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Alcatraz Island tours – tickets, prices, discounts, ferry timings, duration

Alcatraz Island is a small island in San Francisco Bay, California, USA.

The island is best known for its former prison, which operated from 1934 to 1963 and housed some of the country’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly.

In addition to its history as a federal prison, Alcatraz Island has been used for military purposes, as a lighthouse station, and as a site for Native American activism.

More than one million tourists book an Alcatraz tour and visit Alcatraz Island annually.

The island also offers stunning views of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge.

This article covers everything you must know before buying an Alcatraz Island ticket.

Where is Alcatraz

Alcatraz is a rocky island 2 km (1.5 miles) from the San Francisco shore. (Get Directions)

This island occupies 22 acres (9 hectares).

Can you visit Alcatraz?

Yes, the Alcatraz prison and island grounds are open to the public.

Tourists can plan to visit Alcatraz any day of the year except Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day – the three days it is closed.

All you need to do is book an Alcatraz island tour.

What to expect at Alcatraz

Take the ferry ride starting from the famous PIER 39 and immerse yourself in breathtaking views of the San Francisco skyline en route to Alcatraz island.

Dive deep into the rich history of the notorious Alcatraz Penitentiary, where infamous criminals like Al Capone were once held.

Step into the cells that once housed some of America’s most notorious criminals and feel the chilling atmosphere of “The Rock.”

Engage in the award-winning audio tour narrated by former inmates and guards, providing a gripping narrative of daily life behind bars.

Explore the prison’s iconic features, including the ominous Cell Block D and the haunting exercise yard with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Listen to the captivating tales of escape attempts and prison life as you traverse the cold, echoing corridors.

Beyond the penitentiary, discover the island’s natural beauty, featuring diverse wildlife, gardens, and stunning vistas

Where to book tickets

Tickets for San Francisco: Inside Alcatraz Tour are available online and at the tour agency office.

Online ticket prices tend to be cheaper than tickets at the attraction.

When you buy online, you can avoid the long queues at the ticket counters. 

Because the Inside Alcatraz experience sells limited tickets, they may sell out during peak days.

Booking early helps avoid last-minute disappointments.

How do online tickets work

Visit the ticket booking page for San Francisco: Inside Alcatraz Tour , select the preferred date, time slot, and number of tickets, and buy the tickets immediately.

Once you purchase tickets, they get delivered to your email address.

You will show your smartphone tickets to your tour guide, who will then give you the Alcatraz Island tickets.

Please carry a valid ID with you.

Alcatraz Island ticket price

For San Francisco: Inside Alcatraz Tour with Bay Cruise, the general ticket for all ages above 12, costs US$135.

Children aged between five and 11 get a US$10 discount and can participate in the tour for US$125.

Kids under five years old are not charged any fee.

For Tickets for San Francisco: Alcatraz + 2-Day Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, the general ticket for all ages is priced at US$120.

Alcatraz Island tickets

This ticket is the most popular way to explore Alcatraz Island and the penitentiary.

This ticket covers:

  • Round-trip Ferry transportation from Pier 33 to Alcatraz Island
  • The on-board narration during the round-trip ferry ride
  • The Cell House audio guide
  • The tour of the prison (using the audio guide)
  • Other programs and exhibits going on in Alcatraz
  • Passage under the Golden Gate Bridge during the San Francisco Bat Tour.

This tour will last for four hours and is accessible to wheelchair users.

Ticket Prices

Adult ticket (12+ years): US$135

Child ticket (5-11 years): US$125

Kids up to four years old can participate for free.

Tickets for San Francisco: Alcatraz + 2-Day Hop-On Hop-Off Bus

This ticket provides you with a round trip to access to and from Alcatraz Islands and its exhibits via a ferry.

You will have an audio guide at Alcatraz, but not the Cell House Audio tape that has a running commentary from Alcatraz inmates.

You will also have two-day access to a Hop-on-Hop-Off bus tour of San Francisco that loops around attractions such as Lombard Street, Haight Street, Embracadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Golden Gate Bridge, among 15 other stops.

You will have an audio commentary on the bus in a language of your choice.

The Hop-on-Hop-off tours run every day from 10 am to 5 pm, with buses departing every 60 minutes.

You will also get a Chinatown guided walking tour and have the option to pick from a half-day bike rental tour or USS Pampanito

Ticket Price (All ages): US$120


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Alcatraz combo tours

Combo tickets help you save a lot of money and time by pairing up tickets to attractions that are relatively close by at a highly discounted price

Every day, a limited number of Alcatraz tour tickets get allotted to tour operators in San Francisco to be sold as Alcatraz combo tours.

Below, we share our favorite combo tours, including a visit to Alcatraz Island.

Or you can see all the available Alcatraz tours.

Since even Alcatraz combination tickets get sold off fast, it isn’t easy to get your preferred dates.

You may have to search for a suitable Alcatraz combination tour with your preferred dates available.

