Update:The historic New Industries Building is open and continues to feature “Red Power on Alcatraz: Perspectives 50 Years Later,” recognizing the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Alcatraz by Indians of All Tribes, a major milestone in the civil rights movement for Native Americans.
Insiders Tip: From April through October it’s common for Alcatraz tours tickets to sell out weeks in advance, so we strongly recommend that during those times you BUY YOUR TICKETS EARLY. In the off-season the weekend says can still sell out one to two weeks early, and much longer on holiday weekends.
Since the only Alcatraz tours that let you walk on the island are operated by Alcatraz Cruises, the ferry schedule defines the National Park Service hours of operation for the park. The trip takes about 15 minutes in each direction between the Pier 33 Alcatraz Ferry Terminal and Alcatraz once the lines are cast off. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see a short video of the trip.
There are three different kinds of Alcatraz tours on the island, Daytime, Nighttime and the new extended walking tour called “Behind the Scenes.”
Insiders Tip: Allow at least three hours for your trip to Alcatraz, although you can leave on an Alcatraz Ferry back to San Francisco sooner or later than this based on your schedule, enjoyment level and the weather. Trying to “check the box” for having seen Alcatraz in less than 3 hours is likely to leave you feeling like you missed some of the best parts of the experience after paying for the full price of the ticket.
You can also buy a ticket on a cruise from a different company at a different pier that sails around Alcatraz but does not stop at the island, so you see different views of the rugged coast and prison that can’t be seen from land. Our page about this option is located here.
You buy ticket for specific Alcatraz tours via the ferry from Pier 33 in San Francisco to Alcatraz Island. You then can return on any daytime return ferry so long as there’s space available. Once in a while you may have to wait in line for a half hour until the next ferry comes if it’s a busy day and a popular time to return to San Francisco.
Insiders Tip: The 8:45 Alcatraz tours Ferry sailing is called the “Early Bird” and gives you the least crowded visit to the park. Crowds are smaller from November through March than they are in the warmer months.
Nighttime Alcatraz Tours
If you choose the nighttime Alcatraz tours (which have additional features and activities) you have a choice of two departures and two returning Alcatraz Ferry times. For some guests the chance to see the prison in the dark is exciting, while others love the views of the nighttime San Francisco skyline.
Check the second column below for the limited number of ferry departures and returns for the nighttime tours.
The Behind the Scenes Tour
These new Alcatraz tours with an experienced and knowledgeable guide gives you access to areas that normally are closed to the public, and is limited to a cap of 30 guests. This is an extended experience, so you’ll hear a lot more details, learn a lot more history and have the chance to ask a lot more questions. All guests must be at least 12 years old.
Alcatraz has steep roads, paths and stairways, and Alcatraz Cruises accurately classifies the Behind the Scenes Tour as “physically strenuous.” If you’re not used to hiking in similar environments or similar exercise and activities it’s probably a poor choice for your visit.