One of the highlights of visiting San Francisco is to visit the world famous Alcatraz penitentiary which is located on Alcatraz island in the bay of San Francisco. Run by the National Park service, the company Alcatraz Cruises is the only way to get there. The price of the tickets includes return tickets on the ferry and entry to the island.
We departed from Pier 33 (south of Fisherman’s Wharf and north of the Ferry Building) and the journey took around twenty minutes to get to the island. On the way we had pleasant views of the bay, the island, but even more so, the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline.
As soon as we disembarked from the ferry, we had a park ranger greeting us and the rest of the group of tourists. There was a brief introduction to the island and the penitentiary (otherwise known as a prison), what not to do on the island and explained where we should go first. We were very eager to get into the penitentiary and learn about some of the things inmates would get up to here.
Walking up a steep hill (where views over the bay were even more spectacular) we eventually walked into the building and landed up in the former shower room where we queued up for an audio guide. I have to admit that I am not a keen fan of audio guides when walking around attractions or sights of interest but here, I wanted it. I wanted to know the history, some of the stories of the inmates and where I was in the building. As I found out, there is much more history to this place than I first thought despite only been operational between 1934 and 1963.
Listening to the history of Al ‘Scarface’ Capone and ‘Birdman’ Robert Stroud, two of some of the most infamous inmates, made Alcatraz a scary place to be sent to. There were stories coming out that once criminals were sent there, there was no way to escape because of its high security and location. Eventually the island became to be known as ‘The Rock’. Walking around I have to admit that the conditions for that period of time was more than ideal and not as scary as I thought it would be but there is always a saying in the game, it’s the inmates who make the prisons scary, unwelcoming and unpleasant.
However, before the buildings were turned into a prison, we found out the history goes back even further. There are some subterranean rooms, cannons and Civil War-era buildings which have stood since the 19th century which give us great insight that the island was used as a military prison and a harbour defence fort. After Alcatraz was closed down (the prison that is), there were reminders of the American Indian Occupation dotted about the place (this lasted between 1969 and 1971). These years were a very important part in history on the American Indian right movement.
Another piece of history worth checking out on the island is the lighthouse. This one was the first to be built on the United States Pacific coastline. I (Danik) am a total sucker for photographing lighthouses and this one was special to see with the importance behind it.
We nearly spent about three-four hours on the island before heading back to San Francisco. As well as being a tourist and doing the typical sightseeing ‘thing’, we found that we actually learnt quite a lot about the place and felt like being in a school history lesson (which is a good thing). Once we were back on land and later that evening, we just had to watch the film ‘The Rock’ with Nicolas Cage in it, just to see the filming locations used on Alcatraz island. Were we disappointed with the visit, hell no! We would totally recommend this to anyone visiting the city. It’s not just about visiting the island, the journey to and from across the bay is special and Alcatraz Cruises are the only company which does this journey. There punctual timetable, queuing systems, professionalism of the staff on board, (and of course taking safety into account), made this an enjoyable experience and one we shall not forget.
Please note that while we were working with Alcatraz Cruises, the review and experiences written about in this post are 100% genuine. We value our readers too much to lie to you. Our blog would be nothing without you and your continued support!
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