Prices and Where to Buy It
We chose to visit Alcatraz early in the morning on our first full day in San Francisco. We arrived at Pier 33, where you catch the boat to the island, around 8:15 am to catch the first morning boat at 8:40 am. It’s advisable to arrive with some advance to validate the ticket and start boarding. The boat trip to Alcatraz Island takes about 15 to 20 minutes. The boat that makes this crossing is known as the Alcatraz Clipper and operates on a hybrid system. It has a capacity for about 700 people and offers both indoor and outdoor seating, as well as a small bar where you can purchase snacks and light meals.
After disembarking on the island, there are several guides, called rangers, providing directions and sharing the history of Alcatraz Island and the prison. On one hand, it’s worthwhile to listen to them, but on the other hand, it’s an opportunity to start walking around and disperse from the crowds that arrived on the same boat as us. Right at the entrance of the island, there is an area where you can purchase an informative map of the main points of interest for a nominal cost, I believe it’s $1.
The entrance to the main Alcatraz prison building is about 400 meters from the disembarkation area, and it’s a relatively uphill walk. Along this path, you can enjoy some beautiful views of the surrounding area and pass by important island buildings, such as the morgue, the guard tower, the sally port (entrance and exit control area), among others.
Visit to the Prison Building
The visit to this, one of the most important prisons in the world, begins in the bathroom area where the prisoners used to relieve themselves and shower. It’s a spacious area without intermediate walls where the showers were right in the center of the bathroom, and prisoners had no privacy. Unlike other prisons, the shower water was always very hot to deter any escape plans by the prisoners, who would experience a thermal shock upon coming into contact with the cold waters of San Francisco Bay.
After the visit to the bathroom area, visitors are provided with the audio guide, and I can tell you it’s well worth it! I’m usually one of those people who skip audio guides because I don’t have much patience to stand still and listen to someone talk. However, the Alcatraz Prison audio guide is truly worthwhile because it’s concise and tells the stories that unfolded in that building in a very emotive way, based on the accounts of the guards and some prisoners.
Throughout the visit to the prison building, you pass through entire corridors filled with cells where the prisoners lived or, in some cases, survived. When it was completed in 1912, the prison building was the largest steel-reinforced concrete structure in the world, and the project was the brainchild of Major Reuben B. Turner, a civil engineer who also served as the first warden of Alcatraz Prison. Over the years of its operation, the prison underwent improvements, and security was increased to prevent any kind of escape.
Taking the tour of the prison building following the audio guide’s route and instructions will take about 1 hour, and it provides an incredible and chilling insight into what happened in the prison. After finishing the tour, we also visited the Lighthouse area, where you can enjoy beautiful views of the city center of San Francisco. Then, we returned to the harbor area at a brisk pace to catch the 10:30 am return boat.
Before entering the main prison building, there is an informative sign about the schedule for return boats, allowing visitors to manage their visit time to catch a specific boat. The return boat journey takes about 15 to 20 minutes as well, and by chance, on the way back, we had more time because the weather was much more pleasant, and we had even more beautiful views than on the way to the island.
In conclusion, visiting Alcatraz Island and the prison is practically a must for anyone visiting San Francisco, as it is one of the city’s main attractions and holds significant historical importance. For those visiting the city, it’s important to plan ahead and purchase tickets in advance since it has limited capacity (restricted to the boats that make the crossing). To understand the importance of planning, if we hadn’t bought tickets in advance, we wouldn’t have been able to visit the prison because there were only tickets available for the following week.
Alcatraz is surreal and a visit that is truly worth it! I hope I’ve been able to convey to you a bit of what the visit was like and have sparked your interest in visiting this prison. Don’t forget to keep visiting the blog, and you can also stay updated on the blog’s Instagram page for more updates.