Alcatraz has long been one of the most recognizable attractions in San Francisco, and it carries with it quite an infamous reputation. The gangster Al Capone once did a stint in the prison on Alcatraz Island, as did Machine Gun Kelly and the Birdman. This fascinating former prisoner, who has inspired various characters in fictional films and novels, was an expert in ornithological diseases. It wasn't just the prisoners' names that helped to make Alcatraz Island famous. A daring escape attempt in 1963 also goes down in history and remains mysterious to this day, as the escapees were never found dead or alive.

While the one-time prison is largely responsible for making Alcatraz a household word, the island's history isn't only attached to convicts and unsuccessful escapes. The history of Alcatraz really starts in the mid-1800s. This is when the earliest recorded owner of the island came to possess it. The island was a gift, and it was given to a man named Julian Workman by then governor of Mexican California, Pio Pico. Soon thereafter, John C. Fremont, who was named the Military Governor of California after the Mexican-American War ended, bought the island. California officially became part of the United States in 1848, and this significantly impacted the history of Alcatraz.

Not long after California became part of the United States, the Gold Rush started. This brought an increase in settlers, not to mention overall interest in the region. While they wondered how to go about protecting the entrances to the San Francisco Bay, the U.S. Army started looking at the small, yet suitable Alcatraz Island. Fortifications to the island started in 1853, and by 1858, the Fortress Alcatraz was finished. Camp Alcatraz, as the fortress and island were called, began to receive soldiers and cannons. One of the more interesting facts about the history of Alcatraz is the fact that during the Civil War era, the island fortress was partly used to store guns. The attempt was to keep as many firearms as possible out of the hands of Southern sympathizers.

It's interesting to note that the Civil War era was when Alcatraz Island first started to house prisoners. It is also worth noting that in 1969, a group of Native Americans sailed the short distance from the mainland to Alcatraz and reclaimed it in the name of Indian people. The government had since closed the prison, and the island essentially had no other purpose at the time. It wasn't until 1971 that the Native American group was forcibly removed by the government. One year later, Alcatraz Island became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Travelers can learn all about the fascinating history of Alcatraz on a visit to the island, and they can also enjoy idyllic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline from numerous vantage points.

A visit to San Francisco would be complete without a trip to Alcatraz. Alcatraz cruises are wildly popular with tourists, and they last about two and a half hours. In addition to enjoying tours of the prison block, those who book an Alcatraz tour will also have the chance to wander among the island's roads and walking trails. Birdwatching enthusiasts will be happy to know that many of the seabirds that once inhabited the island have started to return after a long absence. Black-crested night herons are just one of the species of seabirds that nest on this outpost in the San Francisco Bay. In addition to admiring seabirds, visitors to Alcatraz Island can also check out rare plants and flowers. Reminders of the Native American occupation can also be viewed, and they include a sign on the outside of the prison that reads "Indians Welcome."

Alcatraz Island is relatively hilly, in which case tourists who wish to enjoy a land tour should wear comfortable shoes. Since it can be chilly on the tours, a sweater or light jacket is recommended as well. The Alcatraz cruises have limited space. As such, purchasing tickets as soon as possible is a good idea. The limited space also means that passengers can't bring a lot of stuff with them. Any bags that are larger than a standard backpack won't be allowed on board. As a side note, for those who don't feel the need to actually set foot on Alcatraz, some of the boat tours don't include landings.

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