‘Alcatraz’ is Spanish for pelican, but to its inmates it was simply known as ‘The rock.’ One of the world’s most famous prisons, Alcatraz operated as a U.S penitentiary for 29 years and was home to some of America’s most notorious criminals. Today it is open to the public and attracts more than a million visitors a year. If you’re keen for a historical, educational and moving daytrip, then when in San Francisco, a visit to Alcatraz is a must!
Built in 1854, Alcatraz was originally created as the West Coast’s first lighthouse, but it was soon decided that due to its isolation, it made the perfect setting for a prison. It became a military jail in the 1870s, but it wasn't until it was converted into a high-security federal penitentiary in 1934 that the name Alcatraz became an international symbol of punishment. With the last inmates leaving in 1963, today Alcatraz is now a National Park and a tourist hotspot with an amazing audio tour on offer for all who visit.
The audio tour of the facility features actual interviews from a variety of former prisoners and guards, and offers powerful and chilling personal accounts of Alcatraz in operation. The buildings retain and eerie and fascinating appeal (there seems to be a freezing cold breeze over the exercise yard no matter what time of year you visit), and you are able to see the cells of famous inmates – Al Copone is always a popular one.
As well as the audio tour, Alcatraz offers a range of changing exhibits that provide visitors with a deeper understanding of its historical significance. From August 25th, the island is hosting the exhibition ‘Life After Murder’, which includes life-size documentary photographs of five ex-prisoners and talks from each of the men. The exhibitions are at no extra cost and so are definitely worth checking out when you’re there.
The only way to get to Alcatraz is by ferry and you will find all the prices and times at; www.alcatrazcruises.com. The price of your ferry includes the audio tour (available in English, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Mandrain and Dutch) and there is no entry fee upon arrival, so it makes for a pretty cheap and awesome day out – thank us later!
To find out more about Alcatraz and what’s on when you visit, head to; www.nps.gov/alca