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 never been? Not mine. I seized a recent school's out day to bring my three kids, age 6 to 13, on a tour of Alcatraz for the first time. They loved it!
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 school 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 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 12:30 and left Alcatraz at 3:00pm. 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.
The older two finished the audio tour first and were reading more about Alcatraz when I found them. When they asked for a book about Alcatraz from the gift shop, I said YES. The little one wanted a brass key to remind him of the guards and famous escape attempts.
Holden, age 13, said, “I really liked the audio tour of the prison events, and if that's all we do, this was a great trip” (and that's why we skipped the movie).
Sawyer, age 6, said, “I liked everything about this and I could have stayed all day. Just remember, they're making me leave early.”
And they loved running back down the hill to the docks, wrestling, and seeing this cannon up close.
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,
- Bathrooms are only at the ferry landing on Alcatraz and up near the lighthouse.
- There is a shuttle to and from the cellhouse for those with limited mobility. Since I wanted my kids to use up their energy, we didn't take advantage.
- Alcatraz terrain is not stroller-friendly. Plan to wear your baby or wait until they can walk.
- Wear comfy shoes and layers.
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. Buy tickets here >
Adult and Juniors (ages 12-61): $39.90
Child (5-11): $24.40
Toddler (4 and under): FREE
Family Pack (2 Adults and 2 Child (ages 5-11)): $tbd
Senior 62+ $37.65
I was a total sucker and bought my 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 ALCATRAZ CRUISES DOT 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.
- 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 was a fun splurge for my three school-age kids and me. If you are looking for more fun activities in the Bay Area to do with kids, check out our massive summer fun bucket list or 50 things to do when school is out.