Visiting Alcatraz Island
Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting
What To Know Before You Visit Alcatraz Island
FAQs About Visiting Alcatraz
What Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit The Island?
To avoid crowds, schedule your visit during the first two weeks of November, the first two weeks of December and anytime during the winter months of January through March. To experience the nicest weather, plan your Alcatraz visit for April-May or September-October. (Surprisingly, summer actually brings cold and foggy weather to San Francisco and the Island.)
How Much Time Should I Allow For My Visit?
You can stay on Alcatraz Island as long as you like, but allow at least 2 ½ to 3 hours for sailing to the Island, taking the Cellhouse audio tour, exploring the rest of the Island and its historic exhibits and returning to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing. The trip over to Alcatraz Island is 12-15 minutes each way and is factored into the suggested time of 2 ½ to 3 hours.
What Can I See And Do On Alcatraz?
The National Park Service volunteers & docents offer guided programs throughout the day; frequently taking visitors into seldom-seen areas of the Island. The compelling “Doing Time – the Cellhouse Audio Tour” features the voices of former guards and inmates. An orientation video with historical footage of the Island is shown every half hour. In addition, museum displays and several bookstores are available. From late September until February 1, when bird nesting season has ended, you can explore the Island’s historic parade ground and hike down the Agave Trail to the water’s edge.
What Months Are Best For Viewing Nesting Seabirds?
February through August. Nest building and egg laying occur in April and May, and chicks begin to hatch in mid-June. Visit the National Park Service’s birds of Alcatraz.
How Should I Dress When Visiting The Island?
The weather on Alcatraz is unpredictable and liable to change unexpectedly, so be prepared by bringing along a light jacket or sweater no matter how nice the day starts out. The best advice is always to dress in layers. Wear rain gear during wet winter months. (Rain gear is available for purchase at the Island’s bookstores.) Wear comfortable walking shoes with grip-type soles. Avoid wearing sandals, leather-soled shoes, high heels and open-toe shoes. Visit our what to wear page.
What Waterbirds Can I See On The Island?
Western gulls are seen all over the Island. Along the West Road, Brandt’s Cormorants can easily be viewed. Snowy Egrets and Black Crowned Night Herons can also be seen from the West Road. Pelagic Cormorants, Pigeon Guillemots, Canada Geese, Mallards and several species of songbirds are also seen on the Island. Visit the National Park Service’s birds of Alcatraz.
How Accessible Is Alcatraz?
Much of Alcatraz is steep and hilly, so be prepared for walking long distances uphill. The distance from the dock to the prison at the top of the Island is about 1/4 mile (.4 km) and the elevation change is 130 feet (40 meters). This is equivalent to climbing a thirteen-story building.
Visitors unable to make the climb up Alcatraz’s roads may take advantage of S.E.A.T. (Sustainable Easy Access Transport) Tram — an electric shuttle that meets each scheduled arrival at the Alcatraz dock and transports visitors requiring mobility assistance from the dock to the prison building. S.E.A.T. returns visitors requiring mobility assistance from the prison building back to the dock at regular intervals throughout the day. Visitors requiring mobility assistance may be accompanied by one attendant in their party if space is available. Families with small children and strollers cannot be accommodated on S.E.A.T. Seating is on a first come, first serve basis. The S.E.A.T. schedule is listed on the Accessibility page.
The following areas are completely wheelchair accessible:
- Alcatraz dock area
- Prison building main floor
- All bookstores
- Museum displays
- Island theater
- Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing
- All Alcatraz Cruises vessels
Where Can I Park?
Please Note: There is no parking on Pier 33.
On-street parking in the Fisherman’s Wharf area can be hard to find, and nearly every space has a parking meter. Parking meters take nickels, dimes and quarters, and credit cards. Rates range from $.25 to $6.00 per hour. Parking meters in the area operate 7 days a week. Automobile break-ins are frequent in the area so please do not leave any valuables in your car. We recommend taking public transportation or being dropped off.
Commercial Parking Lots:
There are fifteen commercial lots within a five-block radius of Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing, with a total of more than 3,000 parking spaces. The closest and most convenient lots are located at 55 Francisco Street and 80 Francisco Street. Automobile break-ins are frequent in the area so please do not leave any valuables in your car. Rates can be as high as $40-$60 per day for parking. We recommend taking public transportation or being dropped off.
For more information on parking in the Fisherman’s Wharf area visit Plan Your Trip: Parking.
