Welcome back my dear readers! I hope you’re all doing well and feeling some optimism that there’s an end in sight to this crazy past 12 months.
Last time out on the blog I’d talked about more of my time in San Francisco and it’s time to continue with the “big 3-0” story as it nears its conclusion. Those of you that have been following along will know I was in the USA for 30 days, celebrating my 30th birthday, back in the summer of 2018.
We’d now covered a bit of ground in San Francisco and seen a few of the main landmarks in the city but there was one “must see” left for us to experience – Alcatraz!
I’d heard mixed reviews from people about Alcatraz but it was something myself and Haleigh were both keen to visit and see for ourselves. I’d sneakily bought tickets for Haleigh’s birthday which was a little tricky because everytime Haleigh hinted at buying tickets I was coy about doing so – “we’ll get it booked after the next payday..”
Alcatraz unsurprisingly sells out well in advance so it was one of few pre-planned attractions on this trip – along with the Chicago Skydeck which some of you will remember was a disaster and an attraction I ended up missing out on in the windy city at the start of the trip. I was hoping today wouldn’t be similar!
Anyway, we kicked off our day as we had so many times on this trip – fairly relaxed and without too much rushing around. For whatever reason we decided to take a different route in to the heart of San Fran today, deviating from our tried and tested journey on the one day we had concrete plans. Clever, right?
In hindsight it probably wasn’t the brightest idea we’ve had. We’d left our AirBnB in good time before heading over to Alcatraz but our spontaneous route put our plans in jeopardy a little. We stood waiting at this particular tram stop for an age.
Our wait did mean we got chatting to another couple at the stop but after a little small talk the discussion swerved to whether this tram was ever going to arrive! Eventually one came along but then kept going and whizzed by us – too busy on board to make a stop to pick people up – ahhh!
The minutes ticked by and ticked closer towards missing our Alcatraz boat! Eventually we had to accept we’d have to improvise further and get ourselves to the pier asap! We parted from our new friends who were heading elsewhere and managed to grab a taxi over to the pick-up-point.
The next dilemma was the tickets. I’d booked in advance, through the official website I’ll add, but their strange system had me feeling a little uneasy. For whatever reason you book your tickets online and they then need to send you two confirmation emails, the second once payment has been processed which for whatever reason isn’t instantaneous – unlike just about any other booking system on the planet.
They’d emailed me one confirmation and they took my money a little while after the actual booking which was of some relief but I’d envisaged some scenario where they’d deny all knowledge of my booking at the ticket office – which was only exacerbated further by the Chicago Skydeck debacle. I’d winged most of the trip – were the only two plans I’d really made both going to fall through?
The woman at the desk seemed frustrated that I was unable to provide the second confirmation email – as if it was somehow my fault and that this stupid system wasn’t the bigger cause of the confusion. However fortunately the details we had were seemingly enough for her to print our tickets and she seemed a little friendlier after locating them.
We took our tickets over to check in and were soon being waved on to our ferry. It slowly started filling up and then we were off!
As we inched closer and closer to Alcatraz I began to appreciate just how far off the mainland it actually is. It’s visible from San Francisco but it’s still a little way on the ferry – this island isn’t the quickest to get to and it starts to sink in how difficult it must have been to even think about escaping from. Good luck swimming in the cold and harsh waters of San Francisco Bay!
Each arriving boat to the island gets a little introduction and a welcome before you’re then left to explore at your own leisure. We grabbed a few photos from the outside before heading in.
Assuming that, like us, you start from the bottom one of the first rooms you’re likely to encounter are aimed at educating on the history of the island. It might purely be ignorance on my part but I don’t feel like Alcatraz’s past gets much coverage beyond its prison days.
It was fascinating to discover that people lived on the island at various times in its history with Native Americans notably occupying the island for almost two years in protest against the US government. It was really interesting to learn about and in one of the rooms there’s an educational video that plays in this dark room which we both watched.
As you explore more of the island you see homage to those days with graffiti and other landmarks that date back to their occupancy.
Today it’s part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is managed by the National Park Service which allows millions of people to visit every year. The luxury of being able to explore in your own time meant we could slowly admire the views from the island and check out a few points of interest before making our way up to the prison and undoubtedly Alcatraz’s biggest attraction.
Once you enter the prison area you’re handed a little device offering an audio tour. These rarely hold much interest for me and I usually abandon them pretty quickly and end up exploring without one.
However I have to say that I found that the audio tour really added to the experience. Throughout the tour you’re exposed to the history and various stories from Alcatraz and it really brought the prison to life for me – it’s remarkably well done I think and I’m glad I stuck this one out. As you walk around I couldn’t help but visualise what life behind bars would be like – see for yourself!
As my sad-faced-selfie shows, it’s not a life for me!
