This page is about the Alcatraz ferry from Pier 33 that allows you to walk around on the island and visit the old prison. For the boat cruise that goes around Alcatraz but does not land on the island, please click here.
Alcatraz Tickets: Buy Well in Advance!
Insiders Tip: From late Spring through early Autumn and on major holidays the Alcatraz ferries sell out WEEKS in advance, and on weekends year-round they sell out 10 days or more before their departure date, so BUY YOUR TICKETS EARLY.
The moment you know what dates you’ll be visiting San Francisco, book and pay for your Alcatraz tickets if you plan to go there. Booking months ahead of time may seem like over-kill, but trust me. It’s not.
When It’s Too Late and Tickets to Alcatraz Are Sold Out
“What if we’re already here and there are no tickets available? Is there any other way to get last minute tickets?”
There are two ways you might be able to get last minute tickets, but one is expensive and the other is a hassle.
Option 1. Buy a Combined Alcatraz and San Francisco Tour. Outside tour companies often pre-buy the Alcatraz tickets in bulk and then offer “Alcatraz and San Francisco All in One Tours” at a combined price. It’s more expensive (sometimes a lot more) and they can sell out as well, but at least you get two tours instead of just one. The Google search “Alcatraz tickets sold out” will often put ads at the top of the search listings from companies with these tickets saying, “We’re not sold out!”
Insiders Tip: A lower-cost alternative is to take the tour that sails around Alcatraz without stopping to walk around. They have a dramatic soundtrack and you get to see parts of the prison you can’t see from land.
Option 2. The Sleep-Deprived Might-Not-Work Option: (Note that all of the information in this section is based on oral history, unpublished, unofficial and may change at any time, although it’s been operating in something like this manner for a few years now.)
They don’t say this in any of their brochures because they don’t want big crowds of disappointed people, but the Alcatraz Cruises ticket booth at the Pier 33 Ferry Terminal opens each morning at 7:30 AM. They have a small number of same-day walk-up tickets, but during the summer the line for these tickets starts forming as early as 5:00 AM, when it’s still dark. We’ve heard that on some days there were only 50 same-day tickets and that other days there were as many as 150 available. There may be many more people in line than there are tickets, which means a lot of people go home disappointed or angry, which is a lousy way to enjoy your vacation. Fights have even broken out over people cutting in line.
There’s a purchase limit of 4 tickets, and all four people have to be in line with you (to prevent scalpers from participating), so you can’t buy tickets for someone who is not there. You can leave to go the the bathroom (one at a time) and come right back, but if you’re gone for very long the security people will send you to the end of the line. They will take cash or credit cards.
From November through mid-March the same system applies but on average there are fewer tickets available, and Christmas season availability is questionable. Fortunately, tickets often sell out only days in advance rather than weeks in advance for some mid-week sailings during this time. Weekend sailings sell out first.
Note: All visitors under age 18 must be accompanied by an adult to visit Alcatraz. Younger teens and children may not visit alone.
Alternate Sources of Alcatraz Tickets
Beware of Scalpers! Re-selling Alcatraz tickets at inflated prices is against the law. If someone walks up to you at Fisherman’s Wharf and offers to sell you Alcatraz tickets on a day when the ferries are sold out, we strongly recommend you do not buy from them. The tickets they are selling may be fakes or counterfeits, which will not be honored and throwing away your hard-earned cash. (The old rule is true, as usual: “Anything too good to be true probably isn’t!”) If the tickets are real you’ll still over-pay to get them.
Ebay has occasionally had some Alcatraz ticket listings when we have done online searches like this one, although that search often comes up with no items.
Craigslist: There are some legitimate tickets sold on Craigslist’s tickets page, but there is real risk involved if you pay cash for Craigslist tickets because all of the warnings about scalpers listed in the paragraph above also apply to Craigslist. Unlike StubHub, Ebay, Paypal etc., Craigslist does not qualify or identify its users, so thieves can use it to sell counterfeit tickets or to prey on people in other ways.
Insiders Tip: If you do use Craigslist, paying via Paypal instead of paying in cash does give you some chance of getting your money back if the tickets are fraudulent or counterfeit. Sellers who are trying to rip you off won’t accept Paypal because when you report the bad transaction to Paypal will reverse the charges and could provide evidence to the police if you elect to press charges.
Stubhub does not appear to have any Alcatraz tickets, although they have pages for them here and also here. We’ve checked a number of times and never seen any tickets listed, but we include these links here so you can click on them to check just in case some tickets appear there.
