On our most recent trip to San Francisco, we decided that Alcatraz was a must do. Reviews were mixed with many folks stating that it's not worth it, skip it, too much time involved, etc. We chose to push onward and we are glad we did.
We bought our tickets a month in advance for the 6:10pm launch to the island and it's a good thing we did. For as vocal as the naysayers are, this tour fills up quick and if you don't have your tickets pre-purchased, there's a good likelihood you won't be going. We chose the 6:10pm launch as the sun would be going down in the bay while on the boat going over. Very beautiful sight with the Golden Gate bridge in view. We also felt that Alcatraz would be neater in the dark rather than bright sunshine.
***TIP #1*** If you've got a camera and/or want some great views, head to the top deck of the boat. It will fill up quickly, so position yourself accordingly. If you are unable to get a rail spot, learn to shoot your camera by holding it over your head. Shoot with a wider angle so you can be sure to get all of the scene you want. You can crop and edit later.
After arrival, there's a couple of brief stops with your park guide, then it's on to the interior where you pick up your complimentary Audio Tour equipment. It's my understanding that this used to be a separate charge, but now it's included in your ticket price. It's a really nice audio tour with a lot of narrative and audio "interviews". The more you actually listen and pay attention, the more you'll get out of it.
*** TIP #2*** Try to be in the first group if you want to set your own pace. If you want to photograph the areas without other people in the shots (kinda ruins the ambiance otherwise), this is a must. My wife and I were the first two inside to pick up the Audio tour.
***WARNING*** This may no longer be applicable, but during our visit there was some kind of idiotic Performing Arts Troupe that was there. They were NOT supposed to be there when tours were going on, but apparently failed to comply. They were annoying, loud, constantly ran in and out of the areas we were trying to view and their actions ruined a good portion of our audio tour. If you see them, find their leader, find a ranger, and make enough fuss until they are kicked out. I didn't spend $33x2 so they could #$%@# up my Alcatraz experience.
The audio tour moves quick so after it's over, you can go back in for a more leisurely experience. There are also some really interesting areas outside that you can explore. There are programs held every 15-30 minutes by the rangers and I understand that happens more with the evening tours than the day tours. Once you get there, you can stay as long as you like.
***RECOMMENDATION*** If you want to do the evening tour, I would suggest trying to get the 6:10pm launch. Unless you just want to breeze through, I don't think you could have enough time to do it justice with the 6:45pm launch which is the last of the day. Night tours are $33.00 and day tours are $26.00. Night tour times change in November; starting at 4:20pm and 5:05pm.
***OTHER TIPS*** There is a backpack and cooler policy for Alcatraz. I took a standard backpack, loaded with camera gear with no problem. I did not try to take a monopad or tripod and did not see anyone else there with one. Get there early before your launch; at least 15 minutes and preferably 30. There's enough stuff to keep you busy. Once you get in line, you'll go through a line that takes you to a photographer who will take your picture against a backdrop in hopes that when you return you'll pay $15.00 for a 50 cent photo. M-u-s-t r-e-s-i-s-t....
With a little creativity, there are so really good photo ops. I'm attaching a few shots of my to this review.
All-in-all, this was a really good attraction, full of history. If you've ever watched anything on Alcatraz on television and it held your interest, seeing it in-person should be a real treat.
***WARNING*** There are a lot of places that offer "Alcatraz Tours" which will actually be nothing more than a Cruise around the island. The only way to do the real Alcatraz Tour is to purchase tickets from www.alcatrazcruises.com . Buy your tickets online through them, early enough in advance so you can get the day and time you want; then choose the option to print your tickets on your own printer. This will save you from having to get in line even earlier to get your tickets at will-call before you have to get in the real line.
Have your photo ID's handy. You can get more helpful tips here... https://www.alcatrazcruises.com/website/pyt-helpfultips.aspx
I hope this helps. I'm available for further questions if you need.
To get on the island you MUST have a reservation. As soon as you get to Pier 39, the tourist pier, look for the ticket booth and reserve a seat on the boat. The ticket booth is right along the street.
On you way out to Alcatraz you will have plenty of time to view the San Francisco skyline. This will present many different views of both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge.
Take a jacket. The wind off the Pacific can be cold.
Food is sold on the boat, but not on the island. Your ticket price includes the tour with a guide. You will be taken inside the prison and see where famous criminals tried to escape. Only a few actually were successful in escaping. While you are at home rent the video and see the Clint Eastwood Movie. You will also visit other areas on the island.
Time for this adventure on Alcatraz is several hours, or if you go in the morning you can stay late.
If you have to decide between the bay cruise and seeing Alcatraz, this should be your choice. You get a good boat trip on the bay, while getting to see Alcatraz.
