Out in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island, or 'The Rock', is one of Golden Gate National Recreation Area's most popular destinations. The notorious escape-proof island with its dreaded maximum-security prison once held the likes of Al 'Scarface' Capone, George 'Machine Gun' Kelly and the 'Birdman of Alcatraz', Robert Stroud. With sheer cliffs surrounded by the icy waters of San Francisco Bay, known for its treacherous tides and currents, it was regarded as the perfect place to detain the country's most-wanted and dangerous criminals who were isolated in dark solitary confinement cells.
Visitors can explore the prison as well as learn about its history: from its discovery as a pelican nesting ground, its location as a military outpost, and the years between 1933 and 1963 as an off-limit federal penitentiary. It was also inhabited by Native Americans before being declared a Recreational Area and protected bird sanctuary. Thousands of tourists flock here each year and take the excellent self-guided audio tours that contain commentary from former guards and prisoners about life on the island and the notorious escape attempts. There is also a slide show and a tour of the island's ecology and bird life led by a park ranger. The view from the island looking across to San Francisco is fantastic as well.
Telephone: (415) 981 7625
Transport: Official Alcatraz Cruises ferries depart throughout the day from the Embarcadero near the intersection of Bay Street - just a bit south east of Fisherman's Wharf.
Opening times: Ferries run from 8:45am. The last boat leaves the island at 6:40pm in summer (April to October) and 4:30pm in winter. Evening tours and combined Angel Island-Alcatraz Island tours are also available seasonally.
Admission: Admission to Alcatraz is free, but the charge for the ferry trip is $30 (adults) or $18.25 (children). Night tours: $37. Other concessions are available. Advance reservations are strongly recommended, especially in peak season.