I have to admit that before heading to San Francisco I knew very little about Alcatraz. Like most, I knew it was once a famous prison that held some bloke called Al Capone but that was about it.
Escape from Alcatraz? Nope, never seen it.
Despite my lack of knowledge heading across to the island was not something I was going to miss while in San Francisco.
The night before our visit to Alcatraz one of my friends mentioned someone he knew had been to the island and highly recommended the audio tour of the cell block.
I’m very sceptical about guided tours at the best of times but after being on a ferry crammed full of people and stepping onto an island with hundreds more, I was even more put off. I had images of being herded like sheep along marked walkways as people bashed into each other because they were going the wrong way or unable to follow instructions from their headphones.
I’m often wrong and this was another one of those occasions, the audio tour was excellent.
It took roughly two minutes before I was in a world of my own and completely oblivious to everyone else around me (including my friends). The tour takes you through the history of the cell-block, describes some of the most famous inmates, and explains what the different rooms were used for and everybody’s favourite subject; the breakout attempts.
The highlight of the audio tour was without a doubt the sound bites from former prisoners and prison guards which really help to bring the cellblock to life. Real life testimonials of the conditions (positive and negative points) in Alcatraz are fascinating and really give you a feel of what it might have been like for everyone involved in the prison at the time.
Standard cell in Alcatraz
There are also plenty of other things to see on the island other than the cell-block, most notably the living areas of the prison staff. I never really thought about the lives of the people who would be looking after the inmates before. Many of them chose to live on the island rather than making the daily commute and brought their families across to the island, including children. They even had their own school.
Some of these buildings are still standing and they also show the presence of another group of people who lived on the island once the prison was shut down in 1963. Indians claimed the Island between 1969 and 1971 before being forcefully removed by the US government but messages are still very visible especially on the water tower and dock.
Welcome to Alcatraz
There are plenty of other things to see on the island but given our limited time in San Francisco we made the decision to head back across to enjoy the rest of the city.
Alcatraz Island sits 1.5 miles offshore and is reached by ferry which is included in the ticket price that gets you into the national park. We picked up tickets the day before from Pier 33 ($30) however it is probably best to book online for your preferred time.
Have you been to Alcatraz and emjoyed the audio tour?