Alcatraz is a small island located in San Francisco Bay, California, which was converted into a federal prison in the mid-19th century. Thanks to the strong currents and cold water temperatures around it, this prison made escape practically impossible for inmates, so naturally, it housed the most dangerous criminals!
Alcatraz prison became one of the most famous in American history, and the island is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the US.
In order to give you more clarity on all the options for tickets to Alcatraz out there and to help you avoid finding yourself without a ticket at all (they get booked out SUPER fast), I made this guide with some useful tips to follow before you book Alcatraz.
I have also included some useful information for your visit including, opening hours, directions, the best time of the year to visit Alcatraz, and much more… Let’s start right now to discover them all!
Are you ready?
If you are in a hurry
If you are here just to get your tickets, here are the best links to do so:
- Normal ticket – $41 (Official website)
- Discounted ticket – $25 for Kids (5-11 years), $39 for Senior (62+ years),
- Free ticket – children under 5
- Alcatraz + Chinatown tour combo – $104 on Headout
|Day Tour||$41||$25||$119||$39||>72 hours in advance||Buy tickets|
|Night Tour||$51||$30||–||$47||>72 hours in advance||Buy tickets|
|Behind the Scenes||$96||$92||–||$89||>72 hours in advance||Buy tickets|
|Alcatraz + Chinatown Tour||$104||–||–||–||>24 hours in advance||Buy tickets|
|Alcatraz + bay cruise||$139||$129||–||–||Non-refundable||Buy tickets|
|Alcatraz + sightseeing bus||$150||–||–||–||>24 hours in advance||Buy tickets|
Why buy in advance?
Alcatraz Island is one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions, so tickets sell out super fast, especially in the high season (June, July & August), when the tickets are often sold out two months in advance!
If you’re planning on visiting Alcatraz during the summer, I strongly suggest you book tickets way ahead of time, while at any other time of the year, it is good to book your tour ticket at least 2 weeks in advance.
Check out section 3 if the tickets are already sold out for your chosen day. I’ve got some tricks for you!
1. Different types of tickets to Alcatraz
If you want to visit San Francisco’s famous island, Alcatraz City Cruises offers in-depth tours to Alcatraz.
There are 3 different tour types, and each of them includes round-trip transportation by ferry from Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing station to the Island + outdoor National Park access (~15 minutes each way with onboard narration).
All 3 tickets also include an audio guide (available in English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, and Mandarin) with headphones, which will give you a 45-minute, self-guided audio tour of the prison cell houses.
PRO TIP: If you don’t want the audio guide, you can get an $8 refund at the entrance gate for this part of the ticket!
You can only buy these tickets to Alcatraz on the official website, but if the date/time you want is sold out there, there are more ways to visit that I will discuss next!
NOTE: The tickets are named, and you need to show your ID, so they are non-transferable!
1.1 Alcatraz Day Tour
The Alcatraz Island Day Tour is the cheapest option (and the only one offering family tickets) and generally has the most tickets available since it is not guided!
Even though they call this one a tour, it is not so much a tour but rather a timed entrance with an audio guide.
The ticket offers admission to:
- Cellhouse audio tour
- 2 exhibitions: “The Big Lockup: Mass Incarceration in the United States” and the “New Industries Building”
- Several historic outdoor spaces of the island, including the Eagle Plaza, the Recreation Yard, the Sallyport, and the Rose Garden
- The National Park Service App, offering an interactive map, tours, info, stories, and pictures of Alcatraz.
Fun Fact: No prisoners were ever executed in Alcatraz! There were no facilities to execute capital punishment, so no one was ever sent there with a death sentence. If Alcatraz inmates committed capital offenses on the Island, they were transferred to San Quentin State Penitentiary for execution.
The main difference separating the Day Tour from the others offered is that you can stay on Alcatraz Island as long as you like inside the regular opening hours. With the other 2 tours, although you get to access more of the facility, you’ll be restricted to specific time slots.
This means you can decide how much time to dedicate to the attraction, but I suggest you allow at least 2.5 to 3 hours on the Island!
