5 Tips for Visiting Alcatraz with Kids

I’m pleased and a little surprised to welcome today’s guest.  He’s a long-time reader and commenter, but a first-time contributor.  He’s also my husband.

If you’re taking a family vacation to San Francisco, Alcatraz is probably on your list. And rightly so. While it’s best known for its 29-year run as a federal penitentiary in the 20th Century, Alcatraz’s history goes back to the Civil War and the island also played a key role in the American Indian rights movement.

Kids as young as six can enjoy the excellent self-paced audio tour (included with the price of admission).  Get your tickets in advance, because tours often sell out during weekends and holidays. Here are five more tips for having a good visit to The Rock with kids.

1. Plan for four hours

We did it in a little over three hours, but we only had time for the movie and the cell block audio tour. We would have loved to have another 30 minutes to explore the gardens and outside pathways.

2. Eat before you go

You can’t bring any food onto Alcatraz; in fact, they only allow you to bring water. We arrived early and ate a picnic on one of the many available benches at the mainland ferry terminal, leaving time for a stop in the clean bathrooms. If you are in a rush, there is a snack bar on the ferry, but there were still people waiting in line when the short 15 minute ferry ride was done.

3. Take your pictures on your way

The returning ferries are always packed and afford little maneuvering room to get the SF skyline or the Rock in the background.

4. Do the Junior Ranger program and get a free souvenir

Avoid the gift shop with its $9.95 minimum price. Ask any ranger for the junior ranger booklet when you arrive and your child will be instantly drawn into Alcatraz’s history. At the end of your visit, make sure you arrive 30 minutes before your departing ferry so the Ranger will have time to check your kids’ work and give them their badge.

5. Bundle up

Alcatraz is on the front line to get smothered with San Francisco’s trademark afternoon fog that blows through the gate. We enjoyed our picnic in calm 75 degree weather but were clinging to each other on the way back as the fog and wind kicked in.



  1. audrey says

    I don’t recommend the night time Alcatraz tour for kids younger than 9. Mine couldn’t sleep for a week after touring the Rock at night with their grandmother.

  2. says

    We just visited San Francisco briefly while in the area for a business trip. We only had an afternoon and didn’t have enough time to do the Alcatraz tour although we wanted to. These tips are perfect and the eat before you go tip is critical when going with kids. Also, take a jacket with you everywhere in San Francisco – even if you don’t think you will need it – the weather changes so fast.

  3. taylor says

    I am going to do my grade 8 speech on Alcatraz!! My mother did one of her university things on it too!! this website is cool if you are going to visit San Fransico and Alcatraz too!!

  4. says

    I love SF although the city is so expensive. Yikes…. but on the bright hand its filled with so much culture, life and vivrance. A great place to take the kids… or just mommy and daddy hehehehe

  5. Shirley says

    Jr. Ranger booklets are now available for $2 at the dock bookstore. Your kids will have fun, leave the island knowing more than 99% of the adults, and earn an Alcatraz Island Jr. Ranger badge. Don’t forget to check for Jr. Ranger programs when you visit any National Park!


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