How to Get Alcatraz Tickets When They’re Sold Out
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 special quotas of 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 or three or even four 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: Make sure that any company running these ads is registered in the State of California, as is required of all legitimate tour operators. This will protect you from fraudulent companies.
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.
Insiders Tip: If you are staying at a major San Francisco hotel their concierge desk may have relationships with different tour companies. Anyone they recommend will have been vetted by the hotel so you’ll be able to proceed more confidently.
Option 2. The Sleep-Deprived Might-Not-Work Option: 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.
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. The ticket office will take cash or credit cards.
Standby Tickets. The next people waiting in line when they run out of regular tickets — if they’re right at the front of the line — will be given standby tickets for an Alcatraz sailing. You can get standby tickets for a DIFFERENT cruise than you wanted: your plans may be for a morning visit and you could get standby tickets for the nighttime tour, or vice versa.
If you get one of these very rare standby tickets (there might be only 12 of them sold on a given day) they have a priority number printed right on them. When you show up to see if there is any space available on the selected sailing you don’t have to come early to get in line. They’ll call out “Standby tickets 1 and 2,” and if you have those tickets you get to go.
If you buy a standby ticket and there is no space, the money you paid for the standby ticket will be refunded automatically to your credit card.
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 the winter apart from the December holiday period. 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 file a complai.
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.