We arrived very early into San Francisco--9:30am PST. While by the end of the day we were paying for it, it was definitely a perk to get there early and really have time to start exploring. We retrieved our luggage immediately after landing, and hopped the tram to the rental car area of San Francisco International Airport. Pickup was quick and easy, and we easily found our way to the 101 and were on the way to the hotel. I had booked us a suite at the Courtyard San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf. The Fisherman's Wharf area is one of the most northern areas of San Francisco, and I highly recommend staying there if you go. It is very convenient to almost everything--and the many reliable options for public transportation make it incredibly easy to get to other areas of SF.
I had requested early check-in, which cannot always be honored if the hotel was fully booked the night before. This was the case for us, but the front desk staff offered to store our luggage as well as park the car so we could begin exploring ASAP. We unloaded everything, turned the car keys over, and off we went. I had booked us a tour of Alcatraz for 1:45pm, so our main goal was to find lunch and fast, as we were hungry and cranky. We began walking down Jefferson Street, the main drag of Fisherman's Wharf.
Soon we stumbled on the famous Boudin Bakery, where San Francisco Sourdough was born.
Part of the fun at Boudin is seeing them bake all kinds of crazy loaves of bread, even offering a "talk to the baker" window from the street where you can watch and interact with the bakers.
J opted for the traditional Clam Chowder in Sourdough Bread bowl, and I had a delicious Grilled Cheese.
I booked the tour about two weeks prior to our trip, as the tours commonly sell out. A ferry takes you from Pier 33 to Alcatraz Island. They suggest allowing 2-2.5 hours for your tour, though you can stay longer if you want, as they do post the return ferry times at both docks. Aside from bottled water and coffee sold on the island, no food or drink is permitted on the island beyond the dock. There is a picnic area there, so packed lunches are permitted only in that area. You can also grab a snack at the refreshment stand on the boat ride over. The ride over was very breezy and the water incredibly choppy. J & I found it amazing that any inmates ever thought they could swim through such conditions in escape attempts.
We were giddy with excitement as we approached Alcatraz, which is most famous for operating as a federal prison from 1934 until 1963, and boasted high-profile inmates like George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Al Capone, and James "Whitey" Bulger. The island is now maintained as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area by the National Park Service. It boasts several rare flowers and plants (many which were planted by guards' families who lived on the island), and is also home to many nesting sea birds.
(Note the nest to the right of the gulls)
(The egg is semi-camouflaged into the nest, bottom right by the stone)
When you arrive on the island, there is a mandatory but brief greeting with a National Park ranger, who gives a rundown of the rules of Alcatraz as well as a brief history of the island. You may then embark on a self-guided audio tour (free of charge) or do like J &I did, and just go off on your own. I'm sure Mama & Papa W got more history and info than we did on the cellhouse and inmates through the audio tour, but J & I also had a great time exploring and learning about all of the buildings and areas of the island. The Alcatraz lighthouse was erected in 1854 and was the first lighthouse on the Pacific Coast.
Our last stop before catching the ferry back was the cellhouse. Very cool and kind of eerie.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and I have to say all the work that the Conservancy and National Park Service has put into restoring the gardens and Alcatraz shows. It really is an amazing place, and the flora and wildlife is as interesting as the prison and related buildings.
J & I got an earlier ferry back, and took a quick spin through Pier 39 to scope out the shops and restaurants. There we stumbled on a farmstand that boasted a lot of fresh, large, home grown fruit, and we greedily scooped up some fresh strawberries, apricots and other items to snack on. We also took a moment to watch the sea lions who live at Pier 39.
Upon our return to the hotel, we opted for a quick pizza dinner nearby at Fisherman's Pizzeria. J had wings, and the rest of us shared a pizza. J & Papa W had beers, I opted for a glass of Chianti. It was a little pricey, but we quickly learned that is to be expected.
Afterwards, we went on a search for ice cream. Mama & Papa W ended up at Coldstone Creamery, while J & I did a little more walking and exploring, ending up at a Ben & Jerry's, then doing a little shopping before stumbling on Hyde Pier, which would soon become a favorite spot for us.
None of us made it past 9:30pm PST, however we quickly realized it was really 12:30am "our" time, and we had started our day 21 hours before in order to catch our early flight. We all slept well that night. Good thing, as we still had 6 days to go...