Who knew that a federal high security prison built on an island in the San Francisco Bay in 1934 would be such a huge attraction for people visiting from around the world. People apparently want to visit prison while they’re on vacation! Crazy! I’m double crazy for working in a prison and visiting one on vacation as well…
I can’t lie. I was excited about it!
Now don’t forget, before visiting, you may want to brush up on your pop culture of the infamous (read: historical AF) Alcatraz Penitentiary by re-watching Escape from Alcatraz, starring the one-and-only Clint Eastwood. Heck, even watch The Rock, with James Bond himself, Sean Connery. Classics!
Much like the Marin Headlands in my previous post, Alcatraz is a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Alcatraz Cruises is the official site the National Parks Service redirects you to for tour tickets.
We have used Alcatraz Cruises on two different occasions while visiting San Francisco. There are four tour options: a day tour, night tour, behind the scenes tour, and an Alcatraz and Angel Island tour. The first time we visited back in 2012 we took a tour around Alcatraz Island and under the Golden Gate Bridge which I don’t believe is an option anymore. Lame. We had originally planned on the Alcatraz day tour, but ended up having to change our dates there and it was already booked solid. Planning is fun! So we ended up doing the tour under the Golden Gate. It was definitely an one-of-a-kind perspective being underneath the massive structure. One I definitely won’t forget.
The second time we booked with Alcatraz Cruises was this year. Since I pre-planned (yay) we were able to pick a time early in the day so as to have a leisurely at-our-own-pace jaunt around the island. I’m one of those people who reads everything when I tour a place, so it takes me forever… I want to get the most out of my visit! Don’t judge. Also… don’t even put me in an art gallery! We’ll be there for hours and hours!
Fun fact– Alcatraz Island Light (the original) was the first lighthouse built on the United States’ west coast. The one that stands today was built after the first was demolished in 1909 due to an earthquake. You’re welcome for that bit of information.
We scooted away from pier 33 early Sunday morning after a red eye flight from Hawaii. Coffee! Coffee! Coffee! We tugged along a mile and a half to the island in a hybrid ferry (fancy!) right up to the dock. It’s a lot bigger than it looks when you get there! After everyone disembarks you get a little introduction (if you want to be introduced to the island, that is) and then you’re let loose to roam about!
Pro Tip– Bring a light jacket. I don’t care if it’s 100 degrees (37 degrees celsius for everyone BUT Americans. Gosh America) outside, that bay wind will drop the temperature significantly.
There is just so much history attached to the island I’ll only be able to give you a general overview here in my short post. To get the whole experience, I urge you to visit the island and spend a few hours wandering around, looking at displays, listening to the audio tour, and watching the videos. From Al Capone to “Machine Gun” Kelly, this prison house some of the most notorious criminals in history.
Hallways and cell houses. Dining halls and corridors. All full of history left and right. You even get a rundown of the history of the federal prison system. Interesting. Before stepping foot on the island, I had no idea it was occupied for over a year and six months by a group of Native Americans called United Indians of All Tribes. They were there protesting federal policies related to American Indians. I learned quite a bit about this occupation from the extensive display they have filling numerous rooms in the main prison. You never know what you’ll find out about a place…
Hey! Here I am in solitary confinement! Good times.
The cell house audio tour was probably my favorite part. This tour walks you through the living conditions, daily life, escape attempts, and murders of Alcatraz. It goes in depth about the June 1962 escape attempt where three prisoners devised and executed one of the most elaborate escape attempts in Alcatraz history.
The audio tour takes you on a step by step journey on how they escaped. You get to see the cells they escaped out of and the dummy heads they used in their beds. Some say they drowned in the bay, but none of their bodies were ever recovered… which obviously leads people to believe this attempt may be the only successful escape from Alcatraz. Ooooh conspiracy theories!..
There’s so much more history than I can even put in this post! Take a tour and see for yourself!
Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop and buy a mug!
I love mugs.
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“Break the rules and you go to prison. Break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz.” -Anonymous