These pictures ought to give you an idea of what you will see.
Please vote on comments, I need to move up the food chain.
Another great way to enjoy the Bay is to get out on a boat. You can do cruises or jump on a ferry to a destination like Tiburon or Sausalito, but since you're bound to be going to Alcatraz while in the city, enjoy the free scenery en route. Alcatraz itself is a fascinating day trip in its own right and whether you arrive on a foggy or sunny day, you'll be transported back in time to it illustrious past as home to famed criminals like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. As part of the National Park service, it is highly regulated and you're assured of a great value experience. It's best to purchase your tickets from the Blue & Gold booths close to Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf to avoid paying any kind of service fee. The round trip ferry ticket cost $16 but it includes your entrance and an audio headphone tour as well as many ranger activities you can take as you like. It's quite easy to spend an entire day there if you like historical guided walks and you should allow a minimum of four hours for the visit from Wharf to Wharf. Most find it fascinating.
The Alcatraz tour is one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco. This tiny "rock" in the middle of San Francisco Bay has had several "lives". First a military fortress, then more famously a prison, then the site of an Indian reclaimation and occupation. Today it's managed by the national park service. Thousands of visitors each day take the Blue and Gold fleet out to the island to take the tours.
Visitors have their choice between a naturalist guided tour (some led by former wardens), or the recorded headset, or simply strolling around on their own. I have taken the first two tours over the years and enjoyed them both. The recorded tour is enhanced by background sounds that make you feel you are walking through the rooms, corridors and into the cells while it was actually a prison.
Wandering around the exercise yard and looking over at the City, it's easy to see how frustrating it might have been to be a resident with one of the world's most amazing views in the world.
Every year the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon begins on "the rock". Hundreds of participants jump into the cold choppy waters and swim to shore. Makes you wonder why no one successfully escaped in the prison years.
Tip: Buy your tickets in advance. The tours are often sold out days in advance and waiting lines are always long. There are days and evening tours. Adult audio tours are $16.00. There are child and senior prices.
When we visited San Francisco earlier this year, we could not miss the chance to see Alcatraz. It's just one of those things you must do there.
Browsing the internet for information, I noticed that Blue&Gold fleet were offering a Night tour to Alcatraz. I thought it might be interesting to see it in a dark setting.
However, depending on the time of the year, this might not be possible as the Ferry returns at 7.50 p.m. and in May (when we were there) the sunset is after 8.00 pm, so as we were getting back, we got to enjoy the sunset from the ferry.
It was very nice to see Alcatraz, but it was always bright on the island.
I guess if you go a bit earlier or much later in the year, you might actually be able to do the actual "night" tour. In any case, it was well worth it.
Tip: Buy your tickets in advance as there are very few chances to get a ticket on the spot .
I got them through the Internet and then printed them out on the self-service machine on the Pier, using the credit card.
The picture was taken from the ferry as we were heading back.
Alcatraz Island America's Premier Maximum Security Prison. Alcatraz was once a military prison, it has also held Native American prisoners in the 1800's. During the 1906 Earthquake of San Francisco civilian prisoners were kept here until the city jails could be rebuilt.
Alcatraz is most famous for the infamous it housed from the 1930's to 1963. This federal prison was built to lock up the worst of the worst, inmates including; Al Capone, Robert "Birdman" Stroud, bank robber Floyd Hamilton who once robbed banks with Bonnie and Clyde, Members of the Ma Barker Gang, and Machine Gun Kelly. Alcatraz was built/reinforced to set an example that it was an inescapable fortress. Alcatraz is a 3-story cell house and has one of the largest steel-enforced structures, it stands 121 feet above sea level.
Inside Alcatraz ia a museum filled with exhibits, artwork and escape materials made by inmates. Alcatraz is now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, it is open for tours, you can reach the island by ferry from Pier 41
We spent three hours on Alcatraz and found it very interesting. Be sure to get the self-guided audio tour ($16), as this greatly enhances what you actually see. Our first stop was the video presentation and exhibits in the Civil War-era munitions building. The island was first used as a fortress and military prison. Then it's a hike up to the penitentiary to pick up your headphones and wander around the cellhouse. Don't miss Al Capone's cell, and the cutoff where potential escapees met their fate (bullet holes in the walls, grenade explosion marks on the concrete floors).
The tour doesn't have you stop in the recreation yard - you have to walk back after you've turned in your headset. So pause right after the dining hall part of the tour and step outside to avoid backtracking. There is a door from the recreation yard (why did they have a door? They weren't allowed out...I don't know) that leads out to the other side of the island for a view of the demolished guards' houses. You can also walk around to this part of the island if you turn right after exiting the tour.
