Where: San Francsico Bay, California, USA
History: The world’s most secure and isolated prison, dare you to escape
Famous inmates: Al Capone, the birdman of Alcatraz, George Kelly and Henry Young
Remember to: Book your tickets months in advance
Where It’s At
Fishermans Wharf is the jumping off point to Alcatraz Island, the fabled island prison and one time home to legendary gangster Al Capone. Located in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz is considered to be one of the world’s most perfect high security prisons: inmates were kept there through a combination of freezing cold water, strong ocean currents, great white sharks and 24 hour armed guards.
Situated just one mile offshore, some inmates did manage to escape, but no one has ever been able to verify that they survived. Prison life was tough what with the constant wind, and its said prisoners could hear laughter and conversations from the yachts that cruised by, making the isolation even harder to bear.
Closed in 1964, Alcatraz has been used since as a Military installation before being turned over to the National Park Service. More recently, the island was occupied by Native American groups that aimed to reclaim the land for their peoples; by 1971 three occupations had taken place, the longest almost 20 months long.
Ironically, in its day inmates were desperate to escape, but nowadays you can hardly get onto the island for all the tourists. As the most popular park attraction in the entire United States, Alcatraz is always busy so buying tickets early is absolutely essential if you plan on visiting in August and other heavy traffic summer months. The Blue and Gold Fleet operate the boats to Alcatraz and sells tickets on their website. If you turn up without a ticket in peak times you may find the only seats available more than a week later.
You can visit the island on your own though large parts are off limits because of dangerous construction and condemned buildings. A taped commentary (that must be rented once on the island) gives visitors an idea of the cold solitary life lead here that housed some of the 20th century’s most hardened criminals.
An introduction to the prison island’s early history.
National Park Service: Alcatraz Island
Official information on planning your trip to Alcatraz.
main image: View of Alcatraz Island in 1895, showing the lighthouse and prison buildings.-1895 c/o By Not given – http://photos.lapl.org/carlweb/jsp/DoSearch?databaseID=968&index=w&terms=00063245, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3262721