Alcatraz Island is the most popular tourist attraction in San Francisco.
It attracts more than a million visitors every year.
Since the Alcatraz tours are sold out much in advance, there is a lot of demand for Alcatraz tickets last minute.
During summer, Alcatraz Cruises, organizers of the Alcatraz Island tours advice tourists to book their tickets 90 days in advance.
During the winter months, it is advisable to book at least 30 days in advance.
Last minute Alcatraz tickets
Have the Alcatraz tickets sold out by the time you landed in San Francisco?
Many tourists visiting the Fog City, end up leaving without seeing Alcatraz because they didn’t know how to buy Alcatraz tickets at the last minute.
If you missed buying the Alcatraz tour tickets earlier, there are four not-so-popular tricks to buy them at the last minute.
Check for canceled tickets
During the summer months, the Alcatraz tour tickets can get sold out 75 days in advance.
This is because many tourists plan and book their Alcatraz tickets much in advance.
But when their plans change, and they cancel their booked tickets at the last-minute, Alcatraz Cruises puts them back for sale on the website.
If you really want an Alcatraz tour ticket at the eleventh hour, you must visit the Alcatraz Cruises website and keep hitting the refresh button.
Determined (and desperate!) tourists have often seen tickets pop-up on Alcatraz Cruises website a few days before the date of their travel.
Buy same day tickets from Alcatraz Cruise office
Alcatraz Cruises has a nice initiative to ensure tourists who are left scrambling for Alcatraz tickets at the last possible moment, get yet another chance.
For every day, they set aside a limited number of same-day Alcatraz tour tickets which are available on a first-come, first served basis.
These same days Alcatraz tickets can be bought at the Alcatraz Cruises ticket office at Pier 33.
How many same-day tickets are issued?
Alcatraz Cruises team decides on the number of same-day tickets to be issued depending on the demand.
During the peak summer season, the number of same-day tickets distributed to the tourists can even go up to 200.
During the non-peak times, this number can be as low as 50 tickets.
How to buy same day Alcatraz tour tickets?
The ticket office opens at 7:30 am.
However, tourists desperate for a last-minute ticket for the Alcatraz Island start lining up from 4.00 am itself.
This early start is especially true for the peak summer months.
Once you also stand in this queue, you can’t step out. Except for a washroom break. This is strictly enforced by the ticketing personnel at the venue.
This ticketing personnel will also give you a ticket voucher (one per person), which means that you will walk out with an Alcatraz tour ticket in hand.
However, there are some restrictions on buying same day Alcatraz tickets which you must be aware of.
Restrictions on buying same day Alcatraz tickets
1. These same day tickets can only be bought at the Alcatraz cruises office.
2. These tickets are sold on a first-come, first served basis. Standing in the queue doesn’t guarantee a ticket.
3. The maximum number of Alcatraz tickets sold to one person is one. This means all family/group members must be present at the ticketing window at the time of ticket purchase.
4. There is also a limit of four people per group. That is, a family of six must split into two groups and stand in a queue (and pay with a different card).
5. Government-issued photo identification is required for purchasing tickets.
What time are the same-day Alcatraz tours?
The same-day Alcatraz tickets are usually for one or more of the morning tours.
Especially, the morning ferries that leave the Alcatraz Landing at 9.10 am, 10 am and the 10.30 am.
In the winter months, all the same day Alcatraz ticket holders are accommodated on the 9.10 am boat.
Adventurous tourists are known to buy the same day tickets, get some breakfast nearby and then come back and line up for the ferry.
Note: Interestingly Alcatraz Cruises doesn’t want you to know about this trick. That’s why you won’t find this mentioned on their website.
Buy standby tickets for Alcatraz Night tour
Standby tickets for the Alcatraz night tour are a real gamble.
If you want to buy Alcatraz tickets at the eleventh hour, it is worth trying.
You must start lining up early in the morning and be one of the first in line when the ticket office opens at 7.30 am.
Every morning, depending on the demand 10 to 20 standby tickets are issued.
You are then expected to come back to Alcatraz Landing right before the 5:55 pm and 6:30 pm departures to see if there are any no-shows.
The standby tickets are honored in the order by which they were purchased in the morning. Those who bought it first, get a chance to get in first against a no-show.
Just because you got a standby ticket, doesn’t mean you will go on the Alcatraz island tour.
On an average 50% of the tourists with standby, Alcatraz tickets go back home without boarding the ferry.
Buy Combination tour tickets
As mentioned earlier, if you want to buy ONLY Alcatraz tour tickets the only place to buy them is the Alcatraz Cruises website.
However, Alcatraz Cruises does allot a fixed number of Alcatraz tour tickets to other tour operators.
They allow these tour operators to sell Alcatraz tour tickets under two conditions –
1. They should club these Alcatraz tours with other tours in San Francisco city.
2. They should sell the allotted Alcatraz Island tour tickets at least four days before the day of the trip.
Thus, when all the Alcatraz tour tickets get sold out, your best option for a last minute ticket is a combination tour ticket.
This is a reliable option because these companies have bought the tickets in bulk from Alcatraz Cruises so that they can have some certainty for their guests.
Just because there are no tickets available on Alcatraz Cruises website doesn’t mean these tour operators will also be sold out.
Check out some of the best combination tours which also include Alcatraz island tours –
A very economical combo tour. Includes one day of San Francisco sightseeing on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus and the Alcatraz Night tour.
Fly over Alcatraz Island by a seaplane in the morning. In the afternoon, visit Alcatraz on a day tour.
Visit Alcatraz Island and then tour the San Francisco city with a human guide. Landmarks include the Golden Gate Bridge and many more.
Soar over San Francisco in a 15-20 minute helicopter flight. Then take a ferry to explore ‘The Rock’, America’s most famous prison, on a fully narrated tour of the island.
Admire the Golden Gate bridge and more of the city’s famous sights, before heading on the Alcatraz tour holding your last minute ticket.
Visit the notorious Alcatraz Prison by ferry. Explore landmarks of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset even as you ride your bike for 12 miles. This is a guided tour.
Tour San Francisco on a Segway, in a small group. Discover Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, and Lombard Street and in the end go on the Alcatraz tour.
Want something cheaper? Try this Alcatraz combo tour –
A 90-minute cruise which sails underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and circles Alcatraz Island. As you sail, you listen about chilling escape attempts by notorious criminals from Alcatraz prison.