Tours leave daily every 30 minutes in summer (every 60 mins in winter) from Pier 33 from 8:45 am – 3:50 pm. The last return ferry leaves Alcatraz at 6.30 p.m.
DURATION: 3 hours
1.2 Alcatraz Night Tour
If you want to combine a visit to Alcatraz with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge during sunset while also avoiding the tourist crowds, the night tour could be the best choice for you.
While this tour is very popular, it is limited to around 150 visitors per evening.
In addition to access to the Cellhouse audio tour and exhibitions as in the Day Tours, the Night Tour includes special programs, activities, and evening talks by expert historians on Alcatraz history, prisoners, and residents.
With this option, you will also have access to additional areas of the prison that are off-limits during the day, accompanied by the park rangers. One example is the gun gallery on the second floor!
Fun Fact: Spiritualists often claim to feel haunted auras and ghosts during their visit to Alcatraz. However, there are no actual cases of ghost sightings by any of Alcatraz’s soldiers, prisoners, officers, or park rangers.
Another bonus you won’t get on the day tour is that, on the way to Alcatraz, the Night Tour ferry makes a guided trip around the island before arriving at the dock. While on the Day Tour, the ferry goes directly there.
I personally think this one is the best value among all the tours, giving a lot more value for only around $10 more than the Day Tour!
NOTE: There are two night-tour sailings to Alcatraz most of the year, from Thursday through Monday (this tour is not offered every day):
- In summer (April – November), the Alcatraz Night Tour leaves at 5:55 pm and 6:30 pm from Pier 33. The sunset in summer happens around 8:30 pm, so you will be able to explore the island with the light.
- In winter (November – March), there is only one tour per night, leaving at 4 pm and returning at 6:40 pm. The sun in winter sets around 5 pm, so you’ll enjoy both the sunset and the city lights
DURATION: 3 hours
1.3 Alcatraz Behind The Scenes Tour
The Alcatraz Island Behind the Scenes is the most in-depth tour you can have of Alcatraz with an in-person guide, limited to 30 participants per tour.
NOTE: You have to be older than 12 to join this one!
With this unique program, you will take a designated ferry to Alcatraz Island with your small group, get a 1.5-2 hour guided Behind the Scenes Tour (in English) with an expert, and then you’ll have some time to explore the Island on your own (or with an audio tour).
The guided tour covers a different route with “off the beaten path” exclusive areas of the Island, different from the ones you can access with the audio tour, and gives you secret stories about the prison.
Some of these hidden areas include the Officers’ Row Gardens, the upper levels of D Block, the Hospital, the Theatre, and more. But they vary depending on the weather, construction safety, group size, and other factors.
Fun Fact: Prisoners werenever actually sentenced directly to Alcatraz. They were sent to the Island for bad behavior while at another federal institution. And on the contrary, good behavior could earn a convict a transfer out of Alcatraz to another federal institution.
The Behind the Scenes Tour leaves every day from Tuesday to Saturday at 4:20 pm and lasts 4.4 hours (you will be advised on exactly when the return ferry boats leave Alcatraz Island).
NOTE: The guided part of the tour is available only in English, while the Cellhouse audio tour is available in all the languages I previously mentioned.
DURATION: 4.5 hours
2. Combo tours – visit Alcatraz with another tour or activity
Another option to visit the island is with combo tickets. Combining Alcatraz with other famous attractions or cool activities in San Francisco is perfect if you don’t have much time to spend in the city or if the official tours are sold out.
NOTE: Take into consideration that tour companies offering combination tours need to give Alcatraz Cruises the names of visitors at least 4 days before the scheduled tour, so make sure you book more than 4 days in advance!
Fun Fact: The average convict length of stay in Alcatraz was 8 years.
Check out the best combo tours in San Francisco:
- Alcatraz visit + bay cruise: Visit Alcatraz Island with an audio guide and enjoy a ferry cruise with panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay, Pier 39’s sea lions, the waterfront area, and the city’s skyline. With this combo, you get a 3 hours tour with all the normal things as you would in the day tour + a separate 60 min cruise of the bay, which even goes under the golden gate bridge, for $140.
