Alcatraz#5 in Best Things To Do in San Francisco
While riding a cable car and getting a snap of the Golden Gate is a must when visiting San Francisco, both visitors and travel experts tend to argue the same for Alcatraz. This is because Alcatraz is rich with history. Sitting on a small, rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz is most known as being a former federal prison that housed some of society's biggest offenders, the most famous of which was Prohibition-era mob boss Al Capone. Before that, it was a military prison that housed prisoners from the Spanish-American War and Civil War, as well as the site of the West Coast's first operating lighthouse. The prison closed down both times due to high operating costs and was handed over to the National Park Service in 1972 after the island experienced a short occupation from Native American activists. Today, the attraction sees about one million visitors per year.
Recent visitors said Alcatraz is truly a can't-miss attraction. Travelers enjoyed being able to get up close to cells and said the audio tour (complimentary with ferry tickets) voiced by inmates and prison guards made the visit that much more fun and informative. What's more, travelers say the view of the bay from The Rock (the nickname given to Alcatraz) is breathtaking.
Entrance to Alcatraz is free; however, you will need to purchase a ferry ticket to get to the island. Tickets are not cheap (starting at $39.90 for adults), but most travelers say the price offers great value. Tickets include a scenic boat trip to the island and the audio guide. Night tours, which cost $47.30, include onboard narration and a guided site tour. Tours depart starting at 8:45 a.m. and return throughout the day until 6:30 p.m. (or until 9:25 p.m. for the Night Tour). Due to the popularity of the attraction, the park service strongly suggests booking tickets in advance to avoid waiting in long lines. You can book up to 90 days in advance for your trip via Alcatraz Cruises. Several of the city's top guided tours also include stops at Alcatraz. And though some of San Francisco's best boat tours don't actually stop on the island, many sail around it, offering a unique perspective and insight.
More Best Things To Do in San Francisco
#1 Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge's vaulting, orange arches amidst the rocky seascape of the San Francisco Bay have made it one of the West Coast's most enduring symbols and the city's most popular tourist attraction. The bridge's name, "Golden Gate," actually refers to the body of water it spans (the Golden Gate Strait that connects the Pacific Ocean with the San Francisco Bay), and was built to make travel between San Francisco and Marin County an easier feat.
There are plenty of great spots to capture a snap of the majestic bridge. But if you want a truly postcard-worthy shot, head to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, situated high on a hill overlooking San Francisco. If you have extra time, make sure to explore the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The actual span of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area encompasses multiple places in San Mateo (south of San Francisco), San Francisco and Marin Counties (Alcatraz and Muir Woods included), but notable parts of this recreation area can be found just a stroll away from the Golden Gate. From the bridge, travelers will find some scenic, bayside trails, some of which lead to secluded beaches, including Kirby Cove and Black Sands Beach. If you really want a trek, journey to the Point Bonita Lighthouse for sweeping views of the bay, found at the very tip of the Golden Gate Strait.
Explore More of San Francisco
When purchasing from our site, we may earn commissions. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.
Holly JohnsonAugust 8, 2019
Erin ShieldsAugust 6, 2019
Christine SmithAugust 6, 2019
Lyn MettlerJuly 26, 2019
Kyle McCarthyJuly 25, 2019
Kim Foley MacKinnonJuly 25, 2019
Kim Foley MacKinnonJuly 24, 2019
Gwen PratesiJuly 23, 2019
Holly JohnsonJuly 22, 2019