Alcatraz Island is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history and true crime. Take advantage of the many opportunities to take photos while touring the prison, exploring the island and admiring the scenery. Plan to allow 2-3 hours for your visit, including the round-trip ferry ride. Here’s what you can expect during a tour of Alcatraz:
The Ferry Ride to Alcatraz:
Your tour begins with a 15-minute ferry ride from Fisherman’s Wharf to Alcatraz Island. During busy summer months, plan to arrive 45 minutes prior to your ferry departure at Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing. Ferries run every 30-40 minutes to and from Alcatraz. Enjoy stunning views of San Francisco Bay and the city skyline during the short trip.
Alcatraz Cellhouse Audio Tour
The highlight of the tour is the Cellhouse Audio Tour, which is included in the admission tour price. Get an in-depth look at the history and daily life of Alcatraz. Listen to the audio tour as you walk through the cellblocks and other areas of the prison and its grounds.
The History of Alcatraz
Alcatraz was originally a fort, a military prison and later (1934-1963) became a maximum security federal penitentiary. During the tour, learn about its history as a prison, including its infamous reputation as the most secure prison in the world. Alcatraz officially closed as a federal penitentiary in 1963. It reopened to the public as a tourist attraction in 1973.
The Cells and Famous Alcatraz Prisoners
Learn about the famous prisoners who were housed inside Alcatraz (see picture below). They included: Al “Scarface” Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Arthur “Doc” Barker, Alvin “Creepy Karpis” Karpavicz, Robert “The Birdman” Stroud, Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, and Meyer “Mickey” Cohen. Getting an up-close look of the cells was our favorite part of the tour.
Stand Inside an Alcatraz Cell
Not only can you look inside the cells while walking through the cell block, you can actually go inside a few of them and peek out behind the bars – and imagine what it felt like to be imprisoned. It’s a chilling feeling!
Infamous 1962 Prison Escape
A few of the cells have re-created the scene from the infamous June 1962 prison escape (pictured below). See replicas of the dummy heads (made of soap, cement and paint) that prisoners Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin made under their blankets in their beds. Check out the holes they carved out in the walls (under the sinks) where they crawled out of their cells through the small vents. Once out of their cells, they scaled the utility corridor to the roof and slid down a stove pipe to the shoreline. From here, they escaped into the night, never to be heard of again.
The Yard, Lighthouse and Panoramic Views
The Yard and Recreational Areas
Stroll through the prison yard and see the recreational areas where the prisoners spent their free time. What struck us as we were touring the prison, was what it must have felt like for the prisoners looking out from the windows and the prison yard – and seeing the glistening bay, the city skyline in the distance, and hearing the sounds from San Francisco drifting across the water.
The Lighthouse and Gardens
Visit the lighthouse and the gardens on the island for a look at the beauty and nature of Alcatraz. Before you leave, stop by the gift shop to pick up any Alcatraz souvenirs, books and memorabilia.
Famous Alcatraz Movies
A tour of Alcatraz is a unique and fascinating experience that provides a glimpse into the history of the United States and the criminal justice system. If you’re a movie buff, stream two of the most popular Alcatraz movies: “The Birdman of Alcatraz” (1962) and “Escape from Alcatraz” (1979).
Alcatraz is open 362 days a year. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Be sure to book well in advance, especially during peak Summer and tourist season. The island closes at 6:30pm in the Summer and 4:30pm in the Spring, Fall and Winter. Night Tours are also available.
We recommend you wear comfortable walking shoes. Expect a steep 1/4 -mile walk from the dock to the cell house at the top of the island. We got quite a workout! If the walk is too strenuous, you have the option of taking an electric shuttle that runs once every half hour. Be sure to dress in layers, especially during Summer months when San Francisco’s famous fog may roll in over the bay and and it can get quite chilly.
Book your tour today and see for yourself what makes Alcatraz one of San Francisco’s top tourist attractions.