Planning a visit to Alcatraz

The following topics are covered in this article.   

  • Where can one get more info on Alcatraz?
  • What tours are available?
  • What is different on the Night tour?
  • What is the Gardens Tour?
  • Tickets Information (Tickets go on sale 90 days in advance. Book as early as possible only from 
  • Logistics
  • Clothing while on the Rock
  • Where to eat and what to do after the Rock ?


Tickets go on sale 90 days before the date of departure.  If you cannot see tickets say 4 months from now it is because they are not on sale yet.

BOOK UP TO 90 DAYS IN ADVANCE especially for the night tours in Summer and most tickets sell out six weeks in advance  Starting  2015, all group/tour operators including Alcatraz tickets in their packages will need to send passenger lists to Alcatraz Cruises four days in advance of departure. Any unsold tickets at this point will be given back to Alcatraz Cruises to be resold online or through their box office. Those individuals who have booked group/tour operator tickets will have to pick up their Alcatraz tickets at Pier 33 on the day of sailing, and provide ID to match the operator's passenger list.  f you arrive in San Francisco without Alcatraz reservations, your options will be to keep trying to buy from the official website (up until two hours prior to departure) or the official ticket office at Pier 33 (in person or by telephone at 415 981-7625).   

 Want to be a trooper and stand in line for same day tickets.  

Party of 5 and we got up to line up to get tickets to Alcatraz on a Tuesday in July 2015 and we arrived at Pier 33 at 4:15 a.m. We were the 4th party to arrive . Alcatraz personnel had 100 tickets to sell on this morning, 50 tickets for 8:45 am your and 50 for a 10:45 am tour. Everyone in the party needs to be there and let me add that you that if your driver has to park the car you'll have to wait because EVERYONE in your part has to be together , you cannot leave the line to say , get coffee . You are allowed to leave for bathroom breaks but that's it. If you leave you lose your spot. Our teenage kids were troopers no one complained and they made the best of it. Bring a sweater , it's cold that early . 

 We tried to get tickets this morning. Arrived at 5:45am and we were too late.Alcatraz security guy told us that the last vouchers for tickets were handed out by about 4:30am. He said people started lining up at 2:00am. I kid you not. He recommended getting there by 4:00am if you want a chance. It's crazy. 



Purchase tickets only from as a first resort.  If you are desperate, there are some other companies listed below that resell but unless you get the tickets when you pay, you are at risk on not having tickets. There are plenty of horro stories from members who pay six weeks in advance to these brokers and then are told 2-3 weeks afterwards that tickets are sold out.  BUYER BEWARE

Many members have had issues with this company   DO NOT BOOK FROM THEM

Viator has a VIP tour of a faux cable car and early bird VIP tour for $190. That is daylight robbery.  Do not book via TripAdvisor/Viator for this tour


Same Day Standby tickets for a night tour.

 Here is info from a visitor who tried to get standby tickets for the night tour:

>>>>By then, the 145 guaranteed day tickets were taken and I was 9th in line for the night standby tickets! I actually wanted the night tickets so I was thrilled! An official staff member will hand you your queue number. We waited till they opened at 730 am and reached the counters around 8. At this point, everyone wanting a ticket needs to be around. Standby  tickets mean you get a chance on either of the 2 evening boats out if there are seats. I believe they manage to let all 15 night tour standby ticket holders go most of the time. They started loading passengers on at 5.45 pm and I got on the first ferry at 5.55 pm. 

You will still need to be within the first 140-150 persons (depending on how many tickets they are releasing on that day). If you get in the guaranteed day tickets queue because you are early, you can try informing the staff who will be walking around and counting, that you wish to get the non guaranteed night tickets and move you to the end of the queue instead. 


Where can visitors get more info on Alcatraz? is the official website for all  information on Alcatraz. There is information about tours, details on the day and night tour, and it is the official site to purchase tickets up to 90 days in advance.  Please read the FAQs on the official website as well.  Do NOT get fooled by other sites with similar names. They may be resellers and they will charge an extra fee.

