Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Alcatraz Island


Alcatraz Island is known for the infamous federal prison it once hosted, but it's also significant as the site of the first lighthouse and U.S.-built fort on the west coast and the 18-month occupation by Indians of All Tribes. Rich in history, there is also a natural side to the Rock—gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and bay views beyond compare. The efforts of the Alcatraz Historic Gardens Project have turned the island's gardens, once tended by prisoners, officers, and residents, into a beautiful, sustainable, award-winning attraction.


Alcatraz Island, also known as "The Rock," derived its name from the Spanish word "pelican." The 22-acre sandstone island is about a mile and a half offshore from the city of San Francisco. In the 1850s, Alcatraz, along with Fort Point and Lime Point, provided three key points of protection for San Francisco Bay. In 1861 it served as the official military prison for the Department of the Pacific. By the end of the Civil War in 1865, the more than one hundred cannons at Alcatraz were obsolete. Rifled artillery had become more accurate and had longer range.

In 1907, the Army acknowledged that the future of Alcatraz was a military prison, not a defense site. Prisoners were used to tear down the old fortress and build a new 600-cell prison, dining hall, hospital, and recreation yard. By 1933 though, the Army recognized that importing food, water, and supplies to this isolated location was too expensive to continue operation. In 1934, Alcatraz was transferred to the Department of Justice and became a federal prison.

In the post-Depression era of 1930, several high profile gangsters such as Al "Scarface" Capone, "Doc" Barker, Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Floyd Hamilton, and Robert Stroud (the "Birdman of Alcatraz"), were imprisoned at Alcatraz. Increasing maintenance and operating costs prompted Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to close the prison in 1963.

In 1969, Alcatraz was occupied by American Indians who landed on the island and tried to claim it for the "Indians of All Tribes." They occupied the island for 19 months until 1971 when all remaining individuals were removed.

In 1972 Congress created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Alcatraz Island became part of the GGNRA.


Alcatraz Island, Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Fort Mason, B201
San Francisco, CA 94123

Ranger Station - (415) 561-4900

Ferry Tickets/Reservations - (415) 981-7625



The only way to get to Alcatraz is by a ferry operated by Alcatraz Cruises, LLC. They are located on The Embarcadero near the intersection of Bay Street - just a bit south east of Fisherman's Wharf. There is no parking at Pier 33.

On street parking in the area can be difficult to find, especially during peak summer visitation season, and nearly every street space has a parking meter with a time limit insufficient for an Alcatraz visit. An "Accessibility Drop Off Zone" is located at the entrance to Alcatraz Cruises - Pier 33 for visitors with special needs arriving by automobile. There are fifteen commercial lots within a five-block radius of the Alcatraz Cruises - Pier 33, with a total of more than 3,000 parking spaces. However we recommend public transportation if at all possible. Be aware that prices for parking in this area can vary greatly, as little as $8-10 for all day, to as high as $6 an hour. As a visit to Alcatraz can easily take 2 to 3 hours (or more) it can be worth while to shop around for parking. It is even better to take public transportation when possible.

When in San Francisco public transportation is the best way to get around. The Muni F Line runs along Market Street (east) then turns north on The Embarcadero, and runs right past the ferry terminal (on your right) and then on through Fisherman's Wharf. For detailed information on mass transit in San Francisco please visit the San Francisco Municipal Railway web site.