Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay is best known for its maximum-security prison that was located there. The Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala discovered the island in 1775, and named it, “La Isla de los Alcatraces”, or “Island of the Pelicans.” From 1850 on, the island was used as a line of defense, and a fort was built on the island. In 1854, a lighthouse was built on the island, and this was the first lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States. From 1861, the island was mainly used as a military prison.
On October 12, 1933 Alcatraz became a federal prison and was run by the United States Department of Justice. However, maintenance of the buildings turned out to be very expensive, with the rapidly deteriorating condition of the buildings, and therefore the prison was closed in 1963. The last prisoners left Alcatraz on March 21 of that year.
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The prison has four cell blocks. Block A was never used during the years when Alcatraz was a federal penitentiary. Block B and C, with a total of 336 cells were used for ordinary prisoners and are 1.5 meters by 2.7 meters and contain a narrow bed, a sink with running water, a toilet and a table consisting of two boards + chair. In Block D, which has 42 cells, insurgent prisoners were locked and these cells were slightly larger.
Al Capone, the gangster from Chicago, is the most famous prisoner of Alcatraz. He arrived there in August 1934 for a period of 4½ years. During his stay in Alcatraz he tried several times to get warden, Johnston to grant him special privileges, but Johnston never granted those.
You can reach Alcatraz Island by using the ferry that leaves from Pier 33. Departure time for the boat, depends on the season. A distinction is made between the day tour and night tour. The earliest day tour is also called the early bird tour, apart from the early hour there is no difference with the other day tours.
During the busiest months (mid-March to mid-October), the boat leaves for the day tour around 1x per half hour, and the first boat leaves around 9:00 am and the last boat around 16:00. The boat returns to shore about 1x per half hour, but you’re not tied to a specific time. So you can stay on the island until the departure of the last boat.
Between 18:00 and 19:00 two ferries also depart for the night tour. This tour is only available during the high season (four nights a week). For participants of the Night tour there are several extras, including several presentations and a guided tour to the cell blocks. Alcatraz is open all year round, except on Christmas Day, Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Want to travel to San Francisco, to see Alcatraz Island up close? Check out our USA holidays page, and book your holiday to San Francisco, safe and secure online!