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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


Map

Best Lodging Options Near Alcatraz Island

See all 1,423 Properties near Alcatraz Island
Hyatt Centric Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco $159
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.

    Holiday Inn Golden Gateway $129
    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 Lombard Street are also within 1 mi (2 km). California St & Van Ness Ave Stop is only a 2-minute walk and California St & Polk St Stop is 2 minutes.

      Hilton San Francisco Financial District $109
      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.

        Argonaut Hotel - a Noble House Hotel $229
        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.

          Hotel Caza Fisherman’s Wharf $148
          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.

              San Remo Hotel $144
              San Remo Hotel

              San Remo Hotel

              2237 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA
                 
                2.0 out of 5.0 Stars

                Located in North Beach, this hotel is within a 15-minute walk of Pier 39 and Coit Tower. Palace of Fine Arts and Alcatraz Island are also within 3 mi (5 km). Taylor St & Francisco St Stop and Columbus Ave & Lombard St Stop are within a 5-minute walk.

                Wharf Inn $127
                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.