standard Alcatraz Island , San Francisco

Alcatraz Island , located in the San Francisco Bay, 1.5 miles offshore from San Francisco, California. Also called The Rock, the small island served as a lighthouse, a military fortification, a federal prison, and a Federal Bureau of Prisons until 1963. Later, Alcatraz became part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area and National Historic Landmark in 1986.


Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island - San Francisco

The first Spaniard to land there, Ayala, named it Isla de los Alcatraces (“Islands of the Pelicans”), because he found vast numbers of these birds nesting on the sandstone island.

The history of the island includes military use as a fort, an army prison camp, a Native American peace community, and the location of America’s most dangerous criminals. The prison held Al Scarface Capone and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud.

Alcatraz San Francisco

Alcatraz Island - San Francisco

In the course of its 30 year existence the penitentiary received a total of 1,576 convicts. There were never more than 250 at any one time, even though there were 450 cells measuring about 10x4ft/sx1.5m. At times the number of guards, etc. was greater than that of the convicts. At night, prisoners could even hear parties and laughter across the bay. Authorities decided that didn’t make sense to keep the Alcatraz Prison because of the high operational and maintenance cost since they could as well have booked hotel rooms for the inmates at lower prices. When three men escaped Alcatraz in 1963, the government decided to close down this expensive dungeon and turned it into a national recreational area.
Today, the island is a historic site supervised by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is open to tours.

Now it’s  home to the abandoned Alcatraz Prison, the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast of the United States, early military fortifications, and natural features such as rock pools, a seabird colony (mostly Western Gulls, cormorants, and egrets), and unique views of the coastline.


The island is also a wildlife sanctuary with birds, and tide pools filled with crabs and sea-stars. Western gull and black-crowned heron colonies are prevalent. Roses still grow by the old Warden’s house. Here is what you will see on your visit to Alcatraz .

Popular culture

Alcatraz Island has appeared many times in popular culture. Its appeal as a film setting derives from its isolation and its history as a prison from which, officially, no prisoner ever successfully escaped. Alcatraz has been featured in many movies, TV shows, cartoons, books, comics, and games.The island was featured in movies including Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood and The Rock with Sean Connery.


This deactivated prison (previously having housed notorious criminals such as Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and the Birdman of Alcatraz (Robert Stroud), is a tourist attraction allowing the public to explore this once forbidden fortress . The island has been open to visitors since 1973. Visitors can reach the island by ferry ride from Pier 33, near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Alcatraz Prison

Alcatraz Island - San Francisco Bay

Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area are one of the most popular tours in San Francisco. Visitors can explore the island for the day, simply cruise around the island on a tour boat without getting off or visit on one of the evening excursions. The weather is usually cold by California standards so be sure to take a coat or jacket with you.

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