There are three videos on the Alcatraz site that may be helpful in planning a trip.  They are linked here 

Alcatraz Official Video 1

Alcatraz Official Video 2 

Alcatraz Official Video 3

A visitor from New Zealand wrote a comprehensive Trip Report to Alcatraz and it can be found here  

The Ferry takes about 15 minutes each way and most people spend around 2 hours on the island. This is not a fixed  time tour and one can return on any ferry during the day tour.  One cannot go for a day tour and stay on for the night tour.  If one goes on the last day tour, one has to return on the last day tour return ferry.  The night tours have two return ferries.

Visitors with disabilities or senior citizens  can get more information on the options provided to see the island on the website as well.


The SF chronicle has photos from the Rock. Here

What tours are available ?

Alcatraz Cruises offer day tours (Daily)  and night tours(Most Nights)  as well as a new   Behind the scenes tour as well  on  Mon-Thursday afternoons and lasts 4-5 hours.    Differences between the day tour and the night tour  and the behind the scenes tour are listed here  Children under 12 are NOT allowed on the longer behind the scenes tour but they can and do go on the other -- day or night tour 

In addition to these tours, on Fridays and Saturdays, there is a docent led tour of the Alcatraz gardens at 9.30 am from Alcatraz.  One has to be on the island by taking the first or the second day tour to make it in time for this docent tour. 

Day tours are offered seven days a week.  Night tours are available Thursday through Monday.  There are no night tours on Tuesday or Wednesday nights.   There are no tours on Christmas day, New Year's day and on Thanksgiving day (the fourth Thursday in November)


What is different about the Night Tour?

Alcatraz cruises provided this information on Trip Advisor

"The Night Tour has a guided tour from the dock to the cellhouse, so it's a more intimate tour than the Day Tour. It's also less crowded at night, with only a couple of hundred people as opposed to a couple of thousand during the day.

When you get to Alcatraz, ask one of the rangers or docents what time the Hospital Tour starts. The tour begins inside the cellhouse, and you can join either before or after you do the audio tour. You can also start doing the audio tour, and just pause it to do the hospital tour, then continue from where you left off.

They may also have other programs and activities, such as the demonstration of how the cell doors operate, interesting facts or stories about inmates, and other fun stuff. Again, just ask a ranger or docent when you get to the cellhouse. A lot of people don't realize that there are additional tours because they just go straight to the audio tour and head back down to the dock."


What is Behind the Scenes Tour? 

This is a new tour added by Alcatraz cruises .  It is about a 4-5 hour tour on M-Thur and includes a combo of the day and night tours plus stenous walks to areas not covered by the other tours  This is a strenous tour for kids over 12 and adults.

Details on the tour is here 

What is the Garden Tour?

The Garden Tour is an additional docent led tour on Friday and Sunday mornings at 9.30 am.  This is part of the day tour and visitors should take the first or the second ferry to the island to be in time for the tour. There are no separate tickets for this tour.

The tour is along what is called "Officers Row" which are the gardens of army family homes (the homes, unfortunately, are no longer there). It also takes you along the prison yard side and talks about the prisoners who were allowed to garden the hillside just outside the yard.

The tour provides a lot of historical information about Alcatraz in its pre-jail days and has a number of large photos to show from those days.

 The Garden Conservancy (who run the tours) has spent about 7 years on Alcatraz restoring the gardens (both family and prisoner). There is 1.5 paid staff doing this work, the rest (including the tour guides) are volunteers. 

More information about the tour on Fridays and Sundays at 9.30am from the Alcatraz dock is here  


Tickets Information 

The best place to purchase tickets up to 90 days in advance is on the Alcatraz cruises website.  They do not levy an extra fee and it is the lowest price for the cruise.  Other tour operators bundle tickets with their tours and may levy a fee.  It is suggested that visitors purchase their tickets directly and not bundle them with other SF tours.  There is NO advantage if one bundles tickets as only Alcatraz cruises operates the cruises.

If one looks at a date beyond the 90 day window on the Alcatraz website, no tour times will be displayed.  It does not mean that tickets are sold out.  All it means is that tickets for those days (beyond 90 days) are not yet on sale.  

