We knew that taking a tour of Alcatraz was something that we wanted to do on our trip to San Francisco. Planning ahead, we were able to book an Alcatraz Night Tour. If you get to go on a tour, I highly recommend the Alcatraz Night Tour. We booked through https://www.cityexperiences.com/san-francisco/city-cruises/alcatraz as they are an official seller for the NPS.
There is a great area to explore while you wait to board the boat. It has a model of Alcatraz Island where you can learn more about it before you head out. On the boat, we sat on the right side (facing the front) for the best view of the island as we headed out. On the way back, we sat in the very front so we could enjoy the lights of the city.
When we got to the island, we were guided up to the prison and given headsets. This was our audio tour and we could go at our own pace, pausing the playback, etc as needed. There is a lot to see and hear during this part. We were also able to explore some areas that aren’t normally open so that was very cool. Be sure to check out the programs and try to hit as many as you can and to explore the grounds outside as well. Overall it was a great experience to learn more about this place and see everything. If you want to go, be sure to book way in advance – the tours sell out quickly – especially the night tour. Get your tickets here: https://www.cityexperiences.com/san-francisco/city-cruises/alcatraz
Tips for a fun Alcatraz night tour experience:
- Plan ahead and buy your tickets in advance
- Arrive at least 30 mins (I recommend 60 mins) early for your tour. There are a couple of cool displays and places to sit while you wait.
- They will have you lineup to get on the boat leaving and coming back (you can be towards the front for a great view of the island heading out, but that means you will be one of the last ones off the boat). Decide which one you want to do.
- Take a charged phone (and a portable charger) because there is a lot to see there, and beautiful photo ops. Take as many pictures and videos as you can.
- You can explore many different places besides the inside of Alcatraz. Be sure to use your time wisely so you can see everything.
- There is a gift shop on the island
- Take a jacket no matter what time of year you visit. The boat ride gets chilly.
Island of Incarceration, Island of Freedom
Alcatraz reveals stories of American incarceration, justice, and our common humanity. This small island was once a fort, a military prison, and a maximum security federal penitentiary. In 1969, the Indians of All Tribes occupied Alcatraz for 19 months in the name of freedom and Native American civil rights. We invite you to explore Alcatraz’s complex history and natural beauty.https://www.nps.gov/alca/index.htm
Visiting Alcatraz is partially a self-guided experience which you can do at your own pace. National Park Service staff and volunteers offer free interpretive programs throughout the day.
Once on the island, you can stay as long as you wish. Ferries about every half hour and you can return to San Francisco on any ferry. We recommend at least two to three hours to fully visit the island.
There are numerous videos and exhibits on the island, as well as the cellhouse audio tour which is included in the price of the ferry ticket.
On arriving at the Alcatraz dock you will be greeted by a National Park Service representative who will give you a brief orientation, including information on any special activities available that day.
The evening tour differs from daytime visits in several ways. The evening ferry ride to Alcatraz circles the island with live narration about Alcatraz’s history. Upon arrival on the dock, visitors receive a guided tour from the dock to the cellhouse level and also have the opportunity to participate in a number of other special tours, activities, and cell door demonstrations offered throughout the evening. Some areas of the island open during the day are not open in the evening due to safety concerns.
Generally, if you prefer to be on your own to explore you might prefer the day visit; if you prefer a more guided experience, you might prefer the evening program (available Tuesday through Saturday).
Learn more on https://www.nps.gov/alca/index.htm
Have you gone on a tour of Alcatraz Island? What did you think?
Other things to do in the San Francisco area are: