When you think of San Francisco, you might think of sea lions, street cars, sourdough bread or Ghiradelli chocolate, but one of the city's most popular attraction is also its darkest. Alcatraz Island, nicknamed The Rock, has been fascinating tourists with its sordid history since it first opened to the public in 1973.Prison cells in Alcatraz — Photo courtesy of miss_millions
While Alcatraz is best known for its years as a federal penitentiary, it has a much broader history. From 1850 to 1934, Alcatraz Island was under military control, first as a joint Army and Navy garrison, and later as a military prison. Then came the infamous 29-year stretch between 1934 and 1963 when the island served as a federal penitentiary for some of the country's most notorious criminals, among them Al ‘Scarface’ Capone and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly.Alcatraz Island from the mainland — Photo courtesy of Dawn Ellner
Soon after the prison was closed in 1963 due to high operating costs, the island made history again when a group of American Indians occupied the island on three separate occasions – the longest in 1969 – giving birth to a political movement that would see major policy changes over the subsequent years.A lingering sign of the 1969-71 Native American occupation. — Photo courtesy of Tewy
While the fame of its occupants certainly played a part in building up the intrigue and fascination with this island prison, the seemingly inescapable island is itself intriguing. Of the fewer than 2,000 inmates who served time on The Rock, 36 prisoners attempted escape in 14 separate incidences, yet none were believed to be successful. Though these attempts didn't end well, they caught the attention of Hollywood and earned the prison a permanent place in pop culture history.Alcatraz cell block — Photo courtesy of Ray_from_LA
The 1979 thriller Escape from Alcatraz recounts the most successful escape attempt ever made, by Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, who managed to get off the island but may or may not have survived the journey across the bay. More recently, the island prison starred in the action flick The Rock, in which a group of renegade marines take hold 81 tourists hostage in the abandoned prison cells. Aerial view of the Rock — Photo courtesy of ktchn
Next time you're in San Francisco, set aside a morning or afternoon to walk in the footsteps of gangsters, kidnappers, Hollywood stars and brave protesters with a tour of Alcatraz. Book your tickets early for this creepy and iconic San Francisco tour.