Cruising Around the Island: Alcatraz Tour
There are two very different ways to visit Alcatraz via ferry tours from two different companies, and each trip is both fun and informative:
1. Take a cruise around the island without leaving the boat, with a recorded audio program explaining in detail all the features you can see from the water (the subject of this page). This lets you see parts of the island and prison you can’t readily see from land.
2. Take a ferry to the island, disembark and walk around the gardens and go inside the old prison. This option puts you on the island and (if you wish) inside the abandoned prison. Reaching the top level of the island complex requires either a steep walk up the hill (it’s the height of a 13-story building) or a tram ride. (Click here for our page about buying tickets for this trip.) This ferry trip to the island takes 15 minutes in each direction and is the best choice for those who might get seasick easily on a longer trip, even in the more sheltered waters of the Bay (like one of our editors!).
If going inside the old prison sounds like fun, the walk around the island option is best for you, and you can click here to read about it. If you like seeing the rugged island and the exterior views of the prison that can’t be seen when you’re walkiing around on land, the extended cruise will be better and the information on this page will be useful.
Insiders Tip: If you want to see Alcatraz in detail, have time for only one boat trip while visiting San Francisco, and also want to go under the Golden Gate Bridge, the trip described on this page will be your best choice.
Insiders Tip: There are a number of companies that offer different tours of San Francisco Bay with different routes and durations whose boats sail past Alcatraz as part of the trip. They do not have the same extended visit time and dramatic narration of the history of the prison as the tour described below, but are a good choice for getting to see a variety of locations around the Bay. If you’re not focused on Alcatraz alone they may be a better bet.
Insiders Tip: Both of the Sausalito ferries cruise close to Alcatraz as they travel between Sausalito and San Francisco. This is another option for seeing Alcatraz from the water if you also want to visit Sausalito for lunch.
The Narrated Cruise Alcatraz Tour
Blue and Gold Fleet (which also operates one of the Sausalito ferries) offers a voyage around Alcatraz from their San Francisco headquarters at Pier 41 / Pier 39. They call it “Escape from the Rock” and it goes around the island twice as well as going under the Golden Gate Bridge and back.
The tour takes 90 minutes and they have a recorded narration thst covers the history of the island and prison in a dramatic “History Channel style” audio program. Kids ages 5 to 11 get free plastic 5x binoculars as a souvenir.
Ticket prices for the Escape from the Rock tour are:
Adults — $36.00
Junior (12-18) — $29.00
Child (5-11) — $24.00 (Includes plastic 5x binoculars)
Senior (65+. must show ID) — $29.00
They also jave a “Family Discount Package”, which gives you tickets for 2 Adults and up to 4 kids (ages 5-11) for $90.00, but you can’t buy this online and must purchase it at the box office at Pier 39.
Note: The ticket sales page can be confusing because they also offer a combined Alcatraz trip plus Rocketboat trip deal, combining tickets for two separate trips on different boats. If you just want the Alcatraz cruise look for the four boxes at the top of the page without blue bars in between them.
Insiders Tip: Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf has a big but expensive parking garage, and Blue and Gold Fleet does not validate parking. But the high-end restaurants at Pier 39 do validate, so if you have a meal (also expensive) here along with your Alcatraz cruise you’ll at least get a break on your parking!
Alcatraz Tour Schedule (Cruise Around Island)
On the satellite image below you can see Alcatraz and a tour boat at the left that is about to go by the island. If you zoom in you’ll see the dock, which is at the right (eastern) edge of Alcatraz in this image.