“ Country: USA / World Region: North America „
My Partner and I visited America this June(2014). We started our holiday in San Francisco and HAD to take a visit to Alcatraz. We were travelling from the UK and we were advised to purchase our tickets before we travelled to save disappointment, which we did, I also advise this to other people as it is a very popular attraction and tickets run out fast. You catch a ferry from fishermans wharf and the journey takes around about 20 minutes, it is not to choppy but a little windy so wrap up warm! As soon as you see the island coming into view its beautiful and a little eerie! The actual prison is very much open and free for you to walk around. A few places are closed off for various reasons but it does not take away anything from the experience. The cells are a must they are fantastic, some are open and free to walk in and some are displayed so you can see how they used to be. You can go in some solitary cells, that was fun. There is so much originality and awesomeness that if this place interests you, you will not leave disappointed. I first became attracted to the prison after I watched the film ''Escape from Alcatraz'' starring clint eastwood! if you have not seen it give it a watch. Alcatraz is a MUST see if you visit San Francisco, if we had not visited I would have left the USA disappointed! Go get your tickets!
Alcatraz Island is without a doubt one of the most famous of San Francisco's landmarks and, with such a varied and interesting history, deservedly so. I visited for the second time on a recent trip to the US and I was pleased to find that nothing has changed since my previous visit almost ten years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit then and did so again this time.
A Short History
The island was first written about back in the late 1700s when it was named La Isla De Los Alcatraces - Spanish for the island of the pelicans - after the birds that lived there. The birds don't live there anymore, but I think it is a very quaint name for an island that has an otherwise quite sinister past. The island was originally home to only a lighthouse until the Americans made it a military base in the mid 1800s and its location and solitude meant that it soon became a military prison. On the walk up to the buildings, there is a small archway under which there is a trapdoor which leads down to the dungeon that housed the island's very first military prisoners. Even just a glimpse shows you what a sorry place it would have been to be imprisoned.
Obviously it's most famous purpose was as a state penitentiary, a status that it held for a surprisingly short time - only 29 years from 1934 until 1963. It was probably the calibre of prisoners, including Al Capone and The Birdman of Alcatraz, which made it so famous during its short term. After it was closed due to unsustainable operating costs and the requirement for expensive repair work, it temporarily became home to a group of protesting American Indians for nineteen months in 1969. There is still evidence of their occupation daubed in paint across some of the buildings in the harbour area, in fact the standard picture that all visitors to the island take of the 'Welcome To Alcatraz' sign will all feature graffiti left by the protestors in the background. The island is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is home to various flora and fauna as well as being one of the most visited landmarks in America.
There are a number of ticket options available depending on whether you want to visit during the day or after dark and whether you want to include a visit to the other island nearby, Angel Island. Both times I have visited I have been during the day. The after dark ticket is a little bit more expensive and fewer people visit then. I'd have liked to have done that particular visit, but my husband had never been before and he wanted to see it during the day, next time maybe then . . . It isn't a bad thing to go during the day anyway, as the island is unbelievably atmospheric whenever you visit, especially considering that it is often covered in a layer of dense mist that makes you feel like you are entering another world.
We got our tickets from the island's website a few weeks before we visited. They strongly recommend purchasing your tickets in advance and I'd definitely agree. We went to the island on the first ferry of the morning at 9am and there were already signs up to say that tickets for that day were sold out. Buying them in advance also makes things a lot easier because you print your tickets online and simply show them at the gate. The tickets do state that you need to show photo ID and produce the card that you paid for them with, but we didn't have to show anybody any of these things. It's worth taking them just in case though because it isn't worth missing out for the sake of sticking your driving license or whatever in your pocket.
The tickets vary in price like I said, but during the day the price is around $29 per adult. This price includes your ferry ride over and the audio tour when you get there and I think it offers exceptionally good value for money especially when you compare it to entry tickets for other attractions in the US and what is included. There are various discounts for children, the elderly and US military personnel as well as group discounts, full details can be found on the website: http://www.alcatrazcruises.com/, which also gives details about what you can expect on your visit. This site it the official one for Alcatraz Island. There are many others out there, but I'd strongly advise against using them because they tend to be 'middlemen' in that you pay them, they go to the official concession and buy the tickets and then you pick them up. I've heard a lot of horror stories about how unreliable they can be, so be warned.
You should allow the entire morning or afternoon (depending on when you go) for your visit and you need to be at the ferry terminal at least fifteen minutes before your departure time. The ferries depart from Pier 33, which is about a ten minute casual walk from Fisherman's Wharf walking in the direction of the financial district. The pier itself is oddly undersigned, however once you get there, you'll see the queues, various snack stalls and the ferries themselves. There is a gift shop here, although the one on the island itself has a much better selection that offers everything from I Escaped Alcatraz souvenirs to literature and popular films that feature the island.
