10 Top Tips for Visiting Alcatraz

10 tips to improve your visit to 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

Becoming an S.H.I.E.L.D Agent With Marvel in Vegas.

A visit to the Avengers Marvel S.T.A.T.I.O.N in Vegas

For this week’s post, I could have gone one of two ways: tell you all about our visit to Alcatraz or jump on the Marvel bandwagon and share our experience of the Marvel station in Vegas. Take a quick guess which one I picked?! Don’t worry, I will post on Alcatraz soon, but for now, let’s discuss all things Marvel.

Captain America’s Shield

We ended up at the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N one red- hot day, looking for some shade. Billed as an ‘interactive and educational visit’ I’m not ashamed to say that I was quite happy to brave the large numbers of kids in attendance to get to see some Marvel kit. We were given headphones at the entrance and this provided us with an audio commentary throughout the exhibition, interacting with the exhibits and guiding us round.

There were lots of interactive elements to play with throughout the Avengers exhibit.

We spent some time being ‘initiated’ as S.H.I.E.L.D agents (kids generally seemed to love this bit) and then we were off, exploring The Avenger’s exhibitions. There were the usual costumes and props on display, but the stand out features for me were Banner’s lab, Thor’s hammer and of course, Stark’s array of Iron Man suits.

Banner’s lab was a hazard-filled area which the Hulk had recently busted his way through. With a huge Hulk hand and a screen which allowed you to control the Hulk’s movements (Hulk Smash!!!), it was one of the more interactive areas of the exhibit.

Hulk Smash!!

Although Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) wasn’t a huge part of the exhibition, it was a great photo opportunity, with everyone trying to get that perfect shot. Spoiler alert: neither me nor Wandering Beeb were worthy enough to be able to able to lift it – it was worth a try!

Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) at the Marvel exhibit in Vegas

The best part of the exhibit if you are a Tony Stark / Iron Man fan was the collection of Iron Man suits, fabulously displayed in a circular exhibit, just like in the films. The Hulkbuster suit was also a feature and wow that thing is huge!

The Hulkbuster suit in Vegas

Iron Man’s suit, as used on the film sets. Littered throughout the experience were interactive and video game opportunities and the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N is well worth a visit for the casual fan and super fan alike. If you can tear yourself away from the other attractions in Vegas, the nightlife on the Strip, stunning hotels and the beautiful weather, it’s a good place to spend a couple of hours.

The Marvel Avenger’s S.T.A.T.I.O.N is located in Treasure Island and costs around £24 per adult ticket. There are often 2 for 1 offers to be found – particularly if you are a guest at Treasure Island.

When the place you discover by accident becomes one of the most beautiful places you have visited: Tioga Pass / Tenaya Lake

Most of you know by now that Yosemite is my favourite place in the world (so far!). You can read our posts on Mirror Lake and Camping for some background on our trips. I’m working my way up to a big post on the Half Dome hike – there is so much to share on this topic that it has been in progress for a while!

Around every corner is a stunning new view and the way the park has retained its ‘wildness’ just adds to its allure. Even after a couple of visits to the park, we have still found something new each time.

We just had to pull in to the side of the road for this view!

On our last trip, we were leaving Yosemite by a different exit, crossing Tioga Pass to make our way towards Death Valley. We had passed over Tioga Pass before, but we had done it at 2am in the thickness of night and therefore missed the views. This time, we were leaving Yosemite in the early morning and had enough light to see all of the sights on offer.

Tioga Pass is the highest highway pass in California and the Sierra Nevada. Due to its height, it’s usually the last road to open in summer and the first road to close in winter due to the ice and snow. On the journey, our ears were soon popping and the first time we made the trip, our bag of crisps burst open due to the altitude pressure: making us pull the car over, half in shock, half grateful that it wasn’t the gas canister for the camping stove!

The lake was like a perfect piece of paradise - we didn’t want to leave!

