Dock with the island of Alcatraz in the background

Pulling out of the dock, Alcatraz comes into view.

We had the perfect slightly gloomy day when we visited Alcatraz on our family vacation to California in August. Touring Alcatraz is obviously a rather touristy thing to do. (It is San Fransisco’s No. 1 tourist attraction.) However, it was also the No. 1 thing our younger son wanted to see on that trip. Neither my husband nor I had been there either, so we did it. Beware though, you’ve got to book your Alcatraz “cruise” at least a month in advance!

Indians Welcome Sign at Alcatraz

A lone guide waited for the crowd to get off the boat.

View through stone arch at Alcatraz

Even though there were lots of other people touring with us, my main memory of visiting Alcatraz is its serene and somewhat ethereal atmosphere.

This was already evident in vistas like this one on the way up to the main cellhouse. I hope I managed to capture it with some of these images as thankfully, the audio tour you now get to take lets you roam at your own pace.

Ruin of officers club at Alcatraz

Farther on the walk up, the ruin of the former officers club.

Yellow roof with dormers at Alcatraz

 Up and up, the roof of the Sally Port building.

over the roofs of Alcatraz

Looking out over Sally Port.

Cypress and view of ocean at Alcatraz

The Cypress and the Bay

Broadway cell tract at Alcatraz

“Broadway” – one of the main cell blocks

Park Ave Cell Tract at Alcatraz
Park Ave

On the audio tour, one former inmate tells how they used to have concerts on New Year’s Eve. Everybody who played an instrument was allowed to have it in his cell, and they’d bounce a tune from cell to cell.

Cell block close up in Alcatraz
Sunrise Alley

This section wasn’t polished for us tourists and showed what Alcatraz would look like if it weren’t maintained for tours. I took this picture over the barrier.

Toilet and wash basin in cell at Alcatraz

Cell at Alcatraz

Not so serene. Bleak would be the word.

View through prison bars at library in Alcatraz

Peeking in at the library

Empty book shelves in library at Alcatraz

After lining up all these images, I still think this one of the empty library shelves at Alcatraz is my favorite.

Ruin of Warden's House at Alcatraz
The former Warden’s House on Alcatraz, destroyed by fire in 1970 during the Indian Occupation

The Warden’s House has an almost 360 degree view of the bay, but I think this picture could be called “Empty Windows.”  On the audio tour, the daughter of the former warden shares how she grew up here as a little girl, taking the boat to school, and enjoying a rather peaceful existence right next door to some of America’s most heinous criminals.

View of bay through wire fence at Alcatraz
A peek through the fence of the former Exercise Yard. If you look closely, you can see the outline of the Golden Gate Bridge to the right.

If you must be in prison, I’d say you’d rather have this view than one of Midwestern flatlands or the baking Nevada desert from today’s maximum security prisons, right?