The island is located about a mile and a half off the coast and is a short but pleasant ferry ride away. For me the ferry ride was an important part of the visit as I felt like the suspense was building as we approached. It certainly makes you aware of just how far the island is and how choppy the water is for someone who is contemplating swimming it to freedom. You can also get fabulous views of both the city skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge as you pull away from them, however there is an odd feeling that you are leaving civilisation behind.
Welcome to Alcatraz
When you disembark the ferry, you are given a short talk about the layout of the island and the rules that you must follow whilst there. As it is a National Recreation Area, smoking, eating and drinking anything other than water is not permitted anywhere apart from the harbour area. There are a couple of buildings down here including toilets, a bookshop and an auditorium where an introductory video is shown every half an hour. We skipped all of these things and headed straight up to the hill to the main prison buildings. The walk up the hill is quite steep and there is a little train that is available for those who can't manage it, although seating is limited and places are exclusively for those who have walking difficulties.
There are a number of things to see on the way up including the first prison room that I mentioned earlier. The island morgue is also found up here although you can only look through a glass window into it and there isn't much visible. The pathway up is also lined with gardens, which were maintained by the better behaved prisoners who had earned the privilege.
The tour starts properly in the shower room of the main building where you pick up your audio tour. It was here that I learnt one of the most fascinating facts of the whole trip. Alcatraz was the only prison in the country in which prisoners took warm showers. This was to prevent them from becoming acclimatised to cold water in case they tried to escape. Simple yet ingenious.
The Audio Tour
The audio device that you are given on entering the prison buildings is without a doubt the one thing above all others that makes the visit so utterly engaging, thought provoking and authentic. The tour is narrated by former prisoners and prison officers, so everything you hear is actual first hand experience. The narration is accompanied by various sound effects that manage to make you feel like you are the only person there and that you are having a private tour. The narrators guide you around the prison giving you clear directions and telling stories about life on the island. The prison officers talk about their opinions of the prisoners and it was interesting to hear that they thought Al Capone was a fairly normal guy until he contracted syphilis when 'he seemed to just lose it' and that they thought that Robert Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz) was a real annoyance to everybody officers and prisoners alike. Apparently he wasn't allowed to keep birds on the island (it was in a previous institution that he had them) but he was extremely vocal about it and wound anyone and everyone up at every given opportunity.
Another part of the tour that I found fascinating and that no doubts captures the imagination of every visitor is the talk of the famous escape attempts. 36 prisoners attempted escape and all but three were captured or killed in doing so. The other three have never been accounted for but it is widely believed that they perished in the freezing, choppy and sometimes shark infested waters surrounding the island. The bloodiest attempt at escape, since dubbed the Battle of Alcatraz, is described with shocking frankness on the audio tour. Whilst the main narrator explains what happened, pointing out various places in the prison where the events took place, the background noises included shouting, gunfire and stabbings that really send a shiver down your spine. You really get a feel for what exactly happened. You can also still see the tunnel in one of the cells that was dug out by prisoners using spoons in another attempt.
Some of the most poignant points on the tour are those described by former prisoners. There is a part where one of them describes hearing parties from across the bay on New Year's Eve when. He says that it was the one time when they really realised that there was a world out there that they were not a part of. Another part that really got me was when one of the prisoners talks about being locked up in solitary confinement. At this point you can actually walk into one of the dingy solitary cells that are completely unfurnished as you listen to the prisoner describe how he unstitched a button from his jacket and threw it over his shoulder and then searched around the cell to find it the pitch blackness in a bid to occupy his mind whilst he was in there.
Other parts of the prison that are visible on the tour include the officer's houses where they lived with their families. There is narration here from one of the daughter of one of the prison officers who describes what it was like living on the island. You can also go into the Governor's offices and the dinner halls where much of the furniture is as it was.
The Alcatraz Island experience is one that should be experienced by all visitors to San Francisco. The tour is extremely good value for money and is one of, if not the, best guided tour I have ever taken. The way that it has remained unchanged since it was a federal penitentiary makes it one of the most authentic tours there is. This coupled with the excellent and well presented audio tour makes it both chilling and educational in a way that will make you fascinated from the minute you arrive at the island to the minute you get back to 'the real world'. Don't miss it.
I visited Alcatraz last year and the experience absolutely blew me away. Alcatraz is an island located 1.5 miles from shore in the heart of San Francisco bay and is often referred to as 'The Rock'. The island was used as a secure federal penitentiary between 1934 and 1963 and was home to some of America's most notorious criminals including Al Capone, The Birdman of Alcatraz and George 'Machine Gun' Kelly.
Even though the island is so close to the shore, the freezing waters, treacherous tides and threat of sharks made the prison the most secure facility at the time. As a result only the most serious criminals and known escape artists were sent to do their time on Alcatraz.
