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San Francisco - Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is well-known for the penitentiary that used to be located on the 12 acres of island located a mere 1.5miles/2.5km northeast of San Francisco Bay. Before it was a penitentiary, Alcatraz was named Isla de los Alcatraces (Island of the Pelicans), since Ayala, the first Spaniard to alight, found large numbers of nesting pelicans there.

A lighthouse was erected in 1853 when many ships visited the island, often shrouded in fog, during the California gold-rush. The island was a military prison from 1861-65 during the Civil War, and was used for the well-known jail between 1933-1963.

It is worth paying extra to use the audio tour, which is available in a number of languages. It is advisable to book tickets at least two days in advance, and two to four weeks in advance from May and September.

The ferry trip to Alcatraz Island takes about 15 minutes each way. The only tour to take is Alcatraz Cruises. Other companies do not have permission to stop at the island and allow passengers off their boats. Allocate around four hours for this trip, including the ferry rides.

Smoking, drinks and food are only allowed at the dock, where tourists may make use of the picnic area provided. There is no food service available on Alcatraz Island, so tourists are well-advised to take their own. Dress warmly, since the island has strong winds, and is often covered in mist.

Alcatraz Island is open from 10:45 - 16:15 from May 15 to October 7, and from 9:30 - 14:15 from October 8 to October 14. The last ferry of the day departs at the closing times listed. The island is open to visitors year round, expect on New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.

Those who wish to make a day trip out of visiting San Francisco Bay's two islands can purchase an Island Hop ticket, which will go to both Alcatraz and Angel Island.

Alcatraz Tours can be booked at

Find more information about Alcatraz at

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