Alcatraz, the notorious former prison, is located on an island of the same name in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Because of its natural isolation and the bay's cold, strong currents, Alcatraz housed Civil War prisoners as early as 1861. Years later, it became a federal prison that held some of the country's most notorious criminals, including legendary mobster Al Capone, "Birdman of Alcatraz" Robert Franklin Stroud, and George "Machine Gun" Kelly. Though several tried, no inmate ever successfully escaped from "The Rock." The prison closed in the 1960s, but the stories live on. Today, cell-house audio tours inform visitors as they explore the buildings and grounds. To reach the island, take an Alcatraz Cruises ferry from Pier 33; advance reservations are recommended. Alcatraz is partially a self-guided experience that you can do at your own pace. Park Service staff offer numerous free programs throughout the day on a variety of topics, such as escapes, military history, American Indian occupation, and natural history. Once on the island, you can stay as long as you wish—ferries depart about every half-hour. Visitors can typically see the island in two to three hours.

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Expert Review of Alcatraz Island

Parks and Outdoors Review of Alcatraz Island

Away Travel Expert: Ann Marie Brown
expert favorite Parks Expert Favorite
ParksExpert Rating 5.0 out of 5 Recommended for:
Parks and OutdoorsExpert Tips & Helpful Hints
  • The vast majority of visitors come to Alcatraz Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay to tour its famous prison, and it's a rewarding trip for tourists and residents alike. But birders and scenery lovers come to Alcatraz Island from late September to mid-February to walk the island's Agave Trail and enjoy extraordinary views of San Francisco from across the water.
  • From mid-February to mid-September the Agave Trail is closed to protect nesting birds, including colonies of black-crowned night herons and thousands of western gulls. When the trail is open, an amazing array of seabirds and songbirds can be seen.
  • The best Alcatraz tours are the evening cruises, which include a narrated boat tour around the island, special talks on Alcatraz topics, and dramatic sunset and nighttime views of the San Francisco skyline.

Alcatraz Island, Golden Gate National Recreation Area
San Francisco, California 94123

Visitor Information

Telephone Number: (415) 981-7625
The details, dates, and prices mentioned here were accurate at the time of publication.

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