In the movie The Rock (1996), a group of tourists visiting Alcatraz Prison are taken hostage by rogue, disenchanted Marines. For real life visitors to the island penitentiary turned museum, it’s still a tourist trap, albeit in a less literal way. It’s not especially cheap (a day tour costs $28, a night tour $35), and you have to reserve a spot on the ferry in advance, but it’s definitely worth the visit.
That’s especially true if you’re an American history buff. The island, a mile and a half off the shore of San Francisco, is home to the oldest operating lighthouse in the country. In 1858, Fortress Alcatraz was completed, where Confederate sympathizers were held prisoner during the Civil War. Soon after the war, the fortress became a full time prison, first for prisoners of war, then for run of the mill American criminals.
The best stories Alcatraz has to offer are the escape attempts, especially the disappearance of three prisoners in 1962 that involved chiseling through a wall and paddling away from the island on rafts made from raincoats. The three men were never found, and the prison insisted they drowned; MythBusters investigated and determined they could have made it to freedom.
All of this history is revealed in greater detail on tours of the island. If tales of crime and escape aren’t your thing, the island is also a great spot for viewing coastal seabirds. There’s also the two-year occupation of the island by Native Americans to protest federal policies.
All in all, there’s something for everyone on Alcatraz. Plus, if your kids misbehave, you can always threaten to lock them up and go home without them. Just look out for angry Marines.