Alcatraz: San Francisco's Best Tourist Attraction


The question comes up all the time: "If you only had one day in city XXX, what would you do?" It's never an easy answer, and unless you're in Barstow, CA, you usually need more than one or two days to fully experience a city. But when it comes to San Francisco, my home town, my answer to that question is simple: Alcatraz.


For those not familiar, Alcatraz is the famous (now closed) maximum security prison beautifully placed in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. It used to be a military fort, then a military prison, then a federal maximum security prison (home to famouse criminals like Al Capone and Robert "Birdman" Stroud). Nicknamed "The Rock," many movies have been made on this piece of history, and I think the day tour there is one of the best tourist attractions in San Francisco. Not only is the history absolutely fascinating, but the audio tour includes commentary from old prisoners and prison guards, and you get to walk inside the cells and see what life was like on the Rock.


Even though the tour is awesome, the best part about the tour of Alcatraz, in my opinion, isn't the tour. It's the fantastic views that you get when you step outside at the top of the prison. The views of San Francisco are picture perfect, and there's no place to get a better look at the Golden Gate Bridge than on Alcatraz. There are definitely plenty of postcard quality photos that you can take from up there.


I end up going on this tour about once a year, when family or friends come to visit. I actually thought to write this post because a friend of mine is currently visiting from China, and we took her to Alcatraz yesterday as her first major site to see in San Francisco. She had a great time, and the pictures she got are priceless.


The tour includes a round trip boatride, and the ride, while short, is quite refreshing, and there are great views to be had on the top deck of the boat. I think it's a great value. For only $26, you get the boatride, the audio tour of the prison, and the best views in the Bay Area. And while it's great for adults, kids also LOVE the tour. The tour picks up and drops off at Pier 33, which is only a ten or fifteen minute walk from Fisherman's Wharf, to continue the day of tourism. All of the pictures in this post are from our trip yesterday. If you have never done the Alcatraz tour before, do yourself a favor and do it next time you're in the City By the Bay!


Of course, you have to finish the day with some fresh seafood at Fisherman's Wharf!


RDimperio July 18, 2011 at 04:38 pm

I concur. This is one of my favorite touristy things to do in the world. Others on the list include: Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls. Walking along the river in New Orleans eating a Mufalata from Central Grocers. Staten Island Ferry ride -- a boat ride through New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty and back. Laser Light show in Hong Kong. There are others.

Brad July 18, 2011 at 07:59 pm

As a non-local, but frequent SF visitor, I totally agree. Alcatraz is great.

I have to admit, I enjoyed seeing your photo of the people dressed for a nice mid July day in SF with sweatshirts and scarves, LOL

dc February 14, 2012 at 09:11 am

i do not like tourism and i also do not think that people should be touring the place its not safe i mean it was a maximum security prison

I haven't been in 25 years...but I still hold fond memories of my visit to Alcatraz. Visitors should book their tour a few weeks in advance to avoid being shut out. Supposedly the twilight tour is the most memorable and includes additional sections.

Kevin November 12, 2012 at 09:08 pm

The night time tour is kinda cool. I did it a couple years ago. The main thing is that they open up the hospital, but the hospital is really just right above the mess room, and it's not THAT interesting - of course there's not much scarier to me than old medical equipment... stick it in a prison on an island, and that will about do it ;-).

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