Alcatraz — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
At its beginning, Alcatraz was a military outpost for those forces - Spanish, British, and finally American - who wanted to have strategic hold of San Francisco Bay. In later years it was used as a federal penitentiary, where the most hardened criminals like Al Capone were sent so they could peer out the window and see the cold hard fog and merciless Pacific waters.
Most recently, Alcatraz has been a tourist destination and national landmark, a living classroom for people of all ages and nationalities. But just when we thought "The Rock" had nothing left to offer, the renovation of the Alcatraz gardens have offered a whole other side to this infamous island.
Gardens — Photo courtesy of Jennifer Balaco
These "secret" gardens of Alcatraz were started and maintained by select inmates and prison employees and their families who, no wonder, needed a little color and beauty when confronted by life on "The Rock." The gardens have slowly been renovated since 2003, and the docent-led tours offer an exemplary history of the different flora and fauna, which includes fruit trees.
Even if you've been to Alcatraz before, don't miss this one-of-a-kind tour that blends the rugged isolation and prison circumstances of this harsh island with the very human need to cultivate beauty. And, once you're off the island, make the most of your newly appreciated freedom by shopping and eating at Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39.