Alcatraz, best known as a Federal penitentiary, was originally used by various California coastal Indian tribes as an area for gathering foods and as a place of isolation for tribal members who had violated tribal laws. The island was named La Isla de los Alcatraces (The Island of the Pelicans) by Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala who chartered the San Francisco Bay in 1775. Between 1850 and 1907 Alcatraz was the most powerful fortress west of the Mississippi. Begun in 1849, the fortress was originally intended to guard against foreign invasion of San Francisco which had boomed during the gold rush. Alcatraz also played an important role in the Civil War, protecting San Francisco from Confederate raiders. In 1907 the fortress became an official military prison and in 1934 a Federal penitentiary. Alcatraz ceased to function as a prison in 1963. Between 1969 and 1971 Alcatraz was occupied by American Indian groups advocating Indian self-determination. Today Alcatraz is maintained by the National Park Service and open to visitors.
Alcatraz, administered by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is located in San Francisco Bay and is a National Historic Landmark. Alcatraz is open every day 10:00am to 4:30pm--longer in the summer--please call for details as hours of operation vary with the season. Closed Christmas and New Year day. Departures to the island via Blue & Gold Fleet (Pier 41, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco) are available throughout the day beginning at 9:30am. Evening tours and combined Angel Island-Alcatraz Island tours are also available. Tickets frequently sell out in advance, as much as a week in advance in summer and near holidays. There is a fee. Tickets can be purchased online at www.blueandgoldfleet.com. For more information call Visitor Information at 415 561-4900 or visit the park's website.