Review: Alcatraz


Pier 33, Hornblower Alcatraz Landing
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 981-ROCK (7625)

Alcatraz (named for the alcatraces, or pelicans, who nested there) started as a 19th-century military fortress, but earned its fame for its 29 years (from 1934 until 1963) as the maximum security prison that housed some of America’s worst (and most fascinating) criminals, from Al “Scarface” Capone to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. It also, incidentally, was occupied by Native Americans for a brief period after the prison closed and before it became a state park.

Today, folks flock to the Rock to explore and relive a piece of history. An audio guide is included in the ferry ticket, or you can get a live tour (and incredible sunset views) on the eerie and awesome evening tour. Either way, be sure to take in the gardens. (Yes, gardens on Alcatraz.) The rocky, chilly, ominous outcrop is home to five colorful and historic gardens. Once tended by the wives of Alcatraz staff—and the inmates themselves—the gardens became overgrown when the prison closed. But since 2003 they have been painstakingly restored and lovingly tended.

Tickets $26 per person (a $79 family pass admits two adults and two children). The night tour costs $33 per person and departs at daily at 4:20 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at and should be bought well in advance.

Make it a day (and night) on the Bay.

The ferry to Alcatraz departs from Pier 33, at regular intervals between 9:30 a.m. and 1:55 p.m. (get a head start on the crowds by taking the Early Bird ferry at 9 a.m.)