Today, the island's facilities are managed by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; it is open to tours.

Visitors can reach the island in a little under 15 minutes by ferry ride from Pier 33, located between the San Francisco Ferry Building and Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco.

It also provided housing for the Bureau of Prisons staff and their families.

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Beginning in November 1969, the island was occupied for more than 19 months by a group of Native Americans from San Francisco, who were part of a wave of Native activism across the nation, with public protests through the 1970s.

In 1972, Alcatraz became part of a national recreation area and received designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

That year, the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, on land, opened as the replacement facility for Alcatraz.

Beginning on November 20, 1969, a group of Native Americans called United Indians of All Tribes, mostly college students from San Francisco, occupied the island to protest federal policies related to American Indians.

The island's first garrison at Camp Alcatraz, numbering about 200 soldiers and 11 cannons, arrived at the end of that year.

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, the island mounted 85 cannons (increased to 105 cannons by 1866) in casemates around its perimeter, though the small size of the garrison meant only a fraction of the guns could be used at one time.

Hornblower Cruises and Events, operating under the name Alcatraz Cruises, is the official ferry provider to and from the island.

Alcatraz Island is home to the abandoned prison, the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States, early military fortifications, and natural features such as rock pools and a seabird colony (mostly western gulls, cormorants, and egrets).

A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice; 23 were caught alive, six were shot and killed during their escape, two drowned, and five are listed as "missing and presumed drowned".

The most violent occurred on May 2, 1946, when a failed escape attempt by six prisoners led to the Battle of Alcatraz.

The island was also the site of the first operational lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States.