The island on which Alcatraz is located is actually a national park. The island is home to many rare flowers and plants, as well as thousands of seabirds. Getting there means taking a boat trip, which often affords excellent wildlife viewing opportunities like whales and pelicans. The prison area itself is filled with Civil War-era buildings, and visitors can visit many of them like the cellblocks or the hospital area. If you want a fascinating and exciting look at one of the most important pieces of United States history, experience Alcatraz.
Unique Things to See and Do at Alcatraz
- Visit the barracks
- If it’s open, visit the hospital area for a glimpse into old medical practices
- See the lighthouse
- Explore the cell house
- See the morgue
- See the vegetable gardens set up by Native Americans
- Take in the San Francisco skyline
Information on Alcatraz
Tickets to Alcatraz aren’t easy to come by, and reserving your spot means booking far in advance. Show up early the day of departure, otherwise you may lose your spot. While there is a gift store on the island, there isn’t a place to buy food – it’s a good idea to pack some sandwiches before you leave. (Note, however, that large coolers or bags are not permitted.)
One of the most interesting parts of Alcatraz is the D-block, otherwise known as “the Hole.” The most dangerous criminals were contained here, and were constantly surrounded by high-security. It’s a dark, windowless and soulless part of the prison, and visiting will give you a good idea of how the prison was run back in its heyday. Another extremely interesting area of the prison is the cellblock, including the famous cells where three bank robbers once escaped. The trio had dug through the complex with spoons for months, and had sculpted “heads” out of soap to place on their pillows to confuse the guards. You can see these replicated rooms today.
Back in 1775, Spanish explorer Juan Manuel Ayala named the island Alcatraz for its many roosting brown pelicans. Alcatraz is part of the National Park Service, so you don’t have to go far to find pelicans and other roosting seabirds, as well as stunning gardens. For a more unique perspective, learn about the Native American activists who occupied the island for nearly two years starting in 1969. They were successful in mobilizing countrywide protests to fight for Native rights, and ultimately changing the course of Native American history in the United States.
Visiting Alcatraz is a must-do when in San Francisco. Just be sure to plan in advance, and give yourself lots of time on the island. You won’t run out of things to do.
Getting to Alcatraz
From San Francisco, there is only one ferry company departing from Pier 33 that is allowed to land on Alcatraz. Other companies will circle the island without landing. Once you’re on Alcatraz, what you choose to do is up to you, and you can also hire a local guide in advance to show you the way. Guided tours are recommended as you’ll learn lots of interesting historical tidbits about the place, including insider secrets.
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