When I think about San Francisco, some of the first things I think of are the Golden Gate Bridge and AT&T Park where the Giants play. However, for many people, when they think of Alcatraz Island across the Bay. Granted it is impressive, and there is a lot of history of the island. Most people remember it as a former high-security prison that existed from July 1, 1934, to sometime in 1963. We had a great time checking in out while in the area in June of 2010 for a friend’s wedding.
Alcatraz is also the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast, early military fortifications, and natural features such as rock pools and a seabird colony (mostly western gulls, cormorants, and egrets). According to a 1971 documentary on the history of Alcatraz, the island measures 1,675 feet by 590 feet and is 135 feet at its highest point during mean tide. However, the total area of the island is reported to be 22 acres.
Some of the landmarks on the island include the Main Cellhouse, Dining Hall, Library, Lighthouse, the ruins of the Warden’s House and Officers’ Club, Parade Grounds, Building 64, Water Tower, New Industries Building, Model Industries Building, and the Recreation Yard. Today Alcatraz Island is open to tours, and visitors can reach the island by ferry ride from Pier 33, near Fisherman’s Wharf. This is what we did. More information is further in this post.
Once we landed on Alcatraz we stopped in and watched a short film on the history of the island. From its military background to strategically protect the city in the first world war, to a military prison, to federal penitentiary, and then later claimed by Native Americans. Such amazing history in this place.
There was also a Ranger who was there to explain some of the rules, give us a little more history, and answer any questions. While we were there we met someone who had a great uncle who was a guard it was a prison. We all thought that was pretty cool. Even the Ranger said he had only met a few people that had ever been on the island when it was active.
We were eventually able to roam around the buildings. It was so surreal and I couldn’t help but think of what it was like when there were so many people imprisoned. It was fun wandering through the prison, seeing the jail cells, and learning about famous prisoners. Another surreal moment was going into a cell and having the doors shut. It really gives you the real experience of being in an isolated cell in complete darkness. It’s scary! I would not have been happy to have been locked up here, that’s for sure.
Before I end this post, I wanted to let you know that there is no food available on the Island. You can bring food, but can only eat it in the port area. Also, if you are doing a night tour, bundle up as the ferry ride across the bay is freezing. Also, the most important thing, make sure to take notes of the ferry times so that you can get back to the mainland on time & not get stuck there longer than you want. That couldn’t be pleasant. Here is a link to their website with more information than what I am posting below. Hope you enjoyed learning about our visit to Alcatraz Island.
Alcatraz Island Visitor Information
Includes: Round-trip ferry ride to Alcatraz Island, Award-winning Cellhouse audio Tour, and daily optional programs and exhibits
Tour the Cellhouse at your own pace with the award-winning audio presentation “Doing Time: The Alcatraz Cellhouse Tour”. Stop to picture yourself in a dark solitary confinement cell, hear the stories of life inside from former inmates, and feel the intensity of a prison breakout from correctional officers who lived and worked on the Island
Daily from 8:40 am to 3:50 pm. These tours generally last 45 minutes to an hour. Tours and times vary daily, please check the program board when you disembark at the Island dock. It is recommended that you arrive at least one-half hour prior to your departure time.
FYI – the Cellhouse audio tour is available in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
Adult $39.90 (12 and older )
Senior (62+) $37.65
Child (5-11) $24.40
Family Pack $120.25
Includes: Round-trip ferry ride to Alcatraz Island, Onboard narration during the round-trip ferry ride, Award-winning Cellhouse audio tour, optional programs, and exhibits, as well as docent-guided tours and talks.
Available Tuesday – Saturday. The tour begins as you leave the Landing and enjoy a guided tour around Alcatraz Island by ferry, pointing out the hidden spots used for attempted escapes and prison structures unreachable by foot. Once docked, a ranger-led walk up the hill to the Cellhouse stops to highlight the layers of history from pre-Civil War to military cannon and family life on the Island. It is recommended that you arrive at least one-half hour prior to your departure time.
Junior (12-17) $46.25
Child (5-11) $28.00
Senior (62+) $44.00
Behind the Scenes Tour
Includes: Round-trip ferry ride to Alcatraz Island, intimate two (2) hour guided Behind The Scenes tour with 30 or fewer guests, award-winning Cellhouse audio tour, optional programs, and exhibits, docent-guided tours, and talks.
The Behind the Scenes Tour is a unique program limited to just 30 or fewer guests per departure. It includes special programs, tours and activities not offered during the day. Be sure to check out the visiting and permanent exhibits during your visit to Alcatraz Island. This tour is available Tuesday – Saturday, and it’s recommended that you arrive at least one-half hour prior to your departure time.
Please note: Children under the age of 12 are not allowed on the Alcatraz Behind The Scenes Tour. Please do not purchase tickets for children under the age of 12 for this tour as they will not be able to board the vessels for the tour and refunds will not be available.
Junior ((12-17) $88.25
Senior (62+) $86.00
Misc Important Information
The tours take off at the Alcatraz Landing area at Pier 33 includes the Ticketbooth, waiting and boarding areas, all of which are accessible. There are also accessible bathrooms, but FYI, there no are no wheelchairs available for loan.
Assisted Listening Devices (ALD’s) are available for these tactile models and interpretive exhibits and can be requested at the Pier 33 Ticketbooth. ALD’s for the Alcatraz Island Cellhouse Tour can also be picked up at the Pier 33 Ticketbooth. You will be asked for your credit card in case the ALD’s are not returned at the end of your visit. There is no charge for Assisted Listening Devices unless they are lost or damaged. Each of the tactile models, as well as the other exhibits at Pier 33, including a Braille description.
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