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Alcatraz Tours Review: Is The Day Or Night Tour Worth It?

Alcatraz Tours Review: Is The Day Or Night Tour Worth It?

Alcatraz Island has a story so intriguing that it draws in over 1.5 million visitors each year. But are the Alcatraz day and night tours worth your valuable time and money?

In short, the answer is yes. But you are not here for the short answer.

San Francisco is not a cheap place to visit and with limited time to explore, you need to know exactly how to spend your time and money wisely.

Not only have we been to San Francisco multiple times, but we have personally visited Alcatraz for both a day and night tour on separate occasions.

You can consider us experts when it comes to helping determine which of the Alcatraz tours is for you.

Let’s dive deeper into what you can expect and why the tours of Alcatraz are worth putting a dent in your San Francisco travel itinerary.

*Please note this post may contain affiliate links. If you click on one, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! Read more in our disclosure policy.*

Alcatraz Island Fact File

City: San Francisco

State: California

Nickname: The Rock

Prison Opened: August 11th, 1934

Prison Closed: March 21st, 1963

Annual Visitors: 1.5 million tourists

Prisoner Capacity: 336 (never reached max capacity

Famous Prisoners: Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Robert Stroud, Whitey Bulger, The Anglin Brothers

Dining hall and Times Square at Alcatraz prison
Dining Hall and Times Square in Alcatraz prison

History Of Alcatraz

Much like the air of mystery that surrounds the entire Island of Alcatraz, the history of the San Francisco Bay and the buildings of Alcatraz make for a dramatic story.

Fort, military prison, maximum security federal penitentiary and freedom all play a role in the colorful narrative of the eerie, forbidding and isolated island a mile offshore in the center of the San Francisco Bay.

Grab a comfy seat and a bit of popcorn because this one is going to a doozy. But our guide is loaded with photos and we hope to inspire you to visit this interesting part of US history someday.

Perspective photo of San Francisco through a window in the Alcatraz prison
Perspective shot of San Francisco through a window in Alcatraz

The Founding Of Alcatraz Island

Juan Manuel de Ayala was the first man to sail into San Francisco Bay and lay eyes upon what is now Alcatraz Island.

When the Spanish explorer mapped the bay in 1775, he named the tiny island Alcatraces. At this time, this word meant ‘Gannet’ in relation to the North Atlantic seabird.

But over time, the original name Alcatraces was anglicized to Alcatraz. There has been debate about the exact meaning of Alcatraz, but this term typically refers to a ‘pelican’ or ‘strange bird.’

This term seemed to fit as Brown Pelicans are extremely common in the San Francisco Bay area.

The name Alcatraz feels slightly less sinister now you know it means Pelican, right?! You can ignore this fact if you want the name to retain its mystique.

Close up view of a Seagull
Seagull on Alcatraz Island

Use As A Military Fort

Following the Gold Rush and booming of San Francisco in the 1850’s, the US military built a fortress at the top of Alcatraz to protect the bay from naval invasion.

On June 1st, 1854, the Alcatraz Light became the first lighthouse built on the West Coast of America. By the late 1850’s, Alcatraz had received its first military prisoners.

No shots were ever fired from the enormous cannon at Alcatraz fortress and its requirements as a defensive installation become obsolete.

The US army demolished Alcatraz fortress in 1909 and military prisoners at the time built what would become ‘the Rock.’

Close uo view of the Alcatraz Lighthouse in the sun
Alcatraz Lighthouse during sunset

Punishment To Fit The Crime

Following rampant crime in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Alcatraz was the perfect symbol for the Department of Justice to show its citizens they were taking crime seriously.

The prison was categorized as maximum security as well as minimum privilege and opened in 1933.

Alcatraz would be the new home for those who were incapable of reform or who had gained culture repute.

Old water tower on Alcatraz Island with graffiti from Indian occupation
Graffiti from the Native American Occupation

Native American Occupation

Alcatraz prison was finally closed on March 21st, 1963 after almost 30 years of operation. Its closure had nothing to do with escape attempts (which we will get into later) and everything to do with finances.

