We had arrived in San Francisco in the dark and we awoke to find a lovely morning with blue skies and sunshine. On our way up the coast, the forecast had been for some chilly temperatures but thankfully it wasn’t too bad. Only getting chilly when there was a breeze.
As is customary when we arrived in a new city, we boarded a coach and had a comprehensive tour. San Francisco was one of the places that I was looking forward to visiting. I knew we would be going to Alcatraz as part of the tour and there were a few things I wanted to do whilst in the city.
It wasn’t an expansive list; see the Golden Gate Bridge closeup, walk down Lombard Street, see the sea lions at Pier 39 & ride a cable car. I managed 3 out of 4.
Being a film fan the impression I had was of cars flying through the air and down hills. I always thought that was a little bit of camera trickery, making the angle of the hills a little steeper, well it’s no trick, the hills really are that steep.
Our coach kept mostly to the flat parts of the city, only venturing down hill when necessary, and going down hill in San Francisco in a coach is an experience.
My plan for the day was as follows: Coach tour, Alcatraz before walking to Lombard Street. Thankfully for my legs the coach stopped at Lombard Street a.k.a the most crooked street in the world.
I’ve seen pictures of this street, even gone down it via Google Streetview and it was something to see. There were a lot of tourists around here, it’s a definite must see if you visit. The one thing that is difficult to do, is photograph it, I was trying to stand in the road and get a similar angle to the Google car but there were a lot of cars coming down.
This is how it looks on Google Maps:
Now these weren’t locals driving down the road, I doubt many do, these were all tourists. Many had a front seat passenger filming their descent – much like this.
The tour moved on, we walked down the hill to the waiting coach. The tour guide pointed out some tourists walking up the hill (not fun) and said it’s always best to get a tour guide who knows the city as they make you walk down and not up.
We traveled along the famous Haight Street and passed the cross street of Haight-Ashbury the centre of hippy culture in the late 1960’s. The plan was to continue on to the Castro District one of the first gay neighborhoods and where Harvey Milk had his headquarters. That was the plan and as they say about the best laid plans of mice and men…they go awry.
The coach driver turned right onto Masonic Avenue and that’s where we stopped for the best part of an hour. Unfortunately for the driver where a drain was situated had created a drop by the kerb and the back of the bus got stuck.
The unscheduled stop meant we were able to grab a coffee and a bite to eat at the People’s Cafe, a very trendy hangout. I think the regulars were a little bemused as 35 tourists bundled in.
As I was enjoying my coffee and muffin one of the ladies from the group came over and said “have you seen that woman dancing in the window”, I looked out and across the street but couldn’t see anyone. “Over there, she’s dressed in white”, and with that I saw her. Well I’ve never seen anything like it, so I went over and had a better look.
The first voice is our tour guide, the woman is Sue one of our group, the next is Ernie who is Sues hubby and finally with “That’s just bizarre” is me. At the end of the clip there is a man walking from right to left and that is Tony from Cardiff.
Oddly no one went into the shop, so I did. It was a very hippy trippy shop, lots of tie die stuff. I had a chat with the dancer, whose name I can’t remember (next time I go away I’m writing this stuff down as it happens). I asked her how long she had to dance for, she told me that she dances for as long as she wants, she chooses the clothes and the music. Seemed like a good deal to me.
Eventually a tow truck arrived and wow what a vehicle. Not like the puny ones you see over here. I didn’t get a photo but Sue who was also on the tour has kindly let me use one she (or Don) took.
Once on the ferry I made my way to the front to get some pictures of the island as we approached, and also a quick snippet of video. You may want to turn your sound down, as the only thing you will hear is the wind.
As we got closer it was easy to see that the island isn’t that big and it’s a long way from the main land; so could those three prisoners who escaped in 1962, as seen in Escape from Alcatraz, really have made back to the main land…hmm I’m not sure.The island has been used as a lighthouse base, a military fortification, a military prison and most famously a federal prison from 1933 to 1963. In 1969 the island was occupied by a large group of ingenious Americans and there are hints to there occupation around the site.
This sign is located at the dock.The easiest way to find out about the history is to take an audio guide, which is narrated by former guards and prisoners. Alcatraz is a very busy place, so there’s a fair bit of jostling to actually see inside the cells, or the information boards. I went around the Island & Prison with my two fellow single travelers; Peter & Pauline.
Eventually the tour takes you outside into the exercise yard. A lot of visitors just stood at the top of the steps leading down into the yard, but I went and had a look around.It was incredibly windy as I walked across the yard to the one doorway that leads to another part of the island. The wind was so strong that I had to fight my way back across to the steps. Quite cool to think that Al Capone probably sat on these steps.
As we made our way to the obligatory shop I wondered about all the films shot here, and that there hadn’t been a mention of them, other than the real life escape as portrayed in the Clint Eastwood film ‘Escape from Alcatraz’. So I was happy to find a section of the shop that had film posters displayed.I bought some souvenirs here and a book all about films based on the Alcatraz legend.
Before I left I got a photo taken with the Dragon.Alcatraz is certainly a must see if you visit San Francisco, and I would certainly visit again as the National Park Service have guided tours, which I’m sure would be very interesting.
Once back on the mainland we decided to try and find some food, as I started to type this sentence I couldn’t remember where we ate but memory is a wonderful thing and it has just come back to me!!
So we wandered along passed Pier 39 which is full of restaurants and shops but they were all pretty full so we kept on going, and going and going, until we spotted a cable car stop. In the morning we were all advised to buy a pass that would enable us to jump on and off the cars during our stay, so we got into the queue and waited, and waited, and waited until finally it was our turn to board. They don’t move fast that’s for sure.We went as far as we could before we got off to walk to the next stop that would enable us to get back to the hotel. As far as I could tell there is no defined timetable for the cars, they just appear when they like. So we sat at the stop for a while before riding the car west up California Street. Peter and Pauline sensibly sat inside the car, while I rode the outside, which was an experience. Standing there hanging onto the rail as we went up and down the inclines, with cars alongside that were so close I could have just put my feet on them was amazing. I only did it the once though.
We were staying at the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway on Van Ness, so the cable car was handy as it stopped at the top of California which is a street leading onto Van Ness. The following evening would be our last in the States, and the tour guide had arranged for a meal at Grubstake one block down from the hotel. I wouldn’t make that as I had other plans, and as it was close we decided to check it out on this evening instead.
The family that run it is from Portugal so the food is very good. I had an everything omelette which contains the following: 3 large egg omelette with cheese, vegetables, mushrooms, ham, bacon, sour cream, spinach & sausage. Plus home fries and toast.
I managed the majority of the omelette and some of the fries, this being the States the portion size was large, but it was amazingly tasty.
Food done, it was time to chill out and I think I went to bed early! But not before planning the start to the next morning.