Why should out-of-towners have all the fun? Alcatraz is one of the most famous tourist attractions in San Francisco, if not the whole country. But how many Bay Area kids have ever been? Not mine. I seized a recent non-camp, non-vacation mid-week summer day to bring my four kids, age 5 to 11, on a tour of Alcatraz for the first time. They loved it!
Pro-tip: During the school year, consider taking advantage of district specific school’s out days to enjoy less crowds).
We recommend visiting Alcatraz to families with kids ages 6+ who can walk up 1/4 mile of steep paths and still handle the mechanics of a one-hour audio tour. It was a great trip for a day off and would have been amazing with grandparents.
What to expect on Alcatraz with kids
There are a few different tour options. My best estimate for a standard tour with children is about 2-3 hours (including the ferry ride). Alcatraz Tour tickets include a round-trip ferry ride (15 minutes each way); access to wander the island; a one-hour self-guided audio tour; Junior Rangers activity book and badge; 20-minute historical movie. You are allowed to stay as long as you like.
We skipped the extra exploration and the free movie, we departed Pier 33 at 9:40 am and left Alcatraz at around noon. If you book the very first tour of the day, you will skip the heaviest crowds.
Kid highlights of Alcatraz
The scavenger hunt associated with the Jr. Rangers program was quite engaging for them; it kept their eyes open to different parts of the island as we walked around. And it is FREE. Bring your own pencils since the Ranger station won’t always have some to lend out.
The audio tour was great for my 9 and 11 year-olds; my 7 year-old mostly enjoyed it, while my 5 year-old when asked if she understood any of it afterwards said, “I didn’t understand any of it at all”. Luckily she did enjoy walking around, seeing and touching all the things.
The tour ends in the gift shop (of course), which has a lot of cool historical books for older kids. Little ones will want one of the cool brass keys to remind him of the guards and famous escape attempts, which was fine by me since I still have mine from when I went on a school field trip as a kid eons ago.
Ari, age 11, said, “The audio tour was interesting since I like history. Seeing inside the cells and standing in solitary was creepy and cool too. I want to read a book about Al Capone.”
Theo, age 9, said, “I liked how we were seeing the buildings as they were when the prisoners were in them. Like we were inside the past. I want to come back for the night tour!”
Jack, age 7 said, “I loved all the birds! And we saw a baby seagull being fed by its mom.”
Elaina, age 5 said, “The birds and flowers. The jail was fun too. And the boat.”
And they loved running back down the hill to the docks, finding things on the Junior Ranger bingo game, and watching the pelicans fight the seagulls.
Plan ahead for comforts on Alcatraz
This historical landmark was a prison, not a spa. And it’s a national park, not a mall.
- Food and drink. Any snacks should be eaten on board the ferry or immediately after landing. Only bottled water is allowed on the island after you leave the designated dock area.
- Nausea. Not a problem for my motion-sickness prone family. A nice smooth ride.
- Bathrooms are only at the ferry landing on Alcatraz and up near the lighthouse.
- There is a shuttle to and from the cell house for those with limited mobility. Since I wanted my kids to use up their energy, we didn’t take advantage.
- Alcatraz’s terrain is not stroller-friendly. Plan to wear your baby or wait until they can walk.
- Wear comfy shoes and layers. It was cold and windy on the July day we went.
Plan your trip to Alcatraz
Pick a day in the future when you want to take your adventure. Tickets are available for purchase 90 days in advance, and sell out quickly (though if you want to go last minute, it’s worth checking since there may be a few tickets here and there) Buy tickets here >
Adult and Juniors (ages 12-61): $45.25
Child (5-11): $27.55
Toddler (4 and under): FREE
Family Pack (2 Adults and 2 Child (ages 5-11)): $131.85
Senior 62+ $42.65
When Heather brought her boys a few years ago she accidentally bought her tickets from a different website and paid $32 in extra fees. Ugh, don’t do that. Save your money for parking or chocolate. You want CityExperiences.com and not any other website like ALCATRAZ TIX FOR YOU.
Getting to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing from the East Bay
All Alcatraz Island tours depart from and return to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing, located along San Francisco’s northern waterfront, on The Embarcadero at Bay Street (approximately 1/4 mile from Fisherman’s Wharf).
Pro tip: Remember the odd pier numbers are to the north of the Ferry building and the evens are to the south, so don’t look for Pier 32.
- Drive toward Fisherman’s Wharf & park in a very expensive lot. That’s what we did. Our parking fees were $40 for all day. We parked and allowed enough time to walk to Fisherman’s Wharf & back for In-N-Out and Krispy Kreme. You might save on parking if you parked at the Wharf. There are 15 lots within 5 blocks. This one is only $25 if you don’t mind a bit of a longer walk.
- Ferry to Pier 41 from either Alameda or Oakland to within .25 miles of Alcatraz Landing.
- BART/MUNI combo Take your favorite East Bay line to the Embarcadero station and take the F-Market street car along the Embarcadero to Pier 33.
Bottom line: It is a fun splurge for school-age kids. If you are looking for more fun activities in the Bay Area to do with kids, check out 50 things to do when school is out.
Thank you to City Experiences for providing my family with this amazing Alcatraz experience. We look forward to going back when the grandparents are in town for a spooky Night Tour!