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3 Best Alcatraz Tours

Check out this 3 Best Alcatraz Tours list if you plan a trip to San Francisco. A trip to Alcatraz Island is a must-do during your visit to San Francisco. The famous legendary prison island on San Francisco Bay makes a huge impression. Prison cells, thick walls, and bars make you move your imagination to the movie Escape from Alcatraz. What are the 3 best Alcatraz tours? What to choose when visiting San Francisco? In this post, we share our photos and reviews from the best Alcatraz tours we made. We share our opinions and tips on booking an Alcatraz ticket.

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The Best Alcatraz Tours: photo collage with Alcatraz island, prison buildling and sunset over San Francisco.

The 3 Best Alcatraz Tours – Introduction

One of the most famous prisons in the world is Alcatraz, California. It is worth visiting during a trip to San Francisco. The choice of Alcatraz Island tours is huge, so you may be confused about what to book.

In this post, Chris and I present the best Alcatraz tours and photos we took during our visits to San Francisco. We also share some tips about booking tickets. We hope it can help you decide which Alcatraz tour to choose when you visit San Francisco.

Most importantly, we will also tell you how to get to Alcatraz on your own, how to buy a ferry ticket, and how to get an entrance ticket to the prison so that you can visit this landmark at your own pace.

Trip Tip Planning: If you plan a trip to San Francisco, check out our related articles: San Francisco 3 Days itinerary, Where to Stay in San Francisco? and Yosemite National Park 2 Days Itinerary.

the best alcatraz tours: cells in prison and bars in the doors.
the best alcatraz tours: main building of the prison.

Facts About Alcatraz Island & Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary

The beginnings of the Alcatraz Prison

  • The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary is also known as the United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island, or The Rock.
  • Alcatraz Island is located 1.25 miles (2.01 km) off the coast of San Francisco.
  • The main prison building was built in 1910–1912 as a United States Army military prison. But Alcatraz also used to be a lighthouse, a military fort. The island became a prison of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1934.
  • It was a maximum-security federal prison. Moreover, the Island location and cold waters of San Francisco Bay allowed believing prison operators that Alcatraz is escape-proof and America’s strongest prison.
the scenic view of the San Francisco with the ALcatraz island in the backdrop.
alcatraz island with the main prison buildling.

The most famous convicts

  • Alcatraz prison could house 450 convicts in cells measuring about 10 feet by 4.5 feet (3 meters by 1.5 meters), but no more than 250 prisoners ever occupied the island at one time.
  • Alcatraz served as a prison for the most dangerous convicts in the American penitentiary system. Among its famous denizens were Al “Scarface” Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” and Alvin “Creepy Karpis” Karpowicz. During the Alcatraz tour, you will see the cells of some of them.
cell in prison with a desk and musical instrument: organ and sheet music on it.
cells in prison and bars in the doors

Escape from Alcatraz

  • There were 14 known attempts to escape from Alcatraz, involving 36 inmates. 23 inmates were captured, six were shot and killed during their attempted getaways, two drowned, and five went missing and were presumed drowned.
  • From May 2 to May 4, 1946, the “Battle of Alcatraz” took place. 6 inmates tried to escape from Alcatraz. Prisoners overpowered their guards and obtained firearms and keys to the cell block. U.S. Marines stormed the cell block and suppressed the incident. Two guards and three escapees were killed. Moreover, more than a dozen guards were wounded. A few inmates did manage to escape from Alcazar island. But it is unknown whether they survived in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay.
  • The 1979 Clint Eastwood movie Escape from Alcatraz popularized this famous escape attempt. It is worth seeing before an Alcatraz tour.
A wire fence in a prison overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
One of the old prison buildings destroyed and overgrown with grass.

The End of Alcatraz Penitentiary

  • The Alcatraz Penitentiary was shut down in 1963 because its operating expenses were too high. Throughout the years, Alcatraz housed 1,576 men.
  • From November 1969 to June 1971, Alcatraz Island was occupied by Native American activists. They were protesting the U.S. government’s ongoing economic, social, and political neglect of Native Americans.
  • Alcatraz Island became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972 and was open to the public in 1973.
  • Since 1980 is organized Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. The event includes a 1.5-mile swim to San Francisco, plus an 18-mile bike ride and an 8-mile run.
Best Alcatraz Tours: the bay view.
A large barred prison window and under it black and white photos with portraits of the most famous prisoners.
ferry to Alcatraz
Best Alcatraz Tours: main buildling with the guard tower.

