What are the best Alcatraz tours


One of the most important sights of San Francisco besides the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars is of course the former prison Alcatraz. It is not only because of its extraordinary location that it has a very special myth.

Today the facility, which has long since been shut down, can can be visited without any problems, if you take care of tickets for tours and the ferry in good time. And in this case, timely means by all means two to three months in advance

Facts & history

Alcatraz, more than 2 km from the mainland Located in Golden Gate Bay, is a 500 m wide island that was not initially intended for a prison: instead, the first lighthouse on the west coast of the USA was built here in 1852.

The idea of ​​building a prison on it only came about in the 1930sWhich, apart from the remote location of the island, seemed to make sense, especially because of the strong currents, which should doom all attempts to escape to failure.

Probably the most famous inmate settled here soon after the opening: Al Capone was allowed to call Alcatraz his "home" from 1934 to 1939.

The location of the island actually led to the failure of several escape attempts, but also brought numerous problems with it, which ultimately led to Closure of the prison Already in 1963 led: The high costs, due to the island location, but also the increasing erosion by the salt water ensured that the effort and benefit were in no relation to each other.

After some back and forth, the island was declared an accessible sight in 1972, which it has remained to this day. It is administered by the National Park Service.

Tour: What you see today

These days Alcatraz can be part of a trip However, there are no major restrictions: Visitors are allowed to visit the island explore freely and basically spend any amount of time on it.

The tour process is simple: with your ticket (more on this below) you can find yourself 20 to 30 minutes before the official start time at pier 33 a. It is located in the northeast of downtown, a good 500 meters from the famous Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf.

After the obligatory inspection, you join one long queue until the booked tour time is called up.

Then it's on board a not so small one ferrywhich even offers snacks and Wi-Fi - if you need it, because the crossing only takes time almost a quarter of an hour.

When you arrive on the island, you will be greeted briefly, during which you will receive the most important information for your visit. You can then move freely around the island, but the first port of call is usually the big one Main building with its cells.

There you get the free and very worthwhile (!) Audio tourthat takes you through the cellhouse for less than an hour and vividly explains all the important details. The tour is available in numerous languages, including German, of course.

After the audio tour, we recommend a 30- to 60-minute tour Round about the island. In addition to some ruins, the views of the surroundings are also worthwhile when the weather is good.

For the return journey you are not set to a specific time: you just stand in line and use the next ferry that offers space. In the summer, the ferries return to Pier 33 about every 30 minutes, but you don't always catch the first one when there is a lot of traffic.

Tickets & tour times

Around 1.7 million tourists currently visit Alcatraz each year, but visiting is not as easy as it seems, especially in the high season from May to September: Tickets should be purchased online in advance, as most tours are booked well in advance - This is especially true for the morning hours when the jail is not too crowded.

If you want to take the Early Bird Tour or the 9:10 Tour - getting up early is worth it! - should therefore at least a month or two in advance book. On particularly popular dates (weekends in summer or around public holidays) they can be sold out even earlier.

The last crossings usually take place between 3:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. in the high season, and often a few hours earlier in the low season.

Tickets are available for sale three months in advance. When buying online, they currently cost 38,35$ for adults and 23,50$ for children.


There are so many sights to see in San Francisco, but Alcatraz is one of the most memorable. The location of the prison in the middle of the bay is unique, the macabre charm of the facility, known from countless stories and films, is unique.

If you spend at least two days in the city, you should definitely plan a morning for a tour.

That is actually the best Early Bird Tour at 8:45 a.m. - then you would be back shortly before noon to deal with downtown or Fisherman’s Wharf, which is much livelier at that time.

Info box

  • Entry: $ 38.35 adults, $ 23.50 children 5-11 years old
  • Tour times: in summer mostly from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
  • Time required: 3-4 hours including ferry ride
Read more about the city: