Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Exploring San Francisco

San Francisco

We didn’t originally plan on visiting San Francisco when we came to California, but since we were going to be so close, we decided that we really should spend a day there.

I got online with my blogging buddy, former Bay area resident, Mary (a.k.a. Natasha) for advice on where to stay, how best to get into the city, and what to see on a 1-day visit.  After several facebook chats and emails, we had a plan and a nice little 1-day itinerary for San Francisco!

I waited a few days too long for Alcatraz tickets, so all the early tours were sold out and we had to take a 12:30 tour.  It worked out OK, though, since the early tours would have been a pretty ambitious goal for getting to the ferry and over to the city on time – a process that took us longer than expected!

Our goal was to be out of the campground by 7:00, which we thought would get us to the Larkspur Terminal in time for the 8:30 ferry.  We left the campground around 7:15, and didn’t get to the Ferry Terminal until 8:30 (we had been cruising right along, thinking “What traffic?”, when we arrived at the 101 and it was almost at a standstill!).  The next ferry left at 9:15, so we had plenty of time to buy our tickets and figure out how to pay our $2 parking fee.  It took us 30 minutes to pay that stupid $2 fee, and then I entered the wrong license plate number . . . we were glad our car was still there when we got back at the end of the day!!

Our ferry arriving

Leaving the Larkspur Terminal










We sat on the outer deck on the ferry, so we could see the sights as we travelled across the bay, but it was chilly out there!  These ferries really move!

We passed by San Quentin Prison,

San Quentin Prison

got a glimpse of the Bay Bridge (at least I think that’s the Bay Bridge),

Bay Bridge

and a somewhat fog-obscured view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge -- difficult to see in the morning fog

As we approached San Francisco, we passed by Alcatraz,

Alcatraz Prison

and had a great view of the city.

San Francisco

We pulled into the Port of San Francisco just before 10am, and were ready for our day of exploring the city!

We've arrived!

The first thing we needed to do was get our day passes for the streetcars and cable cars, so we made our way to the Streetcar Museum which opened at 10 (ish) and waited a couple minutes for the guy to get there.  He gave us some good advice about catching the California line cable car,    Waiting for our cable car

riding it to the top of Nob Hill, and then transferring to the Powell-Hyde line to ride down to the harbor, rather than trying to catch a cable car at the harbor where the wait is almost always a couple hours long. 

He was right, and we saw those long lines later in the afternoon . . . and four empty cable cars waiting to be filled, 15-20 minutes apart . . . not the most efficient system . . . probably why it’s all tourists on them!!



Cable Car

So that is exactly what we did!

Cable Car


Riding the cable car!

Going up!


We rode the cable car up, up, up that big hill, and then we got off at the top and walked around, admiring the beautiful architecture of Nob Hill.

St. Mary Cathedral

Nob Hill

Nob Hill

Nob Hill Houses



Grace Cathedral

We eventually made our way to Chinatown,


where we explored some more – checking out a few little shops and grocery stores.  There were tons of places to buy produce – too bad I had no way to carry any!!  Rene (the attendant at the ferry terminal in Larkspur) told us that if we wanted any souvenirs, Chinatown was the place to buy them!  We didn’t really need anything, so we didn’t buy any.

We finally made our way over to Powell Street to catch the cable car down to the harbor, and Nicolas wanted to stop off at Lombard Street (the crookedest street in the US!), but we were running short on time to get to our Alcatraz Tour, so I just snapped a quick photo from the cable car and I promised him we’d come back up there later. (Bad idea – remember those 2 hour waits for cable cars at the harbor . . . )

View from Lombard Street

Down at the waterfront, we made a beeline for Pier 33 . . . and it was further away than we had anticipated!  We made it just in time, though, and boarded the ferry for the short ride over to Alcatraz Island.

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz is a national park, however there is no “admission” charged, and the ferries are run by a concessionaire and they don’t take any of the National Park access passes, or even give a discount to pass holders.  We really enjoyed the tour, but I think $30/person is WAY too much for a 10 minute ferry ride (OK, 20 minutes, round trip).  By contrast, the ferry we took into the city was a 30 minute ride, and was only $9.50 ($4.75 for under 18).  But, what can you do?  Well, I expressed my opinion in my post-tour survey . . .

It was a nice ride, though,

On the ferry to Alcatraz

and soon we arrived at Alcatraz.  We were surprised to see so many flowers on the island, and Tom thought they had been added after it was made a National Park.

Gardens of Alcatraz

Spring blooms on Alcatraz



We found out, though, that the gardens were planted and maintained by the prisoners at Alcatraz.  There were some really pretty flowers!

