Alcatraz, San Francisco

Who I am
Lluis Enric Mayans

Author and references


  • History
  • Visit Alcatraz
  • Alcatraz: the prigione
  • Curiosity
  • Where to eat
  • How to reach us

Alcatraz is a fortress located on an island not far from the San Francisco Bay, which has become famous for being a maximum security penitentiary, which has always fascinated public opinion and on which books and films have been written ("Escape from Alcatraz" of 1979). Legend has it that none of the prisoners who tried to escape lived to tell it… But in fact, there were as many as 26 attempts to escape in 29 years, but not all of them were successful.

Alcatraz Island is under the protection of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area: a visit to the most famous former penitentiary in the world is a truly unique experience.


The history of Alcatraz begins in 1854, when "The Rock“, As the fortress is called, it served as a lighthouse to welcome ships that came in droves to the city for the famous gold hunt.
It was soon realized that the isolated position made it the ideal place to establish a penal colony.
In 1870 Alcatraz began its long career as a penitentiary, first military and then, from 1934, as a maximum security prison. During its period of operation, the island housed not only the prisoners, but also the approximately 70 families of the prison staff.

The penitentiary has hosted "famous" criminals such as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly e Robert “The Birdman Stroud”.
On March 21, 1963, the maximum security penitentiary definitively ceased to operate, officially due to the rapid deterioration of the structures, which made it dangerous for both prisoners and staff; in reality, the harsh living conditions imposed on the prisoners also weighed on the decision to close the structure.

In the 70s the island was besieged by a group of Indians who decided to settle there to protest against the treatment received by the government, but who quickly gave up due to the harsh conditions in which they found themselves living.

Visit Alcatraz

The visit to the island and the former penitentiary starts at Pier 33 (near Fisherman's Wharf) where the ferries depart. Groups ready to embark, before boarding, are photographed with the Alcatraz panorama in the background. The ferry trip takes approximately twenty minutes.

Upon arrival, visitors are provided with a map and a ranger gives some useful directions for the tour, which is self-guided. After that you can start your visit, which usually lasts from 3 to 4 hours.

Near the docking area, inside the barracks, you can see a video, made by the Discovery Channel, about Alcatraz and what you are going to visit. It is advisable to view the video first not only to arrive more prepared for the visit of the prison, but also to avoid running into a long line of people following our same stops on the tour.

Go up the hill

Once you have seen the video, you can start climbing the hill leading to the penitentiary. Along the way there are several interesting buildings such as the Guardhouse, inside which there is still a cannon, although a sign indicates that the cannons had almost completely fallen into disuse when Alcatraz was operating as a military prison.

A little further on there is theOfficers Club. This building, which initially served as a post office and convenience store, later became the site of a bowling alley, gymnasium and ballroom.

Alcatraz: the prigione

The self-guided visit to Alcatraz prison starts from the shower room, where visitors are provided with an audio guide that tells the story of the penitentiary, step by step, told by the voice of former employees and former prisoners (the audio guide is available in English, German, Spanish, French, Spanish and Japanese).


If you plan to visit San Francisco and Alcatraz, there are some things you need to know to avoid any nasty surprises:

  • Alcatraz visit tickets are in high demand, and sell out quickly, so it's best to buy them at least a month or two in advance of the date you plan to travel to San Francisco (standby - tickets are also on sale but they run out quickly, so much so that to get them people queue up as early as six in the morning);
  • ferries to Alcatraz depart from Pier 33 every thirty minutes, while, for the return, there is one departing every hour.

Where to eat

Visitors are advised not to carry any food and drink to consume on the island, where there are no food outlets. On the ferry you can buy snacks and drinks.

How to reach us

Piers 33, from where the Alcatraz Cruises ferries to Alcatraz leave, can be reached by car (you can park without problems), by public transport and by taxi.

The best way to reach Pier 33 is to take Streetcar E or F and get off at the station called “The Embarcadero & Bay St”, from here it is a short walk to the pier.

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