During our visit to San Francisco, the Alcatraz prison was a must-see for us.
Alcatraz, the Famous Prison in San Francisco
The island got its name from pelicans, called alcatraces by the Spanish settlers. Many pelicans found refuge there.
Alcatraz prison is known for some of its inmates like Al Capone and for the escape attempts that took place there. However, the prison was a high security prison only from 1933 to 1963, after having been a military prison for 65 years. Today it is managed by the National Park Service and millions of people visit it.
I won’t go into more explanations because the history of the island and of the prison will be presented to you during the visit.
How to get to Alcatraz Island?
Alcatraz Island is accessible only by boat. Ferries cross San Francisco Bay from Pier 33 throughout the day to transport visitors.
The only company authorized to take visitors to Alcatraz is Alcatraz Cruises. You can go directly to alcatrazcruises.com to book your tickets.
When to visit Alcatraz?
With a ticket, you can go there and back by boat. If the departure time depends on the ticket, there is no fixed time for the return trip, which can be done until the last crossing of the day.
Today, the island welcomes nearly one million visitors per year. This means that demand is generally high; therefore, you should book your tickets well ahead to be sure not to miss the opportunity to visit Alcatraz prison.
How much to visit Alcatraz Prison?
We paid $38 per person in 2018. Today, the rate is $42.15 per person for the Day Tour. This includes the ferry crossing and the tour of the prison with audio guide.
We booked the tickets for Alcatraz prison online, which is highly recommended given the daily crowds.
There are also discounted rates that you can take advantage of depending on your age and that of your family:
- $25.80 per child 5–11 years old
- Free for children under 5-year-old
- $39.80 dollars for seniors (over 62 years old)
- $123.10 for a pack
Alcatraz Cruises also offers some rates for night tours as well as “Behind the Scenes” tours that include guided tours of areas of the island closed to the public.
Feedback on our Visit to Alcatraz prison
To board the boat that takes you to the prison, we went to Pier 33. We had to arrive 30 minutes earlier than the time indicated on the ticket in order to get through security and board the boat.
The boat ride is only 15 minutes long. We took the opportunity to take some pictures of the island and San Francisco. Seats on the top floor of the boat are the most popular because you have a better view. As there is no assigned seat, it’s the first come first served.
Visit of the Prison
Once arrived at the dock, the visit of Alcatraz Island is free. We picked up our audio guides (available in French and many other languages) and were able to discover the history of the prison as well as the place.
We went through the different quarters of the prison, the rows of cells, the refectory, the library… Some cells have been reconstructed and are accessible. The best thing is to follow the audio guide and the route indicated on the ground in order to have a real coherence between the audio and what you see.
We also took the opportunity to walk around the island outside and to admire the view of the city of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge from a height. Seeing in front of you on the streets that go up steeply is impressive.
For your souvenirs, there are two stores on Alcatraz Island. On our side, we preferred to buy ours in the shops near Pier 33.
My Tips for Visiting Alcatraz Prison
Here are some tips to enjoy your visit to Alcatraz:
- Book your tickets at least 3 to 4 weeks in advance and even more in advance for a night tour.
- Bring comfortable shoes for the island and a sweater or windbreaker for the boat.
- Include at least 3 hours for this activity in your program, including 30 minutes of waiting at Pier 33, 30 minutes of boat (round trip) and the visit of the island and the prison (about 2 hours).
My Best Pictures of Alcatraz Island