Tickets to Alcatraz usually sell out in advance. If you plan on putting this old prison, turned into a major tourist attraction, on your list of things to see in San Francisco, you’re far from the only one. Imagine spending hours among hundreds of tourists listening to the same audio tour – I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t sound too tempting to me. Luckily, there’s a way to get Alcatraz to yourself without paying anything extra. We did it last year when we visited, and I’m about to reveal how – this is my very best tips for visiting Alcatraz!
What should I know before visiting Alcatraz?
If you didn’t know it already, this prison in San Francisco Bay is situated on an island, as seen in the photo above. It’s accessible by a 15-minute ferry ride, which is included in the price of the ticket. There are a few different kinds of tours and experiences to choose from, such as a night tour and a behind the scenes tour. We went on a self-guided audio tour.
Alcatraz used to be full of prisoners, some of them have you likely already heard of, but don’t worry – the prison closed in 1963, so you don’t need to feel anxious about any unpleasant encounters. All you will find today is a place with a lot of stories to tell you.
Not only is Alcatraz a perfect destination for anyone interested in history (or tv-shows such as Orange is The New Black, or why not movies such as The Rock), but you’ll also find a seabird colony on Alcatraz Island. In addition, Alcatraz also offers beautiful views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Where do I buy my tickets to Alcatraz?
You can buy your tickets online on the official website. Have in mind that they often sell out in advance.
What is the Alcatraz self-guided tour like?
The self-guided tour lets you explore Alcatraz at your own pace. Your ticket will allow you to stay on the island for as long as you like, until the last ferry leaves to take you back to San Francisco. In other words, there’s no need to hurry.
Upon arrival, you will queue to get a headset. After that, you’re free to roam around Alcatraz while listening to your audio tour.
My best tips for visiting Alcatraz – how to get it all to yourself
Finally, it’s time for the secret I said I’d share with you – how did we get Alcatraz to ourselves?
Take the first ferry to Alcatraz in the morning
To begin with, you’ll need to take the very first ferry of the day. When we booked our tickets, they were called “early bird tickets”. They cost just as much as regular day tour tickets.
Taking the first ferry of the day will give you great opportunities to explore Alcatraz before the big crowd of tourists arrive. Stay close to the exit on the ferry so you’ll be one of the first to set your foot on Alcatraz Island. This will give you a huge advantage, and you’ll soon see why!
Arriving at Alcatraz – know where to go
When you arrive at Alcatraz, make your way directly towards the prison, up the hill. Some people will probably go this way directly as well, while some is staying down at the information centre for a while. Follow the people that are heading to the start of the audio tour, where you’ll later get your headset.
This is where you part ways from everyone else – don’t queue for the audio tour, but look to your left instead. If you see a staircase and an open door, like in the photo below, head over there directly! We were a bit unsure if we were allowed to go there, since nobody else did, so we asked one of the tour guides working at Alcatraz. “Yes, of course, you can go there, but then you might have to queue for a longer time to get your audio tour headset later”, he replied.
We didn’t hesitate and left for the “secret passage” directly – which immediately let us into Alcatraz and let us have the prison for ourselves for over 15 minutes. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were!
The best way to see Alcatraz
To me, this is the absolute best way to see Alcatraz. Take your time, wander around and take photos of Alcatraz without any tourists in sight. Then, when you’re done exploring on your own or when people start arriving with their headsets, you can make your way back to the place where the audio tour starts. Luckily, we only had to queue for about 10 minutes before we got our headsets.
If you want to get a unique experience, this is definitely my best tips for visiting Alcatraz. Wandering around the prison by ourselves was the highlight of our self-guided day tour!
Since we’re travelling on a budget, we rarely spend money on tours and tourist attractions. However, Alcatraz was one of the must-sees in San Francisco and I’m extremely glad we decided to go!
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