Views From In And Around Alcatraz

Today I’m sharing with you views from in and around Alcatraz. A selection of the best pictures and a final recap of our last days spent in San Francisco from our recent trip there.  

Hi Folks! Views from in and around Alcatraz is the final instalment of the best bits of our recent trip to Hawaii and San Francisco.

I mentioned that we went to Alcatraz in the previous post when we were seeing San Francisco on foot and by bus, so you might want to read that one first. 🙂

Alcatraz cruises. Alcatraz Clipper boat.

Anyway, going by the itinerary it’s the morning of day 13 of 15. This was the part of our whole Hawaii and San Francisco trip that Lynne was looking forward to the most.

As with all our other excursions on this holiday, we already had our trip to Alcatraz booked and it was with Alcatraz cruises.

Now, just a tip here folks. If you are reading this and considering going to Alcatraz, please pre-book!

When we got to the quay there were quite a lot of disappointed people being turned away who hadn’t booked. Apparently trips to Alcatraz can be fully booked for up to two to three weeks. And, you would not want to miss such a memorable experience. It was amazing!

In fact always pre-book any holiday trips you want to do. It’s one of the many top tips Lynne and I wrote about in our 10 Ways To Make Your Holiday Spending Stretch Further post.

You know, I could write so much about our visit and the views from in and around Alcatraz but I appreciate folks that you probably just want the main highlights of what we saw and some of the history?

Right OK then, let’s get started……..

Nob Hill, San Francisco seen from Alcatraz cruises. Alcatraz Clipper boat.

With Nob Hill in the background, orur eco friendly hybrid Alcatraz cruise ferry left Pier 33 at it’s scheduled time of 11.00 for the short journey to Alcatraz island.

The tiny island is only 1.5 miles from the mainland of San Francisco. During it’s opening hours you can stay on Alcatraz as long as you like, but I would allow at least 2 ½ hours.

This will give you the time to be able to take in the whole prison audio tour (included in the visit price) and then a quick explore of the rest of the island, its historic exhibits, and your return to the mainland.

Alcatraz prison seen from Alcatraz cruises. Alcatraz Clipper boat.

Surrounded by strong currents and fortified by steel and concrete, Alcatraz prison was meant to be the highest-security prison in America.

It was designed as a place that no one would be able to escape from. A solitary rocky outcrop, hence its forbidding nickname “The Rock“.

Reportedly though, 36 men attempted to escape from Alcatraz, but officially not one man made it.

Interestingly, five prisoners are said to have escaped in 1962 and their whereabouts are unknown. At the time, the remaining prisoners were told they drowned, probably to prevent any more escape attempts!

Maybe they didn’t though. Maybe they survived. And maybe they’re still living?

Or maybe the sharks got them? It’s all part of the mystique of the place!

Alcatraz prison closer up seen from Alcatraz cruises. Alcatraz Clipper boat.

Alcaztra was a military prison in 1868 and a federal prison from 1933 until 1963.

From 1969 the island was occupied by native Americans from San Francisco during a wave of uprisings and activism.

Alcatraz sign reads sign reads "persons procuring or concealing escape of prisoners are subject prosecution and imprisonment".

As we approached the disembarking area we could see the gardens that from the military to the penitentiary era, were allowed to be maintained by some of the inmates.

The sign reads “persons procuring or concealing escape of prisoners are subject prosecution and imprisonment”

Plants softened the Rock for those prisoners who had no choice but to call Alcatraz home.

Through gardening, beauty was created in a place otherwise solely focused on punishment and confinement.

The families of the guards enjoyed tea parties in the gardens, and gardening became a welcome pastime.

For trusted inmates, the gardens were an escape from daily prison life. Even today, the thriving gardens are a stark contrast to the somber prison.

After closure of the prison in 1963, many plants survived and thrived on the island without being cared for. These survivors are excellent choices for gardeners in the Bay Area, where they are often found in local gardens or other Mediterranean climates.

Since 2003, The Garden Conservancy has been working in partnership with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service to restore these wonderful gardens of Alcatraz and to share the stories with visitors.

Alcatraz penitentiary seen from Alcatraz boat.

Today the Alcatraz penitentiary is a museum and national monument. It’s one of San Francisco’s major tourist attractions, attracting some 1.5 million visitors annually.

After disembarking from the boat there’s a short 10 minutes steep walk to reach the cell house where we were provided with our audio guides.

These audio guides take you through the full history of Alcatraz. Walking you around the prison buildings and the rest of the island, pointing out various historical parts and notable landmarks.

