A Review of Alcatraz Island and Visiting Tips

A visit to San Francisco would be incomplete without going on a tour of Alcatraz Prison.  From housing some of the most notorious criminals to daring escapes, this landmark is rich in history and iconic in popular culture.

The Tour of Alcatraz Island

On the day of my tour it was rainy and grey, which seemed fitting for the type of landmark I was visiting.  I was impressed with how organized the tour company was in getting individuals sorted out at the pier and efficiently boarded onto the boats.  When you book a tour, you are given a specific boarding time so it is important that you are not late or your spot maybe given to someone on standby.  The boat ride to Alcatraz island was a great opportunity to get a new view of San Francisco.  It can be a slightly choppy ride but given that it is only 15 minutes it should not cause anyone to be seasick.
Once on the island, all passengers are required to have a general orientation to the island with a park employee.  This lasted about 5 minutes and then we were off on our own.  The Alcatraz website warns of an uphill climb, and yes it is some ways up to get to the audio tour entrance.  However, it really is not that bad of a walk up.  There are plenty of sights to stop along the way, so it’s not as strenuous as the website makes it seems.

An Engaging Audio Tour

Prior to going on the tour, I wasn’t sold on the idea of the audio tour that comes included with the purchase of the tour.  Yet, I have to admit that it is extremely well done.  The audio tour combines a narrated history of the prison combined with oral history of actual prisoners and employees.  It also clearly guides you to different spots in the prison making the visit an interesting and interactive experience.  An unexpected effect of the audio tour is that since everyone walks around listening to their headsets, if you stop and remove yours you will notice how eerily quiet it is even with so many people around.  You also get to step into prison cells and isolation cells.  Reversing the perspective enhances the experience.
Aside from the audio tour, there is a documentary showing that gives more explanation of Alcatraz island and the different functions it served aside from just holding prisoners.  There is also a museum and gift shop to explore.  Personally, I loved how beautiful and fragrant the gardens were around the island.  It provides such a stark contrast from the grey prison.  In the end, I spent just under three hours visiting the island and was happy that I decided on visiting.

Tips for Visiting Alcatraz Island

If you are thinking of visit Alcatraz here are six tips you should know:
  1. Book the earliest tour possible to avoid large crowds on the island.
  2. Tickets sell out super quickly, so book as early as possible to avoid being disappointed
  3. If you don’t book early (like me!), keep checking the website because tickets may become available.  I lucked out and bought mine the night before.
  4. Dress warmly since the island and boat ride can be windy and damp
  5. Do the audio tour, it really is worth it to have the most immersive experience
  6. Plan to spend approximately three hours in total including the boat rides.

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