Visiting Alcatraz Island, San Francisco
If you are visiting San Francisco and have not been to Alcatraz Island, I highly recommend adding it to your list of things to see. The history of the buildings is fascinating and the island itself is a beautiful national park. Here are some suggestions and details on visiting Alcatraz Island in San Francisco that will help you make the most of your family outing.
Alcatraz Island Tickets
Unlike other museums or national parks, you must purchase tickets for Alcatraz Island in advance online. During busy summer months it is recommended you purchase them at least a month in advance. Cruises can sell out two or three weeks in advance in the summer season.
Tickets can be purchased through the official website, www.alcatrazcruises.com. You will purchase tickets for a specific day and time and you can print them out at home and bring them with you. If you choose, you can pick them up at the Prepaid Ticket Booth at Pier 33, but if you do this, leave yourself time to stand in line at this booth.
Arriving At the Pier
There is no parking at Pier 33 so you will want to take a taxi or public transportation to get there if you can. It’s best to arrive at Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33 at least 20 to 30 minutes ahead of your scheduled time. The person who purchased the tickets must have a photo ID to show such as a drivers license, but others in the party do not have to have a photo ID. Before you board they will check your tickets and look through your bags and you will wait in line to board the ferry at your assigned time.
Ferry Ride to Alcatraz
The ferry ride is a fun part of the experience for kids! Depending on the weather you can decide whether you want to sit inside or outside but either way you will get great views of Alcatraz Island and San Francisco. The ferry ride is only about 15 minutes, but there are rest rooms if you need them and there is a concession stand selling simple snacks.
Touring Alcatraz Island
There is no scheduled tour and you are allowed to explore the island, the former prison, and the gardens at your leisure. There is an audio tour offered at the cell house and it provides an interesting and informative picture of what life was like when Alcatraz served as a prison. The audio tour is great for adults and children who are old enough to handle the talk about criminals and prison life. My mature 9 year-old listened to every word and found it fascinating.
While touring the prison you will see actual cells where prisoners were kept, the mess hall and library, and prison offices. You can also see where guards and their families lived on the island. Another interesting aspect of the island are the numerous gardens and plantings. Gardens have always been grown on the island and in recent years the National Park Service has worked to restore them.
Planning Out Meals and Snacks
Food is not allowed on Alcatraz Island, and we all know how kids like their snacks so you may want to think about your meal strategy in advance. We chose to eat a big breakfast at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square before our 9 am tour which allowed us to get back by lunchtime. You CAN eat on the ferry and also on the dock when you first arrive on the island, so you could also bring snacks to eat when you first get off the ferry.
What to Wear
The weather on Alcatraz Island is even more varied than San Francisco and changes constantly throughout the day. You can expect cool, windy or wet weather at any time. The best plan is to wear layers and bring a jacket. The island is hilly and you will be walking the entire time you are exploring, so comfortable shoes are important.
Visiting Alcatraz with kids is a fun and educational experience and hopefully this will help you prepare for a memorable family outing.
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Know Before You Go
- Golden Gate Park has many activities – there are countless trails to walk, lakes, ponds, fields for sports activities, and even a Conservatory for Flowers.
- Check out these spots for great photos: Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill, Dolores Park, and Alamo Square.
- Always dress in layers for the weather. Even in the summer, it can be chilly!