Known as 'The Rock,' the island of Alcatraz was a maximum security prison between 1933 and 1963.

TravelCurious Tip

Get the earliest ferry over at 8:45am so you are the first people to arrive on the island. It gets more and more crowded as the day goes on!

Alcatraz, also known simply as ‘The Rock,’ is an island just off San Francisco. For thirty years in the middle of the 20th century it was home to one of the world’s most famous prisons, along with many of America’s most notorious criminals. Al “Scarface” Capone and the murderer Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud were among those who were held there. No inmate is known to have escaped with their lives, although more than a dozen attempts are were made.

Beer and Birds

It all started in 1775 when the Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala sailed past and dubbed it the Isle of the Pelicans. Fast forward 80 years and the US had made it the first US West Coast fort and started using it as a holding pen for Civil War deserters and US army deviants. It got pretty full at times, but the army simply gave it an upgrade with a new concrete military prison in 1909.

However, Alcatraz only really earned its stripes when the prohibition kicked in. Unsurprisingly for everyone other than legislators, the public was unwilling to comply, so gangsters stepped in to help them out. In the 30s when authorities sought to make an example of the ringleaders, Alcatraz was the place. Although ‘The Rock’ would only ever have 264 inmates at a time, the roster was a true who’s who of organised crime in the US.

Visit the island and you can get a very brief taste of what they experienced. You can see the cell houses where prisoners lived, along with the mess hall and library. There is also a national park that was occupied by native activists when the prison stopped being used. But perhaps most importantly you can pay tribute to the place where that fine collaboration between two giants of the 21st century, Michael Bay and Nicolas Cage, was shot: “The Rock.”

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in San Francisco
Pier 39
Pier 39 is a popular shopping built on a San Francisco pier, in Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood. Pier 39 is known for its sea lions, we can also find shops, restaurants, and street entertainment.
Ghirardelli Square
The Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco used to b the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. The buildings have been renovated to hold shops, restaurants and galleries.
North Beach
The Little Italy of San Fran, North Beach hosts some fantastic Italian restaurants and is one of the city's best nightlife districts.
Washington Square Park in North Beach
This beloved park with view of Saints Peter and Paul church located in North Beach is one of the city's oldest parks, established in 1847.
Coit Tower
An emblem of the city skyline, this 65 metre tower provides a 360 degree view of the city.
Fisherman's Wharf
A neighbourhood with Italian roots, this area has seafood restaurants aplenty.

Related Tours

San Francisco in a Day: Private Full-Day Tour including Alcatraz
Immerse yourself in the heart of San Francisco, one of the most iconic cities in the world, on this private full-day tour where you will discover the history and culture of the city before embarking on a journey through some of its most famous landmarks, including a visit to Alcatraz Island to uncover the secrets of the infamous prison. 

On your private tour of San Francisco, you will:

  • Explore Union Square— San Francisco's bustling shopping area;
  • Discover Chinatown, passing through the magnificent Dragon Gate, the entrance to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia;
  • Visit Nob Hill, and after a short tram ride, take a stroll down North Beach and learn the fascinating history of this Italian-American enclave,;
  • Immerse yourself in the customs, cuisine, and curiosities of Chinatown;
  • Take a cable car across town for fantastic cityscapes and soak up the San Francisco skyline from the top of iconic Nob Hill;
  • Visit Ghirardelli Square, with breathtaking views, fantastic shopping, dining options, and of course - world-famous chocolate!
  • Enjoy striking views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the atmospheric Fisherman's Wharf;
  • Walk around the historic Pier 39, and see the famous seals basking in the sun;
  • Dig into some of San Francisco's famous seafood - like clam chowder soup in a sourdough bread bowl (not included);
  • Finally, the guide will depart as you take a ferry to visit the world’s most notorious island penitentiary: Alcatraz, where you will enjoy a self-guided audio tour of the island or choose to join one of its small ranger-led tours when you disembark.

Your Private Full-Day Tour of San Francisco Highlights will take you through an urban landscape, set on the northern tip of a peninsula, shaped by glaciers, earthquakes and the Pacific’s rolling waves. 

At the top of Nob Hill, soak up an extraordinary cityscape at cable car height. Set on San Francisco's picturesque steep slopes, enjoy a stunning skyline across streets crisscrossed by streetcars, yellow taxis, and jogging trails. 

Wander through some world-class shopping malls in Union Square, where big-name brands and local stores nestle amongst chic boutiques. 

Lastly, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, lined with seafood cafés, are home to basking sea lions, jugglers, and mime artists, with striking views across the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Angel Island. Enjoy lunch at one of the many eateries on Pier 39 before your guide takes you to Pier 33, where you will board a pre-booked ferry ride to Alcatraz Island. 

Please note: your guide will not be joining you on the island, as private guides are not permitted to operate on the island. On arrival at Alcatraz, take an audio tour at a leisurely pace to hear tales of notorious felons such as Al Capone and Robert Franklin Stroud in this former fort, a military prison and maximum-security federal penitentiary. Once you are finished exploring Alcatraz Island (most people spend about 2 hours), you can hop any return ferry to San Francisco, where you will be dropped off at Pier 33. 


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