Alcatraz is arguably the most famous prison in the world.  The most dangerous prisoners were kept here because it would be so difficult to escape.  The prison is on an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.  Although, I had visited many years ago, I decided to go again for two reasons.  First, Russell hadn’t been and secondly now they offer a night tour.  Spending a night at Alcatraz would give me a different perspective, and I was surprised how much I learned.

I must stress that it is important to buy your tickets in advance especially if you want to do the night tour.  I would recommend buying them at least a month ahead of time.  There are only two boats for the night tours and they only do them Thursday through Monday.  The night tour does have special programs that are not available during the day too.  The night tour costs $50.50 per adult and the day tour is $43.50.  I also wanted to do the night tour because I thought the atmosphere would be better.

You get a lovely view of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge as you dock at Alcatraz. - "Spend One Night at Alcatraz" - Two Traveling Texans
You get a lovely view of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge as you dock at Alcatraz.

You are told to arrive at the dock early and when we got there it was already a pretty long line.   Of course everyone that had a ticket was able to get on the boat but people want to line up early to get the best seats.  Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much about that.  Pretty soon after the boat left the dock we headed to the outside portion of the deck for the best views.  

The boat took off just as the sun was starting to set.  It was a clear day so we had a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, which we also rode bikes across the next day.  The tour guide pointed out landmarks and gave us some information about the tour, including the times the boats would leave.  The boat then circled the island so that we could see it from all sides before docking at Alcatraz island.

You can see the prison building at the top of the hill as the boat approaches the dock. - "Spend One Night at Alcatraz"
You can see the prison building at the top of the hill as the boat approaches the dock.

We had been warned that the walk from the dock to the prison was steep.  They did have a tram to take those with mobility issues up.  It was steep but not terrible.  We stopped at a couple of points along the way for brief talks from the park ranger and it wasn’t too long before we were standing right outside the prison.  The park ranger then went over the schedules of events for the night.  The schedule was not written anywhere so it was hard to remember.  We just decided we would play it by ear.

One of the aisles inside Alcatraz. We were lucky to catch it empty. - "Spend One Night at Alcatraz" - Two Traveling Texans
One of the aisles of prison cells inside Alcatraz. We were lucky to catch it empty.

We entered the prison and picked up our audio guides.  I should say this audio guide is definitely one of the best audio guides I have experienced.  They really did a good job of sharing the personal stories of the prisoners and guards.  Plus, they pointed out historical spots in the prison like the cells of famous inmates.

The solitary confinement cells in Alcatraz. - " Spend One Night at Alcatraz"
The solitary confinement cells in Alcatraz.

The audio guide tour finished in the cafeteria.   A park ranger announced there would be a talk happening soon, so we decided we should stay and see what it was about.  It turned out to be about the Native American occupation of Alcatraz.  I had no idea that Native Americans had occupied the island as a form of protest against the government taking their land.  

The occupation lasted 14 months, from November 20, 1969, to June 11, 1971.  To get the Native Americans to leave, the government cut off power to the island, but some were still determined to stay.  Later, a fire from an unknown cause broke out and more left.  Finally the government forcefully removed the last 15 people.

The next talk we attended was about the infamous escape from Alcatraz on June 11, 1962, which inspired the movie Escape from Alcatraz.  We met the park ranger outside and she explained the elaborate plan and pointed to the roof where the prisoners escaped.  They were never found, so they are presumed dead.

A dramatization so that you can see what cells would have looked like. - " Spend One Night at Alcatraz"
A dramatization so that you can see what cells would have looked like and how the guards could have been fooled.

Then we headed back down the hill and caught a short film in a building close to the dock.  The film was interesting because it talked about the children that grew up on Alcatraz.  I had never thought that there would be children on Alcatraz, but guards did live on the island with their families.  It was interesting to hear from the now adults who had spent their childhood on the island.  They didn’t think it was unusual and they thought it was a great place to grow up.

After about 3 hours, it was time to get on the boat and head back to San Francisco.  By now, it was completely dark and a little chilly, so we just sat inside the ferry and enjoyed the ride.  Spending the night at Alcatraz is definitely something we won’t soon forget.   Check out our video to see more.

Have you been to Alcatraz?  What did you think?


Expert Tips:

  • Book your tickets in advance before the tours sell out.
  • Try to take advantage on some of the talks that are offered in addition to the audio tour.
  • Even in the summer, it will be chilly at night, so be sure to bring a jacket.
  • If you are looking for other things to do while in San Francisco, you may want to try biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, exploring Golden Gate Park, or visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum.

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Two Traveling Texans

Spend One Night at Alcatraz
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