Beauty in an unlikely place

Lush flowers and greenery.
Stunning views of the San Francisco skyline.
Seagulls flapping gently overhead, their calls muffled by the bay.
Gorgeous expanses of water lit up at dusk.

You’d never know you were . . . at a former prison.

The remains of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, in fact — one of the most infamous buildings in the world.

I didn’t expect our ferry ride to the island to include such gorgeous vistas, but nearly everywhere you looked was a beautiful and unexpected scene. In fact, some of my favorite photos from the trip — which included Yosemite and Sequoia national parks — came at a spooky jail.

Who knew?

I think it was all about the juxtaposition for me. Side by side are beauty and dreariness, pain and hope.

Side by side

Side by side - cell and bird

Located just over a mile offshore of the city in San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island was once home to the iconic high-security prison once believed to be “escape-proof.” A little family research on my dad’s part discovered relatives who served time at Alcatraz before it shuttered in 1963, and it has served in many capacities both before and after its life as a penitentiary.

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986, Alcatraz is now primarily a tourist attraction — and a very popular one at that. We took one of the last boats over on our recent trip and were some of the last off the island before darkness fell. I couldn’t believe the crowds and wandering tourists; I was among them, of course, and the place was cool, but all this attention for a former prison?

It’s a mythical one, though. And in addition to its storied history, the property today is surprisingly beautiful. The gardens were impossible to ignore. Roses, succulents, lush grasses and fruit . . . exquisite! blooming! This purple thatch of flora is visible from the shore, and I had no idea what it was until we got almost close enough to touch it. And totally by accident.

You never know where a random door will lead you.

Main Alcatraz

Purple flowers

Sources note the gardens were once planted by families of the original Army post and later tended by prison guards’ loved ones, but the grounds became wild after the prison officially closed. They’re now being restored by staff and volunteers, who have even discovered original plants still growing where they were planted — 100 years ago.

Alcatraz garden

Rose garden

Skyline II

It’s an interesting place. A creepy place. A spot with a fascinating history — one that extends all the way into the present. My dad has become something of an Alcatraz scholar, and judging by the crowds? He’s not alone.

Tower and flag

Bright blooms

Admin Building

Just, you know, wouldn’t want to spend the night there.

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19 thoughts on “Beauty in an unlikely place

  1. I love visiting Alcatraz! It seems like a destination all out of town visitors want to go to when they’re here visiting. Such pretty pictures! Love the beauty you found in such an unlikely place.

  2. Terrific images and notes about Alcatraz. If you’re ever in Philadelphia, be sure to visit the captivating and creepy in its own right Eastern State Penitentiary.

  3. Fantastic pictures and descriptions! Just goes to show you that you can find beauty anywhere in this world, even in the creepiest of places.

  4. I love Alcatraz! Jason and I did that tour during our first weekend away together in San Francisco. It’s now a bit of a tradition to take that tour whenever we are in town for more than a day or so. Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  5. I’ve only seen the Alcatraz from far. It was always a place my husband and I wanted to visit but have never been able to plan for it yet. It’s definitely beautiful to see from far!

  6. I’ve wanted to take a look at Alcatraz forever, so your pictures today are definitely making me a bit envious today! (is that a weird thing to say? I feel like it is a little weird to say about such a place! Ha!)
    Your pictures are great, I love the juxtaposition old/creepy with colorful flowers. Nature really doesn’t care for human history, does it? It just keeps going, and I find something very peaceful about it.
    Lovely post again today!

  7. I’ve wanted to take a look at Alcatraz forever, so your pictures today are definitely making me a bit envious today! (is that a weird thing to say? I feel like it is a little weird to say about such a place! Ha!)
    Your pictures are great, I love the juxtaposition old/creepy with colorful flowers. Nature really doesn’t care for human history, does it? It just keeps going, and I find something very peaceful about it.
    Lovely post again today!

  8. This is so awesome, you are a lucky lady! I’ve always been fascinated by Alcatraz + have wanted to visit it. Hearing some of the additional history about the nature on the land is so interesting. Looks like a great time (during the day)!

  9. Gorgeous pictures. San Francisco is such an interesting city with so many different shades and they all end up juxtaposed in some interesting ways!

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