On Sunday I had the opportunity to visit one of the most famous prisons of all time – Alcatraz. Located on an island just over a mile off the coast of downtown San Francisco, the island is almost uncomfortably close to the city centre (I had been expecting it to be much farther away).
I began my day quite slowly as I recovered from the night before, but fortunately I had lots of time, as my tour didn’t start until 3pm. I took the opportunity to catch up on necessary tasks like doing my laundry (hopefully for the last time!). When it was time to go, I biked down to the water and enjoyed a leisurely ride along the SF harbour. While I’m sure a lot of the harbour is still used for trade, the downtown harbour seems to be mostly tourism based now. There were ferries, cruise ships, seafood restaurants, and lot of other fun looking places.
The ferry ride to Alcatraz Island is only about 20 minutes and from the moment the ferry leaves the port, the view is fantastic. I was also lucky enough to get a perfectly sunny day, so even the Golden Gate was shining brightly, free of the usual foggy cloak that hangs over it. From the ferry you can literally see everything in the SF area.
The prison itself was very interesting. The ferry package comes with an audio tour of the prison, which take you through all the main areas of the facility and tells lots of interesting stories, including the most famous escape attempts. The facility was actually first built as a military defence post during the civil war era, and did not exist as a prison until much later, in the early-to-mid twentieth century. When it was a prison, however, it housed America’s most wanted criminals. The amazing view of the city actually made the life of a prisoner even more torturous, as every day prisoners there forced to stare at the city and accept that they may never return there again. The worst-behaving inmates would be temporarily moved to “D-Block” which was the isolation facility of the prison. There, prisoners would remain in their cells 24/7 and often be confined in pure darkness, despite federal prison regulations prohibiting so.
The island also served as the home of workers of the prison and their families. Despite neighboring a maximum-security prison, the residents described the life there as very normal – comparable to any very small town.
All-in-all, Alcatraz Prison is a must-see for visitors to the city. The ferry ride presents great views, and the tour presents a great deal of rich history about the facility, telling the truth behind the stories and myths that Hollywood and the media present to the public about the prison.
My only biking Sunday was to the ferry and back, but I still managed a 10km mileage for the day.