Tips Before You Book the Best Alcatraz Tour

Is the Alcatraz tour worth it?

The tour of Alcatraz is worth it. A trip to the famous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary is extremely attractive educational, historical, and architectural. A visit to San Francisco without seeing the most famous USA prison is incomplete.

cells in prison
cell in prison
prison bars and cells behind them

Should I book the best Alcatraz tour tickets in advance?

Definitely, Alcatraz Island is a trendy place. And it is worth booking a trip well in advance. Otherwise, you can get stuck in the 3-4 hour line waiting for the island’s ferry and not getting a ticket. Tickets to Alcatraz are in high demand, so it happens that you can’t get to the ferry without an earlier booking. Alcatraz Tours can fill up about 90 days in advance, especially during tourist peak months.

During a pandemic, booking is mandatory due to a limited number of places.

 Alcatraz old buildlings.
The flag of the United States on the ferry to Alcatraz.
prison bars and cells behind them

How long does the best Alcatraz tour last?

All Alcatraz Island tours depart from and return to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing, along the Embarcadero. It takes about 15 minutes to get by ferry to Alcatraz Island. Visiting the prison will take approximately 2 hours. So, book for your Alcatraz trip for around 3 hours.

Is it better to visit Alcatraz in the morning or afternoon?

Visiting Alcatraz is interesting both during the day and at night. The early morning was the best for us because we could focus on photos.

Alcatraz Island and prison during sunset tour.
prison bars

Can you go to Alcatraz Island without a tour?

Yes. You don’t have to buy an organized tour, but you must pre-book your ferry and ticket on the official website. Well in advance. Otherwise, you may not be able to get to the famous Alcatraz Island. You’re stuck in the line.

All Alcatraz Island tours depart from and return to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing, located along San Francisco’s northern waterfront promenade.

When you get by ferry to Alcatraz island, you will get the Cellhouse Audio Tour at the ticket price. You can stay on Alcatraz Island as long as you like, but you can enjoy the Cellhouse Audio Tour for two hours.

Check the ferry departure schedule to get back to the mainland. It is also the cheapest option to visit Alcatraz. A return ferry ticket and entry to the prison with an audio guide cost only $45,25. The prison sightseeing is possible only with the audio guide.

old abandoned prison building in the morning
Prison buildings and blue water in San Francisco Bay
buildlings on Alcatraz Island and the ferry to Alcatraz starting mooring.

The 3 Best Alcatraz Tours

Alcatraz Early Morning Access Tour

We decided on Alcatraz Early Morning Access Tour. We wanted to visit the Alcatraz prison when there were no crowds yet to feel the atmosphere of this place and take good photos. And that was a great idea. We could easily see the prison’s interior, courtyard, and other corners of the island. Moreover, we could take pictures with no random people in the frame. It’s important for us, as we love taking pictures. We could enjoy the exploration of Alcatraz island. So, if you want to avoid crowds is one of the best Alcatraz tours.

stairs leading to the prison and an American flag
prison buildling

Sunset Cruise over San Francisco Bay

Last evening in San Francisco, we chose a Sunset Cruise on a Luxury Catamaran. On this trip, you do not descend to Alcatraz island but sail past it. But it’s an amazing experience. The views were stunning. It was relaxing sailing by Alcatraz Island, Sausalito, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

 San Francisco city skyline after sunset
 Golden Gate Bridge during sunset
The Alcatraz prison by night, just after sunset

View of the San Francisco city skyline and Golden Gate Bridge as the Pacific Ocean’s sunset were breathtaking. The Alcatraz prison looked a little creepy and majesty under the night lanterns. We could imagine how convicts tried to escape from the rocky island under cover of night.

Moreover, the price of this Sunset Cruise is affordable, and the experience is amazing. It’s one of the best Alcatraz tours. Therefore, we can honestly recommend it. It can be an interesting option, especially for couples who want a romantic evening.

 Golden Gate Bridge during sunset tour to Alcatraz.

Other Exciting Alcatraz Tours

We have been to San Francisco many times. We love this city, and we visit it often. But we have made two Alcatraz tours so far. We can only recommend tours that we did. But of course, the choice of offers is much wider, depending on your interests or needs.

