Sunday, February 28, 2010

Alcatraz Island: The Rock - Part I

This visit to California I finally made it to Alcatraz. Fortunately, I picked the best day weather-wise for the trip to "The Rock." Alcatraz Island is located in the San Francisco Bay 1.5 miles offshore from the city of San Francisco. The island can be very cold and windy and since that, along with incessant rain, was the weather throughout my vacation, I was quite happy it was not raining and sunny for my visit.

Alcatraz is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is operated by the National Park Service. While the island itself is free, the boat ride to the island is not. You will need to book tickets for the cruise to Alcatraz through Alcatraz Cruises. I highly suggest you book tickets in advance so that you get the time you want. If you book tickets online you can print them immediately, so there's no need to pick them up at will call. Tickets can be booked online up to 90 days out. Make sure that you allow several hours so that you can see everything and also do the free cell house audio tour if you want.

Tours to Alcatraz take off from Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33. There are numerous parking lots nearby with varying prices; the lots closest to Pier 33 tend to be higher in price than if you go a few blocks away. You can also park near Pier 39 and walk to the Alcatraz departure point.

I booked my ticket online for Alcatraz the day before my tour and printed my own ticket out. I parked in a garage a few blocks away that had a fairly reasonable (by San Francisco standard) flat rate. Pier 33 houses an Alcatraz gift shop as well as a snack bar. You queue up for the ferry ride to the island outside. Just like all the major tourist attractions I've been to lately, they try to take your picture prior to you boarding the ferry, so that they can sell it to you on your return. I am completely annoyed by this trend, if I want my picture taken I will either take it myself or have someone else take it. So, note to tourist attractions...stop this annoying practice.

Even though it was my best weather day on vacation, that doesn't mean it was without rain. Fortunately, it stopped raining a little after the boat arrived at Alcatraz, but not before several rainbows were created over the Bay.

Since my visit to Alcatraz was the nicest weather day, I have tons of pictures from the island. There will be more about my visit in a few other posts.