Inside Alcatraz: Photos From the Infamous San Francisco Prison

What it’s like inside Alcatraz prison? You can find out for yourself by catching the ferry from San Francisco and touring the former jail. The interiors of the old jail cells are still dark, cold, and isolating, even today.

My experience inside Alcatraz as a tourist was pretty intense. Walking through some of the old cell blocks and seeing the tiny cells where prisoners used to live was a powerful feeling.

alcatraz-island

Alcatraz, of course, is the prison where the country’s most notorious convicts were locked away from 1933 to 1963. Today, tourists visit daily to walk around the island and explore the jail.

This article contains helpful info such as:
-My best photos from the interior of Alcatraz prison and the ferry ride to the island
-Logistical details for how you can plan your own visit
-An explanation of the three different Alcatraz tours available

old-structure
The shell of an abandoned concrete building on Alcatraz Island.

Going Inside Alcatraz: Pictures From the Prison Cells

This is why you’re here, right? Here’s what Alcatraz looks like today.

First off, it’s a self-guided tour on the island, so each visitor gets to decide exactly where to wander.

You can see why this was a scary place back in the day. Even now, there are still plenty of hidden, isolated corners that give off an eerie feeling.

visiting alcatraz scary room
Visiting Alcatraz gives you a chance to see gritty and unexpected scenes like this.

The old brick buildings have exposed pipes, weathered wooden doors, and stained equipment.

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Many doors are still off-limits even now, locked with chains.

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Here’s a look inside one of the Alcatraz buildings. It’s so weird that today tourists can just wander around through the halls that once housed some of the country’s most notorious criminals.

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For the good stuff, walk inside the buildings and explore the cell blocks.

inside alcatraz cell block hall
This is what it looks like inside Alcatraz!

It’s remarkable to see how desolate these tiny cells were. Look at this one. Just a toilet and a floor. Yikes. I guess you have no right to complain when your deeds are heinous enough to get you sent here!

alcatraz-cell

At least one of the cells was open, so I could step inside and feel what it was like to be behind those bars inside Alcatraz prison.

inside alcatraz cell

The jail cells themselves are not labeled. That means you can’t stand next to a sign that says “Al Capone’s cell” or “Machine Gun Kelly’s cell.”

alcatraz cell block

But the audio tour that comes with your ferry ticket will include an audio narration with bits of information about some of the prisoners who stayed here.

So with the cellhouse audio tour, you can learn a little bit about who stayed in these cells.

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Some sections of the cell blocks are still closed to guests. You’ll have to get your cameras ready to take photos from behind the barriers!

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And then there’s the morgue. Yeesh.

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It’s wild that an old-time high-security facility has become an educational and historic tourist attraction.

LINK: Check out these Alcatraz tours below to get your tickets for this attraction.

 

More Photos From the Ferry and Alcatraz Outdoor Areas

Here’s a look at what it’s like from the outside of Alcatraz, starting with the ferry ride. You’ll board the ferry at Pier 33 and ride across to the island in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

The open-air ferry provides great views of the island and the San Francisco skyline behind you. Here’s the chance to take pictures!

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Alcatraz looks like a fortress as the ferry approaches. It already feels intimidating, even before setting foot on the island.

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This tower is the Alcatraz Island Lighthouse. The first lighthouse here was built in 1852. This one was constructed in 1909, replacing the old one that had earthquake damage from the powerful 1906 quake.

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After landing on the island, there’s a brief speech from an NPS ranger.

nps-ranger

After that, you’re on your own. You can walk around and explore the island.

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Inside this building, you can see the dining facility and the visitation windows.

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The dining room menu is frozen in time to March 1963. That’s a decent breakfast, don’t you think?

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A door leads out to the recreational courtyard for inmates who were allowed some outdoor time.

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Some of the abandoned buildings and skeleton structures give more of a sense of just how bleak this place would have been to live in.

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Informational boards add context to the structures that remain standing.

family housing

Here’s the guard tower, where guards were posted to ensure that no one coudl escape from the island.

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Once I finally soaked in all the history of the island, I took pictures of the San Francisco skyline until the return ferry to the mainland arrived.

Visiting Alcatraz Island: How to Get There, Ticket Cost, Hours

One of the best things about Alcatraz is that, unlike most historic sites, it starts off with a ride. The ferry trip over to the island only takes a few minutes and it offers great views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge.

To ensure that you get tickets, you have to book your visit in advance. Tickets are available for several different time slots each day, from 8:40 am to 1:35 pm.

