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Alcatraz Island

Now a National Park, this rocky island was once home to one of the most feared prisons in the United States.

Between 1934 and 1963, the prison on Alcatraz Island housed criminals such as the likes of Al Pacino, Alvin Carpis and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. Standing on the mainland and gazing out to the rocky island, it’s not difficult to see why Alcatraz law-breakers of the day were filled with such dread at the utterance of its name, with its stormy weather and bleak isolation.

You can get to Alcatraz Island by ferry. Taking 15 minutes, the Alcatraz Cruises ferry leaves Pier 33 at the Embarcadero. Included in the price of a round-trip ferry ticket is a cell house audio tour, but it’s also worth joining one of the free tours run by the Alcatraz National Park volunteers and guides. Alternatively, just pick up a brochure at the ferry landing and see the island in your own time.

Head to the penal colony to peer into the cellblocks that once held some of the most notorious criminals of the day. In the walled exercise yard, the apparent proximity of San Francisco must have been both frustrating and tempting for the inmates. The island is also home to the first lighthouse on the USA’s West Coast, originally constructed in 1854 and then rebuilt in 1909.

An escape from Alcatraz was pretty much an impossible task, but that didn’t stop 36 people from trying during the 29 years that the prison was in use. Of those 36, 23 were caught, 6 were killed and the rest were believed to have fallen victim of the icy waters and dangerous currents of San Francisco Bay.

A year before the prison closed in 1963, three inmates managed to dig through their cell walls and escape, leaving dummies in their beds to trick the authorities. Although their bodies were never found, they were all presumed dead after attempting to swim through the treacherous waters to the mainland.

You’ll easily spend a couple of hours on the Rock, and you can stay on the island until the last ferry of the day, which departs at 4.25 pm. It’s a good idea to buy your ferry tickets in advance, particularly in summer, as the island is a popular tourist attraction.

There's no place anywhere quite like Alcatraz Island. To help you make the most of your visit, we've put together a list of the top activities:

If you'd like more activities, check out our San Francisco things to do page.


Guide to Exploring Alcatraz Island


Map

Top Alcatraz Island Hotel Deals

See all 1,625 properties near Alcatraz Island
Hotel Zephyr SG$169
Hotel Zephyr

Hotel Zephyr

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 Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf, Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, and Aquarium of the Bay. Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square are also within 15 minutes. Ferry Building Station is 28 minutes by foot.

    Hyatt Regency San Francisco SG$195
    Hyatt Regency San Francisco

    Hyatt Regency San Francisco

    5 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, CA
       
      4.0 out of 5.0 Stars

      Located in Downtown San Francisco, this hotel is within a 10-minute walk of Ferry Building and Embarcadero Center. TransAmerica Pyramid and Exploratorium are also within 15 minutes. Embarcadero Station is only a 2-minute walk and Ferry Building Station is 4 minutes.

      Argonaut Hotel - a Noble House Hotel SG$217
      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.

        Hilton San Francisco Financial District SG$121
        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 Alcatraz Island are also within 3 mi (5 km). Montgomery St. Station is 12 minutes by foot and Embarcadero Station is 14 minutes.

          Hotel Zoe Fisherman's Wharf SG$202
          Hotel Zoe Fisherman's Wharf

          Hotel Zoe Fisherman's Wharf

          425 North Point, San Francisco, CA
             
            4.0 out of 5.0 Stars

            Located in North Beach, this eco-friendly hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf and Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum. Aquarium of the Bay and Pier 39 are also within 10 minutes.

            Holiday Inn Express and Suites Fisherman's Wharf SG$174
            Holiday Inn Express and Suites Fisherman's Wharf

            Holiday Inn Express and Suites Fisherman's Wharf

            550 N Point St, San Francisco, CA
               
              3.0 out of 5.0 Stars

              Located in North Beach, this hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum and Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf. Ghirardelli Square and Lombard Street are also within 10 minutes.

              Fairmont San Francisco SG$244
              Fairmont San Francisco

              Fairmont San Francisco

              950 Mason Street Atop Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA
                 
                5.0 out of 5.0 Stars

                This family-friendly San Francisco hotel is located in the historical district, within a 10-minute walk of Grace Cathedral and SHN Curran Theatre. TransAmerica Pyramid and Westfield San Francisco Centre are also within 15 minutes. Powell St. Station is 14 minutes by foot and Montgomery St. Station is 15 minutes.

                Hyatt Centric Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco SG$189
                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 5-minute walk of Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum and Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf. Ghirardelli Square and Lombard Street are also within 10 minutes.