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If you're thinking of skipping Alcatraz island on your trip to San Francisco, think again. Taking the short ferry ride to the Rock and exploring the old jail really is worth it.
The best way to see Alcatraz is to book a tour as fair in advance as possible. Purchasing a same day ticket is virtually impossible, so once you decide to go, order a ticket online from Alcatraz Cruises. With tickets ranging from $18-91, the company has the lowest tour prices on the internet. Select either a day or night tour. Younger kids might be too scared for the night tour, as it can be quite spooky to check out the former prison in the dark.
Ferries for day tours leave from Pier 33 at 10 minutes and 30 minutes after each hour, from 9 am until 3 pm. There are only two night ferries: one at 5:55 pm and another at 6:30 pm. Plan for 2.5 to 3 hours for your trip.
I highly recommend doing the audio tour — it's absolutely fascinating. Upon arrival at the island, you'll be given a set of headphones and a remote control that allows you to pause the narrative at any time. The incredibly informative audio tour is brought to life by a group of men who lived on the island. It includes stories told by inmates and prison guards.