The audio guides even take you through riots within the prison kitchens. The most famous violent riot overall occurred on May 2, 1946, when a failed escape attempt by six prisoners led to the Battle of Alcatraz.

The roads and walkways are wide with several places to stop along the way to rest and take in the breathtaking views. So although the island was busy when we were there, there was plenty of space for everyone.

Inside a typical bare prison cell in Alcatraz.

The above picture I took shows what a typical bare cell looked like. Can you imagine being confined to that for most of your day and most of your life? It made me shudder to stand in it!

Alcatraz is made up of a 3 story cell house containing four blocks of the jail. A-Block, B-Block, C-Block, and D-Block.

There is also the warden’s office, visitation room, the library, and the barber shop.

The dining hall and kitchen are off the main building in an extended part where both prisoners and staff would eat three meals a day together.

Corridors of the prison were named after major American streets such as Broadway and Michigan Avenue.

The administration building Alcatraz. The main entrance of the prison.

The administration building, above, was the main entrance of the prison.

At Alcatraz, a prisoner had four rights: food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. That was it.

Everything else was a privilege that had to be earned.

Some privileges a prisoner could earn included working in the garden, corresponding with and having visits from family members, access to the prison library, and other recreational activities such as painting and music.

View of San Francisco from Alcatraz returning boat.

At the end of our audio tour there was a former prisoner that you could queue to speak to. Unfortunately as Lynne and I had to get back to the mainland, to complete the Sausalito part of the bus tour, we didn’t have time. We’d spent a lot of time wandering about the grounds ourselves, soaking in the warm sun and enjoying the stunning views.

Well Folks, talking of views, that’s us come to the end of our trip to Hawaii and San Francisco, so I’ll leave you now with this final view of San Francisco taken as we took the Alcatraz ferry back to Pier 33.

Of course whilst that may just be the end of this particular trip it certainly isn’t the end of others we have planned!


  1. David @ Spiced

    What a fun post…yet again! So I’ve never been to Alcatraz (or really SanFran, for that matter), but I am well aware of the story. But I didn’t realize that Alcatraz is home to such cool gardens. Thanks so much for sharing these photos! You and Lynne really do take some fun trips, and it’s fun to relive these trips via your posts. (I just checked out your Zanzibar post…I had to get a sneak peak into next year’s trip!) Glad you guys had so much fun here in the States. You need to put the northeast on your tour wish list…especially during leaf season in the Fall! 🙂


      Thanks David. We did have so much fun in the States, yes, and there’s still so much more we want to see there beyond San Francisco, Hawaii and Las Vegas (which we visited 3 years ago!). And you can bet the North East is on our list too!

      Zanzibar. I hope to get back there too after our planned Kilimanjaro climb. I found it a really special place. Untouched and unspoiled. 🙂

  2. Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine

    Ah, so amazing (and creepy) but something that has always been on my bucket list to visit and see in person!


      Definitely creepy Rebecca! I had to leave the cell building to come back outside for fresh air and sunshine. It felt so claustrophobic to me. I can only image how it felt to all those prisoners who were once kept there. 🙁

  3. Shashi at Savory Spin

    Neil, your post took me back to 2010 when my daughter and I visited San Fran, Alcatraz, Ghirardelli and walked up and down Lombard Street. LOVE all your photos! We had to pre-book months in advance – kinda like when we visited The White House and State Capital! And…are you and Lady Lynne planning on heading to Kilimanjaro next? Actually, no matter where y’all go, I cannot wait to follow along!


      Gosh. So even back in 2010 you still had to book for Alcatraz months in advance then? Wow. And I’m glad you mentioned about pre-booking for The White House and State Capital. When we get to that part of our bucket list we’ll certainly keep that in mind. Thanks!

      I’m glad that my photographs brought back fond memories of when you were in San Fran with your daughter. 🙂

      Yep Shashi, as long as our saving up goes to plan then we hope to do Kilimanjaro next September. I’m not going to get too excited until we’ve actually got the funds together and know we are going. And then you can come and peel me off the ceiling!

  4. Susie @ Suzlyfe

    I really wante to go to Alcatraz when Alex and I visited SF years ago, but we couldn’t get reservations. There is such a mystique and aura of the place, and it is such a legend in US history. I actually just finished a book that heavily involved Alcatraz, so my curiosity regarding has been totally stoked, making me even more jealous of the excursion!


      That’s a shame that you couldn’t get reservations for Alcatraz when you were there a few years ago Susie. But, that’s always a good excuse to go back again. I seriously would recommend it. Knowing that both you and Lynne like the same kind of books, I think you’d love Alcatraz as much as she did. I loved it too, but it was more her thing!

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