Tour Cost
Muir Woods, Sausalito and Alcatraz Tour US$170
48-hour Hop-on Hop-off bus tour and Alcatraz ticket US$157
Fisherman’s Wharf Walking Tour + Alcatraz US$99
San Francisco City Bus Tour + Alcatraz Island US$160
Cycle the Golden Gate Bridge + Alcatraz tour US$179
Alcatraz Entry + E-Bike Street Tour US$235
Alcatraz & Ferry Building Food tour US$174
City Tour with Alcatraz Visit US$187
Alcatraz + Golden Gate Bridge + Sausalito bike tour US$179
Alcatraz Inside and Golden Gate Bridge Express Visit US$98

Can’t afford so much? Try this tour, where you cruise around Alcatraz Island for 90 minutes for only US$47 per person.

If these combo tours didn’t excite you, check out these time-tested tricks to buy Alcatraz tickets last minute.


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How to reach Alcatraz Cruises

Alcatraz Landing map
Image: Nps.gov

Alcatraz Island tour ferries depart from and return to Pier 33, also known as Alcatraz Landing.

Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing is along San Francisco’s northern waterfront promenade, also known as The Embarcadero.

Pier 33 is near the intersections of Sansome Street, The Embarcadero, Bay Street, and Embarcadero.

It is just 400 meters (a quarter of a mile) from Fisherman’s Wharf.

The Alcatraz Landing area at Pier 33 includes the Ticket booth, waiting, and boarding areas.

How to reach Pier 33

You can use BART or MUNI to get to the Pier 33, two mini-bus and light-rail mass transportation services in San Francisco.

By Bus

North Point St & Kearny St bus stop is just a three-minute walk away.

Powell St & North Point St is a ten-minute walk away.

Bay St. and Midway St. bus stop is a six-minute walk away.

LOWL bus lines stop near the Pier.

By Cable Car

The MUNI F line stops at The Embarcadero & Stockton St, a one-minute walk from the pier.

All odd-number piers on San Francisco’s waterfront are north of the city’s famous Ferry Building, at the foot of Market Street, and all the even-numbered piers are south of the Ferry Building. 

Many tourists don’t realize this and land up at Piers 30, 32, or 34, which are miles from the spot from where they must board the Alcatraz Island ferry.

By Car

Cars for rent and Taxis for hire are easily available in San Francisco.

Put on Google Maps to navigate to Pier 33.

If you plan to board an Alcatraz ferry to the Island, we don’t recommend driving to Pier 33.

Parking is difficult to find and very expensive in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, especially in the summer and spring months.

You may miss your scheduled departure if you don’t find parking in time.

It is better to get dropped off at Pier 33 or take public transport.

A list of parking spots can be found here.


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Alcatraz tour times

Alcatraz Island opens for tourists as early as 8.45 am.

The first ferry of the day is the ‘Early Bird Tour,’ which is available for booking throughout the year.

The rest of the Alcatraz tour timings change with the season.

Ferry timings in Summer

Tours Ferry timing
Early Bird Tour 8.45 am
Day Tour 9:10 am, 9:30 am, 10:00 am, 10:30 am, 11:00 am, 11:30 am, 12:00 pm, 12:30 pm, 1:00 pm, 1:30 pm, 2:10 pm, 2:40 pm, 3:20 pm, 3:50 pm
Night Tour 5:55 pm, 6:30 pm
Behind the Scenes Tour 4:20 pm, 4:50 pm

Ferry timings in Winter

Tours Ferry timing
Early Bird Tour 8.45 am
Day Tour 9:10 am, 9:30 am, 10:00 am, 10:30 am, 11:00 am, 11:30 am, 12:00 pm, 12:30 pm, 1:05 pm, 1.35 pm
Night Tour 3:50 pm, additional ferry at 4:45 pm if needed
Behind the Scenes Tour 2:10 pm, 2:40 pm

Alcatraz & Angel Island Combo tour happens at 9.30 am all through the year.


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Best time to visit Alcatraz Island

Early morning is the best time to visit Alcatraz – if you get the ‘Early Bird Alcatraz ticket’ and board the ferry departing Pier 33 at 8.45 am, you can avoid the crowd that comes in later.

The next best time to visit Alcatraz Island is 6 pm in the summer and 4 pm in winter – on the night tour ferry.

Only some people opt for the night tour of Alcatraz Island, making it seem personalized.

As a bonus, you will see amazing views of a lit-up San Francisco skyline when you return from the Island.

Mondays to Thursdays are the best days to visit the island because weekends get crowded.

Best month(s) to visit

The late winter months of January, February, and March see the least crowd at Alcatraz.

The weather is less pleasant than expected, and there is always a threat of rain.

However, since the ferries have covered seating, rains don’t affect the travel to Alcatraz Island.

If you want to avoid the crowd and prefer good weather, look at September and October at the latest.

Note: San Francisco weather is unpredictable. It can get sunny, foggy, or chilly at an hour’s notice, so it is better to dress in layers.


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How long does a tour of Alcatraz take?

The Alcatraz Island day tour includes the ferry ride to Alcatraz Island, the Cell House audio tour, the optional exhibits, and the ferry ride back, all of which take approximately three hours.

The ferry rides take 12-15 minutes each way, allowing for two and a half hours on the island.

If you love history, like to get into the details, and prefer to take many photographs, you can easily spend four to five hours exploring Alcatraz.

Here are the three factors which impact the duration of Alcatraz tours most:

  • Once you get down at Alcatraz Island, a steep 400 meters (1312 feet) climb takes you to the Cell House. This elevation change is 40 meters (130 feet). Some visitors prefer to rest in between, while others manage this distance faster.
  • While some tourists stop to catch their breath, others stop for the breathtaking view during this climb. The sights are so alluring that many tourists take it easy and spend extra time.
  • The Cell House audio tour at Alcatraz is 45 minutes long. However, you can pause it at regular intervals and pace your exploration.

Alcatraz night tours also tend to take three hours.

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Map of Alcatraz Island

During your visit, it will help to have the Alcatraz Island map.

Even though you are not likely to get lost, you will know where the facilities are, where the Agave trail is, where the bird-watching space is, etc.

Alcatraz Island map

We recommend you save this map (pdf) on your mobile or bookmark this page to return to it later.


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What to wear for the Alcatraz tour

The weather on Alcatraz is unpredictable and subject to change at short notice.

However bright the day begins, dress up in layers and bring a light jacket or sweater.

Once you reach Alcatraz Island, you must climb 400 meters (1312 feet) to the Cell House.

While exploring the San Francisco attraction, you will also get exposed to stairways and gravel walkways, so wearing comfortable and covered walking shoes is an absolute must.

It is better to avoid sandals, high heels, and open-toe shoes.

The sunlight reflecting off the bay’s surface can be dangerously bright on the water and the island. We highly recommend sunglasses and sunblock.

Rain is a high possibility if you are visiting during winter and early spring.


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Alcatraz audio tour

The Alcatraz Cellhouse audio tour is at the core of the Alcatraz experience and is included with every Alcatraz ticket. 

Visitors can tour the Cellhouse at their own pace with the award-winning audio presentation “Doing Time: The Alcatraz Cellhouse Tour.”

Cells inside Alcatraz Island
Image: NeONBRAND

The 45-minute-long tour introduces four former Alcatraz officers and four former inmates, who narrate the tour.

You will be shown a photograph of each man in one of the first prison cells, with a short biography, and having a face to each personality adds that extra zip to the narration.

This audio tour also covers escape attempts, the Battle of ’46, food riots at the jail, how the prisoners survived solitary confinement, etc.

Besides English, the Cell House audio tour is available in ten other languages. 

You can use the traditional audio tour equipment provided at the attraction or download the mobile app on your device (bring your earbuds). 

You can check out a sample of the Alcatraz Cellhouse audio tour here.

Alcatraz tickets FAQs

Tourists have a lot of questions before they buy their Alcatraz Island tickets.

Should Alcatraz tours be booked in advance?


Tickets to Alcatraz Island can sell out much in advance. Please secure your tickets on the Alcatraz ferry as soon as you finalize the plan.

Alcatraz tickets get sold out 75 days in advance during the peak summer months.

During the months with moderate tourist activity (September and October), Alcatraz tour tickets get booked 45 to 50 days in advance.

Where is the Alcatraz Cruises ticket booth?

Alcatraz ticket booth is at Pier 33, The Embarcadero, San Francisco.

The office is open seven days a week from 7.30 am to 5 pm Pacific Time.

Where to buy Alcatraz Island tickets?

You can buy the tickets at Pier 33, but we recommend buying tickets online to avoid hassle and last-minute disappointment.

When Alcatraz tickets are all sold out, how to book an Alcatraz Island tour?

Alcatraz tickets get sold out very fast from the official website.

If you are searching for Alcatraz tickets at the last minute, your only option is to book a combo tour, which includes a ferry ride to the Alcatraz prison island and back

Can we buy same-day Alcatraz tickets?


Every day, guests can purchase a limited number of same-day Alcatraz tour tickets from the Alcatraz City Cruises ticket office at Pier 33.

The authorities sell it to the tourists on a first-come, first-served basis, so you may have to line up at 5 am. 

We suggest Alcatraz Combo tours instead.

What is the Alcatraz haunted tour?


The Alcatraz Night Tour is also often called the Alcatraz Haunted Tour.

This is because the guides who lead the Alcatraz night tour use the darkness and fewer visitors at night to create a ‘haunted’ experience.

Can I cancel Alcatraz tickets?


Wherever you buy your Alcatraz tour tickets from, there is no refund. There will be no compensation for no-shows as well.

Does the Alcatraz ticket include the ferry?


Yes, all Alcatraz tickets include the full experience – ferry transportation both ways, access to the Alcatraz prison on the Island, and the Cell House audio tour.

What are Alcatraz boat tickets?

Alcatraz tour tickets are sometimes referred to as ‘Alcatraz boat tickets’ because they include the ferry to Alcatraz Island and back.

Sources
# Alcatrazislandtickets.com
# Tripadvisor.com
# Alcatraztoursf.com

The travel specialists at TheBetterVacation.com use only high-quality sources while researching & writing their articles. We make every attempt to keep our content current, reliable and trustworthy.

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This article was researched & written by

Edited by Rekha Rajan & fact checked by Jamshed V Rajan

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