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Alcatraz Island is one of San Francisco’s most-visited historic tourist attractions. best-known for the federal prison operated there from that 1934 to 1963. Today, Alcatraz visitors can tour the cells that once housed some of the world’s most infamous criminals including Al "Scarface" Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly.

Tours of this scenic San Francisco landmark take visitors from its earliest European visitors, through its stint as the oldest, still-operating lighthouse on the West Coast and its roles a harbor defense fort and a Civil War military prison. Alcatraz also served as an important touchstone for American Indian rights when a group of Native  Americans from San Francisco occupied the island for more than 19 months in 1969. While learning of its rich history, visitors can also see rare flowers and plants, nesting seagulls, marine wildlife and sea birds - along with fantastic views of the San Francisco Bay and skyline.

Most visitors come because of the prison days, wandering through the cell blocks to see the cells of the most infamous inmates, while hearing some of their voices through the highly-recommended audio tours.

The National Park Service operates Alcatraz Island as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. 

How to Get to Alcatraz Island

The prison’s ominous presence is offset by its location in the beautiful San Francisco Bay.

To reach Alcatraz Island, you have to take a boat. While many local bay cruises and tours include Alcatraz in their tour descriptions, most will only cruise by, letting you see it from a distance. If you actually want to visit the island itself, Alcatraz Cruises is the company you're looking for. Visit their website for information about ferry schedules and ticket prices.

It will take about half a day to visit Alcatraz, by the time you take the boat out and back and roam around for a while. The boats serve limited concessions and no food is sold in the island, so it's best to take some water and snacks along so discomfort won't ruin your trip. 

Tickets often sell out in advance, so it's best to reserve ahead of time through the Alcatraz Cruises website, especially in summer and during school holidays. Tickets are available up to 90 days in advance. Tours are offered during the day and their night tours are an especially nice time to go so you can also get a look at the city skyline when it's lighted up.

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