GETTING TO ALCATRAZ:
Tickets for Alcatraz can only be purchased through 'Alcatraz Cruises' who are the only company contracted to the National Park Service. As a result they have a bit of a monopoly but the ticket prices are reasonable for a major tourist attraction. The cost of your ticket includes your return ferry crossing (which departs from Pier 33) and audio tour on the island. It is best to book your tickets well in advance particularly in peak season as the trip is very popular!
There are four tours available which have been summarised by Alcatraz Cruises as follows:
1. Early Bird
This is the first Alcatraz trip of the day, departing from Pier 33 at 09:00. While the Early Bird is the same as the Day Visit, you'll get a head start on your Alcatraz adventure and avoid the crowds arriving later in the day. Early Bird operates daily and takes approximately 2.5 hours to complete will and cost$26 per adult.
2. Day Tour AM & PM
Step back in time and experience the legendary island that has been a civil war fort, a military prison and one of the most notorious federal penitentiaries in US history. This memorable tour includes a 45 minute audio presentation "Doing Time: The Alcatraz Cellhouse Tour," an orientation video by Discovery Channel and various ranger talks. The Day Tour operates daily and takes approximately 2.5 hours to complete will and cost$26 per adult.
3. Night Tour
Voted "Best Tour of the Bay Area," the Alcatraz Night Tour provides a more intimate, engaging Alcatraz experience. This tour includes a personally narrated boat tour around the island; guided tours from the dock to the main prison building; "Doing Time: The Alcatraz Cellhouse Tour" and a variety of special programs and presentations offered only at night. Enjoy a sunset silhouetting the Golden Gate Bridge and breath-taking views of San Francisco as night falls. A truly exceptional experience. The Night Tour operates between Thursday to Monday only, takes approximately 2.5 hours to complete will and cost$33 per adult.
4. Alcatraz and Angel Island Tour
A combination tour of two of the Bay's most famous islands: Alcatraz and Angel Island. Includes ferry rides to and from Angel Island and Alcatraz, a one-hour narrated Tram Tour of Angel Island, and the Alcatraz Cellhouse Audio Tour "Doing Time". This combination tour operates seasonally takes approximately 5.5 hours to complete will and cost$58 per adult.
I completed the Day Tour which was excellent and it was really good to have a good look around the prison in daylight. I regret not going back to do the night tour which would have really emphasised the solidarity of the island and given an insight into the dark nights the prisoners would have experienced. There is no food on the island so if you are planning to stay on the island for a few hours, it is worth eating before you head out.
Once on the island you will get your head set for use on your self guided tour. The award winning audio tour walks you around the different areas of the prison and features the voices of the actual cell officers and inmates who lived on the island. This combined with the chilling sound effects provides a very accurate account of life on Alcatraz.
As the tour is self guided, you can take as long as you want to explore the areas of the prison. I would highly recommend taking a moment to take off your head phones while stood in the cell block to listen to the sound of silence, it's really eerie!
Aside from the audio tour, one of the most memorable talks was from one of the rangers who described some of the escape attempts from the island. In total 14 escape attempts were made and 23 men were caught trying (6 were shot and killed during their escape and 2 drowned in the bay).
The most famous escape involved Frank Morris who collaborated with brothers John and Clarence Anglin. Their plan was ingenuous and forms the basis of the film "Escape from Alcatraz" starring Clint Eastwood. There is evidence that these three men made it off the island, but still to this day nobody knows if they survived as no bodies were ever found.
I would highly recommend this tour and further information can be obtained from Alcatraz Cruises at www.alcatrazcruises.com.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article and I hope you enjoy your vist to the' The Rock' as much as I did.
Alcatraz Island, otherwise known as just Alcatraz or The Rock is a small Island in San Francisco Bay. It is most famous for its prison which was open from 1934 - 1963. Some of its famous residents included Al Capone and the Birdman of Alcatraz. It built up its shuddering reputation as a no nonsense and escape proof prison with small cells, narrow corridors and little light.
A visit to this island is a must see for any visitor to San Francisco. All ferries leave from Pier 33 near Fisherman's Wharf. (Another great place to look around). However, due to the popularity of this tour I highly recommend you book as far in advance as possible! The cost of a ticket is about $24 for a day ticket but other options are available such as a night tour for about $33. Included in this cost is an audio tour. I am not often a big fan of audio tours, but this one was incredible. It guided you around the prison very well and gave you the history of what happened in certain rooms and cells. It explained that some convicts tried to escape, and the fate of one is still unknown - did he get to the Bay?? In the audio tour you also heard stories from inmates and the terrifying experience they had there. It was very interesting and quite harrowing knowing you are right in the spot where all these events happened! You hear of food riots and what it was like in solitary confinement. There are also a couple of cells open for you to go in and experience how confined everything is - these cells are tiny - about 7ft by 3ft! They also marked where the famous inmates stayed - Al Capone was on the first floor!