The tour takes you through a number of different areas within the prison. Towards the end of the tour you get taken outside for breathtaking views of San Francisco’s skyline which felt like a pretty apt way to round things off and really help transform you in to the life of a prisoner and how tempting it must have been having the city in plain view.
I thought the tour was incredible and worth every penny, or cent rather. Everyone has their own preferences of course but I have to say the mixed reviews I’d heard really surprised me. I couldn’t recommend it any higher and it’s a must-do on any trip to San Francisco in my opinion.
We popped in to the gift shop for a look at what was a wealth of merchandise and reading material from Alcatraz before slowly making our way back down the island and towards the ferry point. Fortunately we’d timed it pretty well and it was pretty much ready to board by the time we’d arrived.
The mood on the ferry back seemed a bit more pensive than the buzz and excitement that there had been when going to Alcatraz. Perhaps that’s just because it was later in the day and people had had enough adventure for one day but I think there was that added appreciation to be heading back to the mainland.
We’d escaped Alcatraz and were heading back to “the land of the free” . It felt nice knowing our time in Alcatraz had only been temporary. I think as a prisoner of Alcatraz I’d have preferred to have been more remote than the island actually is.
It is a bit of a journey on the ferry but to be that close to freedom and see it every day? That would be so agonising for me. I’d spend my days in envy knowing people were living such normal lives just across the water. I’m feeling pandemic envy as it is seeing people in NZ and Australia for example having a blast whilst we’re in day four billion of lockdown, sod that being a permanent feeling!
We made it back to sunny San Francisco and I do feel like I let out an illogical sigh of relief. Even with the stupid selfie, there was never a part of me that felt imprisoned but Alcatraz is its own little island and consequently very much a bubble. Even for a few hours its easy to forget that there’s a busy city in the backdrop.
After our Alcatraz adventure we decided to grab an early dinner. Our proximity to Pier 39 made it a convenient place to grab something as although a little touristy, there’s a good range of places to eat.
Unfortunately it seemed we picked rather poorly. I don’t know if it was just an off evening in the height of summer because the restaurant seemingly rates pretty highly in Google reviews. That certainly wasn’t our experience though with terrible food and the worst service I’ve suffered anywhere in the US – possibly anywhere altogether!
We’d pondered what to do with the rest of our evening but the unexpected extension on our meal time scuppered our plans a little bit and limited our options. It did dampen what had otherwise been a nice day.
In the end we decided to visit the ‘San Francisco Dungeons’. I’ve seen these in a few other cities – notably London, Edinburgh and Amsterdam but as yet had not visited any of them so I wasn’t 100% sure on what to expect.
It was surprisingly a lot more enjoyable than I’d anticipated. You’re led through a series of rooms where actors play out a number of different scenes depicting various locations throughout San Francisco. There’s a fair amount of audience interaction which makes it quite enjoyable and I’d say pretty family friendly too – albeit a little jumpy in parts.
Towards the end of the experience we were taken “back” to Alcatraz – just as myself and Haleigh thought we’d escaped that pesky island!! The penultimate room then saw everyone interrogated by a prison guard.
I’d managed to avoid all audience interaction up until now so as the guard did his final roll call, row by row, I had to reveal my identity and additionally reveal my accent to all which sent shockwaves around the room as they realised there was a Brit amongst them! I’m sure some witty comment from the guard followed at my expense but I can’t recall what it was now.
The final room saw us escape Alcatraz and head back outside. Overall it had been a surprisingly fun attraction and is something I’d consider doing in other cities – even if only in the UK.
From here we made the slow journey back to our AirBnB. We took a small detour somewhere to grab some food after the disappointment earlier in the day but that was pretty much it for San Fran – our final day in San Francisco was over!
Tomorrow morning marked the beginning of the goodbyes, the adventure was nearing its end. It was time to say goodbye to San Francisco and California and head back up North.
I’d said plenty of goodbyes on this trip already of course. Goodbye to Chicago, goodbye to Minneapolis, goodbye to friends in New Orleans but every one of those was different as more adventure beckoned.
This time it was different, the faint cries of reality were calling. Haleigh had to be back in Washington for the start of the school year, soon after I’d be heading back to England and time was sadly finally beginning to catch up with me.
Tomorrow we’d be saying goodbye to San Francisco and onwards to..
Well, we didn’t actually know. We knew we wouldn’t get all the way back to Moses Lake but we hadn’t actually booked any accommodation for the next night. Perhaps there was still some adventure left in this trip after all?
I guess you’ll have to stick with this series a little longer if you want to find out! Stay tuned!
P.S – if you want to read other posts from this trip, see links below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!
Day twenty – San Francisco bound!
Day twenty one – San Francisco begins!
Day twenty two – San Fran continued!