For the first two weeks of our road trip our route was pretty simple – head south to San Francisco. Having spent 36 hours there a couple of years ago it was the only city on our “must visit” list (there will be other cities, for sure, but this one was somewhere we knew we wanted to spend some time). We booked three nights in the basic but perfectly acceptable Lombard Inn, parked up the bikes in the garage under the hotel (included in the rate – have you seen how much it costs to park in San Francisco?!) and set about exploring and relaxing.
The view from the top of Lombard Street.
We booked tickets to Alcatraz a couple of days ahead of our arrival. We’d hoped to visit last time but it was booked up for three months and so there was no chance, this time it was much better. As I’m sure you know, Alcatraz is an island in the San Francisco Bay, most famous for its high securty prison but also with history as a fort to protect the city and the place a group of native Indians used to hold a protest that ultimately changed their place in the USA.
Alcatraz. Indian Land.
We chose the early crossing to make the most of our day, and so got ourselves over to Pier 33 and the Alcatraz Cruises for about 8.30am ready for the 15 minute crossing to the island. The boat was very busy, but there was space for us up on deck to look at the views as we sailed over. As we disembarked we were greeted by a Ranger, as Alcatraz is now a National Monument, who gave us a well rehearsed speech about what we should be looking out for and in what order. She made it clear that the route to the cell block, probably the main attraction for most people, was up a very VERY steep hill and would take us an hour to climb. So we were ready.
We started by watching the film which gave us a potted history of the island and its inhabitants, and then got on with the task of walking up to the top to see the prison. What we were actually faced with, after the many warnings from the Ranger, was four reasonably steep ramps that took about 20 minutes total to walk up. Not as bad as Steep Hill in Lincoln. We were pleasantly surprised as we were expecting to be gasping for air, phew.
Once at the top we picked up our audio tour and made our way around the prison building. The commentary was really interesting, with information from prison guards and prisoners as well as a narrator. You’ll all know the stories of prisoners trying to escape Alcatraz, and some of these were told in lots of detail, which was fascinating. I have to admit I was surprised how small the cells were – barely long enough for a bed, I doubt prisons these days are as sparse.
Apart from the prison cellblock we were able to explore the grounds and the remnants of the fortress that stood before the prison, and also heard the story of when a group of Indians squatted on the island to make their voices heard. There was also a group of researchers working on a project to count the birds on the island, as it’s also a protected habitat. In all we spent four hours wandering around all the exhibits and taking in the views of the Bay Area before we got on the boat to go back to San Francisco. Well worth the trip over.
Alcatraz is also a nature reserve.
Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge
Our main “excursion” on our second day in San Francisco was to get right up to the Golden Gate Bridge. Having ridden over it a couple of times I wanted to go and have a proper look, and so we got the bus to Crissy Field and walked along the beach and up onto the hill. We accidentally stumbled on the local’s playground – people walking their dogs, running, cycling and chatting. We walked along to the Warming Hut, where we stopped for a drink, and then followed the path right up to the plaza and caught the bus back into town. If you’re ever in San Francisco and want to get away from the “city” side of things, Crissy Field is definitely the place to go – it was busy with people but calm and quiet, with the gentle water and some iconic views to help relax the soul. I can see why the locals like it.
Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field.
Silliness at the Golden Gate Bridge.
And the Rest
San Francisco is big and there is loads to do. It’s not as intense as New York or London as a city, but there is plenty to keep you busy. Here are some other highlights and tips from our few days this time around:
Get to the very top of Lombard Street and take a look at the view towards the bay. Walk down the crookedest street if you’re knees are up to it, it’s as beautiful as it is steep, with a continuous stream of people walking and driving down. No, we didn’t ride our bikes down it – I’m way too chicken!
Have a wander around China Town. To be honest we failed to find a Chinese restaurant we wanted to eat in, maybe we were a bit early in the day, but it was still a wonderful place for a mooch about.
See the sea lions at Pier 39. No trip to San Francisco is complete without checking out in the noisy and everyso slightly smelly residences.
The sea lions at Pier 39.
Grab a bite to eat in the Ferry Building. There are loads of food stalls to choose from. We had sandwiches from Acme Bread Company which were really yummy and not expensive either.
Go shopping! Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), travelling by motorbike means there is very little space for new things, but it’s still nice to browse. We may have made a small purchase in the Microsoft Store and spent a little while looking in The North Face and Converse.
Ride on the F Car and Cable Car. Both are pretty iconic – the F Cars were bought from all over the world. While I’m talking public transport, I would recommend downloading the Muni app and purchasing your travel card on there, which is then valid on the F Car, Muni buses and Cable Car; you just show your phone to the conductor or driver rather than needing to have cash or carry a paper ticket. Much more convenient.
And take a look at my post from our last visit for more things to do in this fascinating city. I know we’ll be back sometime.