Alcatraz Island: A San Francisco Tourist Adventure That Even Locals Should Not Miss

Alcatraz Island: A San Francisco Tourist Adventure That Even Locals Should Not Miss

Alcatraz Island is one of the most well-known tourist destinations in San Francisco, it is also wildly popularized by locals and photographers. The island offers beautiful views as well as opportunities to be a part of a brief history lesson. The port for visiting the island is located at the Embarcadero - a day trip to this hot destination cannot be missed. The Northeastern most part of San Francisco is home to the Embarcadero, which is derived from the Spanish verb embarcar, meaning, “to embark”. Each pier offers something new: from 5-star restaurants, to road-side churros, the Embarcadero is the perfect afternoon destination for locals and tourists alike.

Arriving to the island

alcatraz island: a san francisco tourist adventure that even locals should not miss | arriving to the island

Alcatraz Cruises offers the best Alcatraz island experience. It is located on San Francisco’s famous Embarcadero and is accessible by bus, train, or taxi from all parts of the city. The loading dock is at Pier 33, 1 mile south of the famous Fisherman’s Wharf. Guests can purchase tickets in advance and meet at AC’s loading dock during their designated time for departure.

After arriving at the island, you will be allowed to freely hike around the property. The views are spectacular. On a clear day, you can see across the Bay toward Sausalito, Oakland, and can even gain a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge! The island also offers one of the best views of the San Francisco city skyline. There are also historical buildings and native plants throughout, a photographer’s dream!

Touring one of the world’s “most inescapable prisons”

alcatraz island: a san francisco tourist adventure that even locals should not miss | touring one of the world’s “most inescapable prisons”

Alcatraz is most recognized as the site of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. The prison is most revered for its mystery and complicated (sometimes true) urban legends. It was once home to some of America’s most infamous convicts, including Al Capone, the American gangster who ran operations in New York and Chicago during the prohibition era. He and his comrades are most remembered as a dangerous crew that illegally networked with government officials to sell alcohol and is assumed to be the culprits of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Once reaching the prison, you can join a free walking audio tour. The walking tour is self-guided and can be listened to in dozens of languages. The tour guides you through the cell house, and around the penitentiary. It includes history about the island and tells of several escapes (or attempted escapes), all told by the prisoners themselves. Some of the prisoner’s stories seem too complicated and unreal to believe until you walk past cellblocks as described in the prisoner’s stories. Artifacts are left in the cells as proof that these transgressions indeed happened.

Once the tour is over, you will join hundreds of people at the bottom of the hill to catch the boat back to the mainland. Waiting in line affords you the chance to meet people from all over the world!

Recharge at the Ferry Building with coffee and cheese

San Francisco Ferry Building (cropped)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user JaGa used under CC BY-SA 4.0

When you arrive at the Pier, I highly suggest that you hail a pedicab (a bike taxi) and head over to the Ferry Building that is located at Pier 1. Inside the marketplace, you can grab a sweet cup of coffee from San Francisco’s own Blue Bottle Coffee. Don’t miss the New Orleans iced coffee made with local organic milk, iced coffee, organic cane sugar, and organic chicory. The NOLA is a refreshing, slightly sweet iced coffee drink that is the perfect recipe for a recharge after a small hike.

If you are ready for a snack, check out some of the world’s best artisanal cheese at Cowgirl Creamery that is located just a few doors down. There, I recommend a creamy scoop of Mt Tam or their extra rich Crème Fraiche. The staff members are all knowledgeable about their cheese and the cheese making process. Be ready to learn a thing or two as you wait for your sample. If you are at the Ferry building on a particular day, you can also shop at a local farmer’s market with the hours as followed:

Additional tips for your Alcatraz tour

Like most days in San Francisco the weather might be gloomy and misty. If you are heading near the water (such as near the Embarcadero), make sure to bring a light hooded jacket and a scarf.

Pro tip: make sure you book your Alcatraz tour online at least 3 weeks before your trip, the tours sell out quickly!

What to bring: · Jacket · Scarf · Comfortable walking shoes · Camera · Snacks

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Stephanie has been a photojournalist and adventure writer for several international non-profits. She has travelled the world, lived aboard, and eaten her fair share of local cuisine. She is a dog...Read more

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