While we were planning our recent trip to San Francisco, Alcatraz wasn’t something I looked forward to as a highlight of the trip. It turned out to be much more interesting–and less cheesy and touristy–than I expected. Good job, National Park Service!
One thing visitors should keep in mind is that the Alcatraz tours do sell out on weekends. We had to switch around our schedule a little bit because the tours were sold out on the day we planned to go. Luckily, we were able to get tickets the following day, a Monday.
For people like us, who have spent most of our lives in land-locked locales, the ferry ride to and from the island is an added bonus. The trip only lasts about ten minutes, but there are some pretty good views of the San Francisco skyline and of the Golden Gate Bridge. Although we didn’t bring our daughter along on this trip, I think she would have loved the ferry (and been bored at the actual historic site).
Although guided tours are available, we did the self-guided audio tour of the prison. I liked that it provided accounts from actual prisoners and prison employees who spent time at Alcatraz. In describing various riots and escape attempts, the audio tour did an excellent job of guiding me to different points of significance, which helped these stories come to life.
One fact that surprised me: the families of the prison guards lived on the island. Not only that, they often left their doors unlocked and felt very safe there! Personally, if I lived next door to a high-security prison that housed some of the country’s most dangerous criminals, I’d turn that deadbolt every time I walked in the house.
Alcatraz is open every day except Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day. Hours vary and tickets should be purchased in advance. The ferry boats leave from Pier 33, which is located on the Embarcadero.