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A Perfect Weekend: Visit Alcatraz in San Francisco

To many, San Francisco isn’t just a collection of bridges, crooked streets, and buildings with unique architecture. To some, it goes beyond that, as it can be a place of fascinating history attracting many to the city and beyond its waters to visit Alcatraz Island.

Celebrating the 55th anniversary of Alcatraz Island’s closure as a federal prison, Parc 55 and the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, are exhibiting showcases of the famous Alcatraz prison. Below are some fun ideas of how you can enjoy an Alcatraz-inspired weekend and experience “Life on the Rock”, at the Parc 55 Hotel in San Francisco.

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Alcatraz Display at Parc 55 Hotel

Alcatraz Displays and Where to Stay

Throughout both properties until June 28, 2018, you can take a look inside at some authentic artifacts, interactive displays and behind the scenes of some unseen parts of the island. You can experience untold stories and learn history about the island and prison.

The Parc 55 Hotel is conveniently located close to Union Square, shopping and the Cable car pick up station. The rooms are all spacious and comfortable with spectacular views of the city. Some of the corner rooms are perfectly located with views that go beyond the city from every window. If you look closely, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge from one of the windows. 

San Francisco cityscape
View from the 23rd floor

Alcatraz Inspired Food and Drinks

Available at Cable 55, Urban Tavern and Cityscape San Francisco, you can also experience Alcatraz inspired food and drinks, such as Warden’s Welcome, The Prisoner Wines, The Jail Bird Sandwich or The Impossible Escape Burger, with many more on the menu.  In addition, Urban Tavern has 50 wines within 50 miles, providing a really decent wine list for wine by the glass, half bottle or full bottle.

The Cityscape San Francisco is a rooftop bar overlooking the city on the 46th floor of the Hilton. The bar offers an extensive cocktail and wine list with a 360-degree view of the entire city. The views are breathtaking and one not to miss when in San Francisco. All three of these locations are located at the Parc 55 hotel and the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, which are conveniently located one block from each other in the heart of the city. 

View from the 43rd floor at Cityscape | Hilton San Francisco Union Square

Visit Alcatraz and Take the Electric Cable Car

If your a history lover then visiting Alcatraz Island is a must. One fun option to Alcatraz is riding the Electric Cable Car that runs off the tracks. This cable car will pick you up at a location and take you on a little journey through the city. On your way to Pier 33, you will see famous streets and views of the city, all while hearing that famous San Francisco bell in your cable street car. The cable streetcar will drop you off at Pier 33 where the Alcatraz Cruise terminal is located. Click here for additional streetcar transportation services.

A long line does form at the cruise terminal, so make sure you arrive 30 minutes prior to your departure time. The cruise over to Alcatraz island is peaceful and scenic 30 minutes. The best views going over to Alcatraz can be seen on the front of the boat on the second level. This spot of the boat provides unobstructed views of Alcatraz, giving the perfect photo opportunity.

Pier 33 Alcatraz Cruises terminal

Alcatraz Island is a beautiful place to visit with so much to see and a lot of history. As many of you may know, Alcatraz was a military prison and one of the most notorious federal penitentiaries in U.S history. The prison housed some of the most famous inmates that included, Al “Scarface” Capone, George “Machine Gun Kelly” Barnes and many more. The prison closed on March 21, 1963, due to its crumbling infrastructure, high cost of operating the island, and the most infamous inmates the penitentiary was designed for where no longer there.

Alcatraz Island

There’s so much to see on the island and it can take up to three hours to see the entire property, so comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Upon arriving, you’re greeted by an officer telling you a few rules and the history of the island. There’s so much to see and the entire island can be toured at your own pace. The best part of the comprehensive Alcatraz experience is the Main Prison Tour with the award-winning audio presentation “Doing Time: The Alcatraz Cellhouse Tour”. The Cellhouse audio tour begins in the shower area of the prison and the audio tour will guide you throughout the entire prison. Towards the end of the tour, you’ll end up outside enjoying breathtaking city skyline views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

As you leave the island, make sure you sit at the front of the boat to get views of the city skyline or sit in the back, to get a perfect picture or time-lapse of Alcatraz.

Here are a few tips if you plan on visiting Alcatraz:

How to get there: If you are flying, the most convenient airport is San Francisco Airport. There are also several nearby airports such as San Jose, and Oakland.

If you are driving, San Francisco is about an 8-hour drive north from San Diego. You can take the 5 freeway or the 101.  The Alcatraz Ferry to the island is located on Pier 33. Parking is very difficult, so plan ahead.

Alcatraz Tickets: Purchase your tickets ahead of time, as there are a limited amount of daily visitors that can go on the island, so purchase your tickets ahead of time. They can have season sellouts. A valid Government photo ID is required for every person that enters Alcatraz. Arrive half an hour prior to your departure time. Click HERE for Alcatraz Cruise Departure times.

When to Visit: The best time to visit San Francisco is anytime, but January through September has the best views of the prison gardens.  Please allow at least three hours for the tour.

Weather: San Francisco is cold and it can also be chilly in the summer. It gets especially cold on Alcatraz island, so dressing in light layers is best.

“The plants tell the other story of Alcatraz–the human and humane story of an individual and group effort to bring a bit of beauty to a grim place.”

Russell A. Beatty, Gardens of Alcatraz

5 Fun Facts about Alcatraz I learned in 2 days:

  1. If you’ve ever visited Alcatraz, you’ve noticed the beautiful gardens that cover the entire island. During the military and penitentiary era, inmates had daily shores and some would take care of the gardens. This was a way for inmates to forget about being in prison and would almost make the place a little more serene. Children and families were said to have tea parties in the gardens to make the best of living on Alcatraz. Till this day, the gardens have not only become a symbol of the past, but of a place where families and inmates escaped the defense, punishment, and confinement Alcatraz had for living on the island. Click here for more information on the garden tours.
  2. Alcatraz was known to have some of the best culinary programs in the country.
  3. The island was first named “Alcatrasces”, which means pelicans in Spanish, as one of the early Spanish settlers discovered the island, which was inhabited by pelicans. Till today, the island is covered with seabirds.
  4. Over 75 children lived in the shadow of Alcatraz. They were the families of the guard staff and personnel. Each day, the prison took the children and women across the bay to school and the women would go shopping or socialized in San Francisco.
  5. There was a side of the prison that was considered to be prime real estate between inmates, as it was the sunniest part with windows facing the city. Inmates were able to hear kids playing throughout the day, which “may have” put them in better moods or inspired them to be happier and draw art, play chess or crochet.

Traveling To Alcatraz Soon? Here are a few tips:

How to get there: 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.

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. So plan ahead.

Where to stay: There are many places to stay in  San Francisco. There is a wide range of hotels, from budget to luxury. For a luxury hotel that won’t break the bank, I recommend the Argonaut Hotel, A Noble House Hotel which is currently the #1 hotel on Tripadvisor. For a mid-level hotel, I suggest the Holiday Inn San Francisco Fishermans Wharf.  Finally, for a budget hotel, try the Hotel Union Square. You can also check HotelsCombined for the best San Francisco Hotel Rates.

Hotels in San Francisco: Check Trip Advisor reviews for Argonaut Hotel, A Noble House Hotel or Holiday Inn San Francisco Fishermans Wharf.

What to pack: The temperatures each season vary greatly, but even in summer it can be cold. Dress warmly when going out on the Bay. Wear layers, as it can get chilly if it’s foggy or windy, even in the summer. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. And don’t forget sunglasses and sunblock. Bring a warm jacket if you’re planning on a Night Tour of Alcatraz.

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