It simply just wasn’t cost effective to maintain the prison any longer. Following the closure of Alcatraz prison, the island was left deserted and abandoned for 6 years.

In 1969, a group of Indigenous activists known as ‘the Indians of All Tribes’ occupied Alcatraz and raised awareness of the troubles they faced.

Support for Natives grew throughout their 19 month stronghold on Alcatraz until they lost control and buildings were burned down. Federal Marshalls intervened and removed all people from Alcatraz in 1971.

Group of visitors on on the Alcatraz cruise during a night tour of the island
Visitors on an Alcatraz Cruise ferry during a night tour

Alcatraz Museum And Tours

In 1973, Alcatraz was opened to the general public as a museum under the National Park Service and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

You can visit the official Alcatraz NPS website for more information.

Alcatraz remains one of the most popular park service sites and receives over 1 million visitors each year.

Travel Tip: If you collect the National Park Passport Stamps, be sure to pick up your stamp on Alcatraz island. There are two stamps to collect, one for the Alcatraz Island Lighthouse and one for the Golden Gate Recreation Area.

Large crowd waiting for a night tour
Crowd waiting to board the Alcatraz Cruise at Pier 33

How To Get To Alcatraz From Pier 33

There is only one way you can reach Alcatraz Island as a tourist and that is from Pier 33, Alcatraz Landing.

Google Maps Location for Pier 33.

Pier 33 is located halfway around San Francisco’s Embarcadero, between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building.

Alcatraz Cruises owns sole rights to ferry crossings from Pier 33 to Alcatraz Island under contract with the National Park Service.

It’s not worth looking into chartering a private boat to access the island because you won’t be able to enter the museum.

Pier 33 is also equipped with an accessibility drop off zone for those with special needs.

Parking garage availability for Pier 33
Parking garage option for Alactraz tour

Alcatraz Tour Parking

If you are planning on driving your own vehicle with the aim of parking nearby, be warned there is no parking available directly at Alcatraz Landing.

You may be lucky to find on-street parking in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, but it can be extremely difficult to find. Every parking space also has a parking meter which won’t give you enough time for your Alcatraz tour.

Another option is a commercial parking lot. There are 15 commercial lots with 3,000 parking spaces within a 5 block radius of Pier 33.

The closest commercial parking lot is 80 Francisco at Kearny about one block away across the Embarcadero from Alcatraz Landing.

However, the best way to get to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing is by foot or using public transport. The historic San Francisco streetcars of the MUNI F Line run right past Alcatraz Landing.

Planning to visit more of California? Don’t miss our popular guide featuring 23 stops along the legendary Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego.

Chart comparing the Alcatraz tour options
Chart comparing the four Alcatraz Tour options

4 Types Of Alcatraz Tours

Alcatraz is open for tours every day except Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s day.

When you purchase an Alcatraz tour ticket, the time on the ticket will correspond to your Alcatraz Ferry.

Each Alcatraz Ferry departs for the day from Pier 33 daily about every 30 to 60 minutes beginning at 8:45am for the Early Bird Tour. Keep in mind times will vary depending on the time of year.

There are 4 different types of tours available at Alcatraz Island. Each tour will have a varying cost, access and privileges.

You can choose between the following 4 Alcatraz tours:

  • Alcatraz Day Tour (Early Bird included)
  • Behind The Scenes Tour
  • Alcatraz Night Tour
  • Alcatraz & Angel Island Tour (currently unavailable)

Next, we will briefly discuss the Alcatraz Ferry schedule followed by a description of each Alcatraz tour.

The last sections of this guide will then walk you through exactly what to expect on both a day and night tour to Alcatraz. We hope to point out the major differences between these Alcatraz tours.

Alcatraz Cruise ferry run by City Experiences
Alcatraz Cruise ferry boat docked during a night tour

Ferry Schedule For Alcatraz Tours

The Alcatraz ferry is run on a winter and summer schedule. The early bird tour always begins at 8:45am no matter the season, but the summer season will have more ferry crossings later in the day when the daylight is longer.

Alcatraz Summer Ferry schedule

This summer ferry runs from mid-March to mid-October.

