Visiting Alcatraz Island
I have wanted to visit Alcatraz Prison for as long as I can remember. For years it was the only thing drawing me to San Francisco for a visit...until I started drinking and learned about Napa. Blame it on my addiction to crime tv & novels. Anyways, Alcatraz was the first thing we did after dropping our bags off at our hotel. You should definitely purchase tickets in advance for the ferry that will take you over to the island. There is only one ferry (the one that I linked) that is actually allowed to dock at Alcatraz. The ferry does have indoor and outdoor space - of course you want to be outside for the views, but when it is 50 degrees, windy, and raining…it’s not that pleasant.
The ride to Alcatraz is about 15 minutes and there is a snack bar on board that serves alcohol, however alcohol can only be consumed on the ferry ride back, and snacks can only be eaten onboard and in the landing area when you exit the boat - you can’t walk around with food on the island.
Once you depart the ferry they “corral” you for a few minutes so a Ranger can give you a briefing before you go off on your own. Alcatraz Island is a National Park and one of the top tourist destinations in the United States. That being said - you are not allowed to remove anything from the island; no rocks, flowers, or feathers from all the sea birds. During this briefing they also told us there was an ex-prisoner/turned author who was signing books in the giftshop that day. They have multiple guards & ex-prisoners that have written books on their experiences on the island throughout the week to do signings and talk to visitors. Once you do the tour you’ll be shocked that the sweet old man in the giftshop was such a dangerous criminal that he had to be locked up in one of the most infamous prisons in US history.
When they told us the audio tour was “award winning” I kind of rolled my eyes a bit. I’m not typically one for audio tours, I prefer to read the plaques and information at most museums, but...the audio tour was free. And to be completely honest, I wish I could take back my eye roll. The Alcatraz audio tour is so well done and easy to follow - do not pass on it when you visit the Island!
There are just so many interesting facts and stories about Alcatraz, and I loved learning more about them on this visit. The piece of information that really shocked me was that the guard’s families lived on the island with them and there were children RAISED on Alcatraz. When you see the island, and how close the guard’s houses were to the prison itself, it is really kind of shocking that they would have their children that close to the country’s most dangerous criminals.
They recommend about 3 hours for your trip to Alcatraz. The ferry has set departure times throughout the day and you can hop on whatever one works best for you - there is no set ticket for the return ride. We ended up spending about 2 hours on the island but we would have probably spent longer if it hadn’t been so cold & windy.
After heading back on the ferry (and grabbing a glass of red wine to warm us up at the bar) we walked down the Embarcadero, stopping at a few places for happy hour drinks before going to dinner at La Mar.
If there is one thing you NEED to do in San Francisco, I definitely think it is Alcatraz. The history is amazing and the ferry ride out gives you awesome views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline.