Alcatraz Island or The Rock as it’s known locally is a small fortified island just over a mile from the shores of San Francisco.
Its history is steep in American folklore.
Today, the island is one of the most visited sites in the country.
-And for good reason.
Bit of History
The Spanish explorer, Juan Manuel de Ayala mapped the area in 1775, naming the island “Isla de Los Alcatraces”.
Island of the Pelicans.
By 1848 California becomes USA territory, after the Mexican-American War.
The island was originally developed as a military fort to defend the bay area from invaders, especially in light of the gold rush.
Alcatraz Island and the bay area were never invaded.
Around the year 1868 Alcatraz was designated a military prison.
The military prison was closed in 1933.
In 1934 Alcatraz Island started out on it’s most notable chapter. The island was converted into one of the most notorious civilian prisons of its time.
How to Arrive at Alcatraz Island
The trip is pretty straight forward.
You need to purchase tickets at Pier 33 or online. However, if you’re coming during the summer months or holiday season buy tickets ahead of time!
The ferry leaves from Pier 33, the ride is pretty short.
The basic ticket is $38.35 for adults.
Alcatraz Island, What to Expect
We hop off the trolley and run over to will call to grab our tickets.
I smile at the groups of people in full winter gear, hats, scarves & gloves.
Back home is 20 degrees, this is summertime again!
I glance down at the time, 8 minutes until the boat is supposed to board. There are a ton of people in the line so we make a mad dash for the cafe.
*If you’re reading this, take my advice. AVOID buying anything at the cafe or on the ship.
$4 for water?! $11 for a tiny breakfast sandwich?!
San Francisco is the most expensive city in the country at the moment, but this is ridiculous.
Hmmm, eat or starve?! I should have planned better!
At least they accept card, right? :-/
The sandwich is gone in a few bites and we board the first ship of the day. The next ship isn’t far behind but we like the idea of only sharing the island with one ferry full of people vs the dozens of boatloads that come throughout the day…..even, if our empty island is only for a moment.
Alcatraz Island Ferry
The ferry ride is short lived, but every second is gorgeous.
The boat is pretty big and only travels through the bay so seasickness shouldn’t be a factor for anyone.
After a bit we arrive at The Rock.
The island doesn’t look at all that big, but its history kind of breeds a larger than life atmosphere.
We climb off the boat and meet one of the employees for the mandatory information session.
As soon as I stepped off the boat I felt like I was taken back in time. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what it was like here.
A lot of the infrastructure is damaged or reduced to its foundations. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to wonder what life was like in such a place.
Only a mile or so from the city, I think to myself as I look back towards the pier we started at, I could swim that.
No way Alcatraz could hold me 🙂
Turns out, the waters are pretty cold year round.
We spend an hour or so wandering around the grounds, taking the mandatory tourist selfies.
Eventually, all paths lead to the main prison.
Alcatraz Island Prison
Once you reach the entrance to the prison, a top the walkways inside the fortress door. You’ll be greeted by staff with the included audio tour.
It’s a really well thought out guide.
The English version has actual accounts from former prisoners and guards.
The stories take you back in time.
The prison really must have been hell. Being so close to the city, they talk about hearing the people and seeing the city lights across the bay.
Such a kick in the pants when you’re stuck on a prison island.
Alcatraz Island Escape Attempts
The first thing people ask when Alcatraz is brought up…
Has anyone ever escaped?!
At first glance, I would have told you that anyone that knows how to swim and has some decent stamina has a fair chance at escaping Alcatraz.
I mean, seriously…it’s only a touch over a mile from the shore.
It looks like you could reach out and nearly grab the shore from the island.
The reality is hypothermia would get most of us much sooner than reaching the mainland.
But that didn’t stop inmates from rolling the dice.
14 attempts. 34 people in the 29 years the island served as a prison.
Some records state 36 people, but two of the inmates attempted twice.
John Paul Scott
Out of the 34 people, John is the only person that was confirmed to have escaped the rock.
He gained the trust of the guards and was appointed the manager of the basement kitchen.
From there he had the tools to cut through a gated window and make a run for it.
John couldn’t swim so he inflated a bunch of disposable gloves and stuffed them in his clothing. He tied a few more to his wrist and ankles to help him stay afloat.
Believe it or not, he made it to the mainland!
Right to The Presidio, only problem was, at this time this location was an active military base.
John washed up on to shore. Soldiers stopped him, and his run at freedom was over.
I wonder if he thought it was worth it ? 🙂
Short-lived, but could have been in the Genius Book of World Records for the rest of time.
Alcatraz Island Prison Closes
The prison was closed in 1963 after officials decided it would cost too much to rehab and continue operating the prison.
Turns out the saltwater does a number on the structures.
Who would have known 😉
Following 1963, the last inmates were transferred to various facilities across the country.
Alcatraz’s most infamous chapter was now closed.
Occupied Alcatraz (the campaign no one has ever heard about)
Walking around the island you can see writing like, Indians Welcome and Peace and Freedom Welcome Home of the Free Indian.
I was wondering what was the story with these. At the time we were visiting they were having a heritage celebration so our questions were easily answered.
Native Americans occupied the island from 1969 to 1971 as a protest to bring awareness to their stolen lands and such.
The occupation is said to have ended due to some form of power struggle between the leaders of their movement.
You’re welcome to stay on the island until the last ferry. All in all we stayed for about 3.5 hours. It was the best $38 I’ve spend in a while!