Alcatraz Island is best-known as the location of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, which housed infamous criminals like Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly and James "Whitey" Bulger. While the prison is still the main attraction, the island has other sights to take in. Visitors who are interested in the history of the prison, the island's gardens or the gorgeous view of San Francisco would enjoy visiting Alcatraz.
Parking and public transportation at Alcatraz Island
There's no bridge to the island, so visitors going to or from Alcatraz use a ferry operated by Alcatraz Cruises. Ferries leave from San Francisco's Pier 33 about every half hour starting at 8:45 a.m. Parking can be difficult to find near Pier 33, so visitors should use one of the city's many public transportation alternatives instead. Options with stops nearby include the MUNI city bus, cable cars, street cars and the area's two train services, BART and CALTRAIN.
Best and worst time to go to Alcatraz Island
Visitors who want to avoid peak crowds should visit Alcatraz Island Monday-Thursday. Those seeking the best weather should consider April, May, September or October; summer weather in San Francisco is unpredictable, but can often mean fog and thus colder temperatures.
Admission to Alcatraz Island
Several tours of the island are offered, so admission varies but is in the $30-$40 range. Family tickets, which cover two adults and two children, are available by phone or at the ticket booth, but not online. Children 0-4 years old receive free admission.
Must see/do at Alcatraz Island
The Cellhouse Audio Tour is included in the price of admission, so most visitors explore the prison while listening to inmates and correctional officers discuss their time on Alcatraz Island. The Gardens of Alcatraz are another draw; visitors can explore the roses, irises and other plants with a self-guided tour or on one of the twice weekly docent-led tours.
Other places to visit near Alcatraz Island
Angel Island, known as the "Ellis Island of the West," is not as well-known as Alcatraz Island, but it can be visited the same day with a combination tour ticket. Visitors to Angel Island will see a U.S. Immigration Station (USIS) and be able to partake in biking and hiking the island's trails. Pier 33, where Alcatraz tours depart, is located in the Fisherman's Wharf area, which is packed with restaurants and other attractions like Ghirardelli Square.
Inside tip for visitors to Alcatraz Island
Tickets to Alcatraz Island often sell out weeks in advance, especially in the summer, so visitors should book tickets as close as possible to the 90-day window when tickets become available.
Author's bio: Elizabeth Xu is a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area, though she hails from the Midwest. Follow her travels @ElizabethMXu.