Alcatraz Island and Prison Tour | San Francisco, California | I usually stay away from this classic tourist options, but I was very interested on the history behind the Island and the Prison. I must be fully honest and say that when I got to Pier 33 (between Chesnut and Bay) on Embarcadero, I was shocked by the amount of tourists getting on board, and for a minute I though about leaving… but in the end the experience paid off by taking a great Audio Tour of the Alcatraz Prison with the voices of former prisoners and guards.
Yes indeed, it does feel you are on a scene of the Shutter Island movie (with DiCaprio), but in this case was Alcatraz, once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals, the federal penitentiary that operated here from 1934 to 1963 brought a dark mystique to the Rock. The presence of infamous inmates like Al “Scarface” Capone, and the “Birdman” Robert Stroud helped to establish the island’s notoriety. To this day, Alcatraz is best known as one of the world’s most legendary prisons. To get there from Embacadero, you will sail on board Alcatraz Cruises during a short 12 minutes, while enjoying breathtaking view of San Francisco city, Bay, Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge.
Most people know that Alcatraz was once a world-famous federal penitentiary, but the island’s history before and after the penitentiary era is less well known. For example, few realize that it was also the site of the first American lighthouse on the West Coast and that the island served as a huge harbor defense fort during the Civil War. After the fort became obsolete, the U.S. Army turned the island into a grim military prison.
Alcatraz Island Lighthouse and views of San Francisco City for the former Administration Office of the Prison. Nowadays Alcatraz Island is part of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Many people, though, are unaware of the wealth of other stories to be learned on the island. Alcatraz is now home to rare flowers and plants, marine wildlife, and thousands of roosting and nesting sea birds.
You can also see visible reminders of the American Indian Occupation that started in 1969 after the prison closed, highlighting an important milestone in the American Indian rights movement. With the inscription …” Indians Welcome…”
Make sure to take your time to do the Cell Audio Tour. This is included in your ticket. No one can tell the Alcatraz tale like the men who actually lived it. The award-winning Alcatraz Cellhouse Audio Tour brings history alive through the actual voices of the correctional officers and inmates who lived on the island during the infamous Federal Penitentiary era. It took me approx. 40 minutes, which I guarantee were well spent. I can still hear the noise of the cell doors opening and closing. The tour is available in English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Mandarin, Portugese and Korean.
28 years and eight months. Officially titled “U.S. Penitentiary, Alcatraz”, the institution opened on July 1, 1934 and closed on March 21, 1963. There are 336 “main line” cells and 42 “solitary confinement” cells in the cellhouse. The prison was never filled, though, and the average population was about 260 men. The highest occupancy was 302 convicts. Men were never sentenced directly to Alcatraz, but rather had to earn their way onto the island through bad behavior at another federal institution. Alcatraz was sometimes called “the prison within the prison system.”
During the period the Federal penitentiary operated, 36 prisoners were involved in 14 separate escape attempts. 23 were caught, six were shot and killed, and two drowned. Five men disappeared and were never seen again, but the overwhelming odds are that they drowned and that their bodies were never recovered.
Tickets from USD 26 per person, including the Cruise Ride + Entry to the National Park + Cell Audio Tour. Strongly recommended to book in advance. Please feel free to contact me at any time CM by Carlos Melia, firstname.lastname@example.org or +1.646.460.6045. Facebook or Twitter. Hope you enjoy your time at Alcatraz Island. CM
(*) Special Thanks to Tegan F. at Hornblower Cruises & Events for the courtesy and invitation to Alcatraz Cruises.