Alcatraz Past and Present

Alcatraz “The Rock” Island in San Francisco Bay

Among the many famous sites that make San Francisco Bay a popular tourist destination, you will find Alcatraz Island. Otherwise known as “The Rock”,  the island juts out of the blue waters of the Bay, barren and sharp against the rolling California hills in the distance. As the turbulent and cold waters of the SF Bay splash on the rocky shore, it’s not hard to understand the appeal of secluding the nations most dangerous criminals on the small island. 

Alcatraz tours and Cruises on yacht USA 76

From Military Base to Island Prison

Juan Manuel de Ayala, a Spanish explorer was the first person to map the rugged Island in 1775, naming it La Isla de los Alcatraces or The Islands of the Pelicans due to the large population of birds that inhabited the land. 75 years later, the US military built a fortress that housed 100 cannons and the West Coast’s first operational lighthouse. After almost a century, the US Justice Department opened a maximum-security federal prison on July 1, 1934.

The prison housed the most disruptive inmates in very harsh conditions. At any given time, Alcatraz would host 260 to 275 prisoners with approximately 1 guard to every three prisoners.

Famous Inmates at Alcatraz Island

During its 29 year reign, Alcatraz Federal Prison housed many infamous criminals.  Al “Scarface” Capone, murderer Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud, and George “Machine Gun” Kelly all spent time at Alcatraz. Gangster Alvin “Creepy Karpis” Karpowicz, who was Public Enemy No 1 in the 1930s, also spent time in Alcatraz. 36 inmates attempted 14 escapes.  Twenty-nine of these escapee wannabes were killed or captured while attempting their getaway.  Of the prisoners that tried to swim to shore, two drowned and five went missing. Their bodies were never found. Officials presume they drowned fighting San Francisco Bay’s violent currents. The prison shut its doors in 1963 and became a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972. The prison opened to the public in 1973.

Alcatraz Island Tours and Cruises

Today, Alcatraz remains a popular tourist attraction. Every year, millions of tourists visit San Francisco hoping to get an in-person view of “The Rock”. Annually, hundreds of people willingly participate in the “Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon” every June. This race includes a chilly swim from Alcatraz to Crissy Feild with chase boats for safety.

There are several ways to get a good view of this historical site. Book a Day or Express Sail past the island on USA 76 for a quick cruise if you are short on time. If you would like to tour Alcatraz by foot, book a day or a nighttime tour of the prison with Alcatraz Cruises. 

USA 76 sails past Alcatraz Island