Frequently Asked Questions - Alcatraz Island (U.S. National Park Service) (2023)

What are the hours of operation?
The hours of operation vary with the season. Departures from San Francisco are available throughout the day beginning at 8:45am. The ferry, operated by Alcatraz City Cruises, runs approximately every thirty to forty minutes to and from Alcatraz. You may return to San Francisco on any ferry. The island closes for the day at 6:30pm in the summer, and 4:30pm in fall, winter and spring. For schedules, prices, and to purchase tickets in advance (recommended) please visit the Alcatraz City Cruises website.

Will the island be open? Are tickets available?
Alcatraz is open 362 days a year! The island is closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, or (rarely) due to extreme weather.

(Video) Alcatraz walkthrough with FULL AUDIO TOUR!

Is there a nighttime program?
The Alcatraz Night Program runs Tuesday-Saturday. This program differs from the day time visits in several ways. Evening visits feature park guide-led tours to the cellhouse, the audio tour, Alcatraz Map & Guide, special programs on a variety of Alcatraz topics, and dramatic evening views of the San Francisco skyline. Some sections of the island open during the day are not open to the public at night. For schedules, prices, and to purchase tickets in advance please visit the Alcatraz City Cruises website.

How's the weather?
The weather on the island can be unpredictable and may change suddenly. It's often chillier on Alcatraz than on the mainland -- we recommend layers! Fog is common in the summer, rain in the winter. Annual temperatures fluctuate between 70-45 degrees F.

Should I purchase tickets in advance?
Advance ticket sales are strongly recommended. Tickets to Alcatraz may sell out several weeks ahead during summer months and around holiday weekends. Tickets can be purchased in advance from Alcatraz City Cruises.

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What rules and regulations do I need to follow on Alcatraz?
Some sections of Alcatraz are unsafe to visit. These areas closed to the public are well marked by fences or barricades. Collecting of any sort is prohibited. Plant and animal life are protected by law - do not feed birds on Alcatraz. No food service is available on Alcatraz, however there is a picnic area located at the dock. Food, drinks (including candy and gum) are only allowed on the dock. (An exception is bottled water, which is available in the bookstore on the dock on Alcatraz.) Smoking is only permitted in designated sections of the dock.

Is Alcatraz accessible?
The distance from the dock to the cellhouse at the top of the island is about 1/4 mile, the elevation change is 130 feet (equivalent to a thirteen story climb). Visitors unable to make the climb up Alcatraz's steep road may take advantage of SEAT - Sustainable Easy Access Transport, an electric shuttle which runs once every half hour from the dock to the cellhouse, and once every half hour from the cellhouse to the dock. Other accessibility features include:

  • Tactile Model of Island and Pier 33
  • Accessible Parking at Pier 33
  • Accessible Restroom Facilities
  • Audio Described Tour
  • Assistive Listening Devices
  • Open Captioning
  • Braille Transcript of Cell House Tour
  • An American Sign Language version of the cell house audio tour is available on an individual hand held digital device. This new tour is free, and requires no reservation. Now Deaf visitors can experience the cell house tour in the same way as hearing and blind visitors, with the ability to skip, repeat, or fast forward through segments of the tour.

Detailed information about accessibilty is available here.

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Are guided tours available?
Interpretive walks and guided programs are offered throughout the day by National Park Rangers and volunteers. These programs are included in the price of your ticket, and include conversations around the Occupation of Alcatraz by the Indians of All Tribes, cell door demonstrations, discussions of Alcatraz's legacy, and more. Program titles and locations are posted on the dock and in the cellhouse.

Are self-guided tours available?
Explore the history of Alcatraz at your own pace with a map and written guide. Pick up the Self Guide brochure in English, Spanish, Italian, Spanish, German or Japanese at the dock for $1.00 per copy. A companion brochure on escapes is available in the bookstore near the dock or in the cellhouse.

What about the Cellhouse recorded Audio Tour?
Join former Alcatraz inmates and correctional officers as they remember life on Alcatraz in this award winning 35-minute recorded tour, included in the price of your ticket to Alcatraz. Pick up the tour inside the Cellhouse. Available in English, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese, Mandarin, Dutch and French.

(Video) Alcatraz Island Complete Guide - Taking the Boat & Touring the Infamous Jail

What else can I do on Alcatraz?
Attend a 17-minute video presentation of the Island's 200 year history - an excellent introduction to Alcatraz. The theater is 50 yards up the road from the dock. For hearing impaired visitors, the video is open captioned. The video is subtitled in Spanish as well. Several exhibits are located behind the theater. An award winning video (captioned) exhibit, "We Hold the Rock", presents the story of the occupation by Indians of All Tribes (1969-1971). The New Industries Building (former prison workshops, often home to a current art exhibit) is typically open during limited daytime hours.

