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The former prison of Alcatraz is one of California’s most popular tourist attractions because people love to imagine what life was like for the criminals behind bars on this hard-to-reach island.

You can tour the prison, often referred to as The Rock and if you ready want to freak yourself out, take the spooky night tour. 

Best Time To Visit Alcatraz

If you are in California, you should try to make time to visit Alcatraz. There is nowhere like it and it’s a fascinating walk through history. If you are timing your trip around seeing the famous prison, we recommend going in spring or fall (April to May or September to October) if you want nice weather. To avoid crowds, November and December are good. 

Best Time To Visit Alcatraz

If you happen to be a keen bird watcher, you might think about going between February and August, when many seabirds are nesting. They lay their eggs in April and May and chicks hatch in June. 

A Little History Lesson

In 1828 Alcatraz became America’s first military prison and from 1934 to 1963, it was used as a maximum-security penitentiary. 

In 1969, Native American students and activists tried to take over the 22-acre island and they held the property for several years. President Nixon had everyone removed and the Alcatraz was used as a federal prison for serious offenders. It was where the most dangerous and notorious criminals were sent and was home to people including Al Capone, Robert’ Birdman of Alcatraz’ Stroud, and Machine Gun Kelly.

Alcatraz History

Alcatraz Tours

You can catch a boat to see where the baddies once lived from Pier 33’s Alcatraz Landing and in about 15 minutes, you will arrive at Alcatraz. The tour takes about three hours. Take your camera to get photos of Alcatraz sights, including:

You might like to see nearby Angel Island or take a cruise of San Francisco Bay after seeing Alcatraz. If that sounds good, try to book an early bird tour of Alcatraz or a night tour so you can fit everything in. You can stay on the island as long as you wish before or after taking your self-guided tour, which can be enhanced with audio. 

Night tours are perhaps the most thrilling way to take in Alcatraz. During Halloween, these tours sell out fast because many people claim the area is haunted. Tour guides say many prisoners died on the island and would be likely to return from the dead to haunt anyone brave enough to go to the island. They are full of scary stories of ghost sightings and paranormal activity. Believe it or not? All night tours include a guide and there are often special activities and events taking advantage of the moody atmosphere that nighttime brings.

A behind-the-scenes tour lets visitors see areas normally off inaccessible to the public. Follow your ranger guide through hidden tunnels, secret doorways, underground jails and around the grounds of Alcatraz while hearing a colorful commentary about the bad guys who once inhabited the island. 

Cell house audio tours in many languages are designed for visitors to explore at their own pace while listening to tales of riots, jail escapes, violence and life behind bars. The voices you hear on the audio recording are former prisoners and guards who once spent time on the island. This authentic touch makes it easy to imagine what it was like all those years ago.

What To Bring

  • Your bravest self
  • Camera 
  • Good walking shoes and a rain jacket
  • Warm clothes
  • Water
  • Money
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