A visit to San Francisco is not complete without visiting Alcatraz Island. This classic tourist destination is a veritable hotbed of Bay Area history. What makes this tiny plot of land in the middle of San Francisco Bay so compelling is that it’s the former home of the most famous federal penitentiary in America. In business from 1934 until 1963, it was where such infamous prisoners as Al “Scarface” Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, and Robert Franklin Stroud, aka the Birdman of Alcatraz, resided. Okay, the history lesson is over. Now it’s time to tell you about getting to Alcatraz: The island is about a mile and a half from Fisherman’s Wharf. That’s the place you’ll catch the ferry that will take you there. Alcatraz Cruises provide the short but scenic ride there and back. The first ferry leaves at 9:30 a.m. with others available every half-hour.
Once you’re on Alcatraz Island, you’ll be able tour it as quickly or as leisurely as you’d like. A tour of the cell house, where actual prisoners lived, is pretty cool. While there haven’t been any prisoners at Alcatraz in 50 years, the place looks pretty much like it did back in the day. You’ll get to see highlights such as the main prison block, tiny cells (9 feet by x 5 feet), mess hall, library, and "dark holes," home to solitary confinement row. It’s a good idea to get the audio tour, which provides invaluable information along with commentary from actual former inmates. The audio tour is available in English, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch, Mandarin, and German. There are also evening tours of Alcatraz. As for the weather, it’s much like San Francisco’s general weather- a bit unpredictable so play it safe and bring layers of clothes. And make sure to wear shoes that are comfortable as you’ll be on your feet quite a bit. Advance reservations are advised.