San Francisco and Alcatraz Island Prison Trip

Ive been married now for 19 years and known my wife for a good few years over that. One of the first things i learned about her back in 1991 was how intrigued by Alcatraz Prison she was. She had books and videos about it and it has always been in her top three places to visit in the it was with much excitement that we left the hotel at 6:30am to make our way down to Pier 33 to catch the ferry across to Alcatraz Island.

It was quite a grey morning in San Francisco as we headed out across the bay on the Alcatraz Clipper. We secured prime position at the front of the top deck for video and photography but it was bloody freezing on the crossing. 15 minutes later we had arrived at the island and were being given a talk about the do’s and dont’s and what exhibits were open etc.

Alcatraz was first established as a military fort in the 1850s by the US Army. During the Civil War, it became a military prison and for 29 years from 1934 to 1963 it operated as a federal prison, holding convicts that were too troublesome or dangerous to be held elsewhere. Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud and Alvin  Carpis were some of its most well known inmates.

We made our way up the hill towards the cells and the start of the audio tour which consists of the story of Alcatraz as told by the inmates and prison officers. A Large sign reads “Break the rules and you go to prison, break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz” as you start the tour and from their its onto “broadway” and the first row of grim 5′ x 9′ bar fronted cells. The main 3 story cell house was made up of four blocks, A,B, C and D. Each block had corridors of cells named after famous american streets such as Broadway, Sunset Strip, Park Avenue etc.

As you wander up and down the lines of cells the audio tour tells you the history of the prison, points out where infamous prisoners had been kept and gives you an insight into Alcatraz prison life. The story of the Battle of Alcatraz is told where 6 inmates overpowered guards and held them hostage, stole guns and would of escaped had it not been for the quick thinking of one guard who hid the cell door key. The prisoners were eventually killed when the Marines stormed the prison and you can see where grenades had been thrown by the soldiers !.

The tour took around two hours and after it had finished we had a wander round the permissible areas of the island before buying a few souvenirs and heading back to shore for lunch.

They say that you should never meet your heroes and i think the same can be said for visiting mythical places you have read about in books. In much the same way that the written word rarely transcribes to screen the actual prison didn’t do justice to the images that had been conjured up in Debs mind of a dark and depressing prison full of anti hero folk lore from the many books she had read and subsequently, whilst enjoying the trip i think we were both left slightly disappointed.

Back on the mainland we made our way up to Boudin’s Bakery on Fishermans wharf to sample the delights of Chilli soup in sour dough bowls followed by a build your own cookie ice cream sandwich at the Baked Bear, a little street food vendor serving up any number of ice cream and cookie or brownie sandwiches.Delicious but very messy !

We then wandered up to see the crooked Lombard street made famous in the Steve McQueen movie Bullet ( MORE hills !! )and did a little more wandering and souvenir shopping before heading back to the room to freshen up and relax before dinner time. We spent the evening on Pier 39 watching the Sea Lions basking in the bay and ate dinner at the surf themed “Wipeout” restaurant. Lots to eat, in fact way too much too eat but food was really good and would recommend it if you are in the area. We had an awesome plate of Nachos Grande, a huge pizza, Garlic fries, Caesar salad and a Burger of some sort and the bill came to around $60 which was good for the amount of food we got.


We hit the sack around 22:00 after doing a bit of packing, tomorrow morning we are leaving San Francisco in a hire car and making our way towards Yosemite National Park.

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