Share |

Escape To Alcatraz/San Francisco Bay

Pros: A quick ferry ride to a National Historic Landmark
Cons: Island weather requires proper outerwear
Best For: Cellblock Audio Tour and Garden Tour

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island, historic military fort, government prison, bird sanctuary and garden paradise lies 1.5 miles offshore in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Once a barren, windswept rock, Fortress Alcatraz was developed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1853 and in 1860 was converted into a military prison. Inmate population included Civil War convicts and Hopi Indians refusing Americanization.

Families of the original Army post officers began planting gardens, a tradition that continued throughout the island's transformation into the maximum security hard-core penitentiary, famous for inmates such as "Scarface" Al Capone, Machine-Gun Kelly, and "Creepy" Alvin Karpis, member of the Ma Barker gang. Inmate Elliot Michener in 1941, was permitted to commence a gardening project which lasted for the duration of his 9-year sentence (convicted of counterfeiting), during which time he built stone walls, planted hillsides, and added softness and color to the gloomy tenor of confinement on "The Rock".

When the penitentiary officially closed in 1963, forty years of neglect ensued, until in 2003, the campaign to restore the island's garden legacy began in earnest. A partnership between the Garden Conservancy, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service has yielded remarkable results and is still a work in progress. No longer is a ferry ride to Alcatraz all about the prison. The gardens themselves are reason enough to explore the island. Visitors are surprised to find heirloom roses, fuschias, succulents, geraniums, fig trees, cascading carpets of purple groundcover, some of them hardy survivors from long ago. As there is no fresh water on the rock, periods of drought and battering winds present challenging growing conditions. However, despite the rugged environment, a walk around the island is full of horticultural surprises, so unlike the desolate scene of incarceration one expects.

To insure a pleasant experience, dress according to the weather forecast. Bring a hat to shield against wind and sun, extra layers for warmth, raingear if appropriate, and proper footwear for a possibly rugged excursion. Durable walking-type shoes are best. There is no restaurant on the island, and no food is allowed, except on the ferry dock itself. Many visitors choose to bring water and a granola bar, grab a bench with a vista and soak up the Alcatraz experience before heading back to the city. Having been designated a seabird sanctuary, from February through Summer months, gulls, cormorants and herons may be observed roosting, nesting and caring for hatchlings, seemingly unperturbed by the steady stream of island visitors.

Noteworthy: The West Coast's first lighthouse was erected on Alcatraz in 1854.

Alcatraz Island
Ferries depart from Embarcadero Pier 33 Daily/See website below for visitor information and ticket purchase
Transportation to Alcatraz with the only ferry service under contract to National Park Service:
To donate, volunteer and learn about the history of the Alcatraz Gardens:

Alcatraz Island
Hopi Prisoners 1895

Watch the youtube video: