Travel Journal: Escape to Alcatraz – Visiting US Penitentiary Alcatraz Island

Isn’t it odd how many people queue up to go to prison in San Francisco? Of course I mean Alcatraz and it’s a very busy place. Luckily, I knew to book in advance because tickets sell out quickly and took a day trip over to the United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island.

I decided to do the long walk to Fisherman’s Wharf from my hostel but of course this is San Francisco and what is San Francisco famous for? Hills! And these are not gentle inclines, these are mammoth climbs. It might look good in the Dirty Harry films or other car chase movies but it’s pretty painful on your legs and quite hard going is spots. In fact the hills are so steep they have to put stairs into the pavement.

San Francisco Street stairs on my walk to the Alcatraz boat
Stairs on the street

I wander through Chinatown and pass the Coit Tower, but despite plans to see the view from it I decide not to climb up any further to see it… I think I’d pass out!

After the long hike to the ferry point I finally get to the Alcatraz cruise pier with not much time to spare and join the queue to go to jail. It’s quite a horrid day with scorching sun but freezing winds meaning I have no idea whether to stay wrapped up in my winter jacket or to strip to my vest top. San Francisco weather is not my favourite and layers are certainly key for anyone planning a visit!

It wasn’t a long wait until I got on the boat which has a nice comfy cabin sheltered from the wind. As with most attractions in San Francisco, visiting Alcatraz is a little pricey but true to form I had found a way to save a few pennies. A usual $30 ticket includes an audio tour but the website advertises that you can opt out of this and receive your ticket for $10 cheaper only you need to buy it first and then receive a refund. Obviously most people see this as too much hassle but I am not most people!  Though it created a rather awkward moment and requires me to stand at the side and await a form being filled in it doesn’t take long and in my opinion its totally worth it.

As I had hoped most of the information on the audio tour is also displayed on the walls and even better everyone else is wandering about in silence listening to there headsets so the entire place is perfectly silent making the experience even better as you explore in the eerie silent atmosphere.

As I wander round the prison, learning about attempted escapes, inmate life and routine I can’t help noting that Alcatraz Island actually has some of the best views of the San Francisco bridges and the bay.