting Alcatraz is a Self-guided Tour
This means that you have the freedom to decide on what you spend your time and brainpower! If the island’s pre-prison history isn’t calling your name but you’re really looking forward to learning about the famous prisoners, you can spend extra time contemplating the lives of Scarface and Machine Gun Kelly. The time is yours so you can allocate it how you like!
Explore the Grounds of Alcatraz
The inmates may not have been able to freely walk the grounds of the island, but you can! Visitors may have access to historic outdoor spaces such as Eagle Plaza, the Recreation Yard, the Sallyport, and the Rose Garden, and learn about the uses of each space along the way. You will get to experience iconic, close-up views of the exteriors of the Cellhouse, Building 64, Warden’s House, Water Tower, the last remaining guard tower, Officer’s Club, and Model Industries Building – sights only people who make it on The Rock can get!
Make Your Way to the Cellhouse
The cellhouse is one of the most memorable aspects of visiting Alcatraz, as you’ll have the voices of past Alcatraz inmates and guards to guide you through the chillingly eerie rows of prison cells.
In 1987, a local non-profit theater company called Antenna Theater created an immersive walking tour of the Alcatraz cellhouse by interviewing former inmates of the prison, along with guards who patrolled the island and kids who grew up in the shadow of America’s most infamous prison. This award-winning audio tour can be listened to from a borrowed audio device or downloaded right onto your phone!
Find Graffiti from the American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz
Due to the famous occupation that happened in the late 1960s, there is tons of painted political messaging to spot on the Alcatraz grounds. Here is a clue to find your first one and our personal favorite: Look for the eagle above the entrance door – it’s perched on a shield with the American flag. Look between the stripes where you will find the word “FREE”.
Junior Ranger Program
The Alcatraz Island Junior Rangers Program is a must-do for children visiting the island! As the audio tour is more targeted towards older children and adults, having this activity for younger kids will keep them occupied and happy while you enjoy your tour. This packet will cover
When your kids are finished, make sure you get back to the dock a little early so that one of the Alcatraz Park Rangers can go over the activity book with the kids in your group before they are sworn in as official Junior Rangers and given a special Alcatraz Island Junior Ranger Badge!
You can ask for this book when you get to the dock of Alcatraz, or download and print it out beforehand here.
Experience a Bonus Tour
Throughout the day there are various ranger-led tours, behind-the-scenes experiences with historic interpreters, and cell door demonstrations in the cellhouse. Once you’ve arrived on the dock of Alcatraz, there will be someone on a microphone greeting you. Right behind that person will be the daily schedule of Alcatraz tours around the island. Different tours begin at different locations throughout the day. Snap a photo of the schedule on your phone, that way you can refer back to it while you’re exploring around the island.
Learn About the Influential Occupation of Alcatraz by Native Tribes
A new exhibit will give you a better perspective on a lesser-known but incredibly impactful side of Alcatraz history. You will be able to access the New Industries Building, which includes a powerful exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the influential Occupation of Alcatraz by Indians of All Tribes.
Learn About Famous Prisoners
You’ve heard of Al “Scarface” Capone, The Birdman, and Machine Gun Kelly (the Criminal, not the rapper). Did you know they once all spent time on The Rock for their crimes? You can walk past their cells and learn about how they spent life trapped in these walls.
Al Capone, the infamous gangster that was used to having power even behind bars once said “It looks like Alcatraz has me licked.”
Check Out the Giant Gift Shop and Chat with Someone that Grew Up on Alcatraz
The cellhouse audio tour ends at the entrance to the biggest gift shop on the island. It’s easy to breeze through and pass up the most precious gem hidden in the Alcatraz prison, someone who spent their childhood in the shadow of the cellhouse. In between replicas of prison keys and old-timey tin mugs, is a small desk. This is where you’ll frequently find guest authors. Before his passing a few years ago, former Alcatraz inmate turned dedicated foster parent, Darwin Coon was a regular guest author on the island. These days, you can hear thrilling tales from prominent Bay Area author Jolene Babyak — whose father was acting warden during the most famous prison escape in the island’s history. Ya’know — the one that inspired the Clint Eastwood movie 😉
Common Mistakes When Visiting Alcatraz
Buying tickets from Scalpers or Scams
This is #1 at the top of our list for major mistakes to avoid while visiting Alcatraz. Yes, tickets are hard to find. But the solution is not buying tickets from scalpers or non-legitimate sites. We promise you will end up feeling taken advantage of or scammed altogether when you never set foot on the island.