Can I purchase souvenirs on Alcatraz?
Memorabilia, film, videos, and books about the Island's rich history are available for sale by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, at the bookstores near the dock and in the cellhouse, and online.


What do I need to know before going to Alcatraz? ›

Highlights to Visit Alcatraz

Your ticket is timed and you can only take that ferry to Alcatraz. Arrive no less than 20 to 30 minutes before the time on your ticket. Bring as little as possible as there are no storage lockers. Wear a jacket or sweater as the ride over to the island gets chilly.

What items are prohibited on Alcatraz? ›

Collecting of any sort is prohibited. Plant and animal life are protected by law - do not feed birds on Alcatraz. No food service is available on Alcatraz, however there is a picnic area located at the dock. Food, drinks (including candy and gum) are only allowed on the dock.

What are 4 facts about Alcatraz? ›

Explore 10 surprising facts about America's most infamous prison.
  • Al Capone played banjo in the inmate band. ...
  • There were no confirmed prisoner escapes from Alcatraz. ...
  • Alcatraz is named for sea birds. ...
  • In spite of his nickname, the “Birdman of Alcatraz” had no birds in the prison.
Nov 4, 2021

What is Alcatraz Island known for? ›

Alcatraz Island is the site of the abandoned federal prison, the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States, early military fortifications, and natural features such as rock pools and a seabird colony (mostly western gulls, cormorants, and egrets).

Can I bring a backpack to Alcatraz? ›

Luggage & Backpacks

There is no storage space for luggage or oversized bags at Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing or on Alcatraz Island. Standard backpacks, measuring 16” x 20” maximum, are allowed on Alcatraz City Cruises vessels and while visiting Alcatraz Island.

Can I bring a water bottle to Alcatraz? ›

Eating, drinking and smoking is only permitted on the dock.

Beyond the dock only bottled water in non-glass bottles is allowed to be consumed.

What was the silence rule in Alcatraz? ›

From 1934 to 1937, the prisoners of Alcatraz followed a policy of silence. They were not allowed to communicate with other prisoners or guards unless they requested and received permission to speak. Their tough schedule started at 7 am in the morning and ended at 9:30pm every night.

Do they serve food at Alcatraz? ›

Alcatraz was known as a “maximum security, minimum privilege” prison. Food and medical care, however, were not considered privileges. They were necessities provided to all inmates.

What time of day is best to go to Alcatraz? ›

Early morning is best if you prefer to go when the island is less crowded. Midday is best if you prefer a warmer day and sunny skies. I took the photo below on the Agave Trail about 1pm in early December. It was a gorgeous sunny day with temperatures in the 60s.

What was the nickname for Alcatraz? ›

From 1909 through 1911, the military prisoners on Alcatraz built the new prison, which was designated the Pacific Branch, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks for the U.S. Army. It was this prison building that later became famous as "The Rock."

Why is it called Alcatraz? ›

The island had little vegetation and was a seabird habitat when it was explored in 1775 by Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala, who named it Isla de los Alcatraces (“Isle of the Pelicans”). Sold in 1849 to the U.S. government, Alcatraz was the site of the first lighthouse (1854) on the coast of California.

What serial killer was in Alcatraz? ›

Robert Stroud, in full Robert Franklin Stroud, byname Birdman of Alcatraz, (born 1890, Seattle, Washington, U.S.—died November 21, 1963, Springfield, Missouri), American criminal, a convicted murderer who became a self-taught ornithologist during his 54 years in prison, 42 of them in solitary confinement, and made ...

What movie is filmed about Alcatraz Island? ›

After the prison closed in 1963, a new era began. "Point Blank" (1967) was the first to film there, followed by such memorable titles as "The Enforcer" (1974) "Escape from Alcatraz" (1979), "The Rock" (1996) and "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006).

Who was prisoner 1 on Alcatraz? ›

Frank Lucas Bolt. Little has been documented about Alcatraz's LGBTQ+ prisoners, but gay men did play a role in the infamous prison. In fact, it was a queer man, Frank Lucas Bolt, who served as the prison's first official inmate.

Can you wear sandals to Alcatraz? ›

Wear comfortable walking shoes with grip-type soles. Avoid wearing sandals, leather-soled shoes, high heels and open-toe shoes.

Can you take pictures inside Alcatraz? ›

Pictures Inside Alcatraz

Yes, can take pictures everywhere within Alcatraz. There are no restrictions on taking photographs as long as you are in an area open to the public. Make sure to look out the windows because you can get some great photos of places on the island that are not open to the public.

Is Alcatraz tour a lot of walking? ›

As a state park, this was fantastic. Quite a bit of climbing, though for people who have any mobility concerns, there is a tram.

