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    Alcatraz San Francisco: how to visit the famous prison on the island

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    Martí Micolau

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    La Alcatraz prison in San Francisco it is certainly the most famous penitentiary in the United States, if not the world. Many of the best known American criminals, including Al Capone, served their sentence here and found their death there either because of the harshness of the living conditions or the various unsuccessful attempts to escape.

    The prison is located on the island of the same name (also known as "The Rock" for its rocky conformation), off the San Francisco bay, and its location has made it one of the most difficult prisons from which to escape. . Let's see today how it is possible visit Alcatraz, find tickets and take advantage of the various tours available and possible savings opportunities. But first: a little history ...


    • Alcatraz: historical notes
    • How to organize a visit to Alcatraz?
      • Option 1: Single Alcatraz visit
      • Option 2: How to visit Alcatraz with combined tours and cumulative packages
    • Where to sleep in Alcatraz area?
    • Alcatraz San Francisco: photo gallery
    • Alcatraz video in Italian

    Alcatraz: historical notes

    Given its strategic position in the center of the San Francisco bay, the island was initially used as a location for a lighthouse, and only later was it converted to a prison building (first military and since 1934 as a maximum security detention center). From the beginning, however, the causes of its subsequent decline began to be glimpsed, the island was in fact very inhospitable and it was necessary to transport not only food and clothing but also drinking water daily from San Francisco.

    Over time, the costs soared that some American politicians argued that it would be much cheaper to put the inmates in a luxury hotel rather than in Alcatraz. The inhospitable conditions on the island were in a sense similar to the harsh conditions under which the inmates had to serve their sentences. For this reason, the Alcatraz prison regime was reserved only for hardened criminals or particularly repeat offenders, so much so as to make the saying famous:

    Break the rules and you go to prison, break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz

    The most fascinating peculiarity of the island, namely its proximity to San Francisco and its evocative panorama, contributed considerably to making the living conditions more difficult for the prisoners. If you visit the prison, try for a moment to identify yourself with the inmates and what they could feel by looking at the city and hearing the noises carried by the wind, knowing that, despite being so close, it was at the same time unreachable due to the cold and strong currents of the bay.

    All this was extremely traumatizing during the New Year's Eve when the sounds of the festivals of the city penetrated the prison walls and for this reason at the stroke of midnight all the inmates undertook to make as much noise as possible so as not to be forced to listen to them.

    The prison was officially closed due to the running costs we mentioned in 1963, but the story of Alcatraz did not end there because a few years later, in 1969, for a short time a group of Native Americans occupied the island and the penitentiary. now abandoned with the intention of founding a cultural center to protest against the policies adopted by the federal government towards them. After an initial enthusiasm, however, the difficult living conditions on the island made themselves felt and a year later the last Indians were evicted. Even today the signs of this occupation can be seen in some murals (You are on an Indian land).

    How to organize a visit to Alcatraz?

    As you may have guessed, Alcatraz occupies a prominent position among San Francisco's attractions. There are basically 2 ways to visit Alcatraz: the first is recommended for those who, in addition to Alcatraz, do not plan to do much else in San Francisco and its surroundings, but in most cases, if in addition to the prison you intend to enjoy the main attractions of San Francisco, we advise you to check the convenience of the second option (combined tours and tourist passes).

    Please note:the entrance to the Alcatraz prison is included in the parks card, however you will not derive any economic advantage from this, since, as stated in a note on the official website, the card does not cover the expense of the ferry crossing from San Francisco. For this reason, even if you have a card, you must book your visit in advance.

    At the time of writing the article to access the island will not be required to present proof of vaccination but you will be required to wear the mask where required, especially in the boarding area and in the closed sections.

    Option 1: Single Alcatraz visit

    If you are not satisfied with a cruise around the island but want to visit the penitentiary made famous by numerous films including "The Rock", you can do it exclusively through the ferries of the Alcatraz Cruises company departing from Pier 33 (not to be confuse with the better known Pier 39). Due to the high demand it is recommended to book at least one month before your arrival in San Francisco.

    I was able to personally see the usefulness of this advice since when I showed up with my reservation at the boarding pier, I saw a sign at the ticket office announcing that there would be no seats available for the next 20 days. So if your visit to San Francisco is only for a few days and you are sure you want to visit Alcatraz, the advice is to book early, especially in high season.

    Alcatraz Cruises, thanks to the collaboration with the National Park Service, it offers, in addition to transport on the island, also the possibility of using an audio-guide that will be very useful in accompanying you on your visit inside the penitentiary.

    Although I do not have great sympathy for this type of service in general, my advice in this case is to use it because, in addition to being present in the Italian language, it is not at all boring and the narration of the history of the penitentiary mixed with the testimonies of former prisoners who tell what daily life was like in Alcatraz, they will help you to fully understand the meaning of the place you are visiting by making you discover a typical day inside the prison and telling you the story of the many tragic and imaginative attempts to escape.

    Alcatraz Criuses, throughout the day, offers numerous time solutions to choose from but if you want to live a more particular experience I recommend that you opt for the night tour, which will offer you the opportunity to visit the island with the suggestive light of the sunset. If you are interested in a tour also in nearby Angel Island you can combine the two but pay attention to the period in which you go: this is in fact the only tour to be seasonal.

    As regards the ticket prices, expect to spend $ 41 per person for the standard tour, about $ 49 for the Night and $ 78 for a visit to Alcatraz and Angel Island together. In any case, on the Alcatraz Cruises official website you will find all the information regarding the different tours and how to book.

    Option 2: How to visit Alcatraz with combined tours and cumulative packages

    In addition to the above method, however, there are other possibilities for visit Alcatraz, often convenient for most visitors, who in addition to the famous island, want to visit other attractions, undertake paid activities and use public transport (or even bicycles) to get around the city. To the single tour in Alcatraz managed by Alcatraz Cruises, you can combine more and save money. Check out these interesting possibilities:

    • San Francisco and Alcatraz: city tour and penitentiary
    • San Francisco: Alcatraz and 1-day sightseeing bus
    • Alcatraz ticket and 1 day bike rental
    • All packages combined with Alcatraz on GetYourGuide
    • All packages combined with Alcatraz on Viator

    Obviously the recommendation always remains the same: book early!

    Recommend If you are in the process of preparation of the visit to San Francisco, the suggestion we give is to also read our in-depth study on San Francisco passes, which include organized tours, excursions and admissions to numerous city attractions at a discounted price.

    Where to sleep in Alcatraz area?

    As we have already explained in another article, the best area to stay near the boarding point for Alcatraz Island is the lively Fisherman's Wharf district, however, since getting around San Francisco is not complicated at all, you can easily choose one. of the areas listed in our article on where to sleep in San Francisco.

    Alcatraz San Francisco: photo gallery

    Alcatraz video in Italian

    Video di Fabio (FEB Productions)


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