Holiday in Other People's Misery at Alcatraz Island in San Francisco

San Francisco may not necessarily be considered a holiday in the sun and not much there can be considered cheap, but it certainly offers tourism entertainment..
Alcatraz Island in San Francisco

"A cheap holiday in other people's misery," sang Johnny Rotten during the last concert ever by the Sex Pistols at the Winterland in San Francisco. San Francisco may not necessarily be considered a holiday in the sun and not much there can be considered cheap, but it certainly offers tourism entertainment rooted firmly in the exploitation of other people's misery.

After all, taking a holiday in other people's misery is one of the growth sectors in the world of tourism. (Did you know the fantastical mansions formerly occupied by some of the worst dictators east of the Iron Curtain have now become tourist attractions?) 

The tour of Alcatraz prison has been extending an invitation to transform the misery of others into vacation fun those on holiday in San Francisco for decades. Alcatraz has become the most legendary prison in America thanks to a movies, famous inmates from Al Capone to the Birdman of Alcatraz and the fact that the prison is generally described as escape-proof.  Alcatraz is a Bay Area magnet for tourists so you'd better make reservations as son as you start planning for your holiday. 

Part of the lure of visiting Alcatraz prison is the romantic concept of going back in time. Stories abound of visitors seeing or hearing ghostly presences of former inmates and perhaps your trip to this San Francisco landmark will result in a brief translucent image of Capone or one of Robert Stroud's pigeons. 

The prison cells themselves are furnished with a bed, toilet and not much else. Most of the cells anyway. While it is true that walking through the Rock genuinely does serve as a glimpse into reality of life for prisoners and guards from the showers to the exercise yard, it is also true that the Alcatraz Island tour experience has the ultimate effect of transforming this unique piece of Americana into a tourist attraction. At times, making your way through Alcatraz prison almost has the feeling of what it might be like if it were recreated as an attraction at Disney World or Universal Studios theme park. For that matter, the sight of people walking from one part of the prison to another listening to the guided tour narration through headphones is really not all that much different from the sight of people walking up and down Fisherman's Wharf listening to music through headphones.

Alcatraz prison is very much a destination designed for tourists to holiday in other people's misery first and a monument to memories of murder and incarceration second. A trip to San Francisco for the express purpose of taking part in the misery-as-tourism movement absolutely must start with Alcatraz. How you react will determine if you are ready to move onto other notorious San Francisco tourist spots like those associated with the Zodiac murders, Patty Heart's transformation from heiress to terrorist and the high school that O.J. Simpson attended.

To discover other tourist destinations offering a holiday in other people's misery--or any other type of holiday destination--please visit destination ideas section.

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Nazif Ergin  | Editor

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