  • Early Bird Tour: 8:45am (considered a day tour)
  • Day Tour: 9:10am, 9:30am, 10:00am, 10:30am, 11:00am, 11:30am, 12:00pm, 12:30pm, 1:00pm, 1:30pm, 2:10pm, 2:40pm, 3:20pm and 3:50pm
  • Behind The Scenes Tour: 4:20pm and 4:50pm
  • Night Tour: 5:55pm and 6:30pm (Tues to Sat)

Alcatraz Winter Ferry Schedule

The winter schedule for the Alcatraz Ferry is very similar just with modified service. The winter ferry runs from mid-October to Mid-March.

  • Early Bird Tour: 8:45am (considered a day tour)
  • Day Tour: 9:10am, 9:30am, 10:00am, 10:30am, 11:00am, 11:30am, 12:00pm, 12:30pm, 1:05pm, 1:35pm
  • Behind The Scenes Tour: 2:10pm and 2:40pm
  • Night Tour: 3:50pm (Tues to Sat)

You can also check the Alcatraz Ferry Departure schedule on the City Cruises official website.

Woman looking out at the city of San Francisco from the back of an Alcatraz Cruise
Kristen on the Alcatraz Cruise during the day

Alcatraz Day Tour

The Alcatraz day tour is a 2.5 hour long tour option which gives you the chance to freely explore Alcatraz Island on your own. A round trip ferry service to Alcatraz Island is included in the ticket.

As you investigate Alcatraz, rangers are stationed throughout the island to help assist visitors and answer questions.

There are many interpretive signs and exhibits scattered around the island to keep your interest. You can also attend the cellhouse audio tour or a themed special program to learn more about Alcatraz.

The Alcatraz day tour includes:

  • Doing Time: The Alcatraz cellhouse audio tour 
  • Admission to the Alcatraz cellhouse and permanent exhibit ‘The Big Lockup: Mass Incarceration in the United States’
  • Entrance to outdoor spaces such as Eagle Plaza, the Recreation Yard, the Sallyport, and the Rose Garden
  • Entrance to the New Industries Building highlighting influential Occupation of Alcatraz by Indians of All Tribes
  • Close up views of the exteriors of the Cellhouse, Building 64, Warden’s House, Water Tower, Officer’s Club and Model Industries Building

Day tour tickets for Alcatraz begin at $42 for adults and $25 for children (5-11).

Night shot of Alcatraz Island with sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge
Alcatraz island lit up at night during a night tour

Alcatraz Night Tour

During the Alcatraz Night Tour, you get a little more bang for your buck. But the night tour is only available Tuesday to Saturdays.

Similar to the day tour, a round trip ferry service to Alcatraz Island is included in the ticket. However, you will enjoy a narration on the ferry as the boat takes a special route around Alcatraz Island.

At the dock, you are greeted by a park ranger or docent for a personalized guided tour straight from the dock to the cellhouse. During this guided tour, you will learn about the history of Alcatraz and the people who have lived there.

After the guided tour, you can choose to attend the cellhouse audio tour, explore the additional special exhibits or explore the island on your own.

The Alcatraz night tour includes:

  • Doing Time: The Alcatraz cellhouse audio tour
  • Optional full length programs and exhibits
  • Docent guided tours and talks
  • Ability to watch the sunset from Alcatraz Island

Night tour tickets for Alcatraz begin at $53 for adults and $31 for children (5-11).

Visitors taking the Alcatraz night tour
Visitors exploring Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Behind The Scenes Tour

The behind the Scenes Tour of Alcatraz is a unique opportunity and limited to a maximum of only 30 people.

This 1.5 to 2.0 hour small group tour is led by a National Park Service Ranger or expert historical educator.

The behind The Scenes tour is a great way to capture unusual photos and explore many areas that are off limits to the general public as you hear stories about Alcatraz.

After the tour you will also have the chance to explore the island further.

The Alcatraz Behind The Scenes Tours includes:

  • Doing Time: The Alcatraz cellhouse audio tour
  • Optional programs and exhibits throughout the island
  • West side views from Alcatraz Island facing San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge

As a Behind the Scenes Tour guest, you have the two options after your tour. You can extend your time on Alcatraz Island by joining the night tour or you can return to San Francisco on any departing vessel from Alcatraz.

