Its one of the most notorious prisons in the world, one of the most famous tourist attractions in the US and seems to be at the top of the to do list for anyone who comes to San Francisco – but does Alcatraz live up to its hype?
I visited on a chilly Saturday night in March and opted for the latest night tour, as my fellow explorer was all about the ‘spooky factor’. You jump on the ferry for about 15 mins from pier 33 and chug along the bay. There is a bar and snacks available, as well as a little commentary. On arrival to Alcatraz they split you into groups, then walk you up the hill toward the main building where you collect the audio tour. The guides are very knowledgeable and enthusiastic, even happy to answer all of your silly questions. (Yes, a couple of escapes but don’t start them on the debate over defining an escape!!) Check out the board at the entrance to the main building for a timetable of talks by guides throughout the facility. These were fantastic and not to be missed, stories of myth and murder abound! The audio tour manages to stay fun but really informative at the same time. The story of escape using spoons was my favourite -how on earth did they fit through that hole?!?!
One of the highlights was the view from the west end of the main building. Keep walking through the command center, zip up your coat, put that beanie back on and brave the chill!!! The view from here is spectacular, all the way along the east edge of the SF peninsula. It’s perfect if you can time it for sunset but the twinkly lights are beautiful later on too. If you aren’t used to the SF winds, here is where you might just feel the worst of the chill (or on the bleachers at a Giants game!). I promise it’s well worth it. Don’t be one of those boring tourists snapping dodgey photos from inside the dirty windows.
Another unexpected find are the art exhibitions. All based around the criminal justice system, they told the story of the last inmates at Alcatraz and incarcerated youth today. Very moving exhibits that seemed to resonate in different ways with everyone moving through, but everyone was certainly moved.
So the practical stuff…
You can buy tickets online at: https://www.alcatrazcruises.com/ . It is true that you need to book in advance, especially at busy times- weekends/holidays. If you are trying to get in at a busy time, or last minute and you are struggling with the system online then give them a call (415.981.7625). The night tour is the morst expensive at $46 per person, but well worth it. You’ll be there for a few hours. Tours depart at 5.55pm and 6.30pm, with the last ferries returning at 8.40pm and 9.25pm. And as much as many a pranksters try, they quite thoroughly scan the place, so you wont get left there overnight!!!