It’s an island that’s been used for many reasons – military fortification, lighthouse, military prison, site of Native American occupation but most notably as a federal prison. This place is known to the world as Alcatraz Island and no visit to San Francisco is complete without visiting it.
The island’s legend as the “most notorious federal penitentiary [America] has ever known” is what draws thousands of people to ‘The Rock’ each year. Perhaps you too are keen to visit this landmark but forgot to book your tickets before you arrived and now Alcatraz Cruises say they’re fully booked. Don’t let it deter you, I’ve found a way for you to get tickets to Alcatraz when they’re sold out!
How to get tickets to Alcatraz when they’re sold out
Set your alarm because it’s going to be an early start! Each day Alcatraz Cruises – the only company who is allowed to run tours of the island – have a limited number of tickets to sell to the public for their day and night tours. I was told there are 150 tickets each day for three of the morning cruises (that’s 50 for each of the cruises) though in the winter months – that’s November through to March – there are only 50 tickets available for walk-up purchase and they are all for the 9:10am boat.
Let me get real with you, if you line up you are not guaranteed a ticket. My friend and I lined up at 7:10am in July and the line already snaked around the waiting area with more than 70 people in front of us. The people at the front of the line told my friend that they’d been there since just after 5am. FIVE AM!!! Some people who lined up after us left the queue and were determined to try again the next day. We stuck it out and were granted two Standby Tickets for the night cruise – score!
If you miss out on the day cruises, there may be 10 to 20 Standby Tickets available for the night cruise. Standby Tickets are just as the name implies – you may or may not end up going to Alcatraz. If you aren’t able to board that night, a full refund for the ticket price will be provided.
The night cruises sell out weeks, if not months, in advance so I was pretty stoked to have a Standby Ticket in my hand. If you have a Standby Ticket, you’ll need to come back around 5:30pm and see if there’s room available. Don’t worry about getting there too early as each Standby Ticket is numbered, so if there are 12 tickets available the people who bought the first twelve tickets that morning will be given a boarding pass. If they don’t turn up then the next people in line will be given a ticket up until the second ferry leaves at 6:30pm.
There are other ways to get tickets to Alcatraz when they’re sold out! You could buy a ticket to Alcatraz that is part of a package or through a third-party, such as your hotel concierge. As these tickets are in demand, and unless you really want to do that other tour, these can end up being costly. So set your alarm, get your coffee, and get down to Pier 33 to line up!
You can buy a maximum number of four tickets but each ticket holder needs to be physically present.
You’ll need your passport or a government issued ID to purchase and/or pick-up tickets.
Don’t want to line up? You can book tickets to Alcatraz up to 90 days out.
To get a ticket, it’s likely you’ll be waiting around for at least an hour. Bring a book or something to sit on. Even better, bring food and coffee because it’s chilly by the waterfront!
It gets pretty chilly on Alcatraz Island, especially during the evening tour! Be sure to bring a jacket and some long pants even on the balmiest of San Francisco days.
You can’t bring food to Alcatraz Island so be sure to eat before you head out!
Now it’s over to you
Have you been to Alcatraz Island?
Let me know in the comments below!