How Are The Tours Different?
The Alcatraz Island Day Tour includes round-trip ferry transportation to the Island and the award-winning Cellhouse audio tour with actual interviews of former guards and inmates.
The Alcatraz Island Night Tour is a unique program limited to a few hundred visitors per evening and includes special programs, tours, and activities not offered during the day. The ticket includes round-trip ferry transportation with on-board narration, a guided tour from Dock to Cellhouse, the Cellhouse audio tour, a keepsake souvenir brochure, recreation use fee and a variety of special programs and presentations offered only at night, are all included. The Night Tour begins with a live narration on the ferry which cruises around Alcatraz Island before docking. Upon arrival, a ranger or a docent will lead a group on a short guided tour from the dock to the Cellhouse. Night Tours are only available Tuesday through Saturday.
The Alcatraz Island Behind The Scenes Tour is the most complete experience that is only available to a maximum of 30 people per departure. This two hour guided tour covers a different route and contains different content than the Alcatraz Cellhouse Audio Tour or the daily guided tours and programs. It explores a variety of “off the beaten path” areas of Alcatraz Island not normally accessible to the public on a regular tour. Destinations may include the New Industries Building, the Officers’ Row Gardens, the upper levels of D Block, the Hospital, A Block, Citadel and/or the Chapel, Theatre and other areas as they become available. Specific destinations are not guaranteed. The tour route may vary depending on safety and accessibility concerns, weather, construction, bird habitat, group size, etc. You will be guided by a knowledgeable and entertaining Park Ranger who will keep you captivated with stories from the past. You may then choose to stay afterwards to join the regular Night Tour program. Children under the age of 12 are not allowed on the Behind The Scenes Tour. No refunds will be given if Adult or Senior tickets are purchased for children under age 12. For more details visit our Behind The Scenes Tour FAQs.
What Time Do We Come Back From The Island?
The return trips are listed on the Departure Schedule page and also posted at the Island dock. You can stay on Alcatraz Island as long as you like if you take the Day Tour because multiple ferries depart the Island each day.
Note: The final ferry to San Francisco is 6:30PM if you choose a Day Tour. The final ferry to San Francisco is 9:25PM if you choose a Behind The Scenes Tour or Night Tour.
The ride from Alcatraz Island to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing is approximately 12-15 minutes. Boats are loaded on a first-come first-serve basis.
Where Do I Pick Up My Tickets?
If you do not have tickets already when you arrive at Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing, you can check availability and purchase tickets at the Ticketbooth. If you have already purchased tickets, there is a separate line for visitors to pick up prepaid tickets (Will Call) at the Ticketbooth. Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing is at the foot of Bay Street on the Embarcadero, between the intersections of Embarcadero & Bay Streets and Embarcadero & Sansome Streets. Please arrive one half hour prior to your departure time to check in. You must present valid government-issued photo identification, along with the credit card used to purchase the tickets. A photocopy of a passport suffices as valid photo identification.
Are Minors Under The Age Of 18 Allowed To Tour Alcatraz Island Without The Accompaniment Of An Adult?
No. Minors under the age of 18 are not allowed to tour Alcatraz Island without the accompaniment of an adult. An adult must be with them at all times while on their tour of Alcatraz Island. Children under the age of 18 who are visiting Alcatraz Island unaccompanied by an adult will be sent back to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing and no refunds will be given.
Can I Bring Luggage/Coolers/Oversized Backpacks Or Packages To Alcatraz Island?
No. Luggage, coolers, oversized backpacks or packages are not allowed on Alcatraz Island due to safety concerns. The National Park Service and Alcatraz Cruises comply with Department of Homeland Security guidelines. Ferry departure and arrival points receive a great deal of scrutiny from the United States Coast Guard and are regulated as closely as airports. For this reason luggage, coolers and oversized backpacks and large packages are not allowed on Alcatraz Island. There are no storage facilities in the Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing area. Alcatraz Cruises does not store luggage for ticketed passengers. There is luggage storage at the California Welcome Center at PIER 39, located approximately 1/3 of a mile north of Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing. Please make arrangements for the storage of luggage and over-sized items prior to arriving at Alcatraz Landing. Ticketed passengers arriving at Alcatraz Landing with luggage, coolers, over-sized backpacks and packages may not be able to visit Alcatraz Island. Thank you for your cooperation in this regard.