Alcatraz Island is a 19 acre (0.07 kilometer) National Park located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Like many of the islands in the bay, it has a long and colorful history, and it is also open to visitors year round. It is accessible via a private ferry service run from the city of San Francisco and is maintained by the National Parks Service. In addition to being a National Park, Alcatraz is also a registered National Historic Landmark.
When early explorers reached California, they established the first military base in the West on Alcatraz in 1850. The first lighthouse followed, in 1853, when increased ship traffic illustrated the clear need for navigational aids. The island was used for military prisoners such as conscientious objectors from the First World War until 1934, when a Federal prison was built and opened.
From 1934 to 1963, the island was home to one of the most notorious Federal prisons in American history. Known as “The Rock,” it hosted many famous criminals including Al Capone, and despite 34 known escape attempts, historical records indicate that no prisoner successfully escaped alive. In 1962, three prisoners engaged in a daring escape which was later documented in the film Escape From Alcatraz. While the prisoners did disappear from the island, they may not have survived the rough conditions in the bay.
In 1963, Alcatraz was converted to a National Park. Visitors today can walk around most of the island at well, looking at the old prison buildings and a museum. The island also offers refuge to seabirds, so some areas are restricted, and visitors are asked not to feed or interact with the birds. Ferry service runs throughout the day, allowing visitors to spend as much time there as they like, and sometimes special night time cruises are held as well.
Visitors should be aware that the weather on the bay is extremely changeable. Dressing in layers is advised, and a waterproof windbreaker or jacket is also an excellent idea. If food or drinks are desired, they should be packed. Pets are not allowed, although registered service animals are. People with disabilities can take advantage of an electric shuttle service which accommodates wheelchairs. Park service personnel can assist guests in locating sites of interest and are always happy to answer questions about the unique history of the island, which also includes a brief occupation by Indians of All Nations from 1969-1970.