Is Alcatraz cold inside? ›

Temperatures on Alcatraz Island seldom rise above 75°F (24°C) or fall below 38°F (3°C). It almost never snows on the Island, but winters can be wet and cold. Afternoon winds are common during every season.

Do they check bags at Alcatraz? ›

Bags larger than a standard backpack, 16" x 20", are not allowed on Alcatraz Island. Small packs and bags are permitted. Each visitor is required to go through extensive security prior to boarding the ferry to Alcatraz. There is no storage available at Pier 33 or Alcatraz Island.

Can you swim back from Alcatraz? ›

Swimming from Alcatraz is one of the most famous, desirable, and enjoyable open water swims (wild swim) in the entire world. Despite lore that swimming from Alcatraz is dangerous, for experienced swimmers with proper support, swimming from Alcatraz can be safe and fun.

What made Alcatraz escape proof? ›

Surrounded by strong currents and fortified by steel and concrete, Alcatraz federal prison was meant to be the highest-security prison in America, a place no one could escape from. The island on which it rests shuns even plant life.

Who was the only person to ever escape Alcatraz? ›

On June 12, 1962, the routine early morning bed check turned out to be anything but. Three convicts were not in their cells: John Anglin, his brother Clarence, and Frank Morris. In their beds were cleverly built dummy heads made of plaster, flesh-tone paint, and real human hair that apparently fooled the night guards.

What was the longest sentence at Alcatraz? ›

Karpis served the longest sentence of any prisoner at Alcatraz: 26 years. In April 1962, with Alcatraz in the process of being closed, he was transferred to McNeil Island Penitentiary in Washington state.

How many drinks do you get in Alcatraz? ›

How many cocktails do we get during our time in the prison? Our working inmates will smuggle you approximately 4 rounds of cocktails for your gang within your time in the prison.

Is there cell service in Alcatraz? ›

Cell phone coverage exists throughout most of Alcatraz. Please always use handrails that are provided.

Are there animals on Alcatraz Island? ›

Today, protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, cormorants, gulls, herons, egrets, and many more species nest among the remnants of the prison and in the island's lush vegetation. They are at the center of the island's other story – Alcatraz is alive with wildlife and plant communities.

How long does it take to walk through Alcatraz? ›

If you choose the Night Tour, your total experience is only 2 -3 hours. If you choose the Behind The Scenes Tour, the guided tour lasts 2 hours. If you choose to stay afterwards for the Night Tour program, the complete experience including round trip boat ride, lasts 4 – 5 hours.

How cold is the water at Alcatraz? ›

Odyssey Alcatraz swims are approximately 2 miles long and can take anywhere between 20 minutes to over an hour based on your level of experience and the conditions. Swimmers are encouraged to wear a wetsuit due to the low temperatures, which can range anywhere from the high 40's to 65 degrees.

How long is the Alcatraz ferry ride? ›

Each ferry ride takes 15 minutes, and the overall trip takes 2-3 hours for the average visitor. When should you arrive for your Alcatraz tour? When visiting Alcatraz, you should arrive at Pier 33 earlier than you think.

What was the most famous prisoners at Alcatraz? ›

Perhaps the most famous of all Alcatraz inmates is Robert Stroud, often remembered for his portrayal in the 1962 movie "Birdman of Alcatraz". He was convicted of murder in 1909 after shooting a man at point-blank range.

Who were the 4 prisoners in Alcatraz? ›

Frank Morris, John Anglin, and his brother, Clarence Anglin have never been located since escaping the facility — which was at some point home to criminals like Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Robert Stroud.

What was Alcatraz originally built for? ›

Begun in 1849, the fortress was originally intended to guard against foreign invasion of San Francisco which had boomed during the gold rush. Alcatraz also played an important role in the Civil War, protecting San Francisco from Confederate raiders.

What does Alcatraz mean in English? ›

Alcatraz in American English

(ˈælkəˌtræz ) small island in San Francisco Bay: site of a federal prison (1934-63) Word origin. after Sp Isla de Alcatraces, Island of Pelicans.

How deep is the water around Alcatraz? ›

With that said though, the water surrounding Alcatraz is on the deeper end of the scale, but still, it's just an average depth of 43 feet. The average depth at Aquatic Park where we swim every week? 3-6 feet (still deeper than under the San Mateo-Hayward bridge!).

Why is Alcatraz important to American history? ›

Better known for its past as a federal prison, housing the nation's most notorious criminals and troublesome inmates, Alcatraz Island has a rich history which also includes its function as a military fort, the site of a civil protest occupation, a GSA managed asset and a National Historic Landmark.

Are there sharks around Alcatraz? ›

Each year, this small population of around 300 adults returns in the fall to our National Marine Sanctuary during Sharktober. Several events of tagged white sharks have been documented passing through the Golden Gate swimming along the waterfront and circling past Alcatraz before leaving again.

