The Alcatraz Tour is a must for all visitors travelling California and specifically San Francisco. This notorious prison island is located just 30 minutes away by tour boat. This dark tourism location in California is one of the top highlights to see during a visit to San Francisco.
We started the day with our reserved early bird tickets for the early morning tour of Alcatraz, meaning we were on the very first boat to the island. This was also perfect as we had only a short amount of time in San Francisco, so booking in advance was perfect for our itinerary.
History of Alcatraz
The island was once called the ‘The Island of the Pelicans’ by Juan Manuel de Ayala back in 1775. By 1847 the island had construction built with a lighthouse, buildings, a fort and a military garrison. Ultimately resulting in the island becoming the famous Alcatraz prison as we know it from 1934. Alcatraz was designed for prisoners who were causing many problems in other prisons, with 137 prisoners arriving when it first opened.
You can check out this link for more information about the history of Alcatraz.
The Alcatraz Tour
Arrival By Boat
Starting at Fishermans Wharf pier number 33 you can buy your tickets or join the queue for your boat with the correct time slot. We booked our early bird tickets in advance, highly recommended for you too as they can sell out during busier periods. We loved that we didn’t have to worry about queueing for tickets before queueing for the time slot afterwards. So we could just arrive and head straight on to the boat. Make sure you reserve your tickets from the official tour office.
When we were on the first boat to the island, it was busier than we expected but it worked out great. Sitting on the top deck at the back, we had some amazing views of the city of San Francisco in the background. Seeing the skyline from the water.
The Alcatraz Tour In Detail
We have done many tours in different places of the world, but the audio tour at Alcatraz was extremely very well done. The audio tour starts at the top of the island in the cell house. Once you have your headphones on, you follow a unique route around the prison that tells the stories of prisoners and prison guards. The audio route allows you to walk around the prison crisscrossing paths.
For example you head up one aisle of the cell house and towards the control room. However others on the tour ahead of you are already walking through the same cell house aisle listening to a different story. It’s interesting that you are standing in the same aisle but know that others are one step ahead of the story. It helps with keeping people moving to different parts of the tour before coming back to the same place for further history.
We found that the most interesting things were the stories of how prisoners tried escaping Alcatraz. Fights that happened as distractions to flee and escaping with a spoon through the concrete wall. This can be viewed at the end of one of the rows. Although there are no official confirmed escapes during its time, some have lived on to say that their family members did escape the island.
Alcatraz has the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States
The cell house itself was really also interesting, how the doors function on the old mechanical leavers and the layout for the guards to have a full overview. Outside was the original guard tower, buildings for the guards housing (including family) and a social house too. Though some of this was just ruins now, with fresh flowers and weeds up the walls.
Walking around Alcatraz felt strange to know the stories of those who once lived here, from the prisoner and guards. It was larger than we expected too, and found it very clean but still historic to be there in person. Many buildings and canteen area were all in their original state and colour so you could truly see the stories come to life through the audio guide.
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Plan ahead and reserve your tickets for the Alcatraz tour while in San Francisco. We had the early bird tickets, which meant you were on the first boat to the island and we loved it! The audio tour was perfect, allowing you enough time in one place and keeps people moving to the next place. We were never in one crowded place at once and highly recommend you to visit the Alcatraz tour during your stay in San Francisco. You will experience an eerie unique feeling of a prison life on an island.
- Bring bottled water with you, as you can spend as much time as you like on the island (after your audio tour is completed).
- Respect the location and throw litter away in the bins or take it with you.
- Plan ahead and book your tickets in advance, saves you a lot of time in the queue!
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Are you thinking of taking an Alcatraz tour? Or have you visited before? What did you find the most interesting from your visit?