Please note if you choose to stay for the night tour, you will be on Alcatraz Island for about 5 hours. There is food available on the Alcatraz ferry, but not on the island. You will need to plan accordingly.

Behind The Scenes tour tickets for Alcatraz begin at $98 for adults and $94 for children (5-11).

Angel Island from the Alcatraz Cruise
Angel Island view from an Alcatraz Cruise

Alcatraz And Angel Island Tour

This 5.5 hour tour offers a round trip ferry to Alcatraz and Angel Island as well as an audio guided tour and an Angel Island Tram tour.

Unfortunately, this the Alcatraz and Angel island Tour is currently unavailable due to health and safety reasons.

View from the back side of Alcatraz island
The mysterious Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island Tickets

City Experiences are the official provider of Alcatraz Island Tour tickets. The best way to book Alcatraz tickets is directly with City Experiences on the official website.

However, a combination tour is an extremely popular option if you want to see everything San Francisco has to offer. Each tour we mention is an authorized seller of Alcatraz Cruises through City Experiences.

Here are several top rated San Francisco tour options which include an Alcatraz Tour:

  • Alcatraz Island and SF Madame Tussauds – This two in one pass includes ferry transport to Alcatraz Island and access to the island itself as well as admission to the world-famous Madame Tussauds wax museum.

Walkthrough Of Alcatraz Island Day Tour

We don’t want to give too much of the Alcatraz day tour away so instead of going into great detail, we will simply give you an idea about what you can expect. You can then determine if this is the tour for you.

We took the Alcatraz day tour in the fall of 2019 and while the tour has slightly changed with one way systems after the pandemic, the day tour experience has remained the same.

Tour group gathering around ranger at beginning of Alcatraz tour
Crowds outside of building 64 during an Alcatraz day tour

Welcome to the Rock!

Upon arrival to Alcatraz Island, you will disembark and find a crowd amassed outside of Building 64.

Also known as Residential Apartments, this 3 story ex-military barracks and prison officer accommodation was the first building to be built on Alcatraz.

Alcatraz tour special talks board such as slammer and escape attempts
List of special programs available on the day we visited Alcatraz

Next, a guide or park ranger will explain important information for your visit before you can explore freely. Be sure to listen so you can find out which special programs are available for the day.

You also want to take note of the boat schedules at the dock or in the cellhouse. You need to know when to be back at the dock to catch the return ferry.

Alcatraz cruises return boat schedule
Return boat schedule times from Alcatraz Island

Pick a reasonable time to break away from this group otherwise you will be in a very long line for an audio tour headset once you reach the old shower room.

Travel Tip: After you hear about the special programs for the day, beeline it for the cellhouse audio tour so you can spend the rest of your time exploring the island (you will see plenty of signs directing you where to go).

The Alcatraz Prison Tour Begins

Walk up and around the slaloming walkway as you head straight to the main prison entrance. There should be a sign outside stating the start of the cellhouse audio tour.

This will be your first real taste for the prison of Alcatraz. As you cast your eyes on the rusting grey-blue metal doors, you will immediately feel your insides crawl and shudder.

Visitors lining up in a shower room for a cellhouse audio tour
Long line of people in the shower room waiting for the cellhouse audio tour

Once inside, make your way to the long narrow and very open shower room. Imagine taking a shower with some of the most hardened and creepy criminals in the history of the United States.

“Hey Mr. Scarface, could you please pass me the soap?”

Line up here until you reach the front to pick up your audio headset which is available in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Mandarin.

This is where your Alcatraz tour will officially begin. But if you are interested in any of the special programs taking place, you will need to consider your timing.

Listening device for the cellhouse audio tour
Cellhouse audio tour device

The cellhouse audio tour runs on a one way system and you should have time to finish this audio tour before any of the special programs take place.

But if you have any questions about timing, feel free to ask the rangers how you should schedule your time. The rangers and guides are incredibly helpful.