Citypass SF has a ticket bundled with their other Citypass Attractions. One has to call Alcatraz Cruises at +1-415-981-7625 to purchase this Citypass with the Alcatraz Option and the ticket booklet is mailed within the US.

Another option is to  go to and purchase the tickets online.   Once in SF, head straight to Pier 33 and upgrade the tickets to Citypass.    Citypass includes the 7 day MUNI passport to use MUNI streetcars, cablecars and buses around SF.  The only inconvenient part is that one has to get to Pier 33 to pick up the Citypass with Alcatraz on one's own dime (walk, take a bus or a cab)  This option may be better for visitors from abroad. SF is a small city and Pier 33 is a short walk from Fisherman's wharf or about a mile from the Embarcadero hotels or a 20 minute ride on the F streetcar for $2.25 



Tickets DO GET SOLD OUT months in advance during  Summer and during the Holidays, especially the night tours.  There may be a few tickets available every morning at the Ticket Office on Pier 33.  One has to go very early as there may very well be a line and there is no guarantee of getting a ticket. 

Here is a first hand experience of a TA member who stood in line very early in the morning for day of tickets.

 But before that start with Alcatraz cruises.  Call them at 415.981.7625 and see if they have any last minute cancellations  If you are staying in a Hotel in SF that has a concierge, please call or email the concierge as they are wonderful in doing the impossible

If tickets are sold out,  these brokers may be an alternative but there will be an extra fee.

Starting June 1, 2015 All resellers have to provide unsold tickets 4 days before their departure and will not be able to resell them.  Only option is to call Alcatraz Cruises or try online at  

Here are some companies you can look at on-line in NO PARTICULAR ORDER  Most will bundle the Alcatraz tour with some other tour so these tickets will NOT be cheap.  Please READ reviews of the tours that are bundled with Alcatraz before you book. This list is to help visitors find a company and does not necessarily imply an endorsement of any of the tours. 

Reserve AlcatrazDylan's Tours, Alcatraz Tours. All San Francisco Tours. Brighter Images/ Alcatraz Trips, City Sightseeing, Electric Tour Company, Extranomical, Incredible AdventuresSan Francisco Comprehensive Shuttle Tours, Sights of San Francisco, Tower Tours, Viator. Guideyou 

ONLY WWW.ALCATRAZCRUISES.COM is the  direct supplier of tickets.  There are other third party reseller such as Alcatraz tickets and and Alcatraz island tickets where one can purchase tickets for a fee.  Many people have reported issues when they purchased tickets from from a company called City INFO.  Buyer BEWARE


Logistics  (Where ? how long?)

Alcatraz Tours depart from Pier 33 on the Embarcadero.  It is about a 10 minute walk from Pier 39 and about a 20 or so minutes walk from the Ferry Building.  The F wharves Muni stops just in front of the Pier. 

The tour company suggests visitors arrive up to 30 minutes prior to their departure time. The ferry ride is around 15 minutes each way and the average visitor spends about 2 hours on the island.  Plan on about 4 hours for the whole trip including transit time, wait time and actual time on the Rock.  


What should one wear ?

Visitors are advised to dress in layers the whole year.   It will be cool to cold and windy most of the year.  Are there days when it is pleasant ?  A few, but the number of days when it wil be cool to cold far exceed the number of days when it is balmy.   Nights are guaranteed to be cold to freezing.  One can stay in the enclosed portion of the ferry on the way to and from the Rock.   Wear comfortable walking shoes.


Where to eat and what to do after the Rock ?

One can walk north along the Embarcadero to see Fisherman's Wharf, or go south on the Embarcadero to the Exploratorium Museum, and the Ferry Building. There are over 50 restaurants along the Embarcadero from Fisherman's wharf area to the Ferry Building. One can go west to North Beach for excellent Italian food.  Most locals would not recommend most of the restaurants in the Fisherman's wharf area.  

Here is a link to the restaurants around Pier 33 on Google Maps