- Alcatraz visit + hop-on-hop-off bus: Save some money and see the most of San Francisco with this combination of a 2 days ticket for the hop-on-hop-off bus, which stops at all of San Fran’s biggest attractions, plus an Alcatraz Island visit with an audio guide and a 1-hour panoramic night city tour, all for $150.
- San Francisco Tour + Alcatraz Ticket: Enjoy a 4-hour guided walking tour with a professional guide to some of San Francisco’s top attractions like Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Pier 39 before visiting Alcatraz prison for $99.
- Alcatraz + San Francisco Tour: With this 7-hour day tour, you will have access to Alcatraz with an audio guide (including round trip transfers on a ferry) and explore 2 of the most famous areas in San Francisco (North Beach and Chinatown) with a professional guide for $104.
3. How to find tickets if it’s sold out
As I mentioned in the intro, if you don’t book your Alcatraz tickets some months in advance, there is a high chance that you won’t find any left since tickets to Alcatraz get booked out super fast (especially during the summer months).
But I’m here to save you with some alternative things to do if you don’t find available tickets to Alcatraz for your dates:
Option 1: Be flexible with your tour choice and dates
If the Alcatraz tickets for your desired day are sold out (and you stay more than one day in San Francisco), the best solution is to be flexible with your tour choice and the dates.
Check out the availability for the other days or a different tour option. For example, the night tour and the behind-the-scenes tours are always booked out months in advance, while the day tour usually has more availability.
PRO TIP: The Day Tour has the most tickets for sale each day and is often the only one available at the last minute – so don’t forget to check here!
Option 2: Check alternative ticket websites
Unfortunately, ticket resellers don’t offer the normal tours of Alcatraz on their own. But that doesn’t mean you don’t still have alternative options!
Even if all the tickets are sold out on the official site, more often than not, you can still find extra tickets available in combination with other attractions in the city.
I mentioned a few of these above in section #2, but in case you don’t want to do anything else and only want to find sold-out tickets for Alcatraz, I checked all the possible options to find you the cheapest combo.
This 4-hour tour includes a round-trip boat to/from Alcatraz Island (time assigned), the CellHouse Audio Tour, and a bonus of $15 credit for lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf Vendor for $98. While it is quite a lot more expensive than the regular tour, and in my opinion, you don’t get much-added value for the price, it is the cheapest way to get guaranteed tickets if it is completely sold out online and you don’t have enough time to take advantage of any of the combo tickets.
That being said, if you are going down this route and do have the time, I still think the combo tickets I mention in section #2 are a better option when it comes to value for money, offering access to Alcatraz and other attractions of San Francisco at the same time.
NOTE: Usually, you can’t buy these tickets less than 4 days in advance as the tour operators need to give a confirmed list of names to Alcatraz in advance.
Option 3: Re-fresh the official site (multiple times)
If you’ve tried all of the above options and all kinds of Alcatraz tickets are sold out, I recommend you have a second try on the official website for Alcatraz tour tickets.
Since there can be last-minute cancellations up to 72 hours in advance, these tickets are periodically added back to the website to be re-sold.
Check through all of the tours (day, night, and exclusive behind-the-scenes tours) and times offered on the website carefully, and keep refreshing the page with the day and ticket you want selected… you might find your ticket (and it wouldn’t be the first time it happens!).
Option 4: Night Tour stand-by tickets
In the past, you were able to buy some last-minute tickets on the day at the pier. But since they began re-selling canceled tickets through the website, this is no longer possible. However….
Another option you could try is to get a standby ticket for the Night Tour. You can try to purchase a standby ticket at the ticket office at Pier 33, they sell them every day that the Night Tour runs (Tuesdays through Sundays) for the same price you would buy a regular Night Tour ticket.
But…Getting a standby ticket doesn’t assure you will actually get onto the tour!
