Alcatraz is only accessible by tour and tickets often sell out well in advance. Lock in those high-demand tickets by booking a San Francisco tour that includes admission to the infamous federal penitentiary and a day of city sightseeing by bike, bus, boat, or Segway. Popular stops include Chinatown, North Beach, and the Ferry Building. Other options combine Alcatraz with cable car rides, bay cruises to Sausalito, or Marin headland adventures.
On the island, explore at your own pace with the self-guided cellhouse audio tour. You'll also find National Park Service exhibits, video presentations, docent- and ranger-led guided tours, and special programs that vary by season.
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Things to Know Before You Go
Alcatraz tickets include round-trip ferry transportation and an audio tour; you can take any ferry back to the city and they depart roughly every half hour.
Bring a camera and a coat for the chilly but beautiful ferry rides.
You'll find a few snacks offered on the ferry and water available on the island.
Allow about 2.5 hours for the full Alcatraz prison experience, including both 15-minute ferry rides.
The walk from the ferry dock is steep and hilly; an electric shuttle departs from the dock twice an hour and the cellhouse has elevators.
How to Get There
All Alcatraz Island tours depart via ferry from Pier 33 near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. There are several parking garages in the area with rates ranging from $25 to $50 per day, but prices typically double during special events. Public transport is a more cost-effective option and multiple Muni lines run through the area, including the F-Line trolley. Many tours include round-trip transportation.
When to Get There
Alcatraz cruises typically depart every half hour between 9am and 4pm. The early-bird trip departs a little earlier, while the limited Alcatraz night tour allows visitors to stay on the grounds until 9:25pm and includes both live boat narration and a guided walk from the dock to the prison. Alcatraz tickets are hardest to come by in spring and summer.
The History of Alcatraz Island
Originally established as a military prison in the mid-19th century, Alcatraz is perhaps best-known as the maximum-security facility that housed Al "Scarface" Capone and other notorious gangsters. After the prison closed in 1963, Native American activists occupied the island from 1969 to 1971. It was then opened to the public in 1973 and is now the site of an annual Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon.