If you have a 4th grader and you are headed to San Francisco before the end of Summer 2017, don’t miss out on a visit to Alcatraz! Your whole family can visit for FREE through the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative instituted by the White House and the Federal Land Management Agency. It is active for the 2016/2017 school year (ending on August 31st, 2017) and its goal is to entice the next generation to visit and advocate for our national parks. Here’s the link to how to make it happen:
We had a day off school (heck, when DON”T we have a day off school these days???) and being from the San Francisco Bay area, we decided to take advantage of it and head to Alcatraz. What a fabulous day it was for adults and kids alike! This island mixes history with adventure and more than its fair share of mystery and eeriness! Check out some general information about its background here:
Booking Tickets Through Every Kid in a Park
Because you are taking advantage of this special offer, you must book tickets in advance by emailing the group ticket office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their phone number is 415-438-8361.
The only way to get to the Island is by the Alcatraz Ferry. It is located at Pier 33. Whether you are a local Bay Area visitor or from out of town, the easiest way to get to the dock is to catch the F Muni Streetcar that runs along the Embarcadero. You can hop on anywhere between the Ferry building and Pier 33. Here’s the link for the F Line Muni:
All tours through this program start at 12:00 so we knew we had to plan lunch accordingly. This detail is important because there is no food allowed on the island! You can find just about anything to please even the pickiest eaters at the Ferry Building. Grab a sandwich to go and then grab the muni right out in front. https://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/ When you get to Pier 33, there are picnic tables where you can eat while waiting to board your ferry.
Having a picnic lunch while waiting for our ferry
Note: if you run out of time and can’t grab lunch, there is a limited menu on the ferry to be eaten before you arrive.
Here’s the menu on the boat
Tips While You’re On The Island
When you get off the Ferry, a park ranger gives the group the low down, so to speak. This is the person who can also supply your kids with a “Junior Ranger for a Day” handbook. It’s a fun way to engage the kids in the facts and history of Alcatraz and if they finish the booklet, they get a badge to take home as a souvenir! (my kids did not want to participate as they really wanted to run around and just take it all in).
You will all be given a set of headphones that will guide you around the cells. This Alcatraz Cellhouse Audio Tour is really amazing as it uses the actual voices of the correctional officers and inmates who lived on the island during the infamous Federal Penitentiary era. Its really interesting and informative but can be hard to navigate if you get off track (like we did). You can sink up with your whole group at the beginning and I highly recommend that you do it. That way, when your kids have questions, you’ll know what they are referencing. If you get off track, try to find someone who works there and see what track you should be on (think of like the old CD-Rom tracks)
Taking the audio tour of the cell blocks
Since Alcatraz is run by the National Park Service, it is staffed by Park Rangers who are helpful and accommodating. If you are lucky and find one who is especially nice to kids, they might even lock you in solitary confinement! We were able to experience this extreme isolation for a few minutes and as you might imagine, we were completely freaked out!
This picture was taken before he closed the door…it was pitch black!
After the audio tour is over, you can explore the rest of the island. It has magnificent gardens and some of the most beautiful 360 degree views of the SF Bay that you will find. After all that time concentrating on the tour, the kids will especially like running around in the Recreation Yard so don’t miss it! (and you will love the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from there as well!)
This is part of the view from the Recreation Yard
Exploring the Island after the Audio Tour is Really Interesting
One last thing. If I could do it all over again, I would get a children’s book about Alcatraz and read it before going. This place is packed with intriguing facts and mysteries and I think it would add to your experience if you read up on it before your tour. Happy Exploring!
My name is Christy and I am a wife and mother of two boys, ages 12 and 10. After graduating from CSU Chico and working as an English Teacher in Japan, I spent 10 fairly successful years as a sales representative in a cross section of industries. I made enough money to afford me the opportunity to travel to 5 continents and over 25 countries. Once I got married and was blessed with being a mom, I decided to stay home and raise the kiddos. Although I wouldn’t change a thing about being a stay-at-home mom, at some point I realized that I needed more than just sippy cups and mommy taxiing so I went back to work part time. I also realized something else…I needed to “get moving” again. I’m raising my kids in the same small town bubble in the suburbs of San Francisco that I grew up in. It wasn’t until after college that I was able to explore the amazing world we live in! That being said, one of the things I was most excited about when taking on parenthood was exposing my kids (at an earlier age) to the wonders of nature and culture here in the U.S. and abroad. I hope you feel this sense of urgency and inspiration to hit the road with your children as as well!