The audio tour is available in plenty of languages as well.
I can't recommend this tour highly enough, the ferry ride is about 10 minutes and on entry to the Island the mood changes due to the effect the history of this Island has on people. There is also a lot of wildlife around and it is a great chance to take some pictures of the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge from the water.
I visited Alcatraz whilst in San Francisco on a recent round the world trip. To be honest I had heard of Alcatraz but didn't really know anything about it.
We were advised by my friend that we should by our tickets in advance for the island and so we went in person and bought tickets for the following day. This was fine for us as we were there in March, however for those visiting in the summer months I recommend booking online as far in advance as you can to be sure that you don't miss out.
The ticket price was around $24 if I remember rightly which I thought was quite expensive but having visited I now think that the price is well worth it.
Once on the island you have a compulsory talk which just gives you a bit of information. We then watched a video that was shown on the documentary/history channel with some more basic information about Alcatraz which kind of set the scene and put it in context so to speak. This was definately worth seeing, I think it shows regularly throughout the day.
After this you collect your audio guide, which is included in the ticket price and it has to be one of the best audio tours I have done. It guides you around the island allowing you to pause, rewind as you wish. The tour is so life like and the sound effects are so real. I remember being in my own little world, half listening, half daydreaming and then hearing the slamming of a cell door and jangling of keys and thought someone was behind me when in fact it was on the audio guide!
The jail itself is quite spooky I found and I didn't fancy being anywhere on my own, so going at a busy time might be an idea if you're easily scared!
At certain times throughout the day I think there are guided tours with one of the members of staff there but we weren't there at a time suitable for this so I cannot comment on the quality of these.
The audio tour ends (in true American style) in the gift shop. When we were there there was an ex-inmate signing his books. I couldn't look at him, for being too scared but if you're in to that then it's pretty cool.
The tour of Alcatraz is one thing not to be missed and it's a great learning opportunity too if you don't know anything about the island.
I belive San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, so if you do get a chance to visit but can only do one thing then I would definitely recommend the Alcatraz island and prison visit. The island is situated in The San Francisco Bay, California.
It sfirst started out as a lighthouse,a military fortification, then a military prison. It was a federal prison until 1963. In 1972 it became a historic site run by the National Park service in order to preserve it and to open it up to visitors from all over the world.
It's very easy to find as San Fransisco is a rather small conpact city. You basically go down to the bayside and there are various piers which you can visit.
Alcatraz is situated off Pier 33 near Fisherman's Wharf and to get there you need to use the ferry service. This is about $25 dollars. There is no fee once you get to the island/prison as it is a State Monument. The name of the island translated into English actually means island of the pelicans and you see hundreds of pelicans when you are here, it's really an awesome sight.
During the summer though the tickets book out quickly so I would definitely recommend booking early. You can spend most of the day here so I would recommend getting the early ferry as you have no time limit and can come back whenever you want.
There is no food on the island so you will have to take some with you. Beware, it can also be cold, even during the summer because the wind whips around there so take a light jacket as well.
The tour is organised perfectly. You get audio packs so you can listen to all the information about the prison, you also walk around at your own pace which is nice because you can stop and start the tape. The prison itself is very interesting, you get to see all the cells and even where Al Capone was kept. You hear about the escape attempts and what life was like for the prisoners. You can actually walk into the cells and really see how small they are, quite a scary proposition.
There are stunning views from the island so I definitely recommend taking a camera with you. The Bay is beautiful and there are quite a few benches around the outside of the island where you can jsut sit and relax.
Some of the hills are steep though so take some walking shoes also.
Like I said if you only do one thing when you go to San Fran then make sure this is it. An excellent day out and afterwards when you are back at the piers and Fishermans Wharf there are some great restaurants for dinner!
ps - not sure if he's still there as haven't been to San Fran for a few years but the tree man is a legend. There is a man, down by the pier who hides behind a tree/bush and then jumps out at the tourists around him. He just out at me and my friends and we jumped a mile but it was just hilarious, it's fun watching him do it to other people too!!
UPDATE: As from 26 September 2006, Blue and Gold Fleeet do not run the ferry to Alcatraz. Visit the NPS.gov website for more information, and this links you to the http://www.alcatrazcruises.com/ which is the official agent for tickets. Don't buy them anywhere else unless you cannot get them here as they are the official prices, and you could find yourself paying considerably more!
Alcatraz Island and its infamous prison holds fascination for many of us, and so I was absolutely certain I didnt want to miss a tour to the Island on my recent trip to San Francisco. Blue and Gold Fleet are the only ferry operator to offer tours to the island and having read that pre booking was advisable, I made a booking for three tickets which were an affordable $16 per head for adults. I received internet confirmation quickly and was advised to turn up at Pier 41 at Fishermans Wharf to collect our tickets.