Are any former Alcatraz inmates still alive? ›

Bill Baker is part of that living history. He was Alcatraz prisoner number 1259. He is now 89 years old and one of the last surviving former inmates of Alcatraz.

What famous gangster died in Alcatraz? ›

Al Capone | Biography, Life, Death, Alcatraz, Syphilis, & Facts | Britannica.

How many hours do you need at Alcatraz? ›

On average, it's recommended that you set aside a minimum of 2.5 hours for your visit to Alcatraz Island. That time includes taking the round-trip ferry, which is about 15 minutes each way, touring the prison, and walking around the island to explore the gardens and displays.

How hard is it to swim to Alcatraz? ›

Crossing from Alcatraz to San Francisco is not as challenging as one may think based on popular lore about sharks and freezing waters. In fact, sharks in San Francisco Bay are exceedingly rare, and wetsuits minimize the physical impact of the frigid waters.

How long does it take to go through Alcatraz? ›

Length of Alcatraz Prison Tours

The minimum time for the day tours is about 2 to 3 hours. This includes the 15 minutes each way on the ferry to get to and from the island. The night tours run about 3 hours including the time on the ferry.

What time of day is best for Alcatraz? ›

Early morning is best if you prefer to go when the island is less crowded. Midday is best if you prefer a warmer day and sunny skies. I took the photo below on the Agave Trail about 1pm in early December. It was a gorgeous sunny day with temperatures in the 60s.

Is Alcatraz a lot of walking? ›

To see Alcatraz, you'll walk — a lot. It's easy enough if you're in reasonably good shape. They offer a tram to get you up the hill, but you still have to walk after you get there.

How many escape attempts from Alcatraz? ›

Escape seemed near impossible. Despite the odds, from 1934 until the prison was closed in 1963, 36 men tried 14 separate escapes. Nearly all were caught or didn't survive the attempt.

How deep is the water at Alcatraz? ›

It's just 4 or 5 meters deep. But in the center, it is about 20 or 30 meters deep. Every time when the tide is going in or out there's one big valley of water flowing in and out.

How expensive is it to go to Alcatraz? ›

San Francisco Alcatraz Ticket Prices
Alcatraz Ticket Prices Updated June 1, 2022Daytime & Early BirdBehind the Scenes
Adults (Ages 18-61)$41.00$96.00
Junior (12-17)$41.00$91.95
Child (5-11)$25.00Not Permitted
Infants and Toddlers (0-4)FreeNot Permitted
2 more rows

Does it get cold at Alcatraz? ›

Temperatures on Alcatraz Island seldom rise above 75°F (24°C) or fall below 38°F (3°C). It almost never snows on the Island, but winters can be wet and cold. Afternoon winds are common during every season.

What is the water temp in Alcatraz? ›

Water temperatures for Alcatraz swims are usually in the mid-50's to mid-60's. For comparison, pools used for competitive swimming are between 77 and 82 degrees (Fahrenheit).

How do you prepare for Alcatraz swim? ›

Alcatraz Tips for First Timers
  1. “Pack plenty of warm clothes and a nice big towel for after the swim :).” ...
  2. “Take a boat cruise around the Bay so you can see the course you'll be swimming and (hopefully) get out your nervous energy.” ...
  3. “Swim a lot and often in the open water. ...
  4. “Be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
Apr 4, 2019

What happens if you are late to Alcatraz? ›

If you are late for your departure from Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing to Alcatraz Island, please check in at the Will Call area of the Ticketbooth and you will be accommodated on the next available departure. It's important to have your ticketing information with you as well as a government issued photo ID.

What time do Alcatraz tours start? ›

Departures are available about every half hour throughout the day beginning at 8:45am. Evening tours, Behind the Scenes Tours, and combined Angel Island-Alcatraz Island tours are also available on a set schedule. Alcatraz is open every day except Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year's day.

What pier does Alcatraz Tours leave from? ›

Pier 33 under a blue sky. Pier 33 is located along San Francisco's Embarcadero. This is the spot to catch the ferry that whisks you away for an experience of a lifetime on Alcatraz!


1. National Parks and Regional Parks: Telling History in Parks | Brian Holt & Kelli English
(Future Histories Lab)
2. Amy Meyer interview: New Guardians for the Golden Gate: How America Got a Great National Park (FWS)
(Free Nature Interviews)
3. The National Park Service pulls the tarps off a $3 million restoration project at Alcatraz Island, i
(AP Archive)
4. 24. Lessons from Alcatraz: The Concrete Preservation Institute's Preservation First Approach
5. From Alcatraz to Standing Rock: Archaeology and Contemporary Native American Protests (1969-Today)
(KU Explorations in Archaeology)
6. Red Power on Alcatraz Perspectives 50 Years Later
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