Brave the Rock

Few come to San Francisco without hearing of the dreaded Alcatraz. If you’re the kind of traveler who loves interactive visits with historic landmarks take the ferry from Pier 33 down at the Fisherman’s Wharf out to the Rock. Steel yourself—Alcatraz has the tendency to creep out even the sturdiest folks.

Alcatraz’s history starts long before the Mexican-American War, though it is most well known for being one of the most terrifying prisons of the last century. Starting in 1934, the prison opened its doors to its first 137 prisoners—mostly notorious bank robbers or murderers. Though the prison only operated this way for a short 29 years, the island held some of the United States’ most notorious criminals, such as Al Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly.

The island is known for its isolation of otherwise troublesome inmates. Prisoners, located just over a mile from the shore, could hear the sounds of free life bouncing across the water, and knew that one mile was impossible to overcome in an escape—the currents were too strong, the water too cold. Those who tried usually washed back up on the rock.

One of our favorite ways to experience this history is through a guided audio tour. Put on some headphones and immerse yourself in the rich stories of the Rock, from the tales of the only prisoners who ever escaped to those of the guards who called Alcatraz home. Enter the mess hall and hear silverware clattering against plates, and gunshots when your tour tells of you of the doomed escape attempts and conspiracy theories that some escapists could have survived.

When you’ve completed the tour and have seen all the island has to offer, take the ferry back to the city and have dinner out on the Fisherman’s Wharf, where seagulls will try to steal your meal. When your day is complete, head back to Harbor Court for a good night’s sleep before your next San Francisco adventure.

Address: Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, CA 94133

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