We attended two special programs during our Alcatraz day tour:

  • Sounds of the slammer
  • Escape attempts

Personally, we enjoyed the special programs more than the audio tour because the guides telling the stories were extremely animated. There was also a small Q&A section at the end for any questions you many have.

Row of empty cells in the Alcatraz prison
Empty rows of prison cells on Alcatraz Island

Sounds Of The Slammer Special Program

The Sound of the Slammer special program discussed a typical cell in Alcatraz along with the different prion blocks.

Alcatraz housed four main cell blocks (A,B, C and D) each with three tiers of cells. Some cells in Alcatraz measured no more than 9ft by 5ft wide.

Imagine a bed, toilet and sink inside those tiny dimensions. This certainly doesn’t leave a lot of room for maneuvering.

C block sign on a prison wall
C Block in Alcatraz

Cell blocks B and C were the longest rows and contained the most cells. In between cell blocks, each corridor was a given a famous street name such as Broadway, Michigan and Park Avenue.

Cell block D is where misbehaving prisoners were sent. If they had a particularly serious offence, they would find themselves in one of the six segregation cell units, also known as ‘the Hole.’

Each hardened steel cell door was operated by a series of levers and mechanisms located at the end of that particular row of cells.

Individual or multiple cells (not necessarily next to each other) could be opened at the same time using this mechanism at the end of each row.

Michigan Avenue cell block on Alcatraz
Michigan Ave in Alcatraz prison

This was innovative technology at the time, replacing the traditional lock and key method.

We enjoyed the Sounds of the Slammer because this program discussed the opening and closing of cell doors. But it also included a practical demonstration plus stories from during and after the operation of Alcatraz prison.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to open the cell door using bed sheets and a wheel to lasso the level like Sean Connery in the Rock!

Information board about an escape attempt from Alcatraz
Informational exhibit featuring an Alcatraz escape attempt

Escape Attempts Special Program

Alcatraz was officially dubbed the ‘inescapable island’ but there were a series of attempts.

Did anyone make it our successfully? Well, that still reamins a mystery.

Are you a romantic who wants to believe that someone managed to escape, despite the fact they were in prison for committing a serious and heinous crime?

Or are you a firm believer of facts, logic and physics that suggest no one made it out alive?

Awesome ranger talk about escape attempts on the Alcatraz tour inside the dining room
Visitors attending the Escape Attempts special program at Alcatraz

The escape attempts special program takes place in the dining hall next to the cell house. If this talk is on during your visit, do not miss it.

This special program was the highlight of our Alcatraz day tour thanks to some fantastic storytelling by the park ranger who led the program.

As you can see, the room was packed full of tourists utterly engrossed in a wide semicircle.

Escape attempt from prison with a dummy head in a bed
One of the most famous escape attempts involved a dummy head in a bed

In a nutshell, there were 14 escape attempts made by a total of 36 inmates throughout Alcatraz prison history. Some of the stories are sad while other stories are downright hilarious and full of ingenuity.

We will not divulge any more information here so you can hear all about these crazy stories for yourself when you visit.

Or if you can’t wait, you can read more about each escape attempt here in detail.

View of San Francisco from Alcatraz Island
View of San Francisco from Alcatraz island

Views From Alcatraz Island

For the rest of our Alcatraz day tour, we spent our time exploring the island on our own.

Sections of this tour include walking around external areas, such as Alcatraz Lighthouse. You can also explore the recreation yard and parade ground after the audio tour has finished.

But remember you are in the center of San Francisco Bay, which means you have 360 degree views around the entire Bay Area.

Depending on the time of day and positioning of the sun, you can snap photographs of Oakland Bridge, San Francisco city and of course, the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge.

But don’t expect Alcatraz to be one of the better views of the Golden Gate Bridge, instead you will need to head one of these 5 best photography locations.

Ruins of old buildings on Alcatraz island with San Francsico in the background
Ruined buildings on Alcatraz and the surrounding San Francisco Bay

Further Reading: Is the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Los Angeles worth it?

Walkthrough Of Alcatraz Island Night Tour

We returned to San Francisco in October 2022 to take the Alcatraz night tour. We loved the day tour so much we just had to experience Alcatraz at night as well.