There are several crossings a day over to the Island, typically every half hour, and Evening Tours are also available. It is recommended you leave around 2.5 hours for the trip and I would agree with this. Tickets are non transferable and non refundable.
We happened to be down at the wharf almost 24 hours before we were due to depart and spotted a ticket collection point (requiring credit card) at Pier 41. We decided to retrieve them to save time the following day, and we soon realised we had mixed our dates up! I had booked Saturday, having agreed this with my youngest sister, but then I got it into my head that I had booked for Sunday, for some reason! We visited the ticket booth and were served by a wonderful assistant who swapped them for tickets for the following day without quibble. I am just glad the tickets were not particularly expensive if I did have to shell out for three more! Top Marks for common sense service from me.
The Island itself is only about 1.5 miles from Fishermans Wharf out into the Bay. On water, 1.5 miles does not look like a great distance, and it seems unfathomable that none of the 36 men who tried to escape made it, with five who were never seen again presumed to have died in the cold water with its strong currents.
The queues to board the boat were considerable, but it managed to absorb everyone with ease, and the journey over is fairly swift. In fact the queue to board was slowed down because of their professional photographer taking photos of each couple/family group before they boarded. We declined to have ours done, as I find that too tacky for me!
My other sister and fiancé had visited the previous day, and given us a tip to head straight up the hill to the prison, rather than listening to the Park Ranger who she stated loved the sound of his own voice and would keep you there at the dockside in the intense heat for ages. In fact he kept our boat-load there a considerable time, as we had almost finished the prison tour, before we bumped into my brother-in-laws family starting their tour, and in the blaring Californian sunshine, I am glad we did not stand around for too long. Take that tip from me now too!
The Island is known as the Rock, and is not particularly big at all. There is a fairly steep but thankfully short walk up to the Prison entrance, and there is also a tram type service for anyone with walking difficulties, which is first come first served and not provided for the enjoyment of everyone.
The prison tour itself is a self guided tour. Our headsets were included in the price, and you are guided through the prison over a period of about 40 minutes. Much of the voice over is by ex Alcatraz prisoners themselves.
The prison is not particularly large and while it had capacity for over 300 prisoners, it never housed more than around 260. The cells are grouped into four blocks A/B/C/D Block, with D block being the most severe punishment cells for extra discipline.
The inmates had their own names for the corridors that ran parallel to the four blocks, a sense of humour perhaps, in that two of the key corridors are named Broadway and Michigan Avenue. In fact these cells were completely basic, and the bars meant that the men had no privacy from the cell mate opposite them. Most men were sent here from other prisons, for behavioural issues, and Alcatraz was seen as a last resort.
I think it was surprising that Alcatraz was not used as a Federal Penitentiary for a particularly long time just 29 years prior to 1963. It was also used as a Military Prison from 1859 and escapes were more successful under the army regime.
The audio tape gives insight into some of the most notable escape attempts on Alcatraz, including the 1946 3 day siege known as the Battle of Alcatraz which resulted in several deaths of both prisoners and guards. You can even see inside the cells of the escape of 1962, when three prisoners foiled guards by leaving dummy heads in their beds, meaning they were not missed until morning and indeed were never seen again.
The prison itself was closed in 1963 as the running costs were too high to house the prisoners, and wardens and their families. It was quite bizarre to think that several prison warden families lived here on this tiny Island which contains nothing more than a prison. It was then occupied by American Indians before they were forced off after a couple of years and the Island was turned over to the Park services.
