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Escape from Alcatraz

USA | Wednesday, 11 May 2016 | Views [258]

One of our favorite things to do in a city is to take advantage of local transit. San Fran is very expensive and staying outside the downtown can save a lot of money; parking in the downtown can be as much as $60 a night on top of the $200+ for hotels. Our hotel is in Oakland, not the most desirable area, but way cheaper and close to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). For a mere $3.70 the train wicked us into town in about 15 minutes; not bad for about 19KM (12 miles or so). With the exceptions of it being a bit warm and crowded (rush hour), it was easy to use and effective.


We arrived downtown and easily made it to the piers. We thought there would be more to see, but after about an hour of walking around we realized the Bay area really is nothing but tourist crap; shopping, museums, an aquarium and boat tours. We were set on the Alcatraz tour; 11:30 for $33 each.


We continued on to Pier 39; an interesting spot filled with gift shops, restaurants and the star attractions, sea lions. There were hundreds laying in the sun or playing 'king of the castle'. Although they were very cute and fun to watch, they smelled really bad.


Arriving back to Pier 33, home of Alcatraz tours we were feeling quite cold. The bay puts a chill in the air that we were unable to shake the entire day. We wore sweaters, but shorts; clearly not the best choice for a day on the water. No wonder the most popular meal on the waterfront is clam chowder in a sourdough bowl; 7-12 dollars depending on the establishment.


We board the boat and although the time was almost sold out, it didn’t feel crowded. We cuddled up inside on the first floor and enjoyed the cruise out onto the bay. The ride took about 10-15 minutes.


Ushered onto the island, we were greeted by a park ranger that explained the island and all the rules. After his short and marginally entertaining presentation we cut off from the crowd and set ourselves up for a picnic lunch consisting of wine and cheese with crackers and sourdough bread. Although nothing was warm, we felt much better with full stomached.


The Alcatraz island is clearly old with many of the building missing roofs or entirely demolished. Although many building remain, they all appear to need work. The park ranger explained that the weather on the bay is punishing and one of the main reasons for closing the penitentiary was the cost of maintaining it. For $33 a person coupled with the popularity of the place, I would have expected more work to have been completed.


We got our audio tours and set to exploring the main attraction; the cell block. While it was interesting and recognizable, there seemed to be a lot of room for improvements. The library was a bare room and the dining room only had a couple benches. With the exception of a couple cells that contained a few surviving artifacts, the place was completely empty. We thought so much more could have been done to enhance the experience.


After taking the boat back from the island, we wandered through the shops of Pier 39. We bought a shot glass and a loaf of sourdough from the famous Boudin Bakery; the oldest sourdough bakery in town. Although the menu was pretty expensive, their bakery is what you would expect from a high end place; $3 - $6 depending on the size and type of bread.

We walked around for the better part of 2 hours before we headed for the BART. Stops included Fishersman Wharf, Lombard street, Little Italy and China Town. If you haven’t been to the city, a walk that long was quite tiring with all the hills. What was great, however, was the up and close exposure to the enclaves in the city; Tim especially like Stockton Street (China Town).

The BART was quick and we were off at Fruitvale in what felt like 5 minutes. We had discussed going out for dinner, but we found an authentic Mexican food truck, La Penca Azul Taco Truck, this morning when we were walking. We decided to see if they were still there and happily they were. We only ordered a super burrito and an enchilada platter, but the bag felt like dinner for 8; $20. The food was seriously good; authentic coming with hot pickled carrots, radishes; and, blackened onions and peppers. Considering we couldn't finish half of the food it was well worth it.


This is basically the last of the blogs for the west coast trip. We are heading home and might do one for the trip north, but with two 18 hour drives, maybe not. Thanks for reading; see you next trip, Thailand summer 2016.



Tags: alcatraz, lombard street, pier 39

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