After experiencing the Alcatraz night tour ourselves, we can confirm the night tour is a slightly different experience compared to the day tour. But just like everything, each tour had its perks.

We took the Alcatraz night tour on October 11th which falls during the seasonal change schedule (Oct 11th to Nov 5th).

This time of year is the best of both worlds because we had the chance to explore areas usually closed at night due to increased lighting from daylight savings time.

Woman enjoying the view of San Francisco Bay from Alcatraz Island
Kristen during an Alcatraz night tour

A Better Ferry Experience

The first thing we instantly noticed about the Alcatraz night tour was the impressive narration on the ferry as we sailed to Alcatraz Island.

During the entire trip, we learned about the history of San Francisco and Alcatraz. Without giving much away, this narrative is certainly worth a listen.

On a side note, we were starving when we arrived to Pier 33 for our night tour because we had been relentlessly exploring San Francisco. So we tried the snack bar on the Alcatraz ferry.

To be honest, our hot dogs were pretty good and fairly priced considering we were on a tour.

Guests lining for a snack on the ferry
Snack bar on the Alcatraz ferry

We were also able to fill up our reusable water bottle on the ferry so be sure to bring one and fill up if needed. Water on the ferry is not cheap, yikes.

The ferry had many snacks available and while the line was quite long, it moved quickly.

Already a great start to our Alcatraz night tour!

Circling Alcatraz Island

Another highlight of the night tour, before we even docked on the island, was the route the ferry took after leaving Pier 33.

We completed a full circle around Alcatraz Island which is not done on the day tour. The narration on the ferry also explained additional parts of the island we had not previously learned about.

Back side view of Alcatraz island
Sea caves on the back side of Alcatraz Island

This is where you will look for sea caves near Alcatraz Island which may be have been important in one prisoners escape.

Look closely at the buoys in the water because you may get a glimpse of a sea lion sunning himself.

Audio Tour And Special Programs

There was only one boat on the island during our entire night tour which was a welcome relief from the large crowds you can experience during the day tour.

The boat was divided into two groups with the first group heading one way on the island and the other group heading another way on the island. Each group had about 100 people.

People walking up a ramp during a guided tour of Alcatraz at night
Visitors walking up a small hill during an Alcatraz night tour

Our tour guide met us right by the dock and we had a short intro to the island with stops in multiple locations. This small guided tour took about 20 minutes and we ended at the entrance of the cell house audio tour.

Similar to the day tour, we picked up our audio guide headsets in the shower room and listened to the familiar voices once again.

When we ended our audio tour and handed in our headsets, we were met by a docent who was was about to give a special program in just a few minutes.

Tour guide presenting a special program during an Alcatraz night tour
Crowds listening to a special program during the Alcatraz night tour

Perfect timing, we stayed for the special program and chatted with the park ranger. We won’t be disclosing the special programs on the Alcatraz night tour so you can be completely surprised.

The best advice we can give you is to speak with the rangers and tour guides because they always know the ins and outs of the island.

Following our own advice, the ranger we spoke to gave us some great advice about how to maximize our time on Alcatraz island. However, this won’t pertain to every night because programs and experiences are constantly changing.

As long as you attend the cellhouse audio tour, one or two special programs and spend a little time exploring in your own, you have done extremely well. Anything else will be a bonus!

Alcatraz night tour informational sign
Sign from Alcatraz night tour

Bonus Hospital Entrance

In between the two special programs we chose to attend, we learned the old Alcatraz hospital was to be opened at 5:30pm which is an area we had never seen.

So we hot footed it to the hospital just in time to see the the rememntats of the Alcatraz operating room, exam rooms, pharmacy and sick wards.

As former scientists, we enjoyed seeing how the hospital operated. This experience alone was certainly worth our visit.

Old operating room in the Alcatraz hospital during an Alcatraz night tour
Old operating room in Alcatraz

More Time To Explore

Another great part about the night tour is you have a little more time to explore the island compared to the day tour. So even after our audio tour, two special programs and the hospital visit, we still had time to visit a few other areas.

