Our Day at Alcatraz

I wanted to get back to sharing some more of the things we’ve done this summer. We have friends from Florida that scheduled a layover in San Francisco, so we took the opportunity to visit with them and enjoy some time in this lovely city. Our main goal for the day was to take in Alcatraz Island, especially since Rob and I had never been there.

Here are our kiddos in the morning before taking off. What bright and shining faces!


We had pre-bought our tickets, which is highly recommended if you plan to visit the island. When  we arrived, tickets were already sold out for the next two days.  The ferry ride over was a little chilly, so we sat inside. Rob and the kids did brave a moment on deck and got a little wet as a result.

When we arrived at the island, we were greeted by a volunteer who gave us a brief history, explained how the tour worked and sent us on our way. You’ll notice the
“indians welcome” painted above this sign. This was left from the time of the American Indian occupation of Alcatraz.


We decided to start out with the self-directed audio tour. I was pleasantly surprised that all the kids were really focused on what they were listening to. Here they are visiting a solitary confinement cell.


The tour was narrated by former guards and inmates of the prison. They led us through all areas, describing daily life, riots, and escape attempts.  Here is the lonely guard tower. The new guards to the prison usually were assigned to here. The island is very windy, so this was not a fun assignment.


These are the showers that one sees upon entering the prison. You also can view the area where the inmates received their uniforms and supplies.


Here’s a view looking up on the rows of cells. Conman and Delaney got to view life from the inside.


There were some very famous prisoners that stayed at the island. We learned that the Birdman actually did not keep birds here.


Here is the upper gun gallery that is over a block of cells. What you see dangling there is a set of keys. The guards could lower or raise these keys in case of a riot.


Blake and Conman check out the little visitors’ window. There was a list of rules posted above.


We were able to view many parts of the prison, including the lighthouse, which was the first working lighthouse on the coast, the warden’s offices, the buildings the guards and their families lived in, the recreation yard, the kitchen and dining room. The knives were outlined on the wall in the kitchen so the guards could tell if one was missing. Here’s a basic breakfast menu.

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We watched a short video of the history of the island, which dates back to the Civil War. We learned about the military occupation, the prison, and the indian occupation of the island.  I wasn’t aware that the guards and their families lived on the island. The kids were ferried back and forth to school each day. In the video, some of the children (now adults) that lived there stated that it was a great place to live.  They knew the prisoners were there, but never saw them.

Alcatraz also boasts beautiful gardens and is a sanctuary for seabirds. Every year several types of seabirds nest and raise their young on the island.


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As we were leaving, we wandered through the gift shop and picked up a book, Alcatraz, the True End of the Line, written by a former inmate, Darwin Coon. He was in the shop promoting his book, and he signed it for us, including his inmate number and the dates he resided there. What caused me to choose his book was an excerpt on the back,

“It tells of the triumph of a human spirit who turned to God and by doing so, finally achieved the freedom and peace that had eluded him for so long.”

We spent about 2.5 hours on the island and really enjoyed our time there. All of us came away with new knowledge of the island and it was a great addition to our California history study.

I’ll share the rest of our day in San Francisco tomorrow.

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  1. Wow! The lengths you go to as a deterrent to bad behavior! Solitary confinement cells...hmm...We always just threatened to spank. ;-)

    Kidding aside, it does sound like a fascinating tour. I would love to do that! My only knowledge of Alcatraz came from movies, I should be ashamed to admit.

  2. What an amazing trip! My boys really want to go to Alcatraz so we're hoping...:) Thanks for sharing the tip to purchase tickets in advance-that's a great thing to know! Blessings!:)

  3. Great field trip. Always wanted to visit.

  4. Judy-Ha!I never thought of that. Might just work though...


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