Alcatraz Island Tours and Tickets
In this guide, you will learn how to visit Alcatraz, what to do if Alcatraz tickets are sold out, where to buy tickets, and which Alcatraz tours are the best. Additionally, we have also included a list of various boat companies that cruise by Alcatraz, and how you can take a self-guided tour of the island. Alcatraz is an incredible place with a unique and fascinating history. Do not miss this gem (and Free Tours by Foot) during your next visit to San Francisco!
There is only one company authorized to visit Alcatraz Island, Alcatraz Cruises, though several boat tour companies offer guided commentary of the island as they cruise past it, none are allowed to dock there. Private boats are also prevented from landing on the island. You could purchase your tickets through Alcatraz Cruises or with any of a number of sightseeing tour companies in San Francisco that offer Alcatraz Island as part of a combination ticket.
The National Park Service provides a Cellhouse Audio Tour that is included in the cost of your ferry ticket. At your own pace, you can follow in the footsteps of former prison guards and inmates. This tour is very well done and worth the time. The Cellhouse Audio Tour is available in English, Spanish, German, Mandarin, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Dutch and Portuguese. The tour is also provided in Braille in English.
There are 5 ticket/tour options. We list 4 directly below. Click here for the night tour ticket.
Early Bird Tour (Daily, 8:45 am)
Beat the crowd, be the first one on the island during the less busy, Early Bird Tour. Includes ferry ride to and from Alcatraz (20 minutes each way), a self-guided audio tour of the prison lasting 45 minutes, and time for self-exploration of the grounds. Most guests typically spend about 2 hours on the island. Departs from Pier 33.
- Adult (18-61): $37.25
- Junior (12-17): $37.25 (must be supervised by an Adult)
- Senior (62+): $35.25
- Child (5-11): $23.00 (must be supervised by an Adult)
- Family Tickets: $112.75 (includes 2 Adult+2 Children)
- Toddlers (0-4): Free
Reviews of the Early Bird Tour: Alcatraz is one of the most popular attractions for tourists visiting San Francisco, so it’s no surprise that it comes highly rated on TripAdvisor. The Early Bird Tour is ideal for early morning risers as it allows visitors to beat the crowds and still have a free afternoon to pack with other fun activities. In fact, the Early Bird Tour is so popular that as of Spring 2017, there are only 4 and 5 star reviews written about it. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
Day Tour (Daily, 9:10 AM – 3:50 PM)
The Day Tour is the same content as the ‘Early Bird’, but with higher attendance rates and twelve departure opportunities. You won’t be alone on the island as you self-explore during these times!
Departure Times (from Pier 33):
9:10 AM 9:30 AM 10:00 AM 10:30 AM 11:00 AM 11:30 AM 12:00 PM
12:30 PM 1:00 PM 1:30PM 2:10PM 2:40PM 3:20PM 3:50PM
Ticket Prices: Same as the Early Bird tickets.
Reviews of the Day Tour: Identical to the Early Bird Tour but with a later start time, the Day Tour is also very well liked by most guests. Don’t be disappointed with the fact that this is an audio tour! “Doing Time” is an award-winning audio tour that is described by some visitors as the “best audio tour possibly worldwide” and the “highlight of the tour.” Negative reviews are rare and usually come from guests who found the island too crowded. If you’re worried about this, opt for the Early Bird Tour instead! TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
Behind the Scenes Tour (Thurs-Mon, 4:20 PM & 4:50 PM)
The Behind the Scenes Tour offers guests a much more intimate look into the history of Alcatraz. The tour includes everything offered in the Early Bird and Day Tour such as the ferry ride to and from Alcatraz (20 minutes each way), a self-guided audio tour of the prison lasting 45 minutes, and time for self-exploration of the grounds, in addition to a personally guided small group tour that lasts approximately 2 hours and takes guests “off the beaten path” and “behind the scenes” of Alcatraz. Also included are special programs and presentations offered by staff as part of the Alcatraz Night Tour, which lasts approximately 1.5 hours. This is advertized as a “physically strenuous tour” that lasts between 4-5 hours in total. Alcatraz Cruises suggests that guests eat before the tour, as there is no food service on Alcatraz. Departs from Pier 33.
