What it is:
Nicknamed "the rock," Alcatraz served as a federal maximum security prison from 1934 to 1963 and was home to such notorious prisoners as Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and Robert Stroud, aka the "Birdman of Alcatraz." The Angling brothers made their famous escape in 1962. Today Alcatraz is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and offers an excellent audio tour as well as daily ranger-led programs.
All access to Alcatraz is through Alcatraz Cruises. Ferries depart daily from Hornblower Pier (at the foot of Bay Street) at Fisherman's Wharf.
What to Do:
The Cell House Audio Tour, recorded by former inmates and wardens, brings the Alcatraz experience to life. You can also discover the island's historic gardens and abundant wildlife.
When to Go:
Ferries leave Pier 33 every thirty minutes beginning at 9 a.m. and run into the early evening. Book the "early bird" tour, the first of the day, to avoid crowds.
Take the F line streetcar, #10 Townsend bus, or #15 Third Street bus to Pier 33 at Fisherman's Wharf.
Tickets ($26 for adults; discounts for children and seniors) can sell out days in advance. For best results buy tickets online at Alcatraz Cruises. Tickets cover the boat ride and the cost of the tour.
Keep in Mind:
Weather can be blustery on the bay; dress in layers or bring an extra jacket. The boat ride to the island is about 15 minutes; plan for a total of 2-2.5 hours for the visit. Snacks are sold on the ferry but no food is available on the island.