10 Top Tips for Visiting Alcatraz

Alcatraz is iconic. Everyone knows of the maximum high security prison just off the San Francisco coast. For this week’s post we wanted to share with you our tips to get the most out of your visit:

1. Planning Your Trip

I can’t stress this enough – book well in advance! On our trip, we’d been keeping an eye on tickets and they were selling out weeks in advance. In fact, the first time we visited San Francisco we didn’t manage to get any tickets. Granted, this was in peak summer time, but I have heard that other people have experienced a similar challenge at less busy points of the season.

Our tip is to get online as soon as you know when you will be in San Francisco and book those tickets – the earlier the better to make sure that you get your selected slot.

2. Get The Right Ticket

Although there is only one company that runs trips to the island and the prison (it’s classed as a National Park), you can buy tickets from more than one place. Be warned, these are often ticket resale sites who add their own costs on top. There are also tours around Alcatraz which do exactly that: take you around the island without allowing you to get off the boat – pretty disappointing if you were expecting a trip into the prison. To make sure you get the right ticket, visit: Alcatraz Cruises.

The lighthouse on Alcatraz

3. Take ID

Make sure that the person booking the tickets brings their ID with them, or at least a photocopy of it. You won’t be allowed to take the tour without it.

4. Allow Enough Time

Anyone who knows me is fully aware that I am late for everything. Wandering Beeb likes to be on time. It’s a struggle. For a trip like this, you don’t want to leave too little time and end up missing something interesting.

We walked up from Fisherman’s Wharf to Pier 33 where the crossing to Alcatraz takes place. It’s much further than we thought and there were queues to pass security. Make sure you get there with enough time to navigate security and finish up your drinks / food before you board the boat, or you might find that you don’t even make it to the island.

Making your way around the prison, the grounds and the island takes far longer than you think – if you have other things planned in for your day after returning from Alcatraz, make sure you have left enough time to see everything and visit all the different parts of the prison and grounds. Official tour guides recommend at least 3 hours to see everything.

Be sure to visit all of the buildings on the island - there are some hidden gems!

5. When To Go

The day trip is far less busy (although a trip at any time of day is fairly crowded) and you get some beautiful views on the way to the island – however, for us, the evening trip wins hands down. Although you don’t get the same views on the sea crossing as you would in the day time, seeing the island rise out of the murky darkness on the night trip is one sight that sets the scene for the rest of the prison and you don’t want to miss it!

Seeing Alcatraz rising out of the mist is a vision that will stay with me for a long time.

6. Take A Coat

But it’s a sunny day” I hear you shout. It doesn’t matter! On our visit, I had the same thought and just took a light jumper. Big mistake – I froze my way around the island and was glad of the small amount of warmth to be found in my dodgy hotel room (that’s another story) at the end of the day.

It gets incredibly chilly once you are out on the water and evening trips are down right cold. The combination of open sea, winds and damp buildings mean that wrapping up warm is a must.

7. Let Staff Know in Advance of Mobility Needs

Alcatraz island is very steep. If you have mobility needs, let the staff know in advance as they have some limited transport to help people get about from A to B.

8. Take The Tour Option

The audio tour adds a huge amount to the experience of the prison – with sound effects of clanging cells, stories of the prisoners housed at Alcatraz and insight into the perspective of the guards, it gives a very detailed insight into life in the prison. It’s also fun to watch other visitors randomly pointing at things the audio has mentioned and making faces at some of the horrible stories being told. That might just be me though – I’m a total people watcher (but not in a creepy way, I promise).

One other thing to be aware of: if you take the evening tour, you get a few extras in comparison to the day trip. Extra information on the island from your captain and a couple of extra trip options (such as the hospital or other prison floors). We visited the hospital and this was, without a doubt, the most creepy part of the whole trip.

The hospital wing in Alcatraz

9. Remember Your Camera

Obviously you’ll want to get those important Insta snaps of the inside of the prison, but don’t forget to turn your camera around on the boat ride to/ from the island.

The boat journey is a great place to grab some photos of the San Francisco coastline that you might otherwise miss.

10. Catch The Slamming Of The Cells

The calls of “Rack ’em” echoed down the halls, fading away to nothing. Silence followed. Then, breaking the stillness, came the sound of the cell doors slamming shut in unison. It was chilling and by far the best part of the visit to Alcatraz.

The slamming of the cells really brings home the isolation and loneliness of the prison like nothing else on the tour. Make sure you find out if the tour slot you are booking on will feature the cells closing, as it really brings the experience to life.

Don’t miss the slamming of the Cells

What areas of Alcatraz did you find the most interesting? Did we miss a tip? Let us know in the comments.

Zombie Girl & Wandering Beeb xx

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