On this trip in the daylight, the trip probably took us twice as long as we stopped every ten minutes or so to pull over and admire the surroundings.

One place in particular really captured our attention: Tenaya Lake. Located at an elevation of 8,150 feet, this alpine lake is incredible. As we drove towards it in the car, both Wandering Beeb and I were lost for words, with “wow” being the only thing we had to say.

We weren’t expecting to see this glacial lake on our route through from Yosemite to Death Valley

Set back from the road, the little sandy beach and picnic table framed the water perfectly. The lake was formed by a glacier and the cliffs in the background stood out against the blue of the waters.

We didn’t know the lake was there, we hadn’t read any reviews and we certainly hadn’t built our route around visiting the lake. This was one of those occasions where going with the flow and meandering to our next destination had paid off, revealing a view we’d never intended to see and one that never left our minds.

I’d Rather Be….

That little bridge in Yosemite is my gateway to relaxation

This week’s photoblog prompt is, as the title suggests, about something that I’d rather be doing.

When I saw the prompt, initially I was thinking about being on a road trip. Many of the trips we’ve done have included a road trip, travelling from one place to another with a list of places to visit. There’s something about the open road and the promise of somewhere new.

As I was thinking about what to write, I realised that actually, where I’d rather be is by the little bridge.

Stoneman Bridge offers some great views of Half Dome and is the gateway to Sentinel Beach.

The little bridge in question is in Yosemite National Park. Spanning the Merced River that runs through Yosemite, Stoneman Bridge is the gateway to the stunning Sentinel Beach, which offers a secluded little rest stop. It’s perfect for swimming and gazing up at the views of Half Dome. To get to the beach area, hang a left after crossing the bridge, taking the unassuming dirt pathway through the trees until you reach the stony beach.

The pathway through the trees doesn’t look that promising at first but it soon opens out onto the Merced river

This little bridge has become a bit of a symbol for me. The first time we visited Yosemite, we’d spotted the area the day before heading up Half Dome. Seeing that it was a fairly secluded spot, we planned to come back the day after our big hike to rest and swim in the water. It became cemented in my mind as a place to relax and now every time I visit, it’s on my ‘must do’ list.

Surrounded by huge granite cliffs, Sentinel Beach is the perfect place to relax.

Usually, when people say places are ‘magical’ I start to think that they are exaggerating, or at least prone to being a bit dramatic, however, for this location, I think that the word fits. Particularly as this was the setting for our closest encounter yet with a deer.

We backed off slowly, giving it lots of space but still managed to grab a couple of photos.

We were playing frisbee on the beach. It was later on in the day and there were very few people around. I could hear some voices on the other side of the banking and looking up, I realised that they were all pointing over to our group with their cameras in hand. Not one to think that I’m ever good photo material, I immediately looked behind me to see a deer silently wandering out of the tree line on to the shore. I let the others in our group know *quietly* and we slowly moved back, keeping a respectful distance from this beautiful animal. It stood fairly still, exploring the ground and the water for, what felt like, five minutes, while we gaped open-mouthed at the opportunity to be so close up to something this stunning in the wild. After a few minutes, it wandered away, returning into the trees as stealthy as it arrived.

Like a ninja, this one sneaked up on us, wandering really close to us as we sunbathed.

We spent the rest of the afternoon floating in the river and soaking up the last of the day’s light. Freezing cold at first, the water soon warmed up and it was so peaceful to hear the sounds of the water in such a beautiful setting. Yosemite’s granite cliffs surrounded the river and it was such a stunning view from the middle of the lake.

Housekeeping Camp can be seen just through the trees on the bank of the Merced river.

Stoneman Bridge is my gateway to that relaxation spot in Yosemite. I know that as soon as we reach the bridge, the little pathway will lead us through to the river and the small stony beach. On any given day, that is where I’d rather be.

Where would you rather be? Let us know your favourite places in the comments 🙂