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For many visitors, Alcatraz tops the list of must-see San Francisco Bay Area attractions. This island fortress was once the United States’ most notorious prison, a temporary home to such noteworthy crime figures as Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. Nowadays, Alcatraz is managed by the National Park Service and a single tour company that has exclusive rights to the island. Alcatraz tours include the ferry ride over and an audio tour. Personalized tours and smaller tour groups do not operate on the island, but many local tour companies offer package tours that include Alcatraz admission as well as additional activities, and tour guides may expound upon what the audio tour tells you while they’re showing you around other parts of the city. Because ferry tickets are limited and often sell out, it’s a good bet to book these tours in advance, which secures your reservation.
Best VIP Tour: Viator VIP: Early Access to Alcatraz & Cable Car Tour
This great little combo tour starts you off early in the morning with a quick light breakfast aboard a converted historic cable car (this one runs on wheels now) and a short driving tour of Fisherman’s Wharf and the North Shore before dropping you off for your exclusive trip on the early-bird ferry to Alcatraz. This gives you some time to explore the island with your self-guided audio tour before the big crowds show up. After two free hours of exploring, you’ll head back to the mainland for a picnic lunch (provided by the tour company) at Pier 33, followed by a full two-hour comprehensive guided San Francisco tour, all on the adorable converted cable car.
Best Helicopter Tour: San Francisco Helicopter and Alcatraz Tour
Get two very different experiences of Alcatraz with this combo, which starts with a 20-minute helicopter tour of the city of San Francisco and the waterfront. You can see quite a lot during this time, including the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, Coit Tower, the Transamerica Pyramid, the Sausalito Waterfront, and, of course, Alcatraz itself. Your pilot will act as your tour guide, pointing out places of interest as you pass nearby. When your helicopter trip is over, you’ll be transported back to the waterfront where you can catch the ferry to the Rock, where you can spend as much of your day as you like exploring the island with your private audio tour.
Best Boat Tour: Jail and Sail: Alcatraz Tour and Twilight Bay Cruise
Head out onto the San Francisco Bay twice in a day with this tour: the ferry to Alcatraz for a self-guided tour during the day, and then in the evening, a sunset tour on the bay. During your two-hour evening boat trip, you’ll enjoy a light buffet and beer, wine and soft drinks, as well as a live guitarist and guided highlights from the boat captain. The cruise takes you under both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge and you can see all of the Bay’s landmarks, including Alcatraz, from the boat.
Best Shore Excursion: San Francisco Shore Excursion: Alcatraz and City Tour
If a cruise brings you into the Bay Area, you’ll definitely be in town without a car, so a shore excursion-style tour is ideal, and this one is excellent and super-convenient. You’ll meet your tour guide and board your coach just a few minutes’ walk from the cruise ship port. From there, you’ll visit the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, the Palace of Fine Arts, Presidio National Park and more. Then you’ll board the ferry to Alcatraz, where you’ll have approximately 1.5 hours to complete the self-guided tour and explore the grounds a bit. The day ends with a ferry back across the bay to be delivered back to your cruise ship.
Best Wine Tasting Combo Tour: Alcatraz and Wine Country Combo Tour
Wine lovers, look here! This full-day tour combines a Sonoma trip with a visit to the infamous Alcatraz. Meet in the morning at Fisherman’s Wharf and board your minibus, which will whisk you away to wine country for a visit to two different wineries (typically Cline Cellars and the Larson Family Winery) and then back to the pier, where your guide will leave you with your ferry tickets. Lunch is on you, but there are lots of great options at Fisherman’s Wharf, from simple food vendors to elegant restaurants. After lunch and some shopping, you’ll board the ferry to the Rock and take the self-guided tour, returning at your leisure (the last ferry back is at 6:30 pm).
Best Foodie Combo Tour: North Beach Culinary Experience and Alcatraz Tour
The North Beach is one of San Francisco’s most interesting culinary neighborhoods, with everything from neighborhood Italian joints to five-star fine dining restaurants on offer. This tour starts with a morning trip to Alcatraz (the standard ferry ride to and from the island, along with the self-guided audio guide) and follows it up with a behind-the-scenes food and wine walking tour. Your guide will take you to four of the neighborhood’s best restaurants, many of which are local favorites and best-kept-secrets that have never made it to the guidebooks. Expect local specialties on your progressive tasting menu: cioppino, California-style brick oven pizza, and artisanal gelato make frequent appearances on the menu. Your guide will also regale you with fascinating local history while you nosh, including legends of the North Beach’s rowdy past as a bootlegger’s paradise.
Best Segway Tour: San Francisco Combo: Alcatraz and City Segway Tour
Come on, you’ve always wanted to ride a Segway, right? These cool (technologically speaking, anyway) transporters let you move quite a bit more quickly than walking but still get the open-air experience, so they’re an efficient but pleasant way of seeing the city. This tour takes place over two days, so there’s no rush. It starts with a day trip to Alcatraz and a self-guided tour of the island (on foot) at your own leisurely pace, followed by food or sightseeing on your own. The second day, you’ll meet your guide and your small group (no more than eight people) near Anchorage Square Shopping Center, where you’ll get a quick course in Segway use and safety, and from there, you’re off! Spend three hours zipping around Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina District, past the Palace of Fine Arts and Ghirardelli Square, and stop at lookout points for great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
Best Multi-Attraction Tour: Alcatraz, San Francisco Dungeon & Madame Tussaud
Fans of the weird and wonderful will love these three equally creepy destinations, and admission to all of them comes with this package deal. Visit Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, where the famous and the infamous are immortalized in eerily lifelike detail. Then stop in at the San Francisco Dungeon, a theatrical attraction at Fisherman’s Wharf. Live-action tableaux, made fully real by professional actors, tell sordid and macabre tales of San Francisco’s past, from the Gold Rush to Alcatraz itself. It’s a strange and very fun way to learn some of the city’s history. Finally, take the ferry out to Alcatraz Island, where you can spend hours exploring and enjoying the scenery and wildlife. It’s an entertaining, odd and educational way to spend a day.