In fact, they will only let you join the night tour if there is still room on the ferry after they have boarded the passengers for that sailing (in the case of no-shows or last minute cancellations). If you don’t manage to get on, you will need to return to the ticket office that night (by 7 pm), and they will refund you.
The number of Night Tour stand-by tickets are limited, so you should get into the queue as soon as possible, considering that the ticket office opens at 7.30 am. Then come back later with your stand-by ticket to hop in line and hope someone doesn’t show up!
Important things you should know about visiting Alcatraz
Now that you have all the information about the best ways to purchase your ticket and the different types of tours available, it’s time for some practical information you should be aware of before visiting this amazing attraction in San Francisco.
Fun Fact: The prison was never filled. There are 336 “mainline” cells and 42 “solitary confinement” cells in the Cellhouse, but the average convict population was about 260 men, reaching the highest occupancy of 302 convicts.
1. How far in advance do you need to buy your tickets
In general, the tickets to Alcatraz get booked out quite fast, but if you are planning on visiting the attraction in the high season, during the summer months (June, July & August), you should reserve your ticket 2 months in advance if you want to be sure to find them!
I know it sounds crazy, but it is better to be on the safe side. You can always get a refund the worst case if your plans have changed.
Other hard times to get tickets are around the main festivities: Christmas, New Year, Easter break, Memorial Day (end of May), and Labor Day (beginning of September)… so, in other words, most of the year.
The only exceptions are January, February, and early March, during which you can allow yourself to reserve the tickets only some weeks in advance as it is not very busy.
2. Opening hours
The opening hours in Alcatraz change depending on the season:
Spring/Summer schedule (April – November):
- Day Tours: Tuesday to Saturday, 8.45 am – 6:30 pm, ferries leaving every 30 minutes.
- Behind the Scenes Tour: Tuesday to Saturday, 4:20 pm departure pm only
- Night tour: Thursday to Monday, 5:55 pm or 6:30 pm departures, with the return from Alcatraz Island at 8:40 pm or 9:25 pm.
Fall/Winter schedule (November – March)
- Day Tours: Tuesday to Saturday, 8.45 am to 4:25 pm, leaving every 30 or 60 minutes
- Behind the Scenes Tour: Tuesday to Saturday, 4:20 pm departure pm only
- Night tour: Thursday to Monday, 4 pm departure only, returning at 6:40 pm
NOTE: The leaving and return times for the ferry are posted at Pier 33 and the dock on the island.
Even if you book a tour in advance, you will need to pick up your tickets on-site, so it’s always good to arrive an hour earlier than the beginning of your Alcatraz tour (to get in the line), especially if you’re visiting during the summer season, which is super busy.
3. Best time to visit
Quietest months – If you want to avoid crowds, the best time to visit Alcatraz is the first two weeks of November or December, and anytime from January to March, which is the off-season.
Best Weather – If you care more about the weather, plan your Alcatraz visit for April/May or September through October, which are the sunniest months (summer can be foggy in San Francisco).
Best time of day – If you go on a day tour, Alcatraz gets more crowded as the day progresses since there’s no time limit, and you can take any boat back. So I suggest you go as early as possible in the morning!
4. How to get to Alcatraz
To get to Alcatraz, you will take a ferry at Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing, located at the foot of Bay Street on the Embarcadero, about half an hour walking or 10 minutes driving from Union Square (one of the best areas to stay in San Francisco).
Since parking can be quite difficult along the Fisherman’s Wharf area, the best option is to take public transport. Check out 511.org’s website for the best public transportation routes, and get off at the Bay Street Station (for bus and railway), located just a few steps away from Pier 33 (1 min walk).
Hop-on Hop-Off Bus
Another easy option is to use the hop-on hop-off bus ticket to reach the Pier. Jump on board at any of the designated stops and enjoy an audio tour of the city before being dropped off exactly at Fisherman’s Wharf.