Not Reserving a Ticket Far Enough In Advance
Yes, this ferry runs from morning to night almost every day out of the year. That does not mean you can stroll on the boat at the last minute!
These tickets (especially during the summer) can be sold out months in advance. So whether you’re booking direct or buying a tour package, reserve your tickets the moment you know when you’ll be spending time in the city!
If you’re cutting it close and don’t see ferry tickets available for when you want to visit, always make sure to check with us – we just may be able to get you on The Rock!
Not Wearing Good Walking Shoes
While there is a lot to see and learn during your trek to the prison, the road to the Alcatraz cell house is a long and steep one. Stable walking shoes are a must for feeling comfy and un-blistered for the entirety of your tour.
Not Eating Beforehand
There may be a mess hall, but it’s unfortunately reserved for the ghosts of the inmates still on the island.
There are little to no food opportunities for tourists visiting Alcatraz, aside from small cookie packets in the gift shop. Spending a 3-hour tour starving will not be great for your overall experience, so either bring a snack to enjoy on the picnic tables or eat beforehand.
Not Bringing Enough Layers for the Ferry
San Francisco is already a “never leave home without your raincoat” city, but that is extra important when visiting Alcatraz.
The last thing you want is to start your lengthy tour damp and chilled – so make sure to wear layers for both warmth and water protection.
Missing the Ferry Back to Pier 33
Eventually, you’re going to want to escape from Alcatraz, and showing up early for the line to the ferry will give you the best chances for a quick and easy exit.
You may have your ferry to the island set in stone, but getting back is more of a free-for-all. Because people can return to the city on any ferry they choose, you need to be strategic to get on your desired return ferry. It is very common for ferries to fill up — so if you have a time you need to be back, plan on being at the front of the line.
Of course, the same goes for getting there! Be safe rather than sorry by showing up for your ferry a litter earlier than you think you need to.
What To Do After Visiting Alcatraz
Enjoy a Well-earned Dinner in North Beach
So, you just got off the Alcatraz ferry and are officially finished with a day of some serious exploration. Thanks to the lack of food opportunities on the island, you are sure to be hungry. Thankfully, you just jumped ship into one of the best foodie areas in San Francisco!
North Beach is packed with delicious seafood and mouth-watering Italian fare. Yes, the restaurants near Fisherman’s Wharf tend to be busy and touristy. But, there are some local favorites mixed in that will be your future favorite as well. Just a few blocks away from Pier 33, you can find the locally-adored Soto Mare for oysters and seafood pasta, Park Tavern for seriously luxury cuisine, or Original Joe’s for some upscale yet approachable eats.
Explore the San Francisco Nightlife
Experiencing a second wind? If you have enough gas left in the tank for more San Francisco exploration, experiencing the San Francisco nightlife is something you can’t miss. From the endless speakeasies and bars to fun comedy clubs to riding a cable car at night, it’ll feel like an entirely new city.
Rest Up for a Morning E-bike Ride around Golden Gate Park
Chances are after a full day of exploring, you’ll feel pretty beat. If you’re getting off the Alcatraz ferry with nothing but food and your bed on your mind, we recommend resting up so you can take on the next day with vigor. As they say, the early bird gets the worm!
After a good night’s sleep, you’ll be ready to take on day 2 in San Francisco in a major way. We recommend renting e-bikes for a morning cycle through Golden Gate Park! While we see the Golden Gate views from our Famous Tour of San Francisco and Muir Woods, there is something very exhilarating about being able to hop on an easy-to-use e-bike and explore the area up close and personal. And, of course, you’ll be working up quite an appetite for a post-pedal brunch!
Are you ready to escape to Alcatraz?
Make sure to check out Dylan’s minibus tours of San Francisco — you will get to experience the best of San Francisco and top it off with the chillingly amazing experience of visiting the #1 landmark in the US!