If you are planning a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area and are searching for things to do; a visit to Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary will definitely be on your list. As one of the most popular attractions in the United States, you will see Alcatraz listed on pretty much any top attractions list that you find. Whether you know the whole history of the famous Federal Prison or just have a basic understanding, you will definitely enjoy taking a tour.
So, what is the deal with Alcatraz and why is it such a popular attraction?
Alcatraz Island, located in the San Francisco Bay, has a rich and varied history that spans more than two centuries. From its early days as a military fortification, to its time as a maximum-security federal prison, to its current status as a popular tourist destination, Alcatraz has played a significant role in the history of the United States. The island was originally known as “The Rock” because of its rocky cliffs.
The first recorded European visit to the island was made by Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775, who named it “La Isla de los Alcatraces,” or “The Island of the Pelicans.” In the mid-1800s, the U.S. military established a fort on the island to protect the entrance to the San Francisco Bay, and during the Civil War, Alcatraz was used as a military prison. In the decades that followed, the island served as a military disciplinary barracks and a prison for military prisoners.
In 1934, Alcatraz Island was converted into a federal prison and became known as Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. The prison was considered one of the most secure in the world, due to its remote location, harsh conditions, and the treacherous waters surrounding the island. It was literally the perfect, natural location for a prison to be built. During its 29 years of operation, Alcatraz housed some of the most notorious criminals in the United States, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis and Robert Stroud (also known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz”) and John Paul Scott, who was the longest serving inmate on the island.
The architecture of the prison reflects the era in which it was built, with a focus on functionality and security. The main cellblock, known as the “Alcatraz Cellhouse,” was a three-story structure that housed the cells of the prisoners. There were 256 cells in the prison and they were extremely small, measuring just 8 feet by 5 feet with steel doors weighing 450 pounds each. In addition to the cellblock, the prison also included a variety of other buildings, including the warden’s house, the industries building, an auditorium, library, hospital, laundry room, kitchen and dining hall.
Today, Alcatraz Island is a popular tourist destination, offering visitors the opportunity to explore the island’s rich history and learn about the prison’s infamous past. Visitors can take guided tours of the cellhouse with a free audio tour, visit the former warden’s home and office, and learn about the history of the island through exhibits and interactive displays. Besides the tour of the prison, there are some other cool things to do while you are visiting. First, you will want to take some time to check out the views from both sides of the island. It’s location in the center of the San Francisco Bay gives you a chance to see the San Francisco skyline, the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito from a different perspective. This gives you a chance to grab some sweet pictures for social media. The other cool feature of the island is the local wildlife. Alcatraz Island is home to a variety of bird species and rare plants that are worth checking out. You will be able to see some interesting birds, including cormorants, gulls and pelicans and possibly see some sea lions lounging on the shores or swimming just off the shore.
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