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How do you get to Alcatraz Island? The only way to get there is on a ferry run by Alcatraz Cruises to The Rock. Cruises depart from Pier 33 (location: between Bay St. and Chestnut St. on the Embarcadero in San Francisco).

Hornblower Hybrid ferry
Hornblower Hybrid ferry
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Hornblower Cruises operates three Alcatraz ferries on behalf of the National Park Service. The Hornblower Hybrid, the Alcatraz Clipper and the Alcatraz Flyer are green-certified ships.

Alcatraz tickets

It is best to buy tickets to Alcatraz in advance, because they are often sold out during peak summer months. Printing out e-tickets at home will save you time standing in line.

Taxis, trolleys and pedicab shuttles can pick you up and drop you off at locations throughout Fisherman's Wharf. Which streetcar should you take to Alcatraz Landing? The MUNI F line.

At Pier 33, you can buy tickets in person. Alcatraz boat tours feature discount prices for seniors over 62 years old and families with two kids. Children under four are free. Alcatraz Cruises allows you to buy a San Francisco CityPASS, which includes an Alcatraz day tour for no extra cost.

Tours of Alcatraz

You can choose a day or night tour of Alcatraz, or a combined tour of Alcatraz and Angel Island. Day tours are 2½ hours long.

How long does it take to visit both islands? Plan on staying 5½ hours.

Besides the boat ride to and from Alcatraz, tours include a 45-minute-long video. In it, inmates and wardens describe life and work on the island, as well as stories about successful and unsuccessful escapes.

Cellhouse tour

SEAT (Sustainable Easy Access Transport) trams transport visitors from the dock to the entrance, as an alternative to the steep 0.4 kilometer (quarter-mile) walk. An elevator provides accessibility to each level of the cell house that is on the audio tour.

Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, California
Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, California

On the cell block audio tour, you enter from the bottom of the building, through the entrance prisoners originally used, rather than from the top. The cellhouse tour takes you up through the building and ends in a 3,000-square-foot museum store below the dining hall.

Cell locks were altered so that you can hear the clank of cell doors closing without the risk of being locked inside.

Alcatraz tours are offered in several languages besides English. In addition to Alcatraz history, rangers and guides tell you about other people who lived on the island, such as lighthouse-keepers and wardens' families. (You can still see the gardens that they planted.)

Film Festival

In early February, the Castro Theater (address: 429 Castro St., San Francisco) holds an Alcatraz Film Festival. Participants view a video about Alcatraz to orient them to the island.

Travel Information

Alcatraz Cruises: www.alcatrazcruises.com

Visit California: www.visitcalifornia.com

More things to see and do in California:

California Wine Country Romantic Getaway

Monarch Butterflies Migrate to Pacific Grove

Kayaking with Otters in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Disney California Adventure

San Francisco Chinatown Walking Tour with Wok Wiz