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Ferries depart from Pier 33, San Francisco, California

A former federal prison that held notorious criminals Al “Scarface” Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Alcatraz is now a national historic landmark and one of the most sought-out (and sold-out) attractions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Highlights include touring what’s left of the maximum-security facility, hearing stories from former inmates, and sailing past the Golden Gate Bridge to reach the craggy isle.

The island 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.

  • Tickets include round-trip ferry transportation and an audio tour; you can take any ferry back to the city and they depart roughly every 30 minutes.

  • 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 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.

All Alcatraz 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 transportation 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.

Alcatraz cruises typically depart every 30 minutes from morning to late afternoon. The early-bird trip departs a little earlier, while the limited Alcatraz night tour allows visitors to stay on the grounds until late, and includes both live boat narration and a guided walk from the dock to the prison. Alcatraz tickets are hardest to come by in the spring and summer.

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, Indigenous 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.

The ferry ride over to Alcatraz is about 12 to 15 minutes, but keep in mind the ride back will also be the same amount of time, making it a 30-minute round-trip. The great part about the ferry ride to Alcatraz is that you’ll take in some awesome views of San Francisco.

Yes, the good news is that Alcatraz does have bathrooms for public use. There are two on the island with one conveniently located near the ferry terminal. Plus, most of the ferries that take visitors to and from the island also will have restrooms for public use.

During the day is the best time to visit Alcatraz—particularly the early morning— because you’ll get to see places that aren’t available to nighttime visitors. Plus, booking onto the earliest tour of the day makes you the first group on the island. For those looking for a spooky time, nighttime visits may be best.

No, you cannot visit Alcatraz without a tour. All tours include tickets booked through Alcatraz City Tours. The Alcatraz docks only offer access to this company and so you have to book in advance to be able to visit the historical prison and the island it calls home.

Yes, you can take pictures at Alcatraz and on the island. In fact, Alcatraz is a very popular place for travelers to take their selfie photos. The only exception to taking pics is during some special events that take place on the island such as the Native American Sunrise Ceremony.

Yes, you can eat on Alcatraz Island, but you can only eat on the dock. There is even a designated picnic area on the dock especially for those who want to stop to eat before or after their tour. All food and drinks must stay in that area with the exception being bottled water.


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