Before Alcatraz began operation as a federal prison in 1934 hosting residence to the likes of Al Capone and Robert Stroud (The Birdman of Alcatraz) it was a harbor defense post and military prison back in the nineteenth century. The lighthouse went into operation in 1954 and was the first American lighthouse in operation on the West Coast. It can be seen from 18 miles out to sea. Alcatraz was closed as a federal prison in 1963 when it became the site for an Indian protest movement. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area took over maintaining and preserving the island later on and reopened it as a park in 1973. It is owned by the Federal Government and as a result is required to be maintained as is.
There have been various proposals to take down the prison and build hotels, spas and shopping complexes on the island but all of these proposals have been rejected by the government. In 1973, the year it re-opened as a park and sight seeing attraction it hosted over fifty thousand visitors. From then on it has attracted over one million tourists each year. It is home to exotic plant and flower species as well as marine wildlife and various seabirds.
There are four tours available each day. There is the early bird tour which is perfect if you want to avoid all the crowds especially during the Summer months. There is also the day tour, the night tour and the Alcatraz with Angel Island tour. If you are traveling to San Francisco and plan on a cruise to Alcatraz it is better if you buy your tickets in advance, as the tours fill up quickly. You can find out more information including ticket prices and tours on the official Alcatraz website.