Insiders Tip: If everything is sold out, keep re-checking the Alcatraz Cruises ticket page. It’s rare, but once in a while we’ll see a case where everything is sold out for a month but a few tickets pop up as available 5 or 6 days out. These go fast so you’ll need to scoop them up if they fit your schedule.
Avoiding Hidden Charges on Tickets to Alcatraz
Note: This section only applies to when you are buying tickets well in advance and not to when they are sold out and you’re scrambling to find an alternate way to get to the island. Once you’re looking for a sold-out date prices will inevitably rise.
Insiders Tip: Scroll down for current ticket prices, but if you’re buying well in advance note our warnings about sites that overcharge for your visit with extra “Service Charges” and “Handling Fees” that the Alcatraz Cruises site does not charge. We have no business relationship with any of the Alcatraz tour operators.
If you click on an “Official Alcatraz Tours” page and it doesn’t say “www.alcatrazcruises.com” at the top then they’re not the ones the Park Service picked to be the only company allowed to offer tours walking around the island, and they may charge you more than the regular price or tack on lots of charges and fees. There are several such over-charging “official” sites on the front page of any search for Alcatraz tickets! On our last check they added $6.00 to $8.00 plus processing fees to the cost of any ticket, but they had the same dates marked as unavailable as the Alcatraz Cruises website.
Our readers often ask why there is only one ferry service that is allowed to bring visitors to Alcatraz, the service called Alcatraz Cruises. Our best guess is that the Park Service did this to better control access to the park and to control traffic at the (small) piers for safety reasons, since having competitors’ ferries jockeying for position would be unsafe and untenable.
8 Keys to Buying the Right Alcatraz Tickets at the Right Price
1. Buy your tickets well before your trip to San Francisco — buying two or three months ahead during the summer ensures you’ll get there on the day you want.
2. Make sure you pick the kind of Alcatraz ferry ride you want! Ask the provider, “Do I walk around the island on this tour, or just sail around it? This page is about buying a ticket to take a ferry and walk around on Alcatraz. You get to take a self-paced audio tour, explore the prison, walk through the gardens. Double check your tour’s itinerary to avoid confusion and disappointment. You can find our page about the tour that sails around Alcatraz here.
3. Alcatraz is a National Park and the Ferries are a National Parks Service monopoly. Only one company, Alcatraz Cruises (links below) has the right to bring you to Alcatraz island and the park. They only sail from the Pier 33 Alcatraz Ferry Terminal. Other companies will sell you the same tickets and charge a $10 handling fee without telling you that you’re at the wrong website. There are no free tours of Alcatraz and no “end run” around paying for the ferry ride to visit the island, even if you own your own boat!
4. Reputable tour companies do sell multi-location tours. We’re trying to warn you about operators who over-charge for Alcatraz visits as a single destination. A number of reputable tour operators will sell you a tour that (for example) visits Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, Muir Woods etc. for a single price. Their Alcatraz segment may be the “walk on the island” or the “cruise around the island” option, or both. These trips are considered more convenient by some travelers and if the package price seems right there’s no reason not to use these tour services.
5. When you buy a ticket to Alcatraz, part of the huge National Park called the GGNRA, you’re really getting two tickets combined into one:
- Entry to the National Park facilities on Alcatraz (part of the GGNRA), and optional guided tours of the island and the old prison. A self-guided cellhouse audio tour is included in the ticket price, and is available in English and (in alphabetical order) Chinese (Mandarin), Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish. Blind visitors may also request Braille materials in English.
You can’t buy either half of the ticket (the ferry ride or the Alcatraz visit), by itself — it’s a package deal. Private boats may not moor at the island so you can’y use one to get there, and local sailboats and yachts can only sail around it.
6. You can choose a daytime visit or a more expensive nighttime tour with extra content. Although they allow kids on the island after dark, Alcatraz can be a spooky place and with young family members you may want to stick to the daylight sailings.
7. Kids under 18 have to be with an adult at all times when you’re on the island. This is an old prison on an island that was previously a 19th century fortress built atop rocky cliffs, and it’s a good idea in any case to supervise kids while you’re here.
8. You don’t have to buy the Cellhouse Audio Tour on the Daytime Visits, although it is included by default in the price. We think it’s cool and brings the place to life, but I have a friend who hates all audio tours, and you may feel the same way. How to opt out: When you enter the cellhouse tell the supervisor there that you’d like a refund for the audio tour and you’ll get a voucher for an $8.00 refund (for adults) or $5.50 (for children 5-11). The refunds are not available for the night tours, where many visitors are deliberately seeking the creepy feeling of listening to the voices inside the prison at night.
Below is the official video that covers information about buying tickets to see Alcatraz: