Howdy! Hannah here. Now for someone who really dislikes San Francisco, I seem to end up there a lot lately, but I’m not complaining. Last time I got chocolate, and this time was not quite so sweet but it was oh so much more satisfying. Joshua and I hopped a ferry to the infamously forbidding Alcatraz Island for a night tour last weekend and IT WAS AWESOME.
We used the original and official Alcatraz Cruises service, and we most certainly were not disappointed. The ferry ride itself was lovely, with great views of San Francisco and Angel Island, as well as the approaching destination. Heed me now my warnings two: bring a sweater and a hair tie. It gets nippy and your hair WILL get wild. The island was surprisingly beautiful and even more surprisingly – romantic. I had always pictured Alcatraz as a hunk of grey rock with a grey building on top of it containing grey memories. In contrast to my preconceptions, there are hundreds of flowers and plants, making the island quite beautiful, especially with the crumbling buildings giving it the look of a lush post-apocalyptic sanctuary where time stands still.
Now, here is an upside for the fitness enthusiasts and a downside for the lazies: the tour includes about three miles of walking and most of it is uphill, so bring your walking shoes. The architecture is gorgeous and the sky-rats that inhabit the island (it is a protected habitat for sea birds) are relatively well-behaved, so the walk is actually quite pleasant. At the top of the hill, you are ready to enter the prison itself and experience the award-winning audio-tour voiced by guards and prisoners who inhabited the island. The experience will capture your imagination and your heart as you walk all throughout the prison and listen to first-hand accounts of prison life, escape attempts, notorious inmates, families of guards who lived on the island, and historical events that took place there.
Because we went on the night tour, several exhibits not normally open during the day were available to us. We toured the hospital on the top floor after the audio tour and saw the old operating tables, hydrotherapy tubs, beds, and hospital equipment used back then. The hospital floor is not well-lit, which adds to the delicious shivers you feel when looking in the barren rooms and seeing tattered room dividers and wooden wheelchairs.
Also available on the night tour is a (somewhat graphic) video about the day-to-day life on Alcatraz, which is screened halfway down the rock in an underground cavern. You can also witness a cell door demonstration, standing in the middle of the prison and hearing the haunting sound of hundreds of cell doors slamming shut in unison.
Alcatraz started as a Civil war fortress and later, a military prison. It was also the home to the first lighthouse on the west coast. The island was converted to a maximum security federal prison in 1934, which was fully operational until deterioration and rising costs of operation cause its shutdown in 1963. I am rather ashamed to say I had never heard of one of the most famous facets of Alcatraz’s rich history – the occupation of Native Americans making a stand on the island from 1969-1971 to protest the push to untenable reservation land. All around the island, you can see graffiti from that era declaring the land to be the property of Native Americans. Although the occupation lasted only 19 months and ended peacefully, it helped the fight for their civil and property rights immeasurably.
This trip was my favorite so far, and at only $37 for a three hour night cruise/tour, it’s a steal. This is one excursion you definitely won’t want to escape from. Oh, and the view of the city skyline and Golden Gate Bridge from the island is pretty remarkable.
HSLAMMA WILL RESPAWN IN THREE… TWO… ONE…