On our dream list is Scenic Flight Tour. We would love to fly over San Fransisco Bay, taking in views and photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Muir Woods, and more.

Golden Gate Bridge during sunset catamaran tour.

Plan a trip to California? Check out our related articles

San Francisco bridge


  1. I’ve always wanted to go to Alcatraz but I had no idea there were guarded tours, I thought travelers would had to sneak in and do urban exploring (shows what I know).  How was the atmosphere while you were there? Was it eerie? I imagine it would be eerie or dark. 

  2. I’ve always thought the story of Alcatraz was fascinating. So cool that you got to actually visit! I still find it so crazy that people still tried to escape from the unescapable prison, clearly none of them successfully. Historical landmarks with an interesting story like these are my favorite to visit. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I only know Alcatraz from movies. It would be so cool to actually visit it and see the place in person. And it’s interesting how they have a triathlon there. If I were a triathlete, that would have been on my bucket list.

  4. Wow! This trip sounds so interesting. I have watched the movie Escape from Alcatraz and have wondered how will it be to visit the place. I am sure it will be fascinating to visit Alcatraz. It was good to know about the place and I am really interested in the Triathlon. 

  5. I had no idea that we can actually visit or have a tour I have only heard about Alcatraz in the movies so this is a unique and exciting experience. Thank you for sharing this. Will definitely consider this should we have a chance to be in SF again. 

  6. I missed the Alcatraz Tour because of the line, like you mentioned above. Now I know what to do next time we go to San Francisco. I think to take the early morning tour is the best option. I don’t like seeing random people in my pictures as well. 

  7. I would love to visit the Alcatraz prison, that sounds so cool. Alcatraz Island looks so pretty and I have definitely added it to my list of places to see. I think I will take a tour to the island than doing it myself as sometimes tours give more information about the place.

  8. Ah! I’ve been to San Francisco many times, but I have never been to Alcatraz. So sad! I’d love to see Al Capone’s cell and hear about the escapes. It has such interesting history! 

  9. I had no idea that Alcatraz is so fascinating. I also did not know that its America’s strongest prison. I had read about it but had no idea that there were tours to see the island. I am sure the experience would have been unlike any trip. And this indeed looks like a rocky island, hard to escape from. Audio tour sounds great. 

  10. The history of Alcatraz is so interesting. I didn’t visit on my last visit to San Francisco and really regret this now. I guess I have to go again to do one of the tours!

  11. This would definitely be something me and my partner would want to do. I haven’t been to san francisco yet but my fella swam from the bay to the island for some fun raising and then went back to visit. He really loved it. Such a fascinating piece of histor

  12. Honestly, I thought Alcatraz was still a prison. So cool to actually learn about it! I’ll definitely need to do a tour one day

  13. ugh – i really regret not visiting alcatraz during my time in san francisco, but i guess that just means ill have to go back one day 😛

  14. I did the Alcatraz tour when I visited with my young son.  I remember it made a big impression on him at the time.  It was fascinating to see how the inmates lived.  All with a view of San Francisco across the bay.  I never knew you could go by ferry and use an audio guide.  May be worth a re-visit on a return trip.

  15. I think an Alcatraz tour is generally thrilling. However, I also somehow feel that there are corners that are creepy. But I’d definitely want to try it.

  16. This is so useful; thank you so much. I really loved your recommendation for the movie – also love to watch movies that reflect the history of places I am going to visit. So thank you for this advice. Very inspirational. 

  17. I enjoyed learning about the interesting history of Alcatraz in your post. I love your suggestion to see the movie before visiting there. It’s hard to believe that so many inmates tried to escape given the harsh conditions they had to endure to make it to the mainland.  

  18. I honestly never knew such a place even existed, but it does look incredible and an once in a lifetime thing to experience! I love the sunset pictures! 

  19. As a Bay Area native, I remember visiting Alcatraz as a kid. I was always scared because I’d heard it’s haunted so I hated going there and didn’t get why people liked it. But your photos make it look so interesting, and even the boat ride to and from the island look appealing. I may have to visit again as an adult, thanks for sharing!

  20. Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary is a place of intrigue after reading your post. I like being part of a historical past by visiting such sites, would be nice to explore. The cruise during sunset looks ethereal! 

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