Our next stop on our tour of San Francisco was Alcatraz. I’d been twice before – first with my parents sometime in the early 80s when the tour was guided, and second with Philip while we were in college and by then the tour was a self-guided audio tour. Both times we just showed up at the pier and bought tickets for the next available tour, usually the very next one leaving.

All that has changed. We bought tickets a week earlier and it was a good thing! Apparently tickets sell out well in advance and perhaps the only thing that saved us was the fact that most California schools hadn’t let out for summer yet.

You’ve got to get to the pier early but they’ve got some displays to read. You can also check out this scale model.  Our traveling monster, Estrella, liked it very much!

Estrella imagines herself as Godzilla attacking Alcatraz.

Eventually we got to board the boat. (Here’s a tip, don’t bother queuing up early unless you’re cold and want to get on the boat for the warmth. Just wait for the line to go down, then board at your leisure.)

The boat ride is windy. Wear a jacket.

The audio tour is excellent! It has you moving around the prison, looking into cells or at displays that help tell the story. The sound effects and background noises really add to the atmosphere. I highly recommend it!

These are isolation cells. The audio tour has you go in one and close your eyes while a former inmate describes what is was like to live in total darkness.

A display showing a bar spreader constructed by an inmate and used for one of the escape attempts.

Prisoners were allowed to pursue some hobbies, like paint by numbers or crochet.

If you go:
Buy tickets online well in advance. This is the official site: Alcatraz Tickets. You can buy both the ferry ride and audio tour tickets together. There is limited street parking, so be prepared to walk or just get someone to drop you off or take the bus.

Wear comfortable shoes and bring a jacket, even in summer.

Eat before you get on the ferry because there is no food allowed on the island. We were gone for 3 hours!

I wouldn’t recommend this tour for toddlers. I don’t think they allow strollers and there is a lot of walking! Plus, everyone is wearing head phones and listening to the tour. A small child would get bored and restless very quickly.

More Mac and Cheese, please!


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