Alcatraz, the former federal prison that once held notorious criminals Scarface Al Capone and George 'Machine Gun' Kelly, is today a national historic landmark and one of the most sought-out (and sold-out) attractions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tour the remains of the maximum-security facility on small and windy Alcatraz Island, aptly nicknamed 'The Rock,' to scope out the grounds and cellhouse; hear stories from former inmates; and pass by the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and Angel Island on your 1.25-mile (2-km) ferry rides in and out.
Alcatraz is only accessible by tour, and tickets sell out days (sometimes weeks) in advance. Lock in high-demand tickets by booking a San Francisco city tour that includes admission to the infamous federal penitentiary and a day of sightseeing via bike, bus, boat, or Segway. City tours typically cover highlights such as Chinatown, Coit Tower, North Beach, the Presidio, and the Ferry Building, while other booking options combine a hard-to-snag Alcatraz tour with a cable car ride, a bay cruise to Sausalito, or a multi-day adventure into the Marin headlands, wine country, or Muir Woods.
Once on the island, visitors can explore at their own pace with the self-guided cellhouse audio tour (included in admission). You'll also find National Park Service exhibits, video presentations, docent- and ranger-led guided tours, and special programs that vary by season. Allow about 2.5 hours for the full Alcatraz prison experience, including both 15-minute ferry rides.
Things to Know Before You Go
How to Get to Alcatraz
- Alcatraz tickets include round-trip ferry transportation (take note of the assigned departure time printed on your ferry ticket). You can take any ferry back to the city, available every half hour or so.
- 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.
- The walk to the prison from the ferry dock is steep and hilly; an electric shuttle departs from the dock twice an hour for visitors requiring assistance. While wheelchairs are not provided or loaned at the prison, the cellhouse does have elevators.
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 from $25 to $50 per day, but prices typically double during special events, so consider taking public transportation. Multiple Muni lines run through the area, including the F-Line trolley. To arrive in style, consider booking a Viator VIP experience aboard an exclusive cable car.
When to Get to Alcatraz
Alcatraz cruises depart every half hour between 9am and 4pm. The early-bird trip departs at 8:45am, 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.