Alcatraz is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in the Bay Area. It is located in San Francisco Bay, 1.25 miles from San Francisco, CA. This small island was used as a prison from 1934 to 1963. After it closed down, it was briefly occupied by Native Americans in the late 1960s. By 1976, it was included in the National Register of Historic Places. It later received the distinction of National Historic Landmark in 1986. In 1993, developments began to make it a tourist spot. Many of the structures have been damaged or deteriorated, but recent conservation and restoration efforts were put in place to maintain the remaining structures.


These days, Alcatraz Island is an abandoned prison with the oldest lighthouse on the west coast. It is a site for seagulls and egrets. Not much of the original structures remain, but its rich and colorful history as a federal prison continues to draw crowds all year round.


A tour of the entire island will take you through the following landmarks within the island:

  • Main Cellhouse
  • Dining Hall
  • Lighthouse
  • Warden’s House ruins
  • Social Hall ruins
  • Parade Grounds
  • Building 64
  • Water Tower
  • New Industries Building
  • Model Industries Building
  • Recreation Yard

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History Of Alcatraz

Alcatraz prison opened its doors to the most notorious criminals in the United States in 1934. Most of them were bank robbers and murderers who frequently caused trouble at other federal prisons. Some notable prisoners are Al Capone, Robert “The Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud, and George “Machine Gun” Kelly.

Alcatraz functioned like a lighthouse, military prison, and federal prison. The prison was designed in such a way that it would make it impossible to escape. With it being a prison for the most notorious criminals in the United States, there were several escape attempts—some ended in riots, others in death.

Alcatraz Prison was closed due to the high cost of maintenance. As early as the 1960s, the structures started to show signs of deterioration due to saltwater damage. Additionally, the original buildings were destroyed during the Native American occupation.

Modern Times

No one can doubt the historical importance of Alcatraz. It is often featured in movies (Book of Eli, 2010; X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006; Catch Me If You Can, 2002; Escape from Alcatraz, 1962) and TV series (Alcatraz, 2012).

The site even inspired the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, which includes swimming 1.5 miles to shore, and was once the venue for an art installation by Ai Weiwei (2014).

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Flora and Fauna

When it was deserted, Alcatraz became a nesting area for seabirds such as cormorants, western gulls, and pigeon guillemots. The Parade Ground became a breeding area for other creatures like deer mice, salamanders, and black-crowned night herons.

Aside from prisoners and prison guards, the guards’ families also lived on the island. The leftover plants and flowers from the abandoned gardens planted by the families remained and propagated. Some of these plants were thought to be extinct until discovered on the island: Welsh rose, species of succulents, and geraniums. Part of the conservation efforts is to preserve and cultivate these plants.

Access To Alcatraz Prison

Alcatraz Island is a 15-minute boat ride from Pier 33. Tourists can book tickets from Alcatraz Cruises LLC, which is the official ferry provider.

When To Go

Like the rest of the San Francisco Bay area, the weather at Alcatraz is subject to sudden weather changes. The best time to go would be during May - June, and September - October. The climate becomes wet and cold during the winter months. The average temperature all year stays between 75F (24C) and 38F (3C). No matter which time of year you decide to go, it’s best to prepare for sudden weather changes. Check the daily weather forecasts and wear light layers.

Day and Night Tours are conducted every day. These tours will start with a brief history of the island, followed by a tour of the remaining structures. Other activities and tours are currently suspended due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

Day Tour (2.5 hours)

  • Adult (18-61 years old ): $41
  • Junior (12-17 years old): $41
  • Child (5-11 years old): $25
  • Senior (62+): $38.65
  • Toddler (<5): FreeFamily (2 adults, 2 children): $119.60

Night Tour (3 hours)

  • Adult (18-61 years old ): $48.40
  • Junior (12-17 years old): $47.35
  • Child (5-11 years old): $28.60
  • Senior (62+): $45
  • Toddler (<5): Free


Alcatraz is open every day except Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year. There are hourly ferry departures from Pier 33. The Island is open from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm. Visitors are advised to buy tickets at least one month in advance through the Alcatraz Cruises website, especially during the summer season and public holidays. There may be seasonal changes in ferry schedules, so check the website regarding updates before your visit.

Exploring Nearby Areas

A tour of Alcatraz does not take an entire day. Make the most out of your trip by visiting nearby spots in San Francisco:

  • Pier 33
  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Union Square
  • North Beach
  • Chinatown
  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park and Hyde Street Pier

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