But a visit to Alcatraz is more than just seeing the inside of an old prison. The scenic ferry ride on the San Francisco Bay enhances the experience. On the way to Alcatraz, take in the breathtaking panorama of the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and Angel Island; the Ellis Island of the West.
The roster of Alcatraz inmates read like an America's Most Wanted list. A-list criminals doing time on Alcatraz included Chicago crime boss Al "Scarface" Capone, dapper kidnapper George "Machine Gun" Kelly, hot-headed Harlem mafioso and sometime poet "Bumpy" Johnson, and Morton Sobell, the military contractor found guilty of Soviet espionage along with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Though Alcatraz was considered escape-proof, in 1962 the Anglin brothers and Frank Morris floated away on a makeshift raft and were never seen again.
Alcatraz is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Park rangers enhance the visit with anecdotes and information about the prison and the island. The cell blocks, 'Red Power' graffiti, and rare wildlife, such as the black-crested night heron and western gulls, are all part of the attraction.
The trip to Alcatraz is popular and space is limited. Purchase Alcatraz tickets as far in advance as possible, up to 90 days.Alcatraz is accessible by ferry, which leaves from Pier 33, near Fisherman's Wharf, every half hour, between 9am and 2pm. Allow about 2 1/2 hours for the round-trip boat ride. Be sure to bring along a sweater or windbreaker, as it gets much cooler once you’re out on the water. Bring along snacks, as the ferry has a limited beverage-and-snack bar, and only water is available on the island. Night trips are available Thursday through Monday and are a more intimate and wonderfully spooky experience.