My family just returned from a six day trip to San Francisco. While my husband and I had been twice before, this was the kids’ first trip, so we did all of the touristy stuff.
Over the next few posts I’ll share with you some of our experiences in San Francisco, in case you’re planning a trip there in the future or just want to travel there virtually.
I’m starting with one of San Francisco’s top visitor attractions: Alcatraz.
How to Get Tickets to Alcatraz
The first thing you need to know about visiting Alcatraz is to get your tickets early. As in weeks or even months early.
The photo below was taken on July 14. It is the sign next to the Alcatraz tour walk-up ticket booth.
If you don’t have your tickets in hand when you arrive in SF — and we didn’t — you have two basic options:
1. Book a tour through a tour company that packages the Alcatraz visit with another tour. This is great if the other tour is of interest to you. If not, you’ll be spending lots of extra $$ to take the Alcatraz tour.
2. Get to the Alcatraz ticket booth early in the morning. Very early in the morning. The booth opens at 7am, and the concierge at our hotel advised us to be there no later than 6am if we wanted a good shot at getting tickets. My sweet family hopped into a cab at 5:30 am for a trip to the wharf and let me sleep. Just one problem: each member of your party had to be there in order to buy tickets. A nice girl named Zoe stood in for me and then jumped back into line with her family, but be advised of this rule if you plan to use this option.
All of this maneuvering was for a day tour of Alcatraz. The night tour tickets are even harder to come by, so if you’d like to take that tour, I’d suggest booking tickets right after you make your plane and hotel reservations.
Dressing for the Weather at Alcatraz
Another thing to be aware of on an Alcatraz visit is the weather.
Tourists are sometimes surprised by how cool San Francisco is. (The highs on the days we were there ranged from the upper 50’s to the low 70’s.) The ride on the ferry to Alcatraz is even colder, however. And windy…very windy.
While standing in line to board the boat we saw more than one family duck into the gift shop to buy sweatshirts and sweatpants because they were surprised by the temps.
What You’ll See at Alcatraz
When you reach the island, you’ll likely be struck by how beautiful the vegetation is. This is such a surprise, considering the location. There are volunteers who maintain all the plants and flowers.
And the birds definitely own the island. They’re very vocal about it and if they have babies nearby you’ll want to keep your distance.
Once inside the prison, you’ll have the option to take a free audio tour. It’s excellent. It walks you step by step through the prison and the history associated with it.
You’ll visit and learn about the different cell blocks, the cafeteria, the library, and the prison yard.
Friends of ours who took the night tour reported visiting the prison hospital and operating room, which they described as especially creepy feeling.
You’ll also get to see the burnt out remains of the warden’s home, which sits right next to the prison, and the living quarters for the guards’ families. Can you imagine living and raising your children on Alcatraz? Although by all accounts, the families felt safe and enjoyed their tight knit community.
Finally, make sure to leave some time to enjoy the breathtaking views of the city, the bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge from Alcatraz. They’re amazing.
Have you visited Alcatraz? What tips and experiences do you have to share?