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By Karen

Updated December 27, 2023.

Visit Alcatraz Like an Insider

Before you visit Alcatraz, check out these tips from a local.

I've been out to Alcatraz a number of times in the 30 years I've lived in the city, and I've done all three of the Alcatraz tours.

They are back to the normal ticket schedule now, and the Cell Block is open now for the audio tours.

Entrance to Alcatraz exercise yard at sunsetEntrance to the Exercise Area

How to Visit Alcatraz

The only way to visit Alcatraz is to take one of the ferries operated by the City Experiences company.

Other Bay cruises may include a trip past or around Alcatraz, but they don't let you get off on the island (see other San Francisco Bay cruises).

The boats leave from Pier 33 on the San Francisco Embarcadero, the waterfront boulevard running from Fisherman's Wharf to the Ferry Building.

Pier 33 is also called Alcatraz Landing. See maps below.

Alcatraz ferry leaving Pier 33, city viewLeaving Pier 33, Alcatraz Landing

Alcatraz Tours

City Experiences offers four ways to visit Alcatraz:

  • Day Tour of Alcatraz
  • Alcatraz Night Tour
  • Behind the Scenes Tour

For information on what is included during these tours and the free guided tours on the island, as well as information on what you'll see in the prison, see Alcatraz Prison Tours.

To find out more about what the the night tour is like, and photos, see Alcatraz night tour.

For the scoop on the newest tour, see the Behind the Scenes tour.

Taking the Alcatraz Ferry

The ferry to Alcatraz leaves from Pier 33 (Alcatraz Landing) on the Embarcadero.

The City Experiences company operates the ferries to Alcatraz.

This ferry only goes to Alcatraz (and Angel Island on the combination tour).

Reservations are required via City Experiences at cityexperiences.com.

Boat Schedule

Day Tours. The Alcatraz ferries for the day tours depart from Pier 33 daily, every 30 or 60 minutes (depending on the day and season) from 8:40 am to 3:50 pm (1:35 pm in winter), or later, and return every 30 or 60 minutes.

Departure times for the return boats are posted at Pier 33 and at the dock on Alcatraz. You can take any boat back, but don't miss the last one!

Night Tours. The night tour runs Tuesday through Saturday, at 5:55 and 6:30 p.m, in summer, and lasts about 2.5 hours. Return boats leave Alcatraz at 8:40 and 9:25 pm.

In winter the boats leave at 3:50 pm.

It varies with the seasons; winter has only one night tour sailing, and summer season has two.

The Behind the Scenes tour also runs five days a week, two sailings.

4.5 hours for the tour.

In winter, the sailings are at 2:25 and 2:45 pm, summer sailings are later in the afternoon.

Alcatraz ferry at Pier 33, Alcatraz LandingPier 33, Alcatraz Ferry Landing

Alcatraz Tour Tickets

Buying Tickets to Alcatraz

City Experiences is the official concessionaire for the U.S. Park Service which administers the island and prison.

They sell the Alcatraz tickets online, at cityexperiences.com, by phone at 415 981-7625, or at the ticket booth on Pier 33, 9 am to 6:30 pm.

How the Tours and Tickets Work

The ticket that you buy from City Experiences includes:
  1. The ride to and from the island
  2. The Audio Tour of the prison

The Night Tours and Behind the Scenes tours have additional activities.

See Alcatraz tours and tickets for tips on buying Alcatraz tickets and what to expect on the various Alcatraz island tours.

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Insider Tip:

If you don't plan on doing the Alcatraz Audio Tour (which is excellent) because of time constraints, language difficulties, restless children, etc., you can get a refund for that portion of the tour ($8.00 for adults, a bit less for others).

The Audio Tour is available in English, German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Korean, Japanese and Mandarin.

How to get the refund: Unfortunately you can't get it when you buy your tickets. When you enter the prison, you will be offered the headsets for the tour. Tell them you don't want one and you will get the voucher. The refund is only available on the Day Tours.

The rest of the activities on the island are free:
  (a) Guided Tours: volunteers with the National Park Service give 45 minute tours on various topics (English only).
  (b) Videos on the history of Alcatraz.
  (c) Walking through the cell block and recreation area.
  (d) Exploring the island, including the old Civil War fort and the nature preserve.

When you arrive at Pier 33, you can get a brochure with a map of Alcatraz and other information.

Booklets about Alcatraz are available on the Alcatraz dock for $1, in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese.

There is also a bookstore on the island with a large selection of material about Alcatraz.

Alcatraz Combo Tours

Another way of getting Alcatraz tickets is to purchase a combination tour, where Alcatraz tickets are paired with one or more other San Francisco attractions or activities.

