Alcatraz – “The Rock”


Alcatraz is a rocky island not far off San Francisco’s northern coast. It is best known for the role it served as a federal prison from 1912 to 1963. Alcatraz was used to harbor some of the United State’s most notorious criminals such as Al “Scarface” Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly (who gave American english the slang term “G-men” for the FBI). The prison was designed to be escape proof because of the the frigid waters and strong currents that cut off this island from the San Francisco peninsula, but was close enough to the city that prisoners reported the agony of being able to hear the sounds of life going by without them from the nearby waterfront.


The oldest buildings on Alcatraz were built during the Civil War as part of the protection of the San Francisco Bay. It then served as a military prison. Alcatraz was a very successful prison although there is debate over whether it was escape proof as the government claimed. Clint Eastwood’s movie Escape from Alcatraz dramatized a true story of an escape attempt, but historians debate whether the escape was successful or whether the inmates drown in the attempt.

Because food and water had to be shipped to Alcatraz by boat the prison was eventually closed down in favor of the more economical San Quintan prison north of San Francisco.

From November 1969 to June 1971 Alcatraz was occupied by a group of native americans proposing a center that would teach about the culture of the native american peoples.


The cells of some of the more notorious prisoners like the “Birdman of Alcatraz” attract the most interest, but getting shut into the pitch dark of a cell in solitary confinement may be the most memorable.

You also should not visit “the rock” without renting the headset for the excellent audio tour which is narrated in many parts by both former guards and former prisoners.

Getting There

Alcatraz is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Tourists can visit the infamous prison by taking one of the regular ferry services departing from Pier 33. The entrance for visiting the penitentiary is free, but you’ll have to pay for the ferry ride itself. Ferry prices start at $26 for adults and $16 for children. Night tours of the island cost a bit more. Tickets can purchaced be from Alcatraz Cruises.

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