Many of the same outdoor sections were open, but it was interesting to see the buildings on Alcatraz light up as the sun started to set on the horizon. The colors in the sky were just starting to become bright pink and orange.

At this point, we started to watch our time a bit more closely because we certainly didn’t want to be spending the night on the island if we missed the ferry.

Tree blocking part of the sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge
Sunset over the San Francisco Bay from Alcatraz Island

Sunset On Alcatraz

Our ferry was scheduled to leave the dock as the sun was setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge. This night tour was the perfect ending to a day in San Francisco.

After we both had boarded the ferry back to Pier 33, we asked one another if the Alcatraz night tour has been worth it.

What do you think we said?!

Alcatraz Island from the San francisco Bay
Close up view of Alcatraz Island from the middle of San Francisco Bay

Are The Alcatraz Day And Night Tours Worth Your Time And Money?

Yes, both the Alcatraz day and night tours are worth your time and money.

Personally, we have to say we were genuinely surprised by how good the Alcatraz day and night tours are put together. We had high expectations but they were easily surpassed.

We would recommend the Alcatraz night tour over the Alcatraz day tour for 5 reasons:

  1. Onboard ferry narration
  2. Ferry circles around entire Alcatraz island
  3. Smaller tour sizes make for an intimate experience
  4. Ability to see San Francisco bay as the sun sets from Alcatraz Island
  5. Chance to explore bonus areas often closed to general public

But if you can only fit one Alcatraz tour into your schedule, the day tour is still a great option.

While the prices of the Alcatraz tours appear to be a little on the steep side, we think the price point is fair considering everything you get.

Be sure to attend at least one of the special programs on the day you visit to make the most of your Alcatraz experience.

Information board showing the famous inmates from Alcatraz prison
Famous Inmates of Alcatraz prison

Famous Inmates At Alcatraz

Last but not least, we have to mention the famous inmates once held in this prison.

Many inmates at Alcatraz were relative unknown as were sent to the ‘supermax prison of the 30s’ because they were escape threats or committed serious offences at other prisons.

However, some inmates were of higher renown and gained a reputation through popular culture in years to follow their time on the Rock.

Here are some of the most famous Alcatraz inmates:

  • Al Capone – Gained notoriety as the modern day Robin Hood while making millions in bootlegging illegal alcohol. Nicknamed ‘Scarface’, Capone let the Chicago mob outfit during prohibition but was jailed on tax evasion offenses after being named public enemy #1.
  • Robert Stroud – Nicknamed ‘the Birdman’, Stroud only became famous when a movie called Birdman of Alcatraz was made. But he never actually kept any birds at Alcatraz, he kept 300 birds in his cell at Leavenworth, Kansas. A dangerous murderer, Stroud was in jail from 19 years of age until his death in 1963.
  • George Kelly – A model inmate at Alcatraz, ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly was only transferred to the Rock after half joking with guards at Leavenworth that he would escape in time for Christmas. His joke was taken all too seriously. Kelly was imprisoned for kidnap and is believed to have only turned to crime because his wife pushed him into it.
  • Alvin Karpis – In prison for conspiracy to kidnap, ‘Creepy’ Karpis was a near genius IQ member of the Barker-Karpis Gang along with fellow inmate ‘Doc’ Barker. They would rob banks, gunning down anyone who stood in their way. Karpis spent 26 years on Alcatraz, more than any other prisoner.
Photos of the wardens from Alcatraz prison
The wardens of Alcatraz prison

Before visiting Alcatraz, you might want to watch some of these old movies to get in the mood:

Even the Harry Potter Franchise created by JK Rowling features Azkaban prison which can only be based on one place…

Alcatraz Island Photos

We took hundreds of photos on Alcatraz Island during our day and night tour.

This next section is nothing but photos from Alcatraz Island to further peak your interesting about this fascinating area.