After its use as a penitentiary, Alcatraz became surplus property and was seized by American Indians. They lived on the island for 19 months in the 1970s. As a National Park, the island is now home to hundreds of protected seagulls (bring a hat). One man standing in line with us thought that the Park Service was doing the island a disservice by not restoring it (which in fact they have plans to do). I believe it's fitting that the island is returning to a more natural state. The name "Alcatraz" was actually given to honor the island's first inhabitants - the birds.
VERY IMPORTANT: Buy your tickets at least two weeks in advance. We went to Alcatraz in July. Those unlucky tourists who weren't in the know came to buy tickets that day and found none were available until August! Apparently some tour groups have same-day tickets but best not to take chances.
Alcatraz is an enjoyable attraction that is rich in history. The Rock is most famous for its use as a prison, but the history of the island is far more extensive. It housed the first lighthouse on the West Coast. It served as a Civil War era garrison and defended the bay with over 100 cannons. When the fortress became obsolete, the military continued to use the site as a military prison. Eventually in 1934 it became a maximum-security federal penitentiary that welcomed guests like Al Capone. The prison closed in 1963 due to the high operational costs. Only one person was known to have escaped, and he was captured clinging to a rock at Fort Point below the Golden Gate Bridge. One escape attempt was immortalized in the 1979 Clint Eastwood film “Escape from Alcatraz.” The actual prisoners whose story the film was based upon were never found, but were believed to have drowned in the attempt. After the prison closed it became abandoned. In 1969, a group of Native American protesters seized and occupied the island. The occupation lasted until 1971. After the occupation, the island was again abandoned. But now Alcatraz is administered by the National Park Service.
You need to arrive by ferry. You can wander about the island. The cellhouse tour is self guided, but they give you an audio player and headphones that lead you around the old cells, complete with narrative from former guards and inmates. The views from Alcatraz are fantastic.
If you have ever wondered where seagulls come from you can find out on Alcatraz. The island, with no native predators, is a natural breading ground for the birds. When I visited, mother seagulls nesting with their young were abundant on the island.
The tours are only available through Hornblower Cruises. It is imperative that you purchase your tickets IN ADVANCE as the tours sell out. You can purchase tickets on-line, in person at the ticket office at Pier 33, or by phone.
Alcatraz Island in the center of San Francisco Bay is one of America's most interesting National Parks. Here are some things to know which may help you get the most enjoyment out of your visit:
Tickets can be purchased from the Pier 33 ticketing area but same day tickets are often booked out so it is preferable to book a day or two in advance. Night tours are very popular as the island affords dramatic evening views of the San Francisco skyline. These tours are usually sold out a few weeks in advance. Booking tickets online prior to arrival would secure tickets.
The first ferry to the island leaves at 9am and then at intervals of 30 - 40 minutes during the day. Closing time for people with DAY tickets is 6.30pm in Summer and 4.30pm in Fall, Winter and Spring. Alcatraz is closed on Christmas Day and New Years Day.
There is no food available for purchase on the island. Bottled water is available to buy from the bookstore near the dock. With the exception of bottled water, food and drink must be consumed in the picnic area at the dock. There is a kiosk on the ferry. Restrooms are located at the dock and near the entrance to the cell block.
The island is a no smoking zone except for a designated area at the landing dock. As the island is a National Park no collecting is permitted and feeding the wildlife (especially birds) is prohibited.
The distance from the landing dock to the prison cells is about a 1/4 mile or 400m and the gradient is quite steep. While the footpath is wide it can be a little uneven in places and there are steps. In the unlikely event of an accident there are first aid facilities available.
Visitors unable to make the climb can take advantage of an electric shuttle that runs from the dock to the cell block. For people with mobility issues - Pier 33, ferry boats, the Alcatraz dock area, main floor of the prison complex and the bookstore, museum, theater and toilets are fully accessible. Further information on accessibility can be obtained by phoning the National Park Service on 415-561-4900.
Rangers are available to answer any questions and outdoor interpretive walks are conducted by Rangers and/or Alcatraz volunteers. A 17 minute orientation video runs on a loop in the theater (50 yards up the road from the landing area) and this is an excellent introduction to the island. It is open captioned in English and Spanish.
A brochure called Discover Alcatraz is available in English, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese and French and can be purchased from a self service area beside the dock for $1.00.
A 45 minute audio tour is also available in the above languages as well as Mandarin and Dutch. It is included in the price of your ticket and can be collected from the cell block.
Souvenirs and items related to the island including DVD's and books can be purchased from either of the two bookstores located near the theater and inside the prison building.