Departure Times (from Pier 33):
4:20 pm & 4:50 pm from mid-March until mid-November
2:10 pm & 2:40 pm from mid-November until mid-March
- Adult (18-61): $87.50
- Junior (12-17): $83.50 (must be supervised by an Adult)
- Senior (62+): $81.50
- Children (under 12): Not applicable. This tour has a minimum age of 12 due to its lengthy duration.
Reviews of the Behind the Scenes Tour: This is the perfect tour for those hoping to really maximize their time on Alcatraz. Though reviews of this tour are limited, they are all extremely positive and praise the tour for offering such thorough insight into the history of the prison. A really fun tour, but be sure to bring snacks as it’s a long day on the island and there are no food and beverage facilities. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
Alcatraz & Angel Island Tour (Seasonal)
This is a combination tour that visits 2 of the most well known islands in the Bay Area: Alcatraz and Angel Island. The tour includes the ferry ride to and from Alcatraz and Angel Island, a self-guided audio tour of the prison lasting 45 minutes, and a one-hour narrated Tram Tour of Angel Island. Total tour lasts approximately 5.5 hours. Departs from Pier 33.
- Adult (18-61): $71.00
- Junior (12-17): $71.00 (must be supervised by an Adult)
- Child (5-11): $47.75 (must be supervised by an Adult)
- Senior (62+): $69.00
- Toddlers (0-4): Free
Reviews of Alcatraz & Angel Island Tour: Though only offered seasonally, this tour is also extremely popular with guests who want to experience Alcatraz but also witness the beautiful scenery available on Angel Island. Many reviewers write that they opted to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on Angel Island after their Alcatraz visit — making for a perfect afternoon! TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
There are 3 main options to purchase tickets to Alcatraz Island. There is also a chance for standby-tickets.
You can purchase tickets directly from the Alcatraz Cruises website. This is the most common way to purchase. Unless you are planning on also purchasing a bus, bike or boat combo ticket, this is also the most affordable and reliable option. We recommend that you purchase tickets about 90 days in advance, as they tend to sell out very quickly during the busy season (summer and holidays).
You can purchase from 3rd party vendors near Pier 39. These vendors purchase tickets en masse from Alcatraz Cruises, so be prepared to pay higher prices or purchase their pre-arranged packages (which means you’ll have to buy Alcatraz tickets along with something else, usually a Bay cruise).
Lastly, you can purchase a ticket to Alcatraz as part of a combo package with other tours, such as a hop-on, hop-off bus, popular attractions and/or for a day trip to Muir Woods or Wine Country. Check out our section on Tour Company Combos to learn more.
GETTING TO DEPARTURE SPOT PIER 33:
The Alcatraz Cruises boats depart from Pier 33, on the northern waterfront of San Francisco. All boarding members must have an ID present to board with their ticket.You have a number of transportation options to arrive at Pier 33:
In our opinion, this is the easiest way to get to Pier 33. If you are starting your trip anywhere on Market Street or along the waterfront, the streetcar can take you right to Pier 33. Just get off at the Bay Street Station. Visit this page to get more information on schedules, maps, and pricing on streetcar rides.
There are three Muni buses you can take. Click on any of these links to go to a route map and schedule for each bus.
You can drive directly to Pier 33 and you can get dropped off right in front of the boat loading zone. Check out our Google Map to see exactly where the Pier is. You can reserve a guaranteed parking space in advance through Parking Panda. We have also put together a map of the closest parking lots in the area:
Note: If you have to park, be sure to arrive early! We would suggest arriving up to 45 minutes before your scheduled departure. Parking can be extremely difficult along the waterfront, especially in the busy spring and summer months. You don’t want to miss your departure time, so be sure to give yourself enough time to find parking and walk to the dock.
How Much Time do you Need for an Alcatraz Tour
An Alcatraz tour is a four-part trip:
1. The ferry ride to Alcatraz
2. The audio tour of the prison
3. Exploring the island
4. The ferry ride home
The ferry ride takes about 20 minutes each way. The audio tour is a 45 minute self-guided tour. The biggest variable in how long your journey will take is your exploration of the island. While on Alcatraz, we would encourage you to take one of the many ranger-led talks in the prison dining hall. These talks usually run about 20 minutes and cover topics as wide ranging as escape attempts, the types of plants on the island, and the history of the island itself.
