Alcatraz is rocky and squawky and is ruled by birds.
During the summer it may be another box on a tourism checklist, but the rest of the year it’s one of many natural escapes in the arsenal of Golden Gate National Parks.
At $35.50 a person, it’s not a cheap national park to visit, but it includes a short, gorgeous cruise from San Francisco’s Pier 33 over to the island and back.
You have to get your ticket a month or more in advance during the summer, but the rest of the year you can usually buy weekend tickets only a week or so in advance, or weekday tickets straight from the pier.
There isn’t much food on the island, so the boat may be your last chance for a while.
On a clear day, the cruise provides incredible views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge:
In American history, the island started as a military post guarding the San Francisco Bay, became a military prison, then a federal prison, then a site of activism, and finally a national park.
Step off the boat to this:
The island is a mini mountain, and the prison sits at the top, but a golf cart will take you up there if you need.
Some parts of the island look like they haven’t been touched since the prison was closed in 1963:
Some quick tidbits from the museum:
Why put a prison on a rock?
And Machine Gun Kelly was an altar…boy. Not altar man?
First day at Alcatraz prison? Get inspected, get showered, get your prison clothes, then walk naked to your cell.
The cells in D block are roomy and sunny, but were for the worst of the prisoners. Huh?
D block also held the solitary confinement cells:
Want to check out the prisoner recreation yard? Just walk through the beautiful hidden garden facing the Golden Gate Bridge on the backside of the island.
And up the stairs:
From the recreation yard door, the view is great for bird and sea lion watching:
Late in the day, the island clears out, and the sun sets behind building 64:
After hours of exploration, grab a bench by the dock and wait for the ferry home:
Here’s some video from my day at Alcatraz: