One of my most memorable days of our last American trip was our day exploring Alcatraz – San Francisco’s famous federal prison and top of our San Francisco bucket list. I thought it was about time I shared our experience exploring the prison and learning about the famous inmates and attempted (and perhaps successful?) escapes! So here is our day visiting Alcatraz.
After catching a taxi to pier 33, we found ourselves munching on a breakfast burrito and waiting to board the 8.45 early bird tour to Alcatraz.Remember to bring photo ID if you are collecting tickets at the entrance but I strongly advise you to print the tickets before arriving to save time and avoid queuing.
Creative tip: Get the earliest Alcatraz Cruise to avoid the crowds.
The boat to the island took around 15 minutes and I do recommend you to wear layers when getting any ferries around San Francisco as the high speeds can make the journey rather chilly. Once we arrived at Alcatraz Island we headed straight up the hill to the entrance; there was a welcome speaker introducing the history of the island but we decided to move on and head straight up to avoid the crowds and we are glad we did!
Once we made it to entrance of the prison it took just a few minutes to get our audio tour headphones and head in. The audio tour guides you around each cell and pathway of the prison, feeding you factual and fascinating information along with inmate stories and the life of the federal prison throughout the years. You learn about the different escape attempts along what life would have been like as an inmate.
Looking through the small windows of the prison, you can begin to understand how torturous the island must have been for its inmates; being able to see the developing city that is San Francisco but never being able to get near it.
The tour takes approximately 2.5 hours with an Alcatraz store selling the usual merchandise you would expect. Throughout the day there are some talks about various aspects of the prison for those who wish to learn more.
As it was still fairly early when we finished the tour, we had no problem catching the ferry back to pier 33; which runs every 30 minutes.
The island acted as a military prison for civil war prisoners from around 1861. In 1867, a brick prison was built and so came about Alcatraz; a detention centre for long term military prisoners. In 1934, the island became a Federal Bureau of Prisons. Prisoners who caused problems in penitentiaries were sent to Alcatraz with most inmates being notorious bank robbers and murderers.
In its 29 years of use, Alcatraz saw infamous law breakers such as Al Capone, George ‘Machine gun’ Kelly, Robert Franklin Stroud (The Birman) and Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karps; Alcatraz’s longest serving inmate as well as Rafael Cancel Miranda, a member of the Puerto Rican National Party who attacked the U.S Capitol building in 1954.
During these 29 years, the penitentiary claim that no prisoner ever successfully escaped however 36 prisoners made escape attempts with 2 men trying twice, 23 being caught alive, 6 were shot, 2 drowned and 5 are listed as ‘missing and presumed drowned’, although there is some believe they have been sighted since their escape. Due to the incredibly high costs of running the prison, it was closed on march 21, 1963. On the tour you learn about each of these famous inmates in more detail along with the most intricate escapes devised.
We really enjoyed our time visiting Alcatraz – send us a message if you have any questions about our visit! Heading to San Fran? We have a mini guide to help you plan your visit PLUS our top things to do, a guide to Fishermans Wharf and our day visiting the Zig Zag Lombard street.
What is your favourite thing to do in San Francisco? Let us know in the comments below.
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