We walked past many old buildings,

Guard Tower

Old buildings

and made our way up to the Cellhouse where we picked up our audio tour headsets. 


The tour first took us through the rooms where the prisoners were processed and given their official prison uniform.


Getting uniforms










Then we entered the main cellblock – there were 4 rows of cells – A, B&C, and D.  A was not used because it was the old military cells, and not of the same grade of metal.  B & C were the main population, and D was solitary.

Rows of cells

Each row was three stories high.    DSC_0321

I think this may have been in A row, but I can’t quite remember.

We saw how the cells were prepared when a new resident arrived.

Ready for a new occupant

This was all they were allowed – no personal items at all.  In later years, they were given more privileges, and allowed to have books, hobbies like painting and crocheting, items from home, and even jacks in the wall for radio.

In later years, they were allowed more possessions

Still not anyplace we’d want to live!

Behind Bars!

Their time outside was limited, and mostly confined to the recreation yard – not exactly the prettiest place.

Recreation Yard

In the solitary row, there were just these little windows that looked out at San Francisco.     The view from the tiny prison window!








We, however, were able to walk outside to where the corrections officers (and their families!) lived . . . they had a nice view of San Francisco!

View of San Francisco -- Look at the streets going up!

We heard the stories of escape attempts at Alcatraz – some successful – like the guys who managed to get out through the vents in their cells,

Escape route

Means of escape!

through the utility corridor between the cells, and out onto the roof – they were never found!

Plotting his escape!


Tom wonders if he could do the same!

Then there were the guys on inventory duty in the basement of the kitchen --

In the kitchen

they managed to get out through a window and swim towards the Golden Gate Bridge.  One guy was caught before he got off the island, but the other washed up on shore, unconscious, and was treated by doctors and returned to Alcatraz before he ever woke up!

Alcatraz had many famous residents, including the Birdman who’s cell was actually in the hospital.

A famous resident

The hospital is not normally part of the tour, but it was open for 1 hour on the day that we were there.  It’s in a pretty sad state, but being restored so it can be included in the tour in the future.

Hospital Operating Room

Hospital Room











Just like any good attraction, the tour ends in the Gift Shop!  On this day they were having a book signing by an author who had been a prisoner at Alcatraz!     Inmate turned Author

We were all pretty much starving, so we went to the dock to board the ferry back to San Francisco.  We took one last picture before we left . . . Tom with his little friend from Switzerland – Lenny!

Tom and Lenny

Back in the city, we walked back towards Fisherman’s Wharf to find a good spot for dinner.          Fisherman's Wharf

Tom just wanted one of the famous bread bowls with clam chowder, Nicolas wanted fish & chips, and Bryce & I – just give us a burger!

We checked out all the restaurants at Pier 39,


as well as a couple of little shops that looked good,












before finally settling on a restaurant.  After dinner, we checked out the sights from the Pier,

Pier 39

Forrest Gump






Sea Lions at the pier



Fishing Boats at Fisherman's Wharf

before heading back toward Lombard Street so Nicolas could walk down it.  Lombard Street is several blocks UPhill from the harbor, so we hoped we might be able to jump on a cable car to get us up there, but remember those 2 hour lines I mentioned earlier??!! 

So . . . we walked . . . and walked . . . and it was NOT fun!  But, we got there, and Nicolas & Bryce walked down the stairs that followed the twisty toad to the bottom, and then they came back up again.  Where do they get all that energy??!! 


Tom didn’t go all the way to the bottom with them!

Lombard Street - the curviest street











At Lombard Street we were finally able to catch a ride on a cable car . . . although they guys had to hang onto the outside!

Riding the cable car

Like a roller coaster ride!


And it was like a roller coaster ride going down those steep hills!!

We stopped for a little while at Union Square, where we listened to some music and had some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, then we made our way back to the Ferry Building to catch the 8:10 ferry back to Larkspur.  I was hoping for a nice sunset picture of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was even foggier on the way back than it had been in the morning!



It was a very long, tiring day, but we all enjoyed our little tour of San Francisco!


  1. Clang, Clang, Clang went the trolley. Ding, Ding, Ding went the bell:o))

    What fun riding up and down those interesting streets!! Thanks for taking us on the tour. We really shy away from inner cities so we will enjoy your photos!!

    1. We're not really fans of big cities, either . . . especially the boys . . . but San Francisco is so unique, we thought we just had to check it out while we were so close . . . and of course, the Top Gear guys have been there, so the boys had landmarks they were looking for!

  2. A walk on the GG bridge on a nice day is always worth the time.
    FWIW my great grand father fell off a cable car and hit his head, died a few days later, that was back in 1902. Made interesting reading.
    I'm enjoying your trip!


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