While we saw so many top sights yesterday in San Francisco, today we were going back to see a bit more. This time we were taking the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) into the city. I was worried about finding parking for the truck and plus how much it would probably cost! The train was quite easy to take, it picked us up in Dublin (ha!) and dropped us off right at Embarcadero Street, right near the Port of San Francisco. We had our walking shoes on, so we took a nice leisurely stroll by many of the Piers. Most of them have become touristy with restaurants and other things to do. We spent some time at Pier 39 where we saw lots of restaurants, street entertainment, views of the bay and knick-knack shops. We also had yet another bread bowl filled with clam chowder. We’ve had this a couple of times now and it will always remind us of the central coast of California!
The experience we were looking forward to the most was going to Alcatraz – the “Rock”. The boys (all 3-ha!) were so excited for this. What is interesting and unique about Alcatraz is that it is a National Park Monument, falling under the umbrella of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. So yes, you guessed it, Woody was bound and determined to become a Junior Park Ranger at Alcatraz!
What surprised me the most was how not scary or creepy the island was. In my mind, it was going to be like a scary ghost story, but it was all just pretty educational telling the history of the island and how it came to be. Originally the island was home to the Native Americans. During the civil war, the government put a fort on it to protect the Bay Area. The gold in the area was very important to protect during that time. At some time, it changed hands to become a high-level prison, housing the worst of the worst. I don’t think it was a prison for much more than 30 years, and at some point, it just became too expensive to keep open. When deciding what to do with it, it became seized by Native American activists that occupied it for around 2 years, demanding the US government give it back to them. This occupation, while not successful in returning Alcatraz to them, did spark a huge shift in treating Native Americans and their reservations more justly and fairly.
On the ferry out to the island, it was cool to see Alcatraz get closer, and the view of downtown was so neat. The city almost looked Mediterranean with the colors and the hills and the piers and boats.
Woody’s Junior Ranger program really does help not just him but the rest of us learn more about the Parks we visit. There were neat trees, flowers, birds and buildings to check out. The main tour was through the cell blocks. They gave everyone their own headphones to do a listening tour for the different cell blocks. It kept people moving through the building, gave great history and told great stories of the inmates, workers and families of workers that lived on the island. Did you know that kids who lived on the island took a boat into the city every day for school? How cool?!
When we were finished with the tour, they really do corral you out. But Woody was pretty sure he saw a set of stairs we could take from within to see more. He asked an employee about them who directed us to a park ranger, who directed us to a volunteer docent. That docent happened to be taking another family to a private area where they took the Alcatraz prisoner’s mug shots. We were able to take our own mug shots in the exact same place! After that, Woody inquired about the steps he thought he saw, but somehow the docent mistook them for another set of stairs that led to the basement/dungeon/Citedel. (what’s funny, is that Woody never did figure out where the steps his original question was about, but by now it was ok because he knew something even cooler was happening!)
The docent was apparently very excited to show this private area off because once the idea had come up, he then led us on about an hour of a private tour! First off, the boys got to use an original key, and it was HUGE(!), to unlock a gate to get into a different part of the cell block. We then went down stairs, and at the bottom we all needed to put on hard hats. In the past 10 years or so, they had put over 30 million dollars into rehabbing and updating the basement as parts of its foundation was crumbling and becoming unstable. This was the foundation of the old citadel, which was originally 3 stories, but they had gotten rid of the top 2 floors and left the basement. Here we saw where they had at times left prisoners in a dungeon like atmosphere -the docent turned off all the lights for us so we could “see” what it would feel like to be stuck down here! YIKES! We saw other places where they stored equipment and where soldiers may have lived. It was quite exciting to be down there. Woody’s curiosity had come in handy!
We had spent all afternoon at Alcatraz. Yes, Woody did become a junior ranger and got a pretty cool wooden badge for doing so. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to stay overnight there so we hustled onto the last boat of the day!
Our tummies were grumbling for chocolate (why yes that’s a thing!) so we made our way over to the Ghirardelli Chocolate factory area. We shared a gigantic ice cream sundae with a view of Alcatraz, it was a tasty memory.
Last on our to-do list in San Francisco, and it should be on everyone’s, was to ride the cable car. We had a short walk to the beginning of it, and though we waited a bit to get on, it was fascinating to see how they turned them around with man power. Originally, I had wanted to just sit on the open end, but the only spots available for us 4 were to stand on the outside ledge and hold on! The bells ringing and the brakeman working and going up really steep hills and going down steep hills was unbelievable. We had gotten on right at dusk, and the Bay Bridge was lit up twinkling just for us I think! At one point we were told to make sure our feet were totally inside the car, as we were inches from lane dividing cones! Talk about holding on tight and sucking it all in!
I’m pretty sure we had huge smiles on our faces the whole cable car trip. To have this little taste of the olden days was certainly the cherry on top of our time spend in San Francisco. (MT)