Since there are no discounts for Alcatraz tickets, getting a package deal can be one way of saving some money, if there are other tours you plan to do while you're here.

Also, it's one way to get tickets for Alcatraz when the official seller, cityexperiences.com, is sold out.

Alcatraz can be be paired with a large variety of other activities, where the total cost can be less than buying the tickets individually.

If you're planning to do a city tour, or see Muir Woods or Sausalito, or go on a bay cruise, you can find tours like that combined with Alcatraz.

Also things like food tours, Segway tours, beer pub tours, and lots of other fun things may be available along with Alcatraz.

I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through some of the affiliate links on this page, at no extra cost to you. See disclosure policy. This helps me provide all the free information on the site. Thank you!

Alcatraz & SF City Tour. You can get Alcatraz tickets and a bus tour of the main SF attractions, with pickup from your hotel. $160. See Alcatraz & City Tour for more info and booking.

Alcatraz & Bay Cruise. See Alcatraz and also spend 60 minutes sailing around the bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Gorgeous views! $138. See Alcatraz and Bay Cruise for info and booking.

Alcatraz and Bike Tour. Do Alcatraz one day and another day do a guided bike tour, along the SF waterfront, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and down into the charming town of Sausalito. $179. See Alcatraz and Bike the Bridge for info and booking.

Alcatraz, SF City Tour, Muir Woods & Sausalito. Tour Alcatraz, San Francisco, and explore the ancient redwoods of Muir Woods all in one day, with a stop in the charming, seaside town of Sausalito. $109. See Alcatraz, SF, Muir Woods & Sausalito Tour for info and booking.

To check out the available Alcatraz combo tours, see combination tours (lots to choose from!).

Other side of Alcatraz IslandOther Side of Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz tickets sold out?
Don't despair! There are ways to get tickets. See Last Minute Tickets

The Alcatraz ferries and tours run all year round, but the island is closed on Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and Thanksgiving.

What is the best time of year to visit Alcatraz? 

The best time of year to visit Alcatraz is in the fall, September or October, our most reliably warm and sunny months.

The ferries run rain or shine, but some months are rainier than others.

As a general guide, September and October are the warmest and sunniest months, November, December, January and February are the coldest and wettest, March can be wet, but not that cold, April is variable (often sunny, with occasional rain), and May, June, July and August are often foggy, but with no rain.

Our rainy season is nothing like Seattle's; even in a typical "wet" year, it will rain off and on for two or three days, then we get a few sunny days, so you can get a good day any time of year.

Blessed as we are with a quasi-Mediterranean climate, even in wet years the rain usually disappears by May, often by April, and doesn't start up again until November.

See more about our San Francisco weather and the best times to visit San Francisco.

What to Bring With You When You Visit Alcatraz

No matter what time of year you visit Alcatraz, be sure to bring a jacket! 

What may look like a warm sunny day when you start out often turns into a cold, foggy and windy afternoon, especially in the "fog season": May, June and July.

Also, it tends to be colder and windier out on the Rock.

If you forget, however, you can always buy one of those "Alcatraz" sweatshirts once you get there, in the bookstore on the dock or in the gift shop at the prison!

Alcatraz Dock, Red and White ferry passingRed & White Ferry Passing Alcatraz Dock

exclamation point Reminder:

City Experiences has some requirements for boarding the ferries:

 # 1. Don't forget to bring an ID with your photo on it when you visit Alcatraz. It is required as a safety precaution, first to purchase or pick up your tickets at Pier 33, and as you are boarding the ferry if you have a pre-printed ticket. If you used a credit card on the phone, you will need to show them the card used to buy the ticket. Only the person who purchased the ticket on the phone or online needs to show ID.

 # 2. Certain items cannot be taken on the boat, in addition to the obvious ones like weapons. They include:

  • Oversized backpacks (larger than 16" by 20", or 40 by 50 cm)
  • Suitcases
  • Coolers
  • Bicycles
  • Skateboards
  • Roller Blades/Skates
  • And parents take note:

  • Shoes with Wheelies

There is no place to store stuff at Pier 33 while you visit Alcatraz. A few bike racks are available, but they can fill up.

practical tipPractical Tip:

The California Visitors Center at Pier 39 used to store luggage for a small fee but it appears they don't do that anymore.

More things to bring:

Bottled water.
Bring your own, or you can buy bottled water at the shop on the dock. You can carry your water bottle all over the island.

Current food rules: They prohibit eating anywhere on the island except on the dock, so you could bring something to eat either before or after you tour the island. They are serving food and drinks on the ferry again.

Your mobile phone or other camera.

The best views of San Francisco (in my opinion) are from a boat out in the Bay.

It's worth going to visit Alcatraz just to see the City from this amazing vantage point.

