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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.

Travel is always so much more than just seeing new places. It's all about the adventures you can have while you're there.

Kick-start your trip to Alcatraz Island by trying one or two of these things to do:

Have a little time on your side? Go to our Alcatraz Island things to do page for a full list of activities.


Guide to Exploring around Alcatraz Island


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Best Lodging Options Near Alcatraz Island

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Hyatt Centric Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco CA $256
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 10-minute walk of Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, Ghirardelli Square and Lombard Street. Pier 39 and Van Ness Avenue are also within 15 minutes. Jones St and Beach St Stop and Beach St & Mason St Stop are within a 5-minute walk.

    Hilton San Francisco Financial District CA $149
    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 Palace of Fine Arts are also within 3 mi (5 km). California St & Kearny St Stop is only a 5-minute walk and California St & Grant Ave Stop is 5 minutes.

      Holiday Inn Golden Gateway CA $175
      Holiday Inn Golden Gateway

      Holiday Inn Golden Gateway

      1500 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA
         
        3.5 out of 5.0 Stars

        Located in Downtown San Francisco, this hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Van Ness Avenue and The Regency Ballroom. San Francisco City Hall and Orpheum Theater are also within 1 mile (2 km). California St & Van Ness Ave Stop is only a 2-minute walk and California St & Polk St Stop is 2 minutes.

        Hotel Riu Plaza Fisherman's Wharf CA $148
        Hotel Riu Plaza Fisherman's Wharf

        Hotel Riu Plaza Fisherman's Wharf

        2500 Mason St, San Francisco, CA
           
          4.0 out of 5.0 Stars

          Located in North Beach, this hotel is within a 10-minute walk of Aquarium of the Bay, Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square. Lombard Street and Alcatraz Island are also within 3 mi (5 km). Beach St & Mason St Stop is only a 2-minute walk and Jefferson St & Powell St Stop is 3 minutes.

          Argonaut Hotel - a Noble House Hotel
          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. Hyde St & Beach St Stop is only a 2-minute walk and Hyde St & North Point St Stop is 3 minutes.

            Wharf Inn CA $150
            Wharf Inn

            Wharf Inn

            2601 Mason St, San Francisco, CA
               
              2.5 out of 5.0 Stars

              Located in North Beach, this hotel is within a 10-minute walk of Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. Ghirardelli Square and Lombard Street are also within 15 minutes. Beach St & Mason St Stop and Jefferson St & Powell St Stop are within a 2-minute walk.

              Hotel Caza Fisherman’s Wharf CA $216
              Hotel Caza Fisherman’s Wharf

              Hotel Caza Fisherman’s Wharf

              1300 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA
                 
                3.5 out of 5.0 Stars

                This family-friendly San Francisco hotel is located in the historical district, within a 10-minute walk of Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco Maritime Museum and Lombard Street. Aquarium of the Bay and Pier 39 are also within 15 minutes. Jones St and Beach St Stop and Hyde St & Beach St Stop are within a 5-minute walk.

                Hotel Zephyr San Francisco
                Hotel Zephyr San Francisco

                Hotel Zephyr San Francisco

                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 USS Pampanito and Pier 39. Ghirardelli Square and Lombard Street are also within 15 minutes. Beach St & Mason St Stop is only a 2-minute walk and Beach St & Stockton St Stop is 2 minutes.