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Alcatraz Island, located in the middle of San Francisco Bay, is a must-see attraction for any visitor to the area. One of the most infamous prisons in the country for housing notorious criminals, Alcatraz holds much history that will interest buffs and novices alike. No longer housing prisoners and managed by the National Park Service, Alcatraz allows tourists to visit by the boatload. Alcatraz was used as a federal maximum security prison from 1934 until 1963, when it was closed due to high costs and security issues.
The tour is open 7 days a week. Anyone intending to visit Alcatraz should book tickets online in advance from the official website, www.alcatrazcruises.com. Tours can book up several days in advance, but it is easy to go online to purchase and print tickets. (Reservations are taken 90 days in advance.) With tickets in hand, proceed directly to Pier 33, Alcatraz Landing on San Francisco's Embarcadero. Plan on arriving 30 minutes before your scheduled departure. The only line you need to stand in is the boarding line for your tour. No printer, no problem. Purchase tickets online and write down your confirmation number. Arrive at Pier 33 a bit earlier than the requested 30 minutes and go directly to Will Call. Bring your confirmation number and photo ID to pick up the tickets.
The award-winning Alcatraz Cellhouse audio tour is available in 10 languages - Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese, and Korean. There's also a free iPhone tour.
Alcatraz's most interesting tour is probably the Alcatraz Night Tour in which tourists are able to take the regular self guided walking tour (with the aid of headphones narrating the story of Alcatraz -- sometimes by the prisoners themselves who inhabited it) after all of the day visitors leave. Many of the rooms (such as the dining hall) are only faintly lit by moonlight, making the eerie sounds of clinking dinnerware you hear in the headphones during your tour particularly creepy.
The Alcatraz Night Tour operates year-round, Thursday-Monday evenings. The evening includes roundtrip ferry transportation, a live boat narration, a guided tour from Dock to Cellhouse, the Cellhouse Audio Tour, a keepsake souvenir brochure, and a variety of special presentations. Tickets are available online and children under age 5 are free.
Proceeds from the Night Tour support preservation and restoration projects on Alcatraz and throughout the National Park.
Additionally, the later Indian occupation of Alcatraz is chronicled through your tour guide, short films as you exit the prison, and many items in the gift shop before you depart the island. Plan on spending about 2.5 hours from your departure to the island to your arrival back on San Francisco Pier 33.
NOTE: National Park Service's authorized exclusive concessioner is www.alcatrazcruises.com.
ALSO NOTE: Ferries to Alcatraz depart from Pier 33, at the foot of Bay Street & Embarcadero, about a 8-10 minute walk from Pier 39/Fisherman's Wharf.
Alcatraz Photos on Flickr
Alcatraz As Seen From Pier 39
Alcatraz In the Distance As Seen From Pier 39, Another View