Alcatraz Island

San Francisco Peninsula + Santa Cruz, California

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Alcatraz Island

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  • Looking down Broadway, which runs between cell blocks B and C, toward the West Gun Gallery, Times Square, and the dining hall.- Alcatraz Island
  • Every cell at Alcatraz was exactly the same: toilet, sink, cot, shelves, and a folding table and chair.- Alcatraz Island
  • The three tiers of identical cells lining blocks B and C.- Alcatraz Island
  • The three tiers of identical cells lining blocks B and C.- Alcatraz Island
  • An Alcatraz cell in B or C block was 5 feet by 9 feet. Block A was never used to house inmates.- Alcatraz Island
  • The peeling pink paint of D block signifies segregation. The cells were larger, but inmates were rarely allowed to leave.- Alcatraz Island
  • Even worse were the six solitary confinement cells, where a steel door would shut out the world and leave an inmate in complete darkness.- Alcatraz Island
  • Inside the steel door of a solitary confinement cell.- Alcatraz Island
  • Today's empty Alcatraz Library once contained 10,000 to 15,000 books.- Alcatraz Island
  • Back on Broadway: Prison corridors were named for famous American streets.- Alcatraz Island
  • The Alcatraz Lighthouse, completed in 1854, is the oldest lighthouse on the West Coast.- Alcatraz Island
  • The Warden's House burned down on June 1, 1970, during the Occupation of Alcatraz by the group Indians of All Tribes.- Alcatraz Island
  • A floating fireplace still remains in the Warden's House.- Alcatraz Island
  • The water tower graffiti is the legacy of the Indians of All Tribes that occupied Alcatraz from 1969 to 1971.- Alcatraz Island
  • The bombproof belly of Building 64 now houses museum exhibits. The original 1860s structure was a casemate for U.S. Army barracks until three-story apartments were added on top in 1905 to house military officers and their families.- Alcatraz Island
  • Departure from United States Penitentiary Alcatraz Island.- Alcatraz Island
  • Arriving at San Francisco's Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33 along Fisherman's Wharf. The San Francisco skyline, from left to right: 345 California Center, Transamerica Pyramid Center, Coit Tower, and Triple Nickel (555 California Street).- Alcatraz Island
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
America's most famous prision. Exceptional audio tour. Educational. Views of San Francisco.
Cons: 
Cost. Crowds. Must book tickets weeks in advance.
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Region:
San Francisco Peninsula + Santa Cruz, CA
Congestion: 
High
Preferable Season(s):
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Day-Use/Parking Pass Required:
Not Required
Points of Interest:
Historical landmark, Lighthouse, Other
Other point of interest: 
Botanical gardens
Dogs allowed: 
No
Current Local Weather:
Powered by Dark Sky

Today

Mostly cloudy until afternoon.
65°F
55°

Tue

Mostly cloudy throughout the day.
63°F
52°

Wed

Mostly cloudy throughout the day.
64°F
51°

Thu

Mostly cloudy until afternoon.
64°F
50°

Fri

Clear throughout the day.
68°F
52°

Sat

Clear throughout the day.
69°F
52°

Sun

Partly cloudy overnight.
68°F
51°
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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Contributor

Since its opening in 1934, United States Penitentiary Alcatraz Island has captivated the minds of society. Perched on a rocky outcrop in the San Francisco Bay only one and a half miles from the city's bustling Fisherman's Wharf, the maximum high-security federal prison was a distinctly visible yet far-flung world. Completely off limits to the general public, Alcatraz was a ripe subject for the inception of mystery and myth.

Real-life circumstances only fanned the flames. Infamous inmates included mobsters like Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Mickey Cohen and James “Whitey” Bulger, while Robert Stroud, better known as the "Birdman of Alcatraz," was featured in newspapers and magazines of the day and later the subject of a 1962 film. Lasting memories were left by the highly publicized Battle of Alcatraz (an escape attempt that left five dead) in 1946, and the only "successful" escape in June 1962, less than a year before the prison would ultimately close in 1963.

All of this was sensationalized by the media, and after its closure, movies and TV shows continued to bolster the lore, especially when Hollywood legends like Clint Eastwood (Escape from Alcatraz, which is based on the summer '62 dummy head escape, a case that is still unsolved to this day) and Sir Sean Connery (The Rock) use actual events or just the island itself as their backdrop.

Today, The Rock is part of the Golden Gate National Park system and one of the nation's most popular national parks, annually enticing more than 1.3 million visitors with its history and mystery.

First opened to the public in October 1973, tours are accompanied by a 45-minute cellhouse audio program that is narrated by actual Alcatraz correctional officers and inmates. It is an honest recounting of life on The Rock complete with gravelly voices, the sounds of cell bars clanking shut, riotous shouts, and genuine vernacular (like "libarry").

While the story of the criminals is the main draw, a tour of Alcatraz also includes insight into its pre-penitentiary history as a historic military fortress strategically positioned to protect the San Francisco Bay, the peaceful life of the officers and families that lived there during its operation, and the post-penal period of occupation by American Indians from 1969–71.

The only way to visit the island is via Alcatraz Cruises, and although there are more than 10 daily tours, Alcatraz tickets frequently sell out weeks in advance, so be sure to plan ahead.

Standard tours cost $30 and are fairly self-guided, allowing you to move at your own pace. This means you'll have the opportunity to freely explore the island for as long as you'd like, including the gardens of Alcatraz. Each tour includes the cellhouse audio tour, but the night tour ($37) also includes a live tour guide on the boat and island (except for the cellhouse) and an opportunity to attend special presentations.

All boats leave from San Francisco's Pier 33, and the National Park Service recommends you allow yourself at least two and a half hours to sail to the island (approximately 10-15 minutes each way) and tour the cellhouse and other exhibits before returning.

Although a tour of Alcatraz may dispel some myths, it will also ignite others that you never even knew existed.

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(9 within a 30 mile radius)

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