Alcatraz Island, known as “The Rock,” is famed as the prison where criminals Al Capone, “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert Stroud, the “Bird Man of Alcatraz,” were confined. Far less well known is the fact that the island was the site of the first U.S. fort on the West Coast, and that from 1969 to 1971 it was...
Alcatraz Island, known as “The Rock,” is famed as the prison where criminals Al Capone, “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert Stroud, the “Bird Man of Alcatraz,” were confined. Far less well known is the fact that the island was the site of the first U.S. fort on the West Coast, and that from 1969 to 1971 it was occupied by Native Americans under the name of Indians of All Tribes. Today Alcatraz is a national park and popular tourist attraction, and is also home to one of California’s largest breeding colonies of western gulls. On a clear day, views of San Francisco are breathtaking. All ferryboats are accessible, but be aware that the gradient of the gangway ramps can vary depending on the tide. The ferry crew will provide assistance and let you embark and disembark first.
When you arrive on the island, a docent explains certain rules; then you are free to explore on your own. For a historical overview, you might start by watching the film at the visitor center, then viewing some of the exhibits about the Indian occupation and life on the island. Because of its steep terrain, much of the island is accessible only to birds and wildlife.
For most visitors, the cellhouse is the main attraction. The climb up to it is extremely steep, but those who physically can’t make the trek can take a free electric tram, SEAT (sustainable easy-access transport), which can hold two people in wheelchairs or one scooter at a time, as well as numerous seated passengers. Look for a small sign directly across from the dock that lists the schedule. The tram is first-come, first-served.
The cellhouse is accessible except for the recreation yard. An audio tour narrated by former guards and inmates is included in the price of the ticket. Their chilling accounts of life on the island enhances the experience. A variety of docent-led tours are offered throughout the day and are posted on the dock and in the cellhouse. Large-print and Braille transcriptions of the cellhouse audio tour and other interpretive materials are available upon request.
There is limited accessible parking at Pier 33––individuals must show their disabled placard at the pier entrance to use them. One accessible space is on the street at the pier. Numerous commercial lots are nearby.
At Pier 33; on the island, at the dock and by the cellhouse near the upper and lower entrances.
At Pier 33. On the island, food and drinks are allowed only on the dock.
Reviewed by Bonnie Lewkowicz, October 29, 2014