There are a couple of shops selling Alcatraz related books, films and other gift items. There is no food and drink available on the Island and therefore it is advisable to take your own water especially. (there are limited food and drinks available on the ferry over)
Overall, it was a very enjoyable and interesting trip and I think the voices of prisoners on the self guided tour give an excellent insight into the harsh conditions if the sight of the cells dont do that already. Pre-booking is definitely recommended particularly for the busy summer season, and tickets are available for $16 from www.blueandgoldfleet.com
When we decided to return to San Francisco I made sure we pre-booked tickets to Alcatraz before we left the UK. Last time we visited in 2000, we hadn’t realised how popular the trip was and never anticipated not being able to book whilst there. That time we had to make do with a boat trip around the bay, this time I booked two months in advance via the website www.blueandgoldfleet.com. It only cost $31 for two, a bargain as it turned out. You board a boat at Pier 41 for the short ride across to the island itself. From the city, you do not realise how high the island really is and how elevated some of the buildings actually are. When you disembark you are led to a large concrete area where a tour guide greets you and explains the routes to take and what to expect etc. There is quite a lot of walking up stairs and hills, so for those with disabilities etc there is a trolley bus to take you to the top. We started off by going into the “theatre” to watch a film about the history of the Rock which was very interesting. It outlined the various uses the place has had over the years by the Army and of course the prison and of the Indian occupation in the late 1960’s and how the place has been turned into the tourist attraction it now is. It is now one of the Golden Gate National Recreation Parks. After getting the background of the Island we walked the steep but interesting climb to the actual prison. The island is now a home to thousands of birds and small animals. We visited in June and this was the breeding season for the seagulls, so we saw many baby chicks in nests and wandering around pestering their parents. They are very messy, so watch where you tread and lean against. When you get to the prison, your ticket includes a self-guided tour where you are given a tape recorder and set of headphones. A marker on the floor tells you when to switch the tape to play and you then have a narrator to walk
you through the prison. Obviously you an stop, rewind etc at any point, but it is best to let it run to get the best effect. The tape is extremely impressive, with superb stereo sound that makes you feel like you are experiencing all the things you hear on the tape. You are told of the conditions the prisoners were kept in and hear the echoes of the doors banging shut and the screaming of the inmates etc. You are told to go to different cells and are told stories such as how the marks on the door relate to a failed escape attempt or that Al Capone was thought to have been in this particular cell etc. The voices change on the tape to people who actually experienced Alcatraz, either as a prison guard or an actual prisoner. There are stories of riots, escapes and you see cell mock-ups of how some of the prisoners tried to escape by digging out of the back of their cells and leaving hand made heads in the beds to fools the guards. How Robert Stroud famous as being the Birdman of Alcatraz, never actually kept birds whilst on the island. He earned his Birdman nickname as a result of keeping canaries at his previous prison Leavenworth. Al Capone was kept here, but no-one seems to know exactly which sell he was kept in. The cells are very small and consist of just a narrow bed, basin and toilet with open bar doors. None have windows although the tour includes the canteen, where prisoners had great views of the bay and city – so near and yet so far! Apparently the inmates were given good food in order to keep them from rioting and given hot rather than cold showers to stop them from becoming acclimatised to cold water in-case they were tempted to take a swim. There were a few attempts at escape, none of which were said to be successful, although three men are unaccounted for during the escape depicted in the film The Great Escape. There was no evidence of their survival, but equally no bodies were found – so who knows?
When the tour ends you just had back you headphones etc and a free to wander the island. Boats leave every half an hour so you can stay for as long as you want. The tour itself takes about one hour, so you really need to allow yourself a minimum for two, so that you can wander at leisure and visit the shops etc. There are gift shops, restrooms and information points around the island and the views are magnificent on a clear day. Remember to take a camera a plenty of film (you are allowed to take pictures inside the prison too). This really is the must visit location in San Francisco. I cannot tell you how fascinating the tour is or how good the narration and background sounds etc really are. You an buy a copy of the tape in the gift shop, but to be honest you cannot possibly get the same effect as when you are actually inside the prison. Without doubt this was the highlight of our trip and something I will never forget.
If you go to San Fransisco you simply can't miss going to Alcatraz. It was the highlight of my trip there and it is a great trip for people of any age. The most important thing to remember though is to book your tickets early especially if you are there in the summer. We tried to book our tickets when we got there for either the next day or the day after that, but they had all sold out and they were only offering them as a package tour with Angel Island included (which is a sort of wildlife island - nice if you have the time but also not good if the weather is bad and you are just there to kill a few hours before going on to Alcatraz). In the end we had to book through our tour operators Virgin and could only get tickets to Alcatraz if we did a city tour in the morning first which was not really worth the money. You should be able to book just Alcatraz tickets with your tour operator before you go so I strongly recommend doing this. Anyway the whole Alcatraz trip is spectacular and even better if you've seen some of the films filmed there - Escape from Alcatraz and The Rock being just a couple. The ferry trip to the rock takes about 10 minutes but its incredibly exciting getting closer and closer to the rock and getting your first glimpse of the prison up close. When you get off the ferry there is a short talk at the dock area explaining you can self guide if you don't have much time or you can take the audio tour of the cellhouse which takes a little longer. The audio tour was absolutely the best part of the trip as it was incredibly informative and well thought out. You first go through a few of the other buildings on the rock and pass the gaurds accomodation etc and at the top of the hill is the cellhouse. The audio tour takes you all around and gives you the history of the place, stories about particular inmates, famous inmates, stories of escapes and all this to sound effects in stereo that make you fe
el as if you are really in the prison while it was still a working prison. The tour also features lots of tape of ex inmates talking about what it was like. There are tour guides dotted around the cellhouse who offer impromptu demonstrations of various things such as the shutting of the cells etc. If you are really brave you can be shut in pitch black in an isolation cell for a minute or two. There are plenty of other things to see on the island including a small museum and also a short film which you should see before you start your tour. We went on a beautiful sunny day and enjoyed just walking around the pathways with spectacular views across the bay and of the golden gate bridge, there is also quite a lot of birdlife on the island which can be interesting. You have a timed ticket to get your ferry over to Alcatraz which you cannot miss, but it is up to you which ferry you take back so you can stay for 1 hour or 4 hours depending on what you want to see.
