For most of us, the idea of going to prison is not something we aspire to. It’s not usually on the top of anyone’s to-do list, nor is it generally considered a, “not to be missed destination. But, roll this around in your brain for a minute… 1.4 million people a year pay cold hard cash to visit a prison. One prison in particular- in fact, it might just be the most popular house of incarceration in the country… we’re talking Alcatraz.

The rock as it’s also affectionately known once housed some of the most notorious criminals in US History; it’s a dynamic, fascinating, and hauntingly beautiful place.

What You Need To Know About Touring Alcatraz


buying tickets to alcatraz

Buy them early. We actually ended up spending an extra day in San Francisco, just to visit Alcatraz. The day we had planned on going tickets were sold out by 9 AM. Don’t make the same mistake buy your tickets at a minimum one day ahead of time. We recommend booking your tickets for the earliest boat of the day, so you’ll have the maximum amount of time to explore the island.

Tickets for touring Alcatraz can be purchased:

Online at:

Over the phone by calling: 415-981-ROCK (7625)

In-person: at the ticket counter located at Pier 33 also known as Alcatraz Landing.

Touring Alcatraz

Once you’ve got your tickets booked, getting to The Rock is as easy as handing over your boarding passes and hopping on the boat before you know it you’ll be on your way to the most notorious prison in US history. A short 10-15 minute boat ride, deposits you onto the island, where you will be welcomed by a National Park Service Ranger, given the quick layout of the island, and sent on your way to explore.

A Day Trip & Cellblock Audio Tour Is By Far The Most Popular Tour Option Offered On Alcatraz.

If you’re thinking an audio tour doesn’t super interesting, think again. This award-winning tour includes personal accounts from both prisoners and guards who spent time at Alcatraz; it’s incredibly interesting and engaging. We aren’t usually big fans of “tours” but this is one not to miss!

A big thing to keep in mind while touring the rock is timing. You might be surprised how time can slip away from you here. There’s an enormous amount to see and do in addition to the audio tour. Once you’ve arrived on the island you’re free to take any boat back to the mainland once you’re done exploring. So to take your time, and wander the grounds once you’re done with the audio tour!

How Long Does Touring Alcatraz Take?

The answer is up to you. We found during our visit that a trip to Alcatraz took up the better part of our day. We left on the 8am boat and returned back to the mainland at 4pm. Initially we had made plans to try and explore both The Rock and the city of San Francisco all in one day, fortunately for us fate stepped in and made that impossible, forcing us to add a day to our visit just for Alcatraz and boy are we glad it did!

Just A Few Extra Facts That Might Be Worth Knowing Before You Go…


If you’re planning a trip to Alcatraz, get your thinking cap ready! You might be surprised to learn, that this island has a much deeper and richer history that goes well beyond the prison walls. Here are 10 surprising and interesting facts to keep in mind while you wander…

  1. Al Capone Played The In The Prison Band Alcatraz was well known for its famous inmates but perhaps the most famous of all its residents was the notorious gangster, Al Capone. According to the history books, he begged the warden to be allowed to start up a prison band. Thanks to his good behavior he got his wish and the “Rock Islanders” was born.
  2. No One Ever Escaped From Alcatraz, Or Did They?- While there are no confirmed accounts of successful escapes, plenty of residents did put the supposedly inescapable prison to the test. The most famous of these escapes took place in 1962 when Frank Morris and the Anglin Brothers put into action a daring and ingenious escape using dummy heads to trick guards into believing they were still in their cells, and climbing out through a passageway in the walls. The official story is that they drowned while trying to swim across the bay, but no bodies were ever found. Whether they did or did not make it to safety is still up for debate to this day.
  3. Alcatraz gets its name from the Spanish word for Pelican. These birds amassed on the island in such great numbers along with a large variety of other sea birds. Today portions of Alcatraz Island are protected specifically to provide nesting grounds for pelicans and other sea birds.
  4. Alcatraz Was A Place For Families- Just beyond the modern prison walls, the families of the guards who worked the prison lived and played in what was once Civil War Era military barracks. Those same families planted extensive gardens across the island making it a lush and vibrant place to live.
  5. While Alcatraz was known for being the toughest prison in the US, but that’s not the whole story- the truth was many prisoners found the conditions at Alcatraz favorable to those of other prisons. Prisoners were held in single cells, allowed as much food as they could eat, and daily hot water showers; all of which were designed to limit escape attempts. The theory was that a well-fed, warm water acclimated prisoner would never have the physical ability to make their way across the freezing San Francisco Bay.

It’s undisputed that Alcatraz is and will always be one of the most iconic lock-ups in the world, and a place more than worthy of a visit. Have you ever been to place like this? Let us know and share your experiences in the comments!

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