If you want to get here with a car, you need to consider that there’s no parking available specifically for Alcatraz visitors, so you’ll need to go for street parking. Every space has a parking meter and takes credit cards, with rates ranging from $0.25 to $6 per hour, 7 days a week, but of course, this can be full.
NOTE: If you have to park, be sure to arrive in the area at least 2 hours before your scheduled departure, so you’ll have all time to find a spot and collect your tickets.
5. What to bring (and not to bring) to Alcatraz
To enter the attraction, you will need to show your printed tickets, valid government-issued photo ID or passport, and the credit card used to purchase the tickets.
Other optional but very useful things I suggest you bring are:
- A light jacket or sweater – no matter how the day starts, the best thing in San Francisco is always to dress in layers!
- Rain gear – during wet winter months
- Bottled water – You cannot consume food or drinks other than water on the island or on the boat
- A hat – to be protected from the sun if you are taking a day tour
- Camera – to take some great pictures!
Do NOT bring:
- Food, drinks other than water, or coolers
- Oversized backpacks and packages (they’re not allowed for safety concerns: the maximum size accepted for backpacks is 16” x 20”).
NOTE: You won’t find any storage facilities in and around Pier 33, so if you bring one of these items, you may not be able to visit Alcatraz Island (and you won’t be refunded for that).
6. Age limits for young visitors
The only age restriction for Alcatraz tickets is for the Alcatraz Island Behind the Scenes tour: kids under 12 cannot participate in this program. And in general, guests under the age of 18 are not allowed to enter Alcatraz Island without an adult!
In both cases, they will be sent back to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing with no refund.
Anyways, the attraction is not scary at all. Even though it’s a prison, there’s nothing that could cause anxiety to children.
7. How much time do you need to see Alcatraz?
If you join a day tour, during which you won’t have time restrictions, allow at least 2-3 hours to explore the island. You’ll visit some parts of Alcatraz with the 75 mins audio guide, but there is plenty more to walk around at your own pace. Also, consider that the ferry trip from and to Alcatraz Island is around 15 minutes each way!
The night tour lasts 3 hours and the behind-the-scenes tour around 4.5 hours, but they have a fixed time, so you don’t have to worry about that!
8. Facilities inside/nearby the attraction
Right on the island, you will find toilet facilities and a gift shop, but there are no storage lockers or dining options, and you are not allowed to bring food, so I suggest you plan and enjoy your meals before or after your visit.
Otherwise, as soon as you get back to Pier 33, you will be right in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, offering restaurants, bars, coffee, and shops for any taste!
NOTE: All the areas on the island are wheelchair accessible!
FAQs about Alcatraz Tickets
🌐 What is the best website to buy Alcatraz tickets?
The best website to buy tickets to Alcatraz is City Experiences, this is the official website offering in-depth tours to the island. The main ones are the Alcatraz Day Tour, Alcatraz Night Tour, and Alcatraz Behind the Scenes Tour.
💲 How much are tickets to Alcatraz in San Francisco?
⏰ What is the best time of day to visit Alcatraz?
📅 Should I buy Alcatraz tickets in advance?
Absolutely yes, tickets to Alcatraz sell out super fast, so you should buy them at least 2 months in advance during high season (June, July & August), when the attraction gets super crowded, or 2 weeks in advance during the rest of the year
Here we are at the end of this extensive guide for how to book your tickets to Alcatraz. I am sure by now you’re no longer confused about which are the best options and alternatives to visit this amazing attraction in San Francisco!
To give you a quick recap, you can buy the cheapest tickets to Alcatraz on the official site, but make sure you do that months in advance because they sell out extremely fast!
Otherwise, if tickets there are sold out you can check out other tour combos like Alcatraz visit + cruise, the Alcatraz visit + hop on hop off bus, or the Alcatraz + San Francisco Tour giving you access to Alcatraz combined with other attractions or activities.
But if all these aren’t available, I also gave you some more tips to get tickets and some practical information that you’ll find useful to know before your trip!
I hope this post will make you get tickets for Alcatraz, and if you still have any questions for me,
Feel free to leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as I can!
Enjoy your visit!
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