Although Alcatraz has been closed for over 60 years, it remains a place of intrigue and fascination for over 1.5 million visitors annually. Located off the coast of San Francisco, Alcatraz Island is one of America’s most popular national park sites and encompasses a total of 22 acres smack in the center of San Francisco Bay. Why does this former prison fascinate so many? Is it the hidden stories about America’s most notorious and dangerous criminals? Perhaps its reputation as an inescapable fortress due to its location and treacherous waters makes us realize and appreciate our own freedom. Whatever the reason, the abandoned prison has grown into one of the nation’s premier tourist attractions and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. 

Often known as “The Rock,” Alcatraz Island has certainly witnessed its share of history. In its early days, it was a military fortress, then a federal prison, and later known as a place to symbolize Native American activism. It is a place shrouded in mystery. Today it stands against the magnificent San Francisco skyline with cracked concrete and peeling paint creating a stark contrast with its prime real estate locale. So, just how do you get to Alcatraz? There’s only one “official” game in town and it’s Alcatraz City Cruises located on The Embarcadero, just southeast of Fisherman’s Wharf. Recognized through the National Park Service, the only way to get to Alcatraz is by ferry. On a journey to the island, explore Alcatraz’s complex history and natural beauty as you learn about its most famous inmates: Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz.” You will hear about the grueling routines, harsh conditions, and daring escape attempts as visitors from around the globe explore the layers of history that define this symbolic landmark. 

“Break the rules and you go to prison, break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz”

How to get to Alcatraz? Only a Ferry Ride Away

Since there is only one way to get to Alcatraz Island, you must take a ferry, and the only official ferry provider to the National Park Service isalcatraz city cruises Alcatraz City Cruises. This is one of the best boat rides in the bay with amazing views. You can add this ferry ticket to any tour you plan to take or are free to explore on your own. However, the ticket price to the island does include an audio-guided tour of the prison block. This is the best way to fully understand what you see inside the prison walls.  Alcatraz City Cruises is the only ferry service that allows you to disembark on the island, as several other companies offer cruises to “see” the island, but they can only get you so close. You need to purchase a ticket with Alcatraz City Cruises to visit the island on foot. The cost of the ticket includes your round-trip ferry ride and use of the guided tour handheld devices in the prison. Stay and wander around as long as you like until the last departure for the evening (check the schedule). The ride from Pier 33 takes approximately 15 minutes and features lovely views of the city skyline and Bay Bridge. When you return, you can enjoy the Golden Gate Bridge and Angel Island in the background and get some great photos too. It’s no wonder that British Airways High Life touts Alcatraz Island with Alcatraz City Cruises as an unmissable sight. There are some cool tour options you will want to check out too, and we’ve rounded up some of the best.  

Peek into Life Behind Bars on Alcatraz Island 

cellhouse in alcatraz
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 24: A view of Alcatraz Island during Alcatraz City Cruises’ celebration in partnership with the National Parks Service of the 50th Anniversary of Alcatraz Island opening as a National Park on October 24, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Araya Doheny/Getty Images for Alcatraz City Cruises)

There’s been quite a few movies made about Alcatraz Island. Most notably, “Escape from Alcatraz,” “The Rock,” “Point Blank,” “Murder in the First,” and

“Birdman of Alcatraz” has captivated audiences for decades and have kept history alive with compelling stories that thrill moviegoers. If you plan on visiting the island, it might be worth checking some out to get excited about your trip. Take a round-trip ferry ride to Alcatraz Island with admission to the Cellhouse for an unforgettable experience. Now is your chance to pull back the curtain and explore Alcatraz Island to visit the world-renowned Cellhouse without the crowds!  

Step back in time and relive prison life with an Alcatraz Island Day Tour as you experience the legendary island that has been a Civil War fort, a military prison, and one of the most notorious Federal penitentiaries in U.S. history. Explore the windswept island and learn about its layered history through outdoor interpretive signs, a Discovery Guide Island map, and fascinating exhibits.  

The award-winning “Doing Time: The Alcatraz Cellhouse Tour”, will take you back as you hear stories of prison operations, and escape attempts, and hear the voices of formerly incarcerated men and the correctional officers who guarded them. Take in scenic vistas and iconic, close-up views of the exteriors of the Cellhouse, Building 64, Warden’s House, Water Tower, Officer’s Club, and Model Industries Building. You will have access to outdoor historic spaces such as; Eagle Plaza, the Recreation Yard, the Sallyport, and the Rose Garden. Take some time to visit the fascinating exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the influential Occupation of Alcatraz by Indians of All Tribes.  

Hear the voices of former residents, touch concrete walls, and experience isolation on the island during “The Big Lockup: Mass Incarceration in the United States”. Learn about how the United States which currently houses 2.3 million inmates has more people behind bars than any country in the world. 



Get Up Close and Personal with A Behind the Scenes Tour to Alcatraz 

Join a group of 30 people or less as you discover areas not otherwise available to the public. Take a Behind the Scenes Tour with an expert historical guidealcatraz at night to explore off-limits areas and hear little-known stories about the island’s fascinating past and its relevance today. You will have an opportunity to engage with your knowledgeable tour leader and fellow participants as you discover off-the-beaten-track areas of Alcatraz that are closed to regular visitors. Discover the spectacular views on the island’s west side, facing San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Tickets to the Behind the Scenes Tour sell out quickly, so book them as soon as you know your travel dates. The rangers will thrill you with interesting facts and anecdotes about the places you are visiting, and the lives of the people who lived there. You may even hear a rumor or two that Alcatraz is haunted. 

One of the coolest things about this tour is the inclusion of the Night Tour, where you will experience the Audio Tour, special live specialty programs, and breathtaking evening views. Get a chance to feel the many moods of Alcatraz Island with an evening visit. If you opt for this tour exclusively, you will enjoy live narration during your ferry trip around the island en route to Alcatraz, which is another perk not offered during the daytime tour. Boats return to San Francisco several times per evening starting at 8:30pm. Plan on spending about 4-5 hours to immerse yourself in the experience fully. You will enjoy the beauty of a sunset silhouetting the Golden Gate Bridge, experience a cell door demonstration, and hear compelling stories about the island’s history. Evening talks by expert historians are offered on a variety of topics and change every night. The Alcatraz Night Tour is a unique program limited to just a few hundred visitors per evening that includes special programs, tours, and activities not offered during the day.  


Book Your Unforgettable Trip with Alcatraz City Cruises Today  

A former prison and military fort is now a national park and one of the Bay Area’s most popular attractions. This infamous prison island remains a place of mystery and intrigue that you don’t want to miss. During your visit, you will find that the island is so much more than a defunct prison. We have all seen documentaries and movies, but there’s more than meets the eye. This eery and slightly spooky landmark has a reputation as America’s most haunted prison, opened to house the most hardened criminals with the harshest punishments. With its close proximity to the beauty and charm of San Francisco, you will have much more to explore before or after your visit. You may believe you know a lot about Alcatraz, but you will most likely be surprised when you leave with a new understanding of its place in American history. It is impossible to leave the island without feeling moved and maybe a bit haunted. Come explore this one-of-a-kind iconic landmark with Alcatraz City Cruises and see why this is a must-do in the San Francisco area. 

For a list of frequently asked questions about visiting Alcatraz Island click here.