Alcatraz is an island situated approximately one and a half miles from San Francisco Bay and I spent an afternoon there during my trip to California in October 1994. The name Alcatraz derives from the islands original title 'La Isla de Los Alcatraces' which translates to 'The island of the Pelicans'. It was named, in the late 1700's, by a Spanish explorer, due to being inhabited solely by pelicans at that time. Best known as home to America's most notorious federal penitentiary, Alcatraz Island has a vast and amazing history both before, during, and after this time. In the 1840's, the island, previously home only to sea birds, was taken over by the US Army as it was an ideal location to set up a defence unit for the mainland of San Francisco. Building started in 1853 and by 1859 all fortifications had been completed. The civil war passed by without attack but Alcatraz had been prepared with over 300 soldiers at the ready. Alcatraz became home to a Military prison in 1907. Soldiers sentenced to hard labour were ironically brought to the island to actually build the cellhouse that would later imprison them. Soil and plants for landscaping had to be brought in from the nearby Angel Island as Alcatraz itself was rock on which very little could grow naturally. By 1912 Alcatraz had the now infamous cellhouse, barracks, a general store and a new lighthouse in addition to the fortifications from 1859. In 1933 Alcatraz became a Federal prison and was classed as maximum security. It’s main purpose was for the holding of criminals who were considered to be non-reformable under any other ‘normal‘ prison regime. Although the cellhouse had the capacity to hold 600 prisoners it was usually less than half full. The best known of the many Alcatraz inmates were Al Capone, George Kelly and Robert Stroud. The latter, Stroud, was also known as The Birdman of Alcatraz. Contrary to po
pular belief, he never had any birds during his imprisonment at Alcatraz. Stroud had been allowed to keep canaries at his previous prison (Leavenworth). He was a very intelligent man, and wrote two books based on his close study of the birds. It was also discovered he had been smuggling letters out in the bottom of the bird cages. On transfer to Alcatraz he lost the privilege of being allowed to keep any of his birds. The inmates of Alcatraz were confined to their cells for sometimes 23hrs a day depending on behaviour. Good behaviour could earn some privileges such as being allowed to work, or go outside for recreation but those who broke the rules were sent to the solitary confinement cells on 'D Block'. The men who continually offended were sent to ’The Hole’, cells with solid steel doors and no light whatsoever, allowed out for just 10 minutes a week for a shower. The food at Alcatraz was reputed to be the best in the Federal prison system. The reason for this was with so many prisoners together in a confined space, the likelihood of trouble breaking out was extremely high so good food was an incentive to keep the men even tempered. The library facility was one of the best in the system too. Escape attempts were made during the 30 yrs Alcatraz was a Federal prison. It is claimed that no-one ever managed an escape but that is not entirely true. Three prisoners remain un-accounted for after ‘The Great Escape’ of June 11th 1962. Over a year of careful planning resulted in Frank Lee Morris, John William Anglin, and his brother Clarence Anglin getting off the island never to be seen again. It is presumed they drowned in the icy waters and strong currents between the island and the mainland, although no bodies were ever found to back up this theory. Equally, no evidence has been ever been found to prove they did in fact make it successfully. Their fate may well never be known for sure. In 1963 the prison closed. It was rumoured that the escape played a big part in this decision being made. Whether the men had survived or not, they had achieved what had always been thought of as the impossible, they had managed to get off the island. Financial matters were the official reasons given though. The expense of running Alcatraz was more than twice that of other Federal prisons due to the transportation costs involved in getting supplies to the island. In addition to that, the buildings were becoming in need of major repairs which would have been very costly. Alcatraz, in it's desolate state, was inhabited again in 1969 when American Indians claimed the island as their own. They hoped to create a centre for cultural and spiritual education but failed to do so and left in 1971. The National Park Service took control of Alcatraz in 1972 and started allowing trips to Alcatraz for a small fee in order to raise money to restore and preserve the remains of nearly 150 yrs of American history. You can visit Alcatraz by ferry from pier 41 and take a guided tour with one of the Park Rangers or wander around by yourself. Many of the buildings are unfortunately derelict now, and some areas are closed off to the public for safety reasons, but it is the aim of The National Park Service to eventually open up as much of the island as they can to allow further enjoyment. The cellhouse is one of the few buildings still standing, and you can go in and walk around. Cells of the infamous inmates are marked clearly, and display boards give information on various subjects such as escape attempts and rules and regulations during visits. Headsets are available for the audio tour which guides you around, ensuring your experience is maximised. You can go out into the recreation area and it is there that the harsh realization of the mental torture sets in. To be confined in a cramped cell for the majority of