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Alcatraz City Cruises is the official ferry company used by the National Park Service to shuttle visitors to the island.

Three tours are currently available for guests to Alcatraz:
1 Day Tour
2 Night Tour
3 Behind the Scenes Tour

As of this writing, day tour tickets start at $45.25 for adults and $27.55 for kids. For night tours, the price jumps to $56.30 for adults and $33 for children.

How is the night tour different? It’s limited to just a few hundred visitors, and it features a nightly talk from an “island expert historian.” And, of course, you’re visiting while it’s dark outside, which adds an extra layer of creepiness that some visitors find may enhance the experience.

The Behind the Scenes Tour is even more of a VIP experience. It’s a group of only 30 people who take part in a 4-5 hour tour, visiting areas that are off-limits to most guests.

The Behind the Scenes tour costs $101.30 for adults and $97.10 for teens. Kids under 12 are not allowed on that tour.

When I visited, I booked one of the earliest tours in the morning. It was reasonably crowded, but not to an uncomfortably degree.

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcatraz

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Can I use my America the Beautiful National Parks pass to cover the cost of an Alcatraz ticket?

Nope, sorry. Technically, there is no fee to visit Alcatraz, so your pass will not help you here. The only fee is the cost of the ferry ride over to the island, and that fee is not covered by any passes you may have.

Can I kayak to Alcatraz?

No. Kayakers are welcome to kayak in the waters around the island, but they are not able to dock anywhere on the island.

How long is the ferry ride to Alcatraz?

It’s only about 12-15 minutes each way. The island really isn’t very far from the city!

How much time do I need to go inside Alcatraz?

Give yourself about 3 hours if you want to fully explore the island and go inside the Alcatraz jail cells. You’ll want time to listen to the audio tour and see outdoor spaces such as Eagle Plaza, the Recreation Yard, the Sallyport, and the Rose Garden.

Where do I board the ferry to Alcatraz?

Alcatraz City Cruises is located on the Embarcadero near the intersection of Bay Street, southeast of Fisherman’s Wharf at Pier 33. There is no parking here, so guests are advised to take rideshare or public transit.

How often do return ferries from Alcatraz to San Francisco run?

They run about every 30 minutes. You can hop on any return ferry when you’re ready to leave the island.

Are any Alcatraz discounts available?

The Alcatraz City Cruises website sometimes has “buy one, get one” ticket offers during the winter, but they’re only available to local San Francisco Bay residents.

Alternately, the best way to get discounted tickets is to buy the “Family Pack,” which provides entrance for two adults and two kids for $131.25.

Which famous inmates stayed in Alcatraz?

According to Alcatraz History, most of the 1,576 prisoners who spent time incarcerated on Alcatraz were not well-known gangsters, but simply prisoners who got into trouble in other federal prisons.

That said, some notable names did stay on Alcatraz, including mobster Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, James “Whitey” Bulger, and Robert Stroud, aka “The Birdman of Alcatraz.”

Was there ever an escape attempt?

There were several attempts, but most failed. Prison guards were constantly watching over the federal penitentiary, after all.

Three inmates – John Anglin, Clarence Anglin, and Frank Morris, famously escaped from the prison in 1962. But they were never seen again, and it remains unknown whether they completed the mile-long swim to the mainland, or if they perished in the freezing waters.

Another escape attempt in 1946 became known as The Battle of Alcatraz, as escapees exchanged fire with guards and FBI agents, and multiple people lost their lives.

Is Alcatraz a national park?

No, Alcatraz is not one of the official 63 national parks, but it is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. That means the National Park Service operates it.

Is there an Alcatraz gift shop?

Yes, but it’s located on the mainland, at Pier 39 in San Francisco. They sell a lot of striped “jailbird” clothing, plus toys, souvenirs, books, and such.

Has there been paranormal activity in Alcatraz?

Depends whether you believe it that sort of thing. But many who visit say the area could be haunted, especially cell 14D. Ghost hunters have spent quite a bit of time here.

What else is there to do in the Bay Area?

While you’re in San Francisco, consider also visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, the Rainbow Honor Walk, and the Cable Car Museum.

Don’t forget to check out Coit Tower and the California Academy of Sciences as well. All of these attractions can be added to a 3-day San Francisco itinerary for a fun long weekend trip.

Or head across the Bay and find some fun Berkeley activities!

San Francisco is a great place to start a California road trip – see this article for a suggested itinerary.

Have you been to the infamous San Francisco Bay island before? Do you have any tips for visiting Alcatraz?