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 Alcatraz tickets sell out WEEKS OR MONTHS 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.
Scroll down for lots of Insider Tips on how to make sure you don’t get ripped off, and how to choose the right kinds of tickets.
When It’s Too Late and Alcatraz Tickets Are Sold Out
“What if we’re already here and there are no Alcatraz tickets available? Is there any other way to get last minute tickets?” Alcatraz is the only state park I can think of where tickets for a single daytime visit can sell out far in advance (though Muir Woods is implementing a similar system in 2018), so it’s natural that many people are surprised and disappointed when they arrive in San Francisco and can’t buy tickets. There are ways to get last minute tickets, although there can be extra hassles or extra costs in the process.
Please click here for our page that covers last minute Alcatraz ticket options, with local secrets that sometimes can save the day.
Avoiding Hidden Charges on Alcatraz Tickets
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: 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 the website 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. As of 2018 the Parks Service is taking applications from competitors who want to take over serving this route, and it’s always possible that for the next contract they will choose a different company.
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: