Playing Tourist – A Visit to Alcatraz

A view of Alcatraz Island from the ferry

A view of Alcatraz Island from the ferry

I have probably mentioned this before, but it’s worth noting here again that I’m a Bay Area native. I was born and raised in the Bay Area and have lived here my entire life. 

Which brings me to my point–I’ve lived here my entire life and I have never been to Alcatraz. Until now, of course.

Actually, I can ask any of my friends who were born and raised here and I can tell you only one or two have been to the infamous penitentiary. 

Why? Well, for one, it’s pretty difficult to just go there on a whim. You definitely have to plan ahead. Another reason? It’s right in the middle of all the tourist traps in the city. Fisherman’s Wharf is known for cheap souvenirs, windy cold weather, sea lions, Pier 39, and any other touristy thing you can think of.  

About four weeks ago, we made plans to finally take a trip to Alcatraz! Was it worth it? Absolutely. There were so many unexpected perks from this trip, like panoramic views of the city and East Bay and beautiful spring wildflowers. 

Here’s a recap of our trip: 

The view of Coit Tower from the waiting area

The view of Coit Tower from the waiting area

The waiting area and ticketing area is legit. The National Parks Service really knows how to herd crowds of people and streamline the process. While we were waiting, I snapped this photo of Coit Tower. 

A view of Alcatraz Island from the ferry

A view of Alcatraz Island from the ferry

We were sailing over rough water but our ferry got us to the island in one piece. That’s a view of the island from the ferry. 

As soon as you get to the island, you’re greeting by this gigantic sign. Really, you can’t miss it. 

Right when you get off the ferry, a ranger gives you a quick rundown of what’s happening on the island and where things are at. They have some special demonstrations throughout the day but the main attraction is the guided audio tour that takes you through the jail cells and various rooms of the prison. It’s included in the admission to the island. 

On the way to the guided tour, you’re taken to a room that shows the toiletries they used, the laundry area, and the showers:

alcatraz-toiletries

Toiletries

alcatraz-laundry

Laundry

Almost all the rows of jail cells looked like this, with the exception of solitary confinement cells. These cells were state of the art. 

Alcatraz Jail Cells

Alcatraz Jail Cells

Entrance to the admin building

Entrance to the admin building

Dining Hall Menu

Dining Hall Menu

Their meals were a mere 20 minutes long. Pictured above is the menu from the last day Alcatraz was in operation.

After the tour (which took about an hour), we walked around the island to take in the views. 

Sailboats on the bay

Sailboats on the bay

And that’s pretty much it! We headed back on a ferry back to the mainland right afterward. 

Some tips, if you’re planning on making a trip:

  • Book your tickets in advance. The ferries are usually booked one week out. 
  • Try to go in the early afternoon so that you’re there before the heavy winds kick in
  • Eat well before you go. There is food available on the ferry (hot dogs, nachos…) There’s no food on the island and you’re not allowed to bring food to the island. You can drink water though!
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. There’s a lot of walking involved.
  • There isn’t much cell phone service on the island. Plan accordingly. 
  • There are other special trips available, such as night tours and combo trips to Angel Island. Take a look to see what they offer!

Have you been to Alcatraz? What do you think? 

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