Besides the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz would have to be one of San Fran’s most notable landmarks, even if you’re not a history buff, heading out to view the period architecture is worth the trip alone.

First things first though, the sooner you book the better. I recommend making a booking at least one month before travelling, preferably more if you want your choice of days and times. We chose Alcatraz cruises after reading glowing reviews, sure enough they didn’t disappoint, exceptional service and quick responses via email. However, due to their popularity, as mentioned, tickets sell out long in advance, so get in as soon as you can.

I would also recommend getting the earliest ferry out there, that way there’s fewer people on the island. We caught the second ferry out and it was already starting to get a little busy. See the website for more information on best times of day/year to travel.

Getting to the pier early is essential as well, as the ferry leaves right on time. Even if you get there 5-10min early its still not enough as they begin queuing the next boatload at least 30min prior, so you’ll have to try and get through that crowd and security. We saw more than a few people turned away because of their tardiness. The good thing is, buses regularly travel from the downtown area, it takes less than 30min and there’s some nice scenic views and pretzel and coffee kiosks on the wharf to help pass the time while you wait.

Don’t worry if you missed out on your cuppa or snack before hand, there’s plenty available on the ferry. Its also your last chance of something to eat as no food or drinks (other than water) is allowed in the facility other than at the ferry dock. The ride is about 30min where you get to see the whole of the city framed by both the Golden Gate and the Bay bridges.

Alcatraz - dock

Alcatraz - changing area

Once on the island, you will be greeted by one of the volunteers and given a brief run down of the facility before being able to freely roam the island. The walk from the dock to the actual prison is a bit steep but nothing too strenuous. Once in the main building there is an audio tour set available which steps you through the cramped cells and production line style clothing and shower facilities. If only jails were more like this today, it would deter alot more criminals!

Alcatraz - main cell block

Alcatraz - prisoner cel

There are cells that are open so you can get photos but access to the upper levels and a lot of the other buildings is restricted so this cuts the viewing time down considerably. Exit through the gift shop for the usual merch and a wall of some of the (in)famous inmates. Night tours are also available for the thrill seekers. There is no time limits for staying on the island so you can be as quick or take as much time as you like. Ferries depart approx. every half hour.

Travel tip: as per the website, weather conditions vary a lot since its essentially a little island out at sea. Always take at least a windbreaker and something warmer if you’re going later in the afternoon, even in the warmer months. The notorious San Fran fog can also play havoc with your visit but could very well make for some interesting photos.

While we were out that way, two other must see’s were on the list, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate bridge, they’re up next.

Alcatraz - watch tower


Complete Alcatraz 2011 photo gallery here

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here


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