How to escape from San Francisco to Alcatraz

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.

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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.

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There isn’t much food on the island, so the boat may be your last chance for a while.

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On a clear day, the cruise provides incredible views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge:

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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.

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A timeline on the ferry to Alcatraz.

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Step off the boat to this:

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Building 64 was an administrative and staff housing building. What’s in there now… a mystery.

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Activism on Alcatraz brought Native Americans from across the country to the island starting in 1969.

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The remains of the warden’s house in front of the West Coast’s first lighthouse.

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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.

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Some parts of the island look like they haven’t been touched since the prison was closed in 1963:

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Inside the industries building, where prisoners went for various work duties.

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Some quick tidbits from the museum:

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Why put a prison on a rock?

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And Machine Gun Kelly was an altar…boy. Not altar man?

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First day at Alcatraz prison? Get inspected, get showered, get your prison clothes, then walk naked to your cell.

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The cells in D block are roomy and sunny, but were for the worst of the prisoners. Huh?

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D block also held the solitary confinement cells:

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The view from the administrative entrance to the prison.

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All four wardens of the prison.

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Sea gulls seem to love this federally-protected nesting ground.

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.

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And up the stairs:

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From the recreation yard door, the view is great for bird and sea lion watching:

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Late in the day, the island clears out, and the sun sets behind building 64:

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After hours of exploration, grab a bench by the dock and wait for the ferry home:

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Here’s some video from my day at Alcatraz:

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