the day was punishment, but from outside you could actually see and hear the day to day life on the mainland. Knowing that you would probably never be part of that society again must have been as hard to bare as the physical pain. The history of Alcatraz as an island is amazing, but as a Federal prison was a grim reality for many men. If you visit San Francisco I would highly recommend visiting Alcatraz as you are unlikely ever again to encounter such an experience as this one. Things to remember..... ~ It is advisable to book your tickets in advance as this is a very popular attraction. You will get a time allocated ferry place for going out to the island but return is as and when you are ready (subject of course to the time of the last ferry back for the day, which you will be advised of). ~ Wear sensible shoes/trainers, as to maximize your experience you will be doing a large amount of walking, covering a lot of ground, some of which is hilly and rough. ~ However sunny it may be, wear (or at least take with you) some warm clothes. The San Francisco bay gets windy, and fog rolls in quite early in the day, the temperature can drop quite suddenly in the afternoon. ~ You can take a ranger guided tour of the island, this way you will see all the key features of Alcatraz and learn about it’s past, present and proposed future. If you go off on your own (which I did after the tour) remember to observe notices of off limit areas. ~ There are gift shops on the Island, so buy any Alcatraz merchandise you want from there. At least then you know of it’s authenticity and that the proceeds are being put back into the Island’s upkeep. ~ Take a camera and plenty of film. I used 3 rolls of film on Alcatraz alone, and my own photos undoubtedly made the best souvenirs of my holiday. On a clear day, the views from Alcatraz are breathtaking.
ALCATRAZ! Notorious home of some of America's most infamous criminals. If you are in San Francisco you HAVE to visit this tiny little historic monument. We were only there for one day, on the way to another part of the USA, but it was the "must see" attraction we were told. Alcatraz Island lies about 1/2 mile off of the Fisherman’s Wharf area of SFO. It is owned by the National Park Service and can only be reached by boat. Tours depart from Pier 41 at regular intervals. You will need to book ahead if you want to take a trip out to The Rock. This can be easily done on the tour group, Blue and Gold Fleet's web site (www.blueandgoldfleet.com) A day time trip to Alcatraz, including the audio tour (more about that in a minute) costs just $13.95 per adult. A word of warning; departure times are strictly adhered to. We nearly lost out on our trip by missing the 9:30am departure by just 5 minutes. You will be placed on standby should you miss the boat - so be there 15 minutes before your allotted departure at the very latest. The boats are not particularly luxurious, but you wont really care, as on a clear day you will get a fantastic view of the city, the bay and of course Alcatraz, so stay up top if at all possible. The crossing takes around ten minutes, and you are deposited at the harbour on Alcatraz Island, beneath the fort that graced the rock from 1850 – 1933. Here a ranger will give you guidance about the available activities on the island, and advise you of departure times etc for heading back to SFO. You will be able to purchase a map and guide for $1 and will be sent off to explore. I would advise you take one of the ranger tours. We had not allowed enough time to do this, but they show you more of the island then just the prison on these walks. If the birds that reside here are breeding you may find that many areas are sealed off, so be aware of this or you may get a stern telling off –
remember they were there long before Alcatraz became a tourist attraction! If you are a bit unsteady on your feet, be warned; the island is one big hill, and you need to climb up to the top in order to see the prison. A land train is available for those who cannot make it to the top unaided, and rangers will advise you on when and where you can catch this. The prison itself is accessible to disabled visitors, as most of the tour is on one level. Once you reach the prison, if you have paid for the audio tour, you can collect your headsets. Simply pop the headphones on, hang the little player round you neck, press play and enjoy. The tour guides you through the prison in a fascinating way, highlighting the cells of the infamous Robert Franklin Stroud, Birdman of Alcatraz, a possible cell for Al Capone, and many other unsavoury characters. It includes voice-overs from former prisoners, wardens and family members of those involved with the jail. You can stop, rewind, fast forward or pause the tour at any time, and the whole route takes about 1 hour to walk. I found it amazing, and would not have enjoyed the trip half as much without it. What you will notice is that it is nothing like the movies portrays it, it is quite small (only 336 cells) and it smells strangely of fish (Probably down to the seagull population). We visited the island just last weekend (Easter) and it was fairly busy. expect the numbers of tourists to pick up through the comming months. Take your time and explore The Rock. It is truly fascinating. I would have been very disappointed if we had missed this trip, and I will definitely be going back to San Francisco to see more of this site and the wonderful attractions this most wonderful city has to offer.
Alcatraz Island (slang: The Rock) is a small island located in the middle of San Francisco Bay in California, United States that served as a lighthouse, then a military fortification, and then a federal prison for the area until 1963, when it became a national recreation area. Today, the island is a historic site supervised by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is open to tours. Visitors can reach the island by ferry ride from Pier 33, near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. It is listed as a National Historic Landmark.