Home to the world’s most notorious prison, tour this famous landmark to understand why it gained its reputation as such a cold and unforgiving place.
Between 1934 and 1963 when the Alcatraz prison was still in service, the name uttered in any courtroom was enough to instil dread and fear into any person standing accused. Even viewed from a distance, the bleak island on the San Francisco skyline will send a shiver up your spine. During its time as a working prison, Alcatraz held some of the world’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz), George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, Rafael Cancel Miranda (a member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party who attacked the United States Capitol building in 1954) Mickey Cohen, Arthur R. "Doc" Barker, James "Whitey" Bulger, and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis.
Alcatraz Island is located in the San Francisco Bay area, and is reached by a short 15-minute ferry trip. You can board the ferry at Pier 33, where there are several trips scheduled every day. Once on the island, you can enjoy a free tour of the facility with one of the National Park volunteers, or you can do your own thing. Tours of the island take you through cell blocks that were home to some of the most dangerous convicts in United States history. Many of the prisoners were transferred to Alcatraz after causing trouble in other prisons.
Alcatraz is also the site of the first lighthouse that was erected on the west coast of the United States, back in 1854, although the structure that exists today was actually a rebuild which took place in 1909.
Escape attempts from Alcatraz have taken on almost legendary status. In total, 36 people attempted to escape, and while most were captured or killed, the famous attempted escape that took place in 1962, and is the subject of the film Escape from Alcatraz, cannot be confirmed to have been unsuccessful, although the men involved are presumed to have died.
A day trip to Alcatraz can last until the last ferry of the day leaves at 4.25 p.m. It’s wise to book ferry tickets in advance as this is a popular attraction.