Visiting Alcatraz

One of the most famous prisons in America, Alcatraz no longer houses inmates but still entertains plenty of guests year-round. Because there are so few prisons that you can actually go inside and explore this is a must-see on your next trip to California.

Built in the late 1800’s it originally housed prisoners of the Civil War; set on a craggy island off of the west coast, it was considered a safe place to keep these men away from the general population inland. It would continue to house prisoners from varying conflicts until it became a part of the federal prison system in 1934. Over the years many famous prisoners were led shackled through its front gates: Al Capone, Mickey Cohen and George “Machine Gun” Kelly all had extended stays on the island. Their presence helped raise intrigue levels over this desolate prison set out in the ocean; several attempts to break-out solidified its infamous reputation.

Although open for only a brief period, 29 years, there are 14 attempts involving 36 prisoners, all of which were unsuccessful. Whether by brute force or claimed by the sea, the men were either returned to their cells or lost their lives attempting to become free. Walking through its ravaged walls now elicits memories stored there; it is easy to imagine the drab lives of the prisoners as they spent the long hours whittling away their sentences. Many prisoners where tortured by the views of the Golden Gate Bridge, smell of chocolate from Ghirardelli Square, or sounds from Pier 39 in neighboring San Francisco.

There is a ferry company that offers daily excursions out to Alcatraz. Set aside at least four hours of your day to see the island, but it will be time well spent. Be sure to bring some food and water along for the trip, there will not be any available on the island. And keep an eye on the sky, the seagulls are known to have quite accurate aim. For an unforgettable experience, set aside a day to see a prison from the inside out.

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