You’re going to San Francisco, so of course, you’re going to want to see Alcatraz prison. You could simply try to get ahold of a ticket. But, to protect the fragile, natural environment of the island, the number of visitors is strictly limited — so tickets sell out well in advance. We like to have a relaxing time on our vacation, so we always seek out ways to avoid lines and to have more fun! That’s why our recommendation for the best way to experience Alcatraz is to combine it with another entertaining SF activity.
The activities we like best combine a visit to Alcatraz with other popular San Francisco destinations or activities like a bay cruise or city tour. You experience more and your trip to Alcatraz becomes a part of a richer, funnier activity — making for a perfect day, afternoon, or evening in the City by the Bay. So, we’re going to share our recommendations for the most fun way to visit The Rock.
Over one million people a year visit Alcatraz prison and island. Don’t wait to try to book tickets in San Francisco – do it before you leave home.
The Island Park
Set in one of the world’s most beautiful harbors, this tiny hump of rock with its tales of legendary inmates has fascinated visitors since the days of Prohibition and American gangsters.
Surrounded by the frigid waters and swift currents of San Francisco Bay, the small windswept island (22.5 acres) of Alcatraz is just over a mile out into the bay. You’ll be surprised to discover that Alcatraz is now also a beautiful garden park with rare plants and wildlife on the outer fringes.
While doing time on the island, whether as an inmate or a prison officer (or his family), gardeners made the island green and bright by importing plants and flowers that are perfect choices for the harsh environment. After the prison was closed the island and its gardens were neglected. But many of the plants were hardy enough to survive for 40 years without care.
Today, the Garden Conservancy has made Alcatraz bloom again by restoring the key gardens. Visitors now arrive on an island alive with colorful plants.
Alcatraz Tickets & Tours
You’ll want to experience the eerie beauty, history, and isolation of The Rock by visiting Alcatraz. But, due to strict National Park Service guidelines (the Service runs the park and prison), only a few thousand visitors are allowed on Alcatraz island each day. Therefore it’s no wonder that Alcatraz tickets sell out well in advance. But, we have a few tips for Alcatraz tickets the easy way.
Our strong recommendation is that you book a tour that combines Alcatraz tickets with another activity, and we like these combinations that include a visit to the island with a tour of the city. You get a lot of value, you see a lot, and (the best part) someone else has done all the planning work for you. It’s a great way to see our favorite city in the country.
All Alcatraz tickets & tours include the scenic ferry ride to the island, entry tickets, and an informative 45-minute audio guide.
Alcatraz + A San Francisco City Tour
San Francisco is an amazingly varied city, and Alcatraz is just one part of it — it’s nice to be able to see it all.
We find that combining a fun-filled tour of the city — or a part of it — with a visit to the island gives us a better understanding of what the Bay area has to offer. A tour like this makes for a really enjoyable day — you not only learn a lot and have lots of fun, but someone else has done all the planning work for you.
Alcatraz + A Cruise on San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay is perhaps the most beautiful harbor in the world and the best way to experience it is on a boat.
We like these combined tours that include a visit to Alcatraz prison with a boat cruise of the Bay. They give you a real sense of the setting of the island and also just how big and lovely the bay is. We’ll share our favorite tours.
Alcatraz + A Day Trip in California
There’s a lot to see in California just beyond the San Francisco city boundaries.
On an easy day trip you can visit Wine Country, see the charming bayside town of Sausalito, even visit Muir Woods and the giant redwoods — and there’s still plenty of time to sail to Alcatraz!
How about spending the day in Napa Valley on a bicycle tour and picnic lunch? Read our reviews to find out more.
Unique Alcatraz Tours
There are also a few unexpected and unusual tours that include a visit to the world’s most famous former federal penitentiary.
In a helicopter, soar above the city, the bridges, the islands for a bird’s eye view before boating to Alcatraz for an inmate’s view.
Or how about Alcatraz prison plus an urban tour in an open car? Or our personal fave — a VIP tour that gives you priority access to Alcatraz combined with an extensive cable car sightseeing tour of the city?
What’s life like after prison? You may not know that Alcatraz has a long history that dates back 10,000 years, to when American Indians used the island as a place to hunt and store food.
Discover the history of this mega-popular American landmark and find out how Alcatraz became the most notorious prison. We also uncover the dramatic events that shaped the island after the federal penitentiary was closed down by order of Attorney General Robert Kennedy in 1963.