A mere 1.25 miles (2.01 km) off the coast of San Francisco, Alcatraz Island boasts a fascinating history that extends far beyond its stint as a federal penitentiary from 1934 to 1963; it is also the site of the West Coast's oldest operating lighthouse, the remains of a historic military fortress, and a bird sanctuary. Although within sight of the city, Alcatraz is isolated from the outside world, surrounded by the frigid waters of the bay, the perilous currents making escape virtually impossible. This very fact made Alcatraz an apt choice for a prison meant to house some of the country's most notorious criminals, including the likes of Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud and Alvin Karpis. The year 1969 marked beginning of another intriguing chapter in the history of Alcatraz when a group of Native American activists occupied the island for 19 months, signs of which are still visible to this day. Amid this turbulent narrative thrives a vibrant habitat for native flora and fauna, creating a miniature world of startling contrasts where the haunting remains of the prison stand amid a striking landscape of rock pools, rugged coasts and lush flora. The isle is now a tourist attraction, one of San Francisco's most popular, with self-guided and guided tours that delve into the past of the island as a whole and the prison in particular.
This San Francisco landmark features some of Fisherman's Wharf's best shopping and attractions. Ride the carousel, people-watch, or take in the view of the bay. There are more than 25 one-of-a-kind gift stores that carry automobile, Hollywood, and rock 'n' roll memorabilia, as well as flags of the world, Russian dolls, collectible knives, hammocks, kites, and more. But that's not all. You will find over 30 more stores, including the famous Na Hoku to shop for clothing, jewelry and toys. It is a great place to pick up high-end San Francisco souvenirs. When you're done shopping and eating to your heart's content, visit the famous resident sea lions for a prime photo op session. Pier 39 is a magnet for locals and tourists for many reasons, including their nearly year-round calendar of special attractions for the whole family like the Tulipmania tulip festival held in late February on both levels of Pier 39 or the Holiday Tree Lighting in November.
The official tour operating service of Alcatraz Island, Alcatraz Cruises takes travelers around the entire island. Different programs and events are also arranged by them. Tours are conducted for day and night time. This tour gives one the opportunity to take in the vivid and notorious history of Alcatraz.
The USS Potomac is a world famous yacht used by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Built in 1934, this historic sea beast now draws a huge number of visitors and takes them on historic cruises. The Potomac can also be leased for events, and has been host to several big events in the past. Just walking around the ship one can almost sense its historical importance. Definitely a great place to visit in the city.
The Adventure Cats one and a half hour catamaran cruise around the San Francisco Bay gives visitors an exceptional view of the skyline that includes going under the Golden Gate Bridge. While sitting on the trampolines, or inside the cabin, visitors enjoy the scenic view while sipping wine or having a soft drink. The Sunset Cruise offers not only wine or a soft drink, but also appetizers for the price of the ticket. You may go home and tell your friends and family that the catamaran cruise was the highlight of your trip to San Francisco.
Rocketboat takes thrilling half-hour rides on a highly maneuverable speed-boat across the San Francisco Bay while blasting a classic rock and roll soundtrack. The boat takes quick twists and turns, so passengers can expect to get at least a little wet. Deckhands provide ponchos to anyone who requests one. Shout with joy or scream your head off as the boat speeds from Pier 39, to ATT Park, under the Golden Gate Bridge and back. No reservations are required, and seats on the rocket boat are given on a first-come first-serve basis.
Pier 40 is a South Beach Harbor with several cruises lining its beautiful shore. The place is famous for several social parties that are organized at its bay-side. If you are visiting the city for a vacation, make sure you go to one of the theme parties here to get the local flavor of the party season. Apart from a party or any other celebration, the Pier is worth visiting for its mere beauty. Call ahead for more details.
San Francisco Belle is the prized possession of all cruises offered by Hornblower in the city. The lovely dinner cruise offers the most romantic evening possible as it hovers around the San Francisco Bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Lit from within and without, the lights of the ship reflect off the water as it makes its scenic journeys across the waters. The sheer grandeur of the ship is bound to induce a royal feeling amongst one and all. Each cruise can accommodate as many as 250 people on deck.