View of San Francisco skyline from end of AlcatrazView from Alcatraz

The usual items.
Sunglasses, sunhat, sunblock, etc. Anything you think you might need for the next 3 or 4 hours.

Shopping is very limited on the island, unless you need a shirt, baseball hat, bottled water or a special Alcatraz prison cup!

Getting on the Ferry

Covid rules: no vaccination proof is required to get on the boat, and masks are recommended, but not required, in the loading area, on the boat, and on the dock at Alcatraz.

Thirty minutes before departure, there will be a long line waiting to get on the boat.

Should you get there early so you can be at the front of the line and get a good spot?

No. Good News! There is plenty of seating and the best spots are standing along the railing anyway. People rush on and take the seats on the open decks up above.

When the boat starts, many people leave their seats to go over to the rail where the view is better, or walk around the boat, so the seats will open up if you want one.

You also have a choice to sit outside on the decks or inside and look out the windows.

The ferry company asks you to be at the pier 30 minutes prior to boarding, but you don't have to be in the line for 30 minutes.

There is a snack bar and shop on Pier 33 next to the departure point, so you can relax and have a cappuccino while you're waiting to visit Alcatraz.

Have a snack, too; no food is available on Alcatraz.

On the Island: food, drink and more...

The Park Service has strict rules about food and drink when you visit Alcatraz. 

No eating or drinking other than water is allowed anywhere on Alcatraz (except eating is okay in the dock area).

On the ferry, there's a snack bar serving sandwiches, hot dogs, nachos and snacks, plus beverages (beer and wine are served only on the return trip). 

Something new: you can now pre-order food and drinks to eat on the ferry. See food & drink preorder. Not sure what the advantage is, though.

The ride over to Alcatraz is gorgeous and only 15 minutes, so I recommend getting some snacks in the snack bar before you get on the boat so you can enjoy the views, and not be standing in line to get food on the ferry.

Your visit to Alcatraz will last several hours, so I suggest bringing a snack or sandwich with you to eat on the dock before or after you explore the island. 

The only beverage allowed past the dock area is water. Cold bottled water is for sale in the bookstore. Good idea to take some with you; it can be a warm hike up the hill to the prison.

View of Alcatraz Dock from the FerryAlcatraz Dock

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Insider Tip:

Are there bathrooms on Alcatraz? Yes, there are bathrooms on Alcatraz. However...

A word to the wise, especially those traveling with children: there are only two restrooms on the whole island.

One bathroom is on the dock, but the other bathroom is at the top of the hill near the Alcatraz lighthouse, a long way from the dock.

You won't get to it until after the climb up the hill and at the very end of the Audio Tour in the prison.

The climb up to the prison is a rather steep and long: a distance of 1/4 mile (.4 km) with one switchback. You will be climbing a hill 13 stories tall.

Wear comfortable walking shoes when you come to visit Alcatraz.

Prior to the federal penitentiary, the island was used as an army fortress, and later as a military prison.

Confederate prisoners were held here during the Civil War. You can explore some of the buildings still remaining from that period.

View from Alcatraz, gardens and Angel IslandGardens and View from Alcatraz

Some of the buildings were burned during the Indian occupation of Alcatraz in 1969-1971.

The warden's house on top of the hill was one of the casualties; only the shell remains.

Indians Welcome Sign from the Alcatraz OccupationSign from the Occupation
Ruins of the Warden's House, AlcatrazWarden's House

Special transport is available for those with difficulty walking.

An electric vehicle pulling two small cars carries passengers from the landing dock up to the prison every 35 minutes. Ditto going down.

SEAT tram, Alcatraz disabled transportationS.E.A.T. Tram

Shopping on Alcatraz

If you're interested in getting Alcatraz souvenirs, there is a large selection for sale on the island.

The bookstore has some, but the biggest collection is in the gift shop at the top of the hill, just as you leave the prison.

Along with the usual T-shirts, hats, mugs and posters, you can stock up on replicas of prison clothing, cell keys, official guard pins and tin prison cups!

There are lots of books and DVDs about Alcatraz as well.

Getting to Pier 33

Pier 33 is located on the Embarcadero, near Francisco and Beach Streets.

(Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA)

Going by Car - Parking Tips

Street parking in this area is dismal.

There are a few metered spots, but not long enough to visit Alcatraz, so plan to use a parking garage or lot (expensive) or park on the street without meters in another neighborhood (like the Sunset District) and take public transportation.

Or use the Spot Hero app to book a space in one of my recommended parking garages. You can often get good discounts for parking that way.

Best Spots for Parking Near Pier 33

There's no parking available right at Pier 33, but there's a cluster of parking garages in the general area of Pier 33 and several parking lots.