In general, we would recommend that you plan about 2.5 hours for the entire trip.
Alcatraz Cruises offers night tours of the island, departing twice a day, Thursday through Monday. Departures for the night tours leave from Pier 33.
Night Tour (Thurs-Mon, 5:55 pm & 6:30 pm)
This tour offers more features than the Early Bird Tour and Day Tour for a little extra money. On the night tour, you receive a narrated boat ride to the island to learn more about the history of Alcatraz, before it was a prison. You also receive a guided tour from a specially trained National Park Ranger. Additionally, Alcatraz Prison hosts special talks and lectures during the evening tours that are not offered during the day. The 6:30 pm (18:30) departure time limits your time allowed on the island. The last ferry leaving Alcatraz departs at 9:25 pm (21:25).
- Adult (18-61): $44.25
- Junior (12-17): $43.25 (must be supervised by an Adult)
- Child (5-11): $26.50 (must be supervised by an Adult)
- Senior (62+): $41.25
- Toddlers (0-4): Free
- Learn how to purchase the night tour.
Reviews of the Night Tour: The Night Tour of Alcatraz is especially highly rated as it includes perks not otherwise included in the daytime tours. For example, visitors of the Night Tour comment on the added pleasure of seeing the skyline and two bridges on a clear evening as they return to the mainland, as well as visiting the hospital and cell lockdown. Though this is not a ghost tour, some guests report that they found the Night Tour to be a bit creepy, especially when visiting the solitary confinement area. However, most seem to think the experience is more educational and interesting rather than scary, so it really just comes down to personal preference! TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
Due to the island’s huge popularity, Alcatraz Cruises advises visitors to book their tickets 90 days in advance, especially during high season. However, for those who aren’t able to secure tickets ahead of time, there are a few last-minute booking options.
Buy Combination Tour Ticket:
This is the option if your time is worth more than your money. Several companies sell combo tour tickets that combine Alcatraz with other tours, such as a hop-on, hop-off tour, or an activity, such as a day trip to Muir Woods or Napa Valley. This is a reliable option, as many of these companies buy tickets in bulk to have certainty for their guests. Therefore, when Alcatraz Cruises is sold out, these companies may not be. Check out our combo ticket section to find out more.
Alcatraz Cruises update their website several times a day to add tickets that have been canceled by guests. Be sure to check their website periodically to see if your preferred dates open up.
Same Day Tickets from Alcatraz Cruises:
Though their tickets are often sold out months in advance, Alcatraz Cruises sets aside a limited number of same-day tickets that are available on a first-come, first-served basis at Pier 33. The box office opens at 7:30 am, though due to the limited availability, people line up early to secure tickets. So, this option is a gamble. The maximum number of tickets sold to one person is one and photo ID is required.
Standby Tickets for the Night Tour:
Guests can also get standby tickets for the night tour by lining up before the box office opens at 7:30 am. You are then given a standby ticket and told to come back right before the 5:55 pm and 6:30 pm departures to see if there are any no-shows. The standby tickets are honored in the order by which they were purchased in the morning, from first to last. Due to its popularity, a very limited number tickets are available via standby everyday. This option is also a gamble, as you are not guaranteed tickets, even if you get standby status.
Combo packages are actually one of the easiest methods for getting your tickets to Alcatraz Island. You can purchase tickets to the island separately, but they are very popular and can be difficult to obtain. Alternatively, a combo tour helps guests secure Alcatraz tickets, while also enjoying other popular sites.
Big Bus and City Sightseeing combine their hop-on, hop-off bus tours of the city with a ticket to Alcatraz and offer the best value for most readers. Similarly, San Francisco Shuttle Tours also blends a bus tour with an Alcatraz ticket, though unlike the others this is not a hop-on, hop-off experience. Extranomical Tours and Tower Tours, on the other hand, combine other day trips such as Muir Woods and Wine Country with an Alcatraz ticket.
City Sightseeing Tours
City Sightseeing offers an Alcatraz Combo Tour which includes a 3-day hop-on, hop-off tour featuring 4 different loops: The Official City Tour, Downtown San Francisco Tour, San Francisco Night Tour, and Sausalito Bus Tour. The ticket also comes with an Alcatraz Island Tour, which includes transportation to and from Alcatraz, a 45 minute audio tour, and free time to explore on your own. This option is very similar to what Big Bus has to offer, though it is a 3-day pass rather than a 24 hour pass.
- San Francisco Hop-on, Hop-off Alcatraz Tour – From $109.99 per person
Reviews: CitySightseeing is a very popular tour company with a fairly good reputation. The quality of the guided commentary varies depending on the driver, though most visitors find it informative and enjoyable. Some guests had trouble hearing the driver due to a poor PA system on the bus, however most of those comments come from several months ago, suggesting that the problem has likely been remedied. Overall, visitors who traveled with CitySightseeing found the experience very enjoyable and straightforward. TripAdvisor Rating: 3.5 stars.
Big Bus Tours
Big Bus Tours offers an Alcatraz Package Tour that combines an Alcatraz Island ticket with a 1-day hop-on, hop-off Big Bus Tour. The latter includes a live English speaking guide, pre-recorded commentary in 10 different languages, drop-off and pick-up at 20 different key landmarks, and a voucher for free ‘pint and play’. Buses are meant to arrive at each stop every 10-20 minutes, making it extremely easy to travel around the city. Additionally, guests also receive a ticket for the Alcatraz Day Tour at an available time.
This package isn’t the quite the cheapest package (at least during the summer), but it just may be the best value out there.
- Alcatraz Combo Ticket
- Alcatraz Ferry and Entrance Ticket
- Big Bus Ultimate Ticket (good for 3 days of hop-on, hop-off bus service)
- Big Bus Sausalito Tour
- Big Bus Night Tour
- 3 Free Walking Tours (Northbeach Tour, Chinatown Tour, Barbary Coast Tour)
- 1-Hour Bike Rental
- Voucher for Player’s Arcade and Grill
- June – September
- $140 for Adults
- $100 for Children
- October – May
- $110 for Adults
- $85 for Children (5-15)
- June – September
Reviews: Big Bus Tours receives lots of positive feedback for their reasonable prices and ease of transportation. While reviewers recommend this package for all of its activities (kid friendly!), there is a consistent complaint of busses taking more than 10-20 minutes promised to reach certain stops during high traffic or busy weekends. However, guests who were aware of potential delays find the issue less problematic. We recommend this package for the planner who knows how to use a map and plan a day to maximize time, since hopping on and off this bus to cross the city may eat up a lot of it. TripAdvisor Rating: 4 stars.
Extranomical Tours sell several different types of day trips from San Francisco, most of which can be combined with an Alcatraz ticket. Though sold as a package, the ticket for Alcatraz is good for the day after whatever day trip you choose to combine it with. With daily departures, Extranomical Tours offers guests a lot of variety and availability. They also offer to pick-up and drop-off at almost any hotel in San Francisco, making the door to door service very convenient.
- Yosemite with Alcatraz Tour – From $201 per person
- Muir Woods, Wine Country, and Alcatraz Tour – From $153 per person
- Wine Lovers with Alcatraz Tour – From $195 per person
- Muir Woods, Sausalito, and Alcatraz Tour – From $110 per person
- MORE INFO AND TO BOOK.
Reviews: Reviews for Extranomical Tours are generally very positive, with many guests referring to their experience as “wonderful” and something that “should not be missed.” The company’s guides also receive high praises for being “knowledgeable, humorous and well organized.” Though some guests complain that the microphone on the bus was inadequate, the infrequency of these comments suggests that this issue has been fixed. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
Tower Tours offers 2 different Alcatraz Combo packages: (1) Muir Woods with Alcatraz and (2) Grand City with Alcatraz. Both are 2-day tours and include all the usual perks of visiting Alcatraz, such as a round-trip ferry ride to the island, a 40-minute audio tour, and free time to explore. The following day, guests embark on either a day trip to Muir Woods or on a Grand City Tour of San Francisco. Both trips are approximately 3.5 hours and subject to availability.
- Muir Woods with Alcatraz – From $165 per person
- Grand City with Alcatraz – From $165 per person (more info)
- All 3 (Muir Woods, Alcatraz and Grand City) – $190/adult | $140/child (more info)
Reviews: The Alcatraz Combo Tours by Tower Tours come highly rated with excellent reviews. Though this company maintains a 4 star rating on TripAdvisor, their Muir Woods and Grand City Tours are particularly highly rated. Commentators describe Muir Woods as “beautiful” and the guides on the Grand City Tour as “excellent” and “entertaining.” TripAdvisor Rating: 4 stars.
Dylan’s Tours offers an extensive 9-hour tour that brings you to some of the most popular neighborhoods in San Francisco, followed by a visit to Muir Woods and Alcatraz. Though it can be exhausting, this tour really allows you to see and do as much as possible in as short of time as possible. It is also excellent value for the price, especially when compared to the cost of each individual activity if purchased separately. Considering how difficult it is to get last minute tickets to Alcatraz, this is also a great opportunity for those looking to visit the famous former prison. The tour also briefly visits the town of Sausalito before taking the ferry across San Francisco Bay. Departs daily at 9 am and visits Alcatraz in the later afternoon.
- The One Day in San Francisco Tour with Alcatraz – From $139
Dylan’s Tours is one of the most highly respected tour companies in San Francisco, boasting a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor and excellent reviews. Guests compliment this particular tour for enabling them to see and do as much as possible in just one day. Many also praise the One Day in San Francisco Tour with Alcatraz for being such great value. Unlike some other companies, Dylan’s Tours is particularly well known for being very organized and efficient, in addition to featuring knowledgeable guides. Though there are a handful of negative reviews, they are rare. TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
San Francisco Shuttle Tours
San Francisco Shuttle Tours offers a Morning Alcatraz + San Francisco City Bus Tour. The day begins with the standard Day Tour to Alcatraz, including round-trip transportation via ferry to Alcatraz Island, an audio guide, and free time to explore on your own. Guests are then picked up from Pier 33 at noon and taken on a tour to the following destinations: Palace of Fine Arts, Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, Lombard Street, Alamo Square Park, Golden Gate Park, and Japanese Gardens. Though this is somewhat similar to what’s offered by Big Bus and City Sightseeing, the San Francisco Shuttle Tour’s Alcatraz Combo is condensed to 1 day and follows a specific time table. Guests using Big Bus or City Sightseeing, on the other hand, can hop-on/hop-off at any point during the allotted time period.
- Morning Alcatraz + San Francisco City Bus Tour – From $129 per person
Reviews: Though this company comes highly reviewed for most of their tours, guests appear to have a mixed opinion regarding the Premium Muir Woods Hiking Tour. For many, the downhill hike felt too rushed and left several guests wishing they had more time for photo ops. However, those who are seasoned hikers are unlikely to take issue with the short time allowance. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
If you are unable to secure tickets to visit Alcatraz or if you are not interested in taking a tour of the former prison, then a boat cruise that passes by the island might be a great alternative. There are several different boats that go by Alcatraz — most of which also feature guided commentary about the history of the place.
Blue & Gold Fleet and Red & White Fleet are the 2 major boat tour companies in the Bay Area. Of their many different cruises, the following feature Alcatraz.
- Escape the Rock – The ONLY boat tour dedicated specifically to Alcatraz.
- SF Bay Cruise Adventure – A 1 hour sightseeing cruise of all the major attractions in the Bay
- California Sunset Cruise – A 2 hour sunset cruise around the Bay to see the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, Tiburon, Angel Island, and Alcatraz at sunset.
- Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise – A 90 minute audio tour covering the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the Ferry Building, Bay Bridge, and AT&T Park.
- Golden Gate Bay Cruise – Their original 1 hour San Francisco Bay tour with views of the San Francisco waterfront, the Golden Gate Bridge, and notorious Alcatraz Island.
The video below is a 10 minute sample of the audio tour that you are provided when you arrive to the prison.