Since our trip to San Francisco was a little spontaneous (and I'm a slacker) we didn't have tickets for Alcatraz. You know Alcatraz, right? The most famous island prison in the world after Australia? The kind of place you absolutely want to go if you're touring National Park sites in San Francisco? Yeah. That Alcatraz. It turns out those tickets book up fast and we weren't fast enough. However, we scored a couple of tickets by calling and snatching a pair that had been canceled. Crisis averted.
To get to Alcatraz you have to take the ferry. If you're like us you'll get there early, but it's not necessary. Just about every seat on the ferry has great views so just be sure not to miss your sailing.
From the dock it's a bit of a walk up to the prison proper. We were sure we were going to be stuck in the crowds so we rushed up to arrive at the top out of breath. But the limitations on tickets reduce the likelihood of too many people so don't run to the top.
There are a variety of talks and tours, but the best we experienced was the audio tour. Think of an old-school iPod and you've got the right idea. The trick is synchronizing everyone in your party so you can look at each other knowingly after looking into a cell or hearing a story. The audio tour is no Vicky, but it's the next best thing and it answers more questions that we had going in.
Outside the prison we walked the Agave Trail down to the water and back to the dock. The trail drops from the end of the parade ground through a mini forest of agave planted by the families of prison guards starting in the 1930s. It's the perfect way to get back to the boat for the ride back to the mainland. (And if you get the timing right you'll see the 20 foot high seed stalks!)
The lesson here is to put aside what you think you know about Alcatraz and go with the flow. Oh. And buy your tickers early. Definitely that.