Unfortunately, this area, like a number of other popular tourist areas, has become a favorite hunting ground for car burglars.

I've changed my recommendations for where to park near Pier 33 because of the frequent car-break-ins at certain locations. 

I put together a new group of best places to park in this area that appear to have a lower likelihood of break-ins.

See my article on Embarcadero parking for details and maps showing their locations.

You can see my suggestions for Alcatraz parking as well as parking for other attractions on the Embarcadero.

The easiest parking used to be at the lot right across the street from Pier 33, or in one of the cavernous pier garages like Pier 19 ½, Pier 23 or Pier 29. But these have become the favorites of thieves, so I don't recommend parking there.

There's a big lot at Pier 27 which is convenient and not as risky as the other lots on the Embarcadero, but I wouldn't say it was safe, either. 

In any case, be sure never to leave anything valuable in your car, or anything visible.

(Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA)

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Insider Tip:

I have parked at the lot across from Pier 33 (2 Bay Street lot) for two of my visits to Alcatraz and my car was okay. But one time when we got back after dark, after doing the Night Tour, one of the cars in the lot had been broken into. I've used the lot at Pier 27 also, without a problem. But others have reported break-ins there. 

Parking Caveat for self-park lots. There have been instances of thieves pretending to be parking attendants and collecting parking fees at unattended lots.

Check carefully to see what the payment arrangement is for the place you're parking. You'll see signs telling you to get a ticket from the machine to place in your car (and see the machines) if it's a self-park lot or garage. This has happened at the Pier 27 lot and other places.

Taking BART to Alcatraz Landing

If you're coming into the City on BART, get off at Embarcadero station and come up to the surface on Market Street.

There is an F-Line trolley stop in the same block (see map below); you will want to be on the south side of Market Street (going towards the end of Market Street where the Ferry Building is).

The next F-Line streetcar stop is Steuart Street, just past the end of Market Street towards the Ferry Building and the bay.

Take the trolley along the Embarcadero to the "Bay Street" Stop at Pier 35, and walk back a short distance to Pier 33.

(Also see Map of F-Market Line and Bart Stations for the entire F-Line route).

Standard adult fare on San Francisco buses and streetcars is $3.00, exact change required. Youths 5-18, and seniors 65 and over, pay $1.50.

Or use the Muni Mobile app, $2.50 per adult.

Market Street Trolley
San Francisco has a collection of antique streetcars from U.S. and European cities that run on the F-Line, from the Castro District along Market Street to the Embarcadero, past Pier 33 and Pier 39 to Fisherman's Wharf.

The Alcatraz stop is "Bay Street" at Pier 35, close to Pier 33.

The #10 Townsend bus stops at Pier 33.

You can go to a page to download a Downtown Transportation Map showing the BART, bus and streetcar routes.

Using public transportation in San Francisco. There are now alternatives to needing exact change on the buses and trolleys.

See getting around SF for my transit tips and a description of the passes, mobile apps, and cards you can use instead of cash.

Walking from Embarcadero BART station. Come up on Market Street and head for the Ferry Building, straight ahead one block at the end of Market Street, then go left and walk along the Embarcadero to Pier 33.

About a 16 minute walk at a brisk pace.

Coming from Fisherman's Wharf

Take the "F-Line" Trolley along the Embarcadero and get off at the Bay Street stop at Pier 35, and walk a short distance further to Pier 33.

If you want to take the trolley, get on at the first stop on Jones Street and Jefferson Street. It gets really full and for later stops you probably won't get a seat and sometimes can't get on at all.

Or walk the whole way (about 7 minutes along the Embarcadero from Pier 39, and 20 minutes from the Hyde Street Pier at the other end of Fisherman's Wharf).

There are also pedicabs that go from Fisherman's Wharf down the Embarcadero.

Enjoy your visit to Alcatraz!

What should you wear to visit Alcatraz?

  • Wear layers, even if it's a warm day in the city. It can be cold and breezy out on the island. 
  • A warm jacket is handy all year round, except for maybe September and October.  
  • Consider wearing a sun hat and sunglasses on sunny days because you will be outside for a good part of the time.

Can you eat on Alcatraz?

They don't want visitors eating on Alcatraz, and there is no food to purchase on the island. It used to be okay to eat on the dock, but I don't know how strict they are about that now. Better to eat before you go. They don't serve food on the ferry going over now, either.

Is Alcatraz wheelchair accessible?

Yes, the cell block area is wheelchair accessible, as well as  the ride up to the cell block.

Other areas require going up and down stairs, but the cell block is the most interesting area. You would need someone traveling with you to help you get on and off the transport vehicle needed to go up to the cell block. It would be difficult or impossible for someone to push a wheelchair up the hill to the cell block.

More to explore...

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