When I think about San Francisco, some of the first things I think of is the Golden Gate Bridge and AT&T Park where the Giants play. However, for many people, when they think of San Francisco, they may think of Alcatraz Island across the San Francisco Bay. Granted it is impressive, and there is a lot of history on this former high-security prison which existed from 1934 to 1963.Alcatraz is also the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast, early military fortifications, and natural features such as rock pools and a seabird colony (mostlywestern gulls, cormorants, and egrets). According to a 1971 documentary on the history of Alcatraz, the island measures 1,675 feet by 590 feet and is 135 feet at its highest point during mean tide. However, the total area of the island is reported to be 22 acres.
Some of the landmarks on the island include the Main Cellhouse, Dining Hall, Library, Lighthouse, the ruins of the Warden’s House and Officers’ Club, Parade Grounds, Building 64, Water Tower, New Industries Building, Model Industries Building, and the Recreation Yard. Today Alcatraz Island is open to tours, and visitors can reach the island by ferry ride from Pier 33, near Fisherman’s Wharf.
Once we landed on Alcatraz we stopped in and watched a short film on the history of the island. From it’s military background to strategically protect the city in the first world war, to a military prison, to federal penitentiary and then later claimed by Native Americans. Such amazing history in this place.
There was also a Ranger who was there to explain some of the rules, give us a little more history, and answer any questions. While we were there we actually met someone who had an uncle or great uncle (can’t remember) who was a guard there when it was an active prison. We all thought that was pretty cool. Even the Ranger said he had only met a few people that had ever been on the island when it was active.
We were eventually able to roam around the buildings. It was so surreal and I couldn’t help but think of what it was like when there were so many people imprisoned. It was fun wandering through the prison, seeing the jail cells, and learning about famous prisoners. Another surreal moment was going into a cell and having the doors shut. It really gives you the real experience of being in an isolated cell in complete darkness. Its scary! I would not have been happy to have been locked up here, that’s for sure.
Before I end this post, I wanted to let you know that there is no food available on the Island. You can bring food, but can only eat it on the port area. Also, if you are doing a night tour, bundle up as the ferry ride across the bay is freezing. Also, the most important thing, make sure to take notes of the ferry times so that you can get back to the mainland on time & not get stuck there longer than you want. That couldn’t be pleasant. Hope you enjoyed learning about our visit to Alcatraz Island.
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