The main corridor of the cellhouse was christened "Broadway" by the inmates. The cells seem endless and stacked 3 high. You can even see Frank Morris's cell, including dummies for a realistic experience and the grate, which according to legend, he had chipped away with a spoon.
It is a eerie feeling to walk the corridors at night after the sun has gone down.
Although, the Alcatraz island was at first place a base for a lighthouse and the a military fortification it became famous because of the federal prison on it and the claim that it is an inescapable fortess. The prison closed down in 1963. Alcatraz island always reminds me that classic movie Escape From Alcatraz (1979) starring Clint Eastwood. The prison held famous criminals behind the walls (Al Capone was one of them) and the myth (?) claims that no one ever escaped (alive). Even, those three on the escape of 1962 lost at sea and never found, offially they died because of the cold waters, but who really knows… I have to admit that because of the movie I think they made it :)
The Spanish word Alcatraz means pelican, probably the island was full of them when Juan de Ayala discovered the island back in 1775.
Many people refer to it as The Rock and you can see it from many places in San Francisco as it is located in San Francisco bay just 2.4km offshore from SF. You can visit the island by ferry from Pier 33, don’t forget to book your tickets in advance because they go sold out easily. The day tours costs about $26 while the night tour goes up to $33 (web prices). The audio tour was interesting with voices of ex-guards and ex-prisoners of that era (I hope it’s true). You just walk around on your own, don’t forget to take pics of San Francisco city, we had the sun at the background so we could take good ones, I wish we had taken the night tour, a friend told me the city looks great at evening.
The abandoned prison, the first lighthouse in the west coast and early military buildings are some of the sites you can see here. What I didn’t know was the Native American occupation that took place in 1969 and lasted for two years. The native Americans claimed Alcatraz island because the Sioux treaty of 1868 stated that all abandoned federal land adjacent to the Sioux reservation could be reclaimed back!
Alcatraz is now home to rare flowers and plants, marine wildlife, and thousands of roosting and nesting sea birds particularly Brandt's cormorant (pic 4) with their distintinctive blue throats. I was also lucky enough to see a pigeon guillemont just before we landed (pic 5).
In fact, the island gets its name from the birds. La Ilsa De Los Alcatraces was the name given by Spanish Lieutenant Juan Manual de Alaya which, translated, means Island of the Sea Birds.
Civil War-era buildings dotting the island give insight into the 19th century when the island served as both a harbor defense fort and a military prison. You can also see visible reminders of the American Indian Occupation that started in 1969 after the prison closed, highlighting an important milestone in the American Indian rights movement.
However, the thing that got me was the colour of the place. Because I visited in spring it was an opportune time to view the gardens that were once tended by the occupants but now are cared for by volunteers.
Although it only served as a federal penitentiary for 29 years, Alcatraz could very well be described as the world's most (in)famous prison, and of course it is one of San Francisco's top attractions. To make the experience more complete, we chose to go on an evening tour of Alcatraz. Tickets cost slightly more than the ones for the day tour ($33 instead of $26), but I thought it was worth it. The narrated cruise that took us to and around Alcatraz Island was very interesting, and I enjoyed the fact that there were less visitors in the evening. The visit of Alcatraz is done with an audioguide - I'm usually not a big fan of audioguides, but I thought this one was very interesting. The story of Alcatraz is told by ex-prisoners, ex-guards and by people who used to live on the island (many guards' children actually grew up on Alcatraz Island, just a few steps away from the prison). The fact that you're allowed to visit at your own pace, without having to follow a big group, makes the whole experience rather surreal since you can enter cells on your own and make your own way down the long, creepy corridors as you learn about some of the prison's most notorious inmates and escape attempts, among other things.
Some other great things about the evening tour is that it offers wonderful views of the city at dusk, and since the groups are smaller, some special activities are offered such as the visit of the hospital wing, in which you can see Robert Stroud's (the birdman of Alcatraz) cell, as well as special talks on escape attempts, famous prisoners, and a demonstration of the cell lock mechanism. It's definitely worth paying the few extra bucks, but make sure you book your tickets well in advance as the evening tours usually sell out pretty fast.
Alcatraz Island was originally occupied by the military as a fort; followed by an army prison camp (where the prisoners created the jails that held them); then as the famous "prison within the prison system" where the nation's worst criminals were sent; then as the site of a Native American peace community; and now it is part of the Golden Gate National recreation area.
Its name derived from the Spanish word for seabirds, ALCATRAZ was once a federal prison, home to the likes of Al Capone and the "Birdman of Alcatraz".
Blue & Gold Ferries, offering self-guided tape tours (Al Capone himself will guide you), leave from Pier 41, Fisherman's Wharf