Thursday, 20 November 2008

Alcatraz: The Night Tour

Once upon a time the San Francisco Bay harboured America’s most hardened criminals including Al Capone and Robert Stroud. The infamous US Penitentiary nicknamed “The Rock” was operational from 1934 – 63 before closing from the lack of funding. Today Alcatraz is considered a national treasure and tours of this illustrious island operate from Pier 33 at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The tours vary but I chose to do the night tour as it includes special programmes and presentations featured only at night. As I took was in San Francisco in late November early December the night tour started with Alcatraz in the daylight, then faded to sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge and finally you got a view of the lights in downtown from aspects rarely captured by the average visitor.

Alcatraz at the best of times is a creepy place, but especially at night. The rows of cells are dead quiet, still, and everything is untouched and as it was from when it was a working prison. You get a 45 minute audio tour telling you tales of the escape attempts, riots and day to day life on The Rock. The tour draws attention to bullet holes, half dug tunnels and blood stains from events that unfolded at Alcatraz. If you are quiet you can hear music and traffic from the bay area and can imagine the torment the prisoners must have endured everyday knowing that freedom was only a stones throw away. You get to wander the prison at your own pace visiting the cells, kitchen, solitary confinement, the hospital and the officer’s quarters. If you walk down Broadway (the central row of cells) you can imagine what it must have been like to be an inmate being led into your cell for the first time with hundreds of eyes on you. If you have ever seen The Shawshank Redemption you may have a clearer picture of what I mean.

After the audio guide you can head to off to the special presentations only available on the night tour. The guides give talks about topics such as the most famous residents at Alcatraz, everyday life, escapes, riots and much more. They will also be happy to take any questions.

The night tour is slightly dearer at $30.50 (adult) than the day tour but only by $6. It lasts for around 2 hours 30 minutes and is the number one thing to do in San Francisco. In peak season tours are normally sold out so book in advance or go off peak to ensure you get a place. Oh, and there is a gift shop on the island for all your Alcatraz merchandise.

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