Old x ray room in Alcatraz hospital
X -Ray room in old Alcatraz hospital
Row of empty prison cells on Alcatraz Island
Row of empty cell blocks on Alcatraz
A sea lion sunning himself on a buoy in the San Francisco Bay
Sea lion sunning himself on a buoy near Alcatraz Island
Recreation yard lit up in the sunlight in San Francisco
Recreation yard before sunset on Alcatraz Island
Woman looking into a solitary confinement cell in Alcatraz prison
Kristen peeking into the solitary confinement cells
Close up view of a beautiful red flower in a garden
Red flower in the garden of Alcatraz
Woman exploring the sick was at Alcatraz
Kristen inspecting the sick wards in the hospital
Windy Gulch Trail closed for construction
Windy Gulch trail under construction and view of San Francisco
Close up view of a gorgeous blue flower
Stunning blue flower in Alcatraz garden
Sun setting over the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge
Sunset over San francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge
Woman sitting in an empty cell of Alcatraz prison
Kristen sitting inside an empty cell on Alcatraz island
Kitchen and mess area in Alcatraz dining hall
Kitchen prep area (notice to knife outlines to help chefs maintain track of each one)
Example of empty prison cell on Alcatraz
Front of an empty cell in Alcatraz
Old bookshelves and quotes left from prisoners in Alcatraz
Bookshelves and Library space in Alcatraz
Old watch tower with a seagull perched on top
Old Watch Tower on Alcatraz Island
Close up view of a pretty purple flower
Gorgeous purple flower from the Alcatraz garden

What Is It Like To Visit Alcatraz Today?

Alcatraz has changed several times over the years, from fort to military prison and from maximum security federal penitentiary to tourist attraction.

Now, Alcatraz is run by the National Park Service and the Island hosts hundreds of visitors every day who are curious about its colorful history.

If you’re wondering what it is like to visit Alcatraz now, there’s only one way to find out!

Can I Go To Alcatraz Without A Tour?

It is extremely difficult to go to Alcatraz without a tour. While Alcatraz id open to public tours, the docks at Alcatraz are only available to one ferry line, Alcatraz Cruises run by City Experiences.

The only way the public can visit Alcatraz is by purchasing a tour ticket and taking on of the official ferries to the island.

Alcatraz FAQ’s

Let’s take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions about Alcatraz Island and tours.

Why Did Alcatraz Get Shut Down?

Contrary to popular belief, Alcatraz prison was shut down due to financial reasons. Millions of gallons of fresh water had to be shipped to Alcatraz weekly and eventually the government decided it would be cheaper to just build a new prison!

How Cold Is The Water Around Alcatraz Island?

The water around Alcatraz Island has an average temperature of around 54°F (12°C) with little variation that would prove challenging for escapes. However, avid open water swimmers do swim across the bag regularly.

Has Anyone Escaped From Alcatraz?

Yes, there have been several escape attempts from Alcatraz. You should book an Alcatraz tour to hear the details of these very escapes.

Are There Sharks Around Alcatraz?

Yes, there are sharks around Alcatraz but usually only Leopard sharks. Man eating Great Whites are frequently found nearby in the Pacific Ocean and rarely venture into the SF bay. That being said, there is footage of Great Whites close to Alcatraz. Would you swim the channel?

How Long Does It Take To Walk Through Alcatraz?

If you booked a day or night tour, you should plan on 3 hours for your total visit to Alcatraz.

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We hope this review for both the Alcatraz Day and Alcatraz Night Tour helps you plan your time in San Francisco!

Please let us know if you have any question about the Alcatraz Tours or San Francisco in the comments below.

Happy Planning,

Mark and Kristen

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Freedom

Sunday 7th of November 2021

Alcatraz is easily one of our favorite San Fran attractions. We've been 2x. I'm always blown away by the walking tour. Absolutely love the step by step information. I always highly recommend visiting Alcatraz.

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Monday 8th of November 2021

Yes we thoroughly enjoyed the tour of Alcatraz and would do it again. Highly recommend for first time visitors to SF!

Graham Bedford

Thursday 3rd of September 2020

Alcatraz seems like a great place to visit, so much history in one place. It must of been a harsh place to serve time but also to work, not your average commute.

Mark & Kristen Morgan

Thursday 3rd of September 2020

You're right, not a typical commute! We were worried the Alcatraz tour wouldn't hold up to our expectations but it did with room to spare. Definitely recommend it if you get a chance to visit San Francisco.