Alcatraz was the site of the first lighthouse in the Western United States but became a federal penitentiary from 1934-1963, housing famous convicts such as Al Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly. Now, this once infamous prison island is part of the Bay Area’s 75,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Located one and a half miles from Fisherman's Wharf, Alcatraz is one of The City's most popular attractions. A visit to the island includes a tour of the cell house where visitors can see where the prisoners lived. Although the last inmates were transferred off the island in 1963, the main prison block with its steel bars, claustrophobic (9 x 5-foot) cells, mess hall, library and "dark holes," where recalcitrants languished in inky blackness, is still structurally intact.
For additional information, contact the National Park Service at www.nps.gov/alcatraz/.
General Visitor Info
Alcatraz Cruises is the official ferry provider to Alcatraz and back. Departures start at 9:30 AM and are available every half an hour throughout the day. However, please note that these cruises frequently sell out, so as much as possible, plan and book your cruise in advance, especially in the summer and on holidays.
To purchase tickets, view the schedule and/or for more information, visit the Alcatraz Cruises web site at www.alcatrazcruises.com.
Touring the island will be at your own pace. There is no formal tour but an audio tour is available for the cell house portion of your visit. This award winning audio tour is available in many languages including English, Spanish, Japanese, French, Italian, German, Dutch and Mandarin and can be purchased upon your arrival on the island or with your ferry ticket. Evening tours of Alcatraz are also available. Visit the Alcatraz Cruises web site for additional information.
The weather on Alcatraz varies every day on the island, sometimes even on the same day. It can be warm,windy and wet any day of the year. The best way to prepare yourself is to dress in layers and wear comfortable shoes as well.
How to Get There
The following SF Municipal Railway (MUNI) bus lines stop within three blocks of THE Hornblower Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33:
F Line streetcar. The most direct route. Use the Bay Street stop
#10 Townsend bus (Weekdays only, ending at 7 p.m.)
#15 Third Street bus
#82X Presidio & Wharves Express bus
For additional information, routes and schedules, please visit the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency or call 415.673.6864.
Get more information on the neighborhoods here.
Did You Know?
Movies that included The Rock:
The Rock (1996)
Murder in the First (1995)
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
There is a wealth of information about Alcatraz on the World Wide Web. Here are a few sites that we recommend to start with.
This site was developed by the Museum Management Division of the National Park Service and features photos and information on objects in the park’s museum collection as well as audio content and some QTVR 360 degree photos of parts of the island.
These are two private sites that contain good information about Alcatraz.
The first site covers the penitentiary years (1934 - 1963) and contains a lot of information not otherwise available online, for example the text of the “Rules and Regulations” book given to all inmates, and a listing of all inmates from the penitentiary era.
The second site, by a former Alcatraz park ranger, concentrates on the military history of Alcatraz from 1850 to 1934.
Bureau of Prisons official site, contains some basic information on Alcatraz history (at http://www.bop.gov/about/history/alcatraz.jsp). Additional information is available here but generally hard to find unless you use the site search engine (for example, the FALLEN HEROS section contains information on Correctional Officers who died on the island in the line of duty).
The Federal Bureau of Investigation site contains information on “Famous Cases” in FBI history including some related to Alcatraz. A search will find some of the information they have available – but not all of it is obvious - for example go to their FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) site at http://foia.fbi.gov/room.htm to find entire files on persons and events related to Alcatraz history, like their files related to Alphonse Capone (2397 pages!). You almost need to know what you are looking for (by name of individual) though - for example there is information about former Alcatraz inmate Morton Sobel in the Julies and Ethel Rosenberg files if you know to look for it there.
This is the site of the Alcatraz Alumni Association (former guards and their families) who return to Alcatraz in August each year for an Alumni Day, when they meet with the public and share their stories (note: this day sells out about two weeks in advance each year – see www.alcatrazcruises.com for reservations). Former inmates are also invited for the Alumni Day on Alcatraz, though they are not members of the Alcatraz Alumni Association.
Both of these sites are for Public Broadcasting Service and have Alcatraz sections related to videos – pbs.org related the WE HOLD THE ROCK (the American Indian occupation) and kqed.org related to the video LONELY ISLAND HIDDEN ALCATRAZ which is an overview of the island’s history. Use the site search engines to locate the Alcatraz sections. Also has teacher’s guides, links, etc.
An article by Dr. Troy Johnson and photo archive by photographers Ilka Hartmann and Michelle Vignes on the American Indian occupation of Alcatraz in 1969.
(Note that as the following site is commercial we are not able to directly offer a link so you will need to cut-and-paste the url in to your browser window to load this page.)
An article from NATIVE PEOPLES MAGAZINE on the Alcatraz Occupation written in 1999 on the occasion of the 30th anniversary.
Text of THE ALCATRAZ PROCLAMATION TO THE GREAT WHITE FATHER AND HIS PEOPLE, 1969, from the American Indian occupation of Alcatraz.