About 15 years ago I traveled to San Francisco on the cruise ship Norwegian Sky and as we sailed under the Golden Gate bridge into San Francisco Bay and towards pier 35, we passed Alcatraz Island. Being a big fan of the movie “The Rock” I really wanted to go to the island. We were only there for 1 day, and so I enquired about going there, only to be told that it sells about more than a week in advance – such disappointment. 15 years later I finally had a second chance and booked in advance! Tip – make sure you book in advance so you can get the day / time that you want.
After briefly visiting the famous Pier 39 and having lunch, we lined up with the other masses of people to board our cruise across the island. I was excited to finally get to Alcatraz 15 years later, but there was less enthusiasm from the two that were with me!
After landing on the dock and visiting the info center, we had been advised to do the self guided audio tour, and that was probably the best part of the island. After climbing the zig zag roads to get to the top of the hill we finally made it to the main prison building. You then get a headset with audio player to walk around as instructed to look at the various points of interest. Mik wasn’t so sure about it, and was a bit lost on the audio tour, but she just followed as we walked.
Cill decided that she wanted to lock me up so in I went to the solitary confinement cells for a bit of time out. It was a little eerie to walk around the corridors of the prison and to imagine life in there for the most notorious prisoners such as Al Capone that closed its doors to prisoners in 1963. It was great to be able to wander around all the various buildings however many parts of it are in ruin and in desperate need of an update. They are doing some renovations, however it will be quite a while before many parts are improved, if ever.
My only criticism would be the lack of signage and information around the various buildings / sights on the island. It would be great to have more information boards and photos etc from the past.
It was also interesting to find out that most of the prison workers and their families actually lived out there. The kids would get a boat into the city for school, but generally lived on the island with their families, an interesting concept. So aside from all the jail cells and those buildings, there were also buildings for staff and families on the island.
There was also plenty of life still on the island. There are various birds who now call it home as their habitat so some areas are off limits to the public. The gardens are also maintained by volunteers to keep it looking good.
As we looked back towards the city of San Francisco, the flag flew at half mast as it was September 11.
I considered the swim back to San Fran, but then had second thoughts.
Overall it was a great experience, and I was so glad that I could finally go there and have a look around. We were there for about 2.5hrs but you could certainly spend more time or less time there depending on what you were interested in, but definitely do the audio tour while there.
Such an iconic place with a very interesting history and a highlight of San Francisco.