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Alcatraz Island

Escape to “The Rock,” home of the infamous and abandoned island prison, and discover how it earned a reputation as a cold and unforgiving place.

For decades (between 1934 and 1963) the name Alcatraz uttered in a courtroom brought up fear, terror and visions of being sent to this austere island fortress. Even from the mainland the rocky island, now a National Park, still evokes powerful images of bleak isolation. It is a foreboding place that once held some of the country’s most dangerous criminals, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis. 

Alcatraz Island, located in San Francisco Bay, is accessible by a 15-minute ferry ride operated by Alcatraz Cruises from Pier 33 at the Embarcadero. The round trip ticket price includes an informative cell house audio tour. On the island, take a free tour with one of the National Park volunteers or guides, or pick up a brochure at the ferry landing for a self-guided tour.  

Unlike the former inmates, you’re free to roam the island. Discover the site of the first lighthouse on the U.S. West Coast, which was originally erected in 1854 and rebuilt in 1909. Your tour within the walls of the notorious penal colony passes through cellblocks that once held the worst of the worst, and into the walled exercise yard where you’ll see just how tantalizingly close San Francisco appears to be.  

During Alcatraz’s 29 years of operation as a maximum security prison, 36 people attempted to escape. Six were killed, 23 caught and the rest are presumed to have drowned, victims of the icy waters and treacherous currents. 

The most famous escape attempt occurred in 1962 after three inmates managed to dig through their cell walls with crude materials including spoons. They left lifelike dummies of themselves in their beds to act as decoys. Presumably they made a swim for the mainland and their bodies were never found. A year after the escape the prison closed.

You can stay on the Rock until the last ferry of the day departs at 4:25 p.m., and most people spend two to three hours here. In summer, a night tour is also available. It’s a popular sightseeing destination, so be sure to buy your ferry tickets in advance.

There's no place anywhere quite like Alcatraz Island. To help you make the most of your visit, we've put together a list of the top activities:

If you'd like more activities, check out our San Francisco things to do page.


Guide to Exploring around Alcatraz Island


Map

Best Lodging Options Near Alcatraz Island

See all 1,685 properties near Alcatraz Island
Hotel Zephyr CA $188
Hotel Zephyr

Hotel Zephyr

250 Beach Street, San Francisco, CA
     
    4.0 out of 5.0 Stars

    Located in North Beach, this boutique hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf, Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, and Aquarium of the Bay. Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square are also within 15 minutes. Ferry Building Station is 28 minutes by foot.

    Hyatt Regency San Francisco CA $189
    Hyatt Regency San Francisco

    Hyatt Regency San Francisco

    5 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, CA
       
      4.0 out of 5.0 Stars

      Located in Downtown San Francisco, this hotel is within a 10-minute walk of Ferry Building and Embarcadero Center. TransAmerica Pyramid and Exploratorium are also within 15 minutes. Embarcadero Station is only a 2-minute walk and Ferry Building Station is 4 minutes.

      Argonaut Hotel - a Noble House Hotel CA $207
      Argonaut Hotel - a Noble House Hotel

      Argonaut Hotel - a Noble House Hotel

      495 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA
         
        4.5 out of 5.0 Stars

        This family-friendly San Francisco hotel is located in the historical district, within a 5-minute walk of Hyde Street Pier and Ghirardelli Square. Lombard Street and Pier 39 are also within 15 minutes.

        Hilton San Francisco Financial District CA $117
        Hilton San Francisco Financial District

        Hilton San Francisco Financial District

        750 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA
           
          4.0 out of 5.0 Stars

          Located in Downtown San Francisco, this hotel is within 1 mi (2 km) of Ferry Building, Lombard Street and Pier 39. Oracle Park and Alcatraz Island are also within 3 mi (5 km). Montgomery St. Station is 12 minutes by foot and Embarcadero Station is 14 minutes.

          Hotel Zoe Fisherman's Wharf CA $195
          Hotel Zoe Fisherman's Wharf

          Hotel Zoe Fisherman's Wharf

          425 North Point, San Francisco, CA
             
            4.0 out of 5.0 Stars

            Located in North Beach, this eco-friendly hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf and Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum. Aquarium of the Bay and Pier 39 are also within 10 minutes.

            Holiday Inn Express and Suites Fisherman's Wharf CA $168
            Holiday Inn Express and Suites Fisherman's Wharf

            Holiday Inn Express and Suites Fisherman's Wharf

            550 N Point St, San Francisco, CA
               
              3.0 out of 5.0 Stars

              Located in North Beach, this hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum and Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf. Ghirardelli Square and Lombard Street are also within 10 minutes.

              Fairmont San Francisco CA $236
              Fairmont San Francisco

              Fairmont San Francisco

              950 Mason Street Atop Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA
                 
                5.0 out of 5.0 Stars

                This family-friendly San Francisco hotel is located in the historical district, within a 10-minute walk of Grace Cathedral and SHN Curran Theatre. TransAmerica Pyramid and Westfield San Francisco Centre are also within 15 minutes. Powell St. Station is 14 minutes by foot and Montgomery St. Station is 15 minutes.

                Hyatt Centric Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco CA $183
                Hyatt Centric Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco

                Hyatt Centric Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco

                555 N Point St, San Francisco, CA
                   
                  4.0 out of 5.0 Stars

                  Located in North Beach, this hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum and Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf. Ghirardelli Square and Lombard Street are also within 10 minutes.