Here are all the tips for visiting Alcatraz, one of the main tourist attractions in San Francisco. Discover the history and find out how to get there and what to do in this former prison, with all the information, from how to get there, ticket prices and times to take the tour.
Overview of the tour to Alcatraz
- tour price: 40 dollars (April 2019) including ferry transport and ticket
- Where to buy: on the official website, at Pier 33 or on booking sites, combining with other activities.
- Time of travel: from Pier 33 in San Francisco to Alcatraz Island: 15 minutes
- total duration: 2 and a half hours is the average tour time
- Opening days and hours: Tuesday to Thursday, with departures between 8:45 am and 3:45 pm
A bit of Alcatraz history
You can understand the charm of the place, because Alcatraz was one of the most famous prisons in the world, which housed cruel people like Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (known as “Birdman of Alcatraz”), Arthur R. “Doc” Barker and more a tram of evil of 1,545 criminals.
If you want to know stories from when it was still functioning as a prison, watch the Alcatraz series (FOX, 2012) and the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz.
Alcatraz is a beautiful island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Back in the 1850s it was used as a military base, and in 1934 it opened as a Federal Prison. It stayed in business for 29 years and was home to the most sinister American outlaws of the time. The prison had a gigantic structure and was not cheap to maintain. Then there was an escape (the only successful one, but the guys disappeared – they say they must have drowned) and the owners of the prison were afraid of the danger of having a prison so close to the city of San Francisco and decided to close it. there.
When the island was vacated, a group of Native Americans, the american indians, decided to invade the island, because they found a loophole in the American constitution that allowed the occupation. In 1976 they were evicted and the Alcatraz complex became a National Historic Landmark. Only in 1993, the National Park Service released a project that allowed the tourist promotion of the island. It was from that moment that the visits of tourists began to happen.
How is the trip to Alcatraz
As it is one of the most famous tours in San Francisco, it is important to buy tickets in advance and guarantee your time slot. The best way to do this is through the official website. Or go straight to Pier 33 to make an appointment (for the same time they are not usually available). The amount I paid in April 2019 was 40 dollars. Expensive but worth it.
When you arrive at Pier 33, you will notice that there are little signs with timetables and queues corresponding to each one forming to catch the ferry. An employee will validate your ticket and you will get a stamp on your hand. Before getting on the ferry, they will take your picture, and at the end of the tour it will be for sale (not cheap, believe me).
Ferry from San Francisco to Alcatraz Island
The trip from Pier 33 (located in North Beach, one of the best neighborhoods to stay in SF) to the island is very short, about 15 minutes. If you like the wind in your face, you can watch the ride from outside the ferry. Inside, there is a very basic cafe, which sells drinks, snacks and sweets. There is also beer, but consumption is only allowed on the way back.
Upon arriving on the island, you will receive some instructions on how to walk there and, most importantly, where to pick up your audio guide. It is available in every possible and imaginable language, including Brazilian Portuguese. You will have a good walk to the room with the radios, but if you have elderly people or people who need assistance walking, there is a car from Alcatraz Island that will take you there. Just ask a staff member for help, they are very helpful.
After picking up your radio, it is very important that you pay attention to the instructions given in the audio. That way, you’ll go through every corner and learn about very sinister stories (and others not so much), hear testimonials from prisoners, employees and people who lived there when it was a prison. You will see the common cells, the solitary cells, see where the prisoners ate, where they exercised and understand the daily dynamics of the people who stayed on the island. The audio that guides the tour has a very cool historical record.
For me, what caught my attention the most was the outside area. Alcatraz has one of the largest western gull colonies on the Northern California coast. You will notice that the number of birds is unusual. Outside the prison, you will have a wonderful view of the Bay Bridge, San Francisco and feel that nice breeze enjoying an incredible view of the greenery around. It’s pretty! This is the place that will yield more photos. ?
If you want to venture out and abandon the audio, walk around aimlessly to try to explore the areas of the prison, you can get lost. But if you get lost (I did that at the end, lol), there are island employees everywhere to help you.
O whole tourfrom leaving San Francisco to returning, it takes more or less a 2 and a half hours. The route inside Alcatraz, if guided, lasts around 1 hour. After visiting the prison areas, you can watch a documentary that tells more about the prison’s history in a small room and shop in one of the 2 small stores with souvenirs from the tour. It has blouses, magnets, cups and all sorts of tourist catch products. Prices are a bit steep (but what tourist thing isn’t?).
Is Alcatraz worth visiting?
I enjoyed the tour a lot, more for the natural beauties. I found the energy a bit heavy inside the prison and, as I listened to the stories, my heart sank when I thought about how those people lived. I know they were the most cruel criminals, but when I entered one of the solitary confinements, it gave me great agony to imagine myself living in that context. I’m glad you can breathe straight looking at the outside landscape and recover your energies. ?
Heavy, but worth it. It is a tour of San Francisco that is really worth doing.
Hours of Operation for the Alcatraz Tour
The Alcatraz Island tour operates from tuesday to saturday, of 8:45 am to 3:45 pm. Regardless of the time you arrive, you can stay there as long as you like, up until 6:30 pm, when the last ferry from the island to the Pier in San Francisco leaves.
If you want to know more details and information about how this visit to Alcatraz was, just ask. I always read comments and respond as soon as possible.
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