So the third stop on our west coast road trip was San Francisco. We had a long 2 day journey by car from LA and we drove up the highway one in our hired jeep and saw many sights on the way. We stopped off in Monterey for clam chowder and came across lots of local wildlife including seals and HUGE elephant seals!
Day One – Sleeping in, Segway Tour and Scoma’s
Our first day in San Fransisco was a busy one. Seeing as we both LOVE segways and San Fransisco is such a hilly place we decided to combat the hills by having a segway tour – we didn’t know this meant we would be trusted to ride them on the road! Eek! This is a great was to orientate yourself as it is a big city with so many sights to see.
We even managed to finish off the day having a delicious dinner at the seafood market and Scoma’s in Fisherman’s Wharf – I would highly recommend it for you fancy some fish whilst in San Francisco. (If you hover over the pictures below a little caption will pop up)
Day Two – Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge and China Town
Before we left the UK, we booked a trip to Alcatraz as this was one of our ‘must see’ events whilst on this trip, it may in fact have been our only one. This meant that we knew which date and what time ferry we would need to catch to go over to this island. On the way over we could really understand how desolate and isolated it would have felt to the prisoners being sent over, like there was no way back which I guess was the point. The views over San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge were breathtaking! When we arrived on Alcatraz we were surprised by the beauty that we found before entering the prison itself.
The first thing you do when you get off the boat (after you take a selfie at the sign!) is listen to a park ranger give a little presentation and intro speech. It’s worth sticking around for this, it only takes 15 minutes and it’s super informative. It’s also worth watching the starter movie (housed in the gift shop halfway up the hill to the prison). and I’m glad we did because it was actually good to get a bit of context about the island before heading out and exploring it.
One of the things the Park Ranger told us about the sign you can see in the image below (apparently it’s pretty special) was that it holds all the layers to Alcatraz’s history. Not only does it show proof of the army base, and prison days (which is what you’re probably most familiar with) – but it also has graffiti left by the Indian protesters in the 1970’s, along with the National Park signage – which is the status the island holds today.
After about a 10 minute walk up the hill to the big prison building (it’s not too steep… so don’t worry) you enter the prison through an unassuming side door. The first room you get to see is actually the rooms where new arriving prisoners would’ve also walked through. You walk along the medical centre, and alongside the showers where prisoners would been hosed down.
Once you’ve been through this area, you get given your audio tour headphones and you’re free to follow it round when you’re ready.
Tip: If you’re with someone, make sure you both press play at the same time. otherwise you’ll be walking away from each other throughout the tour!
This photo (below) might seem a bit random, but I took it because of how incredibly thick the glass was. It was about 5 inches thick!
The tour leads you around various parts of the prison, and you listen to both stories from the prisoners and stories from the guards as you go. They’re real people telling real stories – and it makes for an amazing tour – unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. You almost find yourself lost in the prison, like you’ve been transported back there.
It’s really important to remember when you’re in the prison, that nothing has been changed. It’s exactly how it was – right down to the scape routes and holes in the walls!
You know what though, the view from that yard was incredible. Maybe one of the best views we saw the entire time we were in San Francisco. It must have been torture to be locked away and have to stare out at such a beautiful city. The phrase ‘so close yet so far’ never rung truer!
Tip: The island is really windy (much more than on the mainland) so make sure you take a jacket or cardigan – and don’t wear a dress that will easily blow up. We got lucky because it was an exceptionally hot day so we didn’t feel the cold too bad, but my dress did blow up!
Your next stop on the tour is the high security bit of the prison, or ‘solitary’ as they called it.
The tour invites you to step inside the cells (which was awesome and frightening all at once) and listen to the kinds of sounds the prisoners would’ve heard. At one point you listen to a prisoner’s own account of solitary, and how he used to cope with the darkness. It’s incredible to be stood where he stood, whilst he tells you about his own experience. Part of his account was that he’d start at the tiny bit of light was ages, and then suddenly close his eyes. With his eyes closed he’d let the little bit of light remaining turn into shapes, and a TV – and then he’d watch this fake TV in his minds eye.
The solitary cells were darker than dark. It must’ve been a scary place.
Once you’ve seen the worst of the prison, you then get lead over to what might have been described as ‘the best’. The tour leads you into the staff quarters, and into the generals office. The staff of the island actually lived on the island too – including their families and children. They show you photos of the children who lived on the island, with narrative from the children (who are now adults) describing how much they loved family life on Alcatraz.
Of course these families didn’t live in the prison – they lived in specially built houses which formed a small neighborhood on another side of the island. I found this incredible to comprehend.
The last stop, is the kitchen and dining room – which is where the tour finishes. Once you’ve had your fill staring through the white metal bars and taking it all in, you can begin the beautiful walk down to the harbor again.
Have you been to Alcatraz? Got any tips or advice?
Day three – Biking over the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, China Town
We got up nice and early as we had a lot that we wanted to fit into our day. We walked down towards the bay as we saw that they had bikes to hire and hired two bikes, grabbed a map and some water and got on our way. The cycle ride started off on a cycle path that hugged the shoreline and it was beautiful We watched some crazy people swimming in the bay – it must have been bloody freezing! Then the route goes up a notch and it is a lot of up hill riding but when you get to the stop off point about three quarters of the way up the view is totally worth it! You get great view of the bridge going towards Sausalito.
When you are cycling over the bridge be aware that it could be super busy so you have to travel slowly. It does take a little while to get over the bridge! Now what goes up must go down! After cycling up the hill to the bridge you have a lovely downhill ride to the beautiful town of Sauslito. We had delicious sandwiches and ice-creams whilst we were here! Once we had looked around we thought about cycling back and decided to take the easy option and jumped on the ferry back to the bay of San Francisco.
Tip: The earlier you go in the morning the less people you will be competing with!
In the evening we went for dinner in Chinatown and I can assure you it was one of the best Chinese meals I’ve ever eaten! You would find something amazing in all of these restaurants, yum yum. I loved looking as all of the decorations in this part of town 🙂
Have you ever been to the beautiful San Francisco and what was your favourite thing that you did/saw?
Do you have any advice or tips for other travelers?
I’d love to hear from you!