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Published: August 6th 2016
Oakland Bay Bridge
Early morning view across to the Oakland Bay Bridge.
Despite the late night, we were all up and ready to go excessively early as we were still on UK time. I even managed to fit in an early walk to the Oakland Bay Bridge before breakfast.
After breakfast, it was off into San Francisco to explore. Our hotel was near Fisherman's Wharf which, despite the early hour, was starting to buzz with life. Lots of fish and bread to eat and the inevitable tourist tat shops full of "I ❤️ SF" t-shirts and the like. A few purchases were sadly unavoidable.
We loved the sourdough sculptures in the window of one bakery.
It was a hard, uphill walk to Lombard Street, or at least one small section of it, which is the "most crooked" street in the world. You can understand why it needs to wind down the excessively steep hill, however all the other excessively steep street in San Francisco seem to cope ok (although some of the scared the hell out of us). It is great to see all the cars winding down it (something that we said we will have a go at later). It must be a right pain for the people who
The Elephant Seals relaxing on Fisherman's Wharf.
actually live there, although they must have known that lines of tourists would be driving down for the sake of driving down when they bought the houses in the first place. That and the obligation to manicure the gardens, which are all ornate and fantastically well maintained.
After the climb to the top, we decided to go for a ride on the cable-car. The cable-car in San Francisco is not like one of those high up in the mountains of an Alpine ski resort (although given the hills in San Francisco that could probably work quite well). The cable actually runs continuously under the road and the driver has a leaver that he uses to grip the cable, which then pulls along the car. Ingenious.
A cable-car arrived and it was heaving, with people almost hanging out of the windows as if it was a trains-India express. One of the good things about getting on at the top of Lombard street is that it is where almost everyone was getting off. We hopped on, easily found a seat and paid our fare, but one of the bad things about getting on at the top of Lombard Street is
Coit Tower View
The view towards the Financial District from the top of the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.
that the end of the line was just at the bottom of the hill. $28 to go a couple of hundred yards downhill. We were not happy. Mugged-off #2 according to our daughter. My wife kicked-off at the driver, a bloke in a so called Customer Service booth and some poor, unsuspecting security guard, who actually turned-out to be the most sympathetic and gave us the details of who to complain to.
We walked back through the Fisherman's Wharf area, stopping at Pier 39, which was the most developed, albeit with more tourist tat shops. There is an area beside the pier where all the seals hangout, slobbing, fighting, singing, flirting, sleeping and generally being surprisingly entertaining for all the people watching from the pier.
Next we headed for Telegraph Hill. We thought Lombard Street was steep but that was nothing compared to Telegraph Hill. We found some steps and set about climbing. My daughter was deep into a teenage rebellion but could be pacified as the top of the steps was in sight. When she discovered that that was only half way and there was another flight of steps to go we had a complete mutiny on
Sculptures made out of sourdough on Fisherman's Wharf.
The steps passed through some fantastic, well kept gardens, with lots of sculptures and various other items to look at. A lady on her way down pointed out a statue of a tiger. Apparently this was in honour of a tiger called Ariana who had been killed by the keepers in her zoo when some nutter had climbed into her enclosure. Not unlike that poor bear recently.
We also saw a sign warning of coyotes, which are dangerous and should not be approached. When I was out for my walk earlier I saw what I thought was a dog, watching me with its bright, reflective eyes. I just ignored it and strolled past. I assume now that it was a coyote, but ignorance was bliss at the time.
On top of Telegraph Hill is the Coit Tower. With the prospect of more climbing, my daughter refused to go anywhere near it. My son and I decided it would be a waste not go to the top, but we were relieved to see that there was a lift. There was quite a long queue, but that gave us some time to enjoy the stunning murals that
I 'Heart' SF
The entry stamp for the Coit Tower.
covered the inside of the base of the tower. Unusually there were no 'green-screen' photos, which seem to be inevitable for any tower, bridge or monument in the USA. The views from the top were stunning.
We then walked down into China Town, which was lively, busy and full of energy as you would expect, with touts giving out leaflets about their shops and restaurants.
After a short break for something to drink, we needed to quickly motor back to the harbour (pier 33 to be exact) as we were booked on to the Alcatraz tour.
After the now slightly less than inevitable 'green-screen' photo we all crowded on to the ferry. The audio tour is now a standard part the ticket and it remains absolutely fantastic. The commentary is by actual prisoners and prison officers who served on the island, interjected with the sounds of when the prison was occupied. It really gave a feeling of what it was like, which fascinated my son and disturbed my daughter.
We made sure we all started our audio at the same time so we were together as we went round. The audio guides you round the cell
The mask made to hide the fact that a prisoner had escaped from Alcatraz.
block telling you to stop at various points and describes significant events, notable prisoners or the usual day-to-day activities associated with those points. Different parts of the block had been given names from the outside world, such as Broadway, Times Square and Maddison Avenue. My son and daughter particularly liked the story of the spaghetti riot. The food at Alcatraz was apparently of a really high standard as it would help to keep the prisoners happy. But one day the prisoners vowed that if the less than satisfactory spaghetti was served again then it was all going to kick-off. The spaghetti was served so all the tables were turned over and there was an all-out riot.
Despite the riots, the prison officers lived on the island along with their wives and children in what was a safe and self-contained community, complete with a shop and a school.
It is clear why (according to Trip Advisor) Alcatraz is the number one tourist attraction in America and number eight in the world.
One of our favourite restaurant chains in America is the Cheesecake Factory, which, in San Francisco is on the eighth floor of Macy's. It was chaos up there, but with the help of a pager, we eventually got a table outside where, despite the efforts of some patio heaters, it was freezing. It spoilt the meal a bit, although the cheesecake was to die for.
My son, who is 18, was frustrated however as the minimum age to buy alcohol here is 21 so he is having to go without.
Our very long and packed day was not done yet. We went to see the Painted Ladies for some night photos, but that was a massive disappointment. The viewing are was undergoing a restoration and was dug-up and fenced-off. And the fog was moving in again, so we wrote it off as a bad job.
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