SAN FRANCISCO’s BEST ●Attractions●Historical Sites
image copyright George Olson, courtesy Dudell & Associates
Alcatraz Cruises boats depart from Pier 33, on The Embarcadero betw. Chestnut & Bay sts. Reservations advised. Fee.
Before Alcatraz opened to the public in 1973, this sandstone island served as a fort in the 19th century and as a federal penitentiary from 1934 to 1963. Native Americans occupied it from 1969 to 1971. During the time it was a maximum security prison, it was home to some of the country’s most hardened criminals, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud. Now it is run by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area--the largest urban park in the world—and is the most visited landmark in the U.S. And it is as good as it’s cracked up to be--the boat ride, the tour, and the 360-degree bay view. After a short, scenic boat ride to this infamous island (its name translates as “island of the pelicans”), visitors follow a self-guided audio tour of the cell block, narrated in part by former inmates and guards. A trivia tidbit is that George Lucas recorded the sound of all the cell doors slamming shut and used that sound to make the sound of the door slamming shut on Darth Vader’s star cruiser. It is interesting to note that the 84-foot-tall lighthouse still operates (when the original 214-foot-tall lighthouse was built here in 1854, it was the first on the West Coast). Picnicking is not permitted. Wear comfortable shoes, dress warmly, and expect cool, windy weather--even in summer. If the standard tour is sold out (once Alcatraz was hard to get out of; now it is hard to get in to), consider the more expensive Island Hop, which makes a stop at Angel Island and then at Alcatraz, or the Night Tour, which provides the opportunity to see this fascinating site without crowds. Note that the full-service restaurants at Pier 39 provide a discounted parking validation for the Pier 39 garage.
image courtesy of venue
Historic Gardens of Alcatraz tour Departs Pier 33. Free, excluding cost of ferry. Gardens abandoned in 1963 they have been restored with “green” practices by the non-profit Garden Conservancy.