There’s No Escaping This Top San Francisco Tourist Attraction
Some years ago, I was showing my parents around San Francisco as part of their extensive trip out from Tennessee to the West Coast. We had driven up the coast from my place in Los Angeles and since I had been to the City by the Bay a few times, I felt I would be a pretty good tour guide.
And so that proved to be the case until dad mentioned he would like to go to Alcatraz. In fact, that was a place he had long wanted to visit.
I wasn’t overly excited about it – I mean, I really wanted to avoid prisons, not go visit one – but of course if that’s what he wanted to do then we would do it. So I causally strolled with the parents over to the Alcatraz Cruises area around Fisherman’s Wharf and there we stood in stunned silence.
A sign stated that next available tour wasn’t for several days. No amount of pleading with the person at the ticket counter could change that, either. As I learned that day, you had better get your Alcatraz tickets well in advance.
Ever since that time, I have had a burning desire to go to Alcatraz, and finally I got to visit it. Here are my impressions.
The audio tour is excellent. When you get on the island, climb the hill to the top and go around the shower area (where I tried NOT to envision several naked men washing) you are given a headset with an audio tour. Being largely an independent traveler, I normally I just kind of shrug at these things, but this one is excellent. Not only does it narrate the places as you walk, but it has voices from guards and prisoners talking about their experiences. It’s the best aspect of the tour.
It’s not as big of a prison as I had envisioned. For some reason, I had pictures of rows of cells as long as the eye could see but there are only a couple of rows and they are about the length of two San Francisco city blocks (or one Vegas block). The laundry room, library and cafeteria are so small, it’s almost like being on a ship rather than on a rock.
The cells are small and not at all private. You can walk inside a couple of the cells, and that is a tour that takes about five seconds. That’s because they are small and just the basics: a bed, a shelf large enough only to put a book, a sink and a toilet. It’s not exactly the kind of place you want to linger. PubClubette Ashley and I got a bit of a kick out of pretending to be behind those bars for quick “let me out of here!,” photos.
The grounds have great views of the city and the bay. As I looked out over the bay, with the Golden Gate on one side and the skyscrapers of San Francisco in the distance, I was struck with the thought that if Alcatraz the prison never been built, it would be a super-exclusive San Francisco neighborhood with half a dozen mansions and tennis courts, complete with a yacht club. The views are sensational. Then again, the weather is not; when PubClub was there, the temperature went from warm to freezing in mere moments. PubClubette Ashley and I were constantly putting on and pulling off our PubClub.com sweatshirts.
The gardens are gorgeous. Yes, there are gardens on Alcatraz. And the flowers are beautiful. It’s a fascinating contrast: something this peaceful at a place that is famous for housing lawbreakers, murderers and gangsters (Al Capone was here).
The ferry ride is pleasant. It only lasts about 15 minutes but it cuts through the center of San Francisco Bay and presents nice views of the Golden Gate Bridge and in particular the Bay Bridge. You also get close to sailboats; San Francisco has a huge sailing community. It’s interesting to note that on the boat, you can drink beer or wine on the way back from Alcatraz but not to it. PubClubette Ashley reported to me that the women’s bathroom is surprisingly clean.
I’m still kicking myself for not knowing we needed tickets well in advance when my parents were in San Francisco, but at least I finally made it to Alcatraz. Visiting Alcatraz proved to be PubClubette Ashley’s favorite activity we did in San Francisco.
Next time I’m in town, I might do the night tour.
Alcatraz Cruises Tours & Tickets Information:
Website & Tickets: alcatrazcruises.com
Ticket Prices: $39. Night Tour:
Departure Location: Pier 33 (adjacent to Pier 39)
Phone: (415) 981-ROCK (7625)
Hours of Tours (departures vary slightly by season): Early Bird Tour: 8:45 AM, Day Tour: 9:10 AM, 9:30 AM, 10:00 AM, 10:30 AM, 11:00 AM, 11:30 AM, 12:00 PM, 12:30 PM, 1:05 PM, 1:35 PM, Night Tour: 3:50 PM and 4:45 PM. Return times: Early Bird/Day Tour: 9:30 AM, 9:50 AM, 10:25 AM, 10:55 AM, 11:25 AM, 11:55 AM, 12:25 PM, 12:55 PM, 1:30 PM, 2:00 PM, 2:35 PM, 3:05 PM, 3:45 PM, 4:25 PM, Night Tour: 6:40 PM and 7:40 PM. Spring/Summer ferry schedule (March 13, 2018 – November 5, 2018): Departure times: Early Bird Tour: 8:45 AM, Day Tour: 9:10 AM, 9:30 AM, 10:00 AM, 10:30 AM, 11:00 AM, 11:30 AM, 12:00 PM, 12:30 PM, 1:00 PM, 1:30 PM, 2:10 PM, 2:40 PM, 3:20 PM, 3:50 PM, Night Tour: 5:55 PM, and 6:30 PM. Return times: Early Bird/Day Tour: 9:30 AM, 9:55 AM, 10:25 AM, 10:55 AM, 11:25 AM, 11:55 AM, 12:25 PM, 12:55 PM, 1:25 Pm, 1:55 PM, 2:35 PM, 3:10 PM, 3:45 PM, 4:15 PM, 4:45 PM, 5:15 PM, 5:55 PM, 6:30 PM, Night Tour: 8:40 PM and 9:25 p.m.
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