The Delta flight from Honolulu involved a couple of hours stop over in Los Angeles and we arrived in San Jose California at 7 am after collecting our baggage a free shuttle from line 10 outside the airport whisked us off to Santa Clara railway station and $22 in the station machine purchased 2 tickets on the Caltrain to San Francisco which took just short of an hour to reach its destination on 4th street by 1 pm .
I had booked a room via AirBnB at 1459 Powell Street that we were advised was in a good location, however, on arrival we found it was in the middle of Chinatown and not what we had been expecting and so we sat in an Italian Restaurant and whilst eating a meal and spent time finding alternate accommodation via Bookings.com which we eventually found at The Coventry Inn an $11 Uber ride away in Cow Hollow which is situated in a safe area between Golden Gate Bridge and Fishermans Wharf.
After checking in I spent the next few hours asleep exhausted from the trip and lack of sleep. When I woke up we decided to walk and see what we could find to eat nearby. Our first choice "The Brazen Head " was fully booked so disappointed we headed off to our second choice a Spanish Tapas restaurant "Algrias" that did not look welcoming so we settled on "Chicken n Waffles" on Lombard street where a meal of the above mentioned chicken and waffles was hard to swallow even with the help of a carafe of warm Sake and so $43 lighter in our pockets we returned to the hotel to plan the next few days on Frisco and to see if we could be lucky in a choice of eateries for the rest of the trip.
Next day we decided to head down to check out Fishermans Wharf which was only a short bus ride away and at the bus stop outside The Dorian Bar where there was no actual bus stop sign we met a friendly local lady who took it on herself to help us catch the correct bus and get off at the correct stop after which she took us to Ghiradelli Square which is an amazing group of shops owned by one company selling chocolate and Ice cream but the trick she showed us was that if you enter two of the shops there are ladies there giving away free samples of different types of chocolate - Result.
She then pointed us down the hill where a short walk would bring us to Pier 39 and left in the opposite direction American hospitality at its best.
We then walked along the Fisherman Wharfs and decided to have lunch in a Restaurant called "The Pompeii Grotto" where two fish specials and a beer and a glass of wine sitting outside watching the world go by set me back $40.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent around Pier 39 which is probably the best known and busiest of the piers where there are bars, restaurants and shops as well as rides for the kids and street performers as well as the famous San Francisco Bay Sea lions always happy to put on a show for spectators.
The view from the end of the pier is one of the best for The Golden Gate Bridge, The Island Prison of Alcatraz & The Oakland Bay Bridge.
As it was the evening of The Chinese Parade in China Town to celebrate their Chinese New Year we decided to walk what we thought was a short hop to China Town unfortunately the Parade took place on the other side of China Town and it took about an hour of walking through the streets where firecrackers were being set off to the enjoyment of the locals before we found a space at the end of the parade to watch.
I have to mirror my partners thoughts that were the parade that was being televised as a major event in San Francisco was very disappointing in comparison to the ones we have in Spain although the bangs from the fire crackers and explosions from others won by a long chalk.
Luckily for us we found the number 30 bus stop and caught the bus from ChinaTown all the way back to our Hotel and after dropping off our bags we set out to find something to eat. Although we were spoilt for choice where we were staying, as it was Saturday Night, everywhere we asked was booked up, until a very nice young man managed to squeeze us in to a cubicle in "The Dorian" which was heaving with youngsters out on the town on a Saturday night. After a burger and fries washed down by a pint (what else) we headed back to the hotel.
The next morning we started the day off with a breakfast at an American fast food place called "Mels Diner" that we had passed on the way back to the hotel the previous evening which was great, ok, so it cost $50 for 2 breakfasts but everything in America is expensive , right.
We caught an Uber Cab to Pier 33 at Fishermans Wharf where you pick up the Official Alcatraz Cruise boat which cost us $13.00 which we later found out we could have reached on the number 30 bus for $1.50 each - Hey Ho, next time. Horrors, when we arrived we found out that all cruises had been cancelled due to the high winds that were causing choppy seas making it unsafe for boat travel, however, the tickets would be good for the next day weather permitting.
Tickets for the Tour can be bought at various outlets and on line sites at varying prices - The official site is www.alcatrazcruises.com and the cost of a day ticket for an adult 18 - 61 is $39.90 and for Seniors over 62 it reduces to $37.65.
We had booked tickets on line for "The Big Bus" San Francisco of which there are different Tickets at different prices but the one that suited us was The Deluxe 2 day Ticket which for $67.20 included three routes which allowed you to see all the best landmarks and attractions, a panoramic Night Tour, entry to Madame Tussaud's as well as a Chinatown walking tour and a free hour's bike rental from Blazing Saddles.
We decided to make the most of our disappointing start and hopped aboard the Double Decker open top bus at stop #1 to enjoy the Red Route which takes 2 hours 20 minutes to complete the whole circuit so we decided to stay on without hopping off and take in all the sights from Union Square to Fisherman's Wharf, from the Embarcadero to Haight & Ashbury. And then best of all, over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, giving us top-deck views of one of the country's most amazing vistas. The tour features both English-speaking live guides, and a pre-recorded digital commentary, and although you can hop off at any of our stops to explore the city at your own pace, we stayed on all the way to the other side of the Bridge.
Then we transferred onto the Green Line at stop Stop #11 just to say we had to visited to the seaside enclave of Sausalito, just to the north of Golden Gate Bridge. The side trip takes about 90 minutes with just enough time to have a look at all the craft shops and grab a souvenir or an Ice Cream from a branch of Ghiradellis before climbing back on the bus to be transported back to the Red Line stop at the bridge.
We arrived back at Pier 39 and needed warming up as that trip on top of the bus was cold, so we grabbed a Mc Donalds meal and a coffee right by the Big Bus Offices and afterwards took advantage of the Ticket to enter Madame Tussaud's Wax Works to kill some time and have our pictures taken with some famous characters see how many you can name before clicking on the pictures to see if you are correct.
We managed to tear ourselves away from the fun we were having in time to get to the front of the bus queue for the Big Bus San Francisco Sightseeing Panoramic Night Tour. There are only 2 a night one at 6.30 pm and one at 7.00 pm where, as advertised you can discover the beauty of the city as it lights up in the evening on our San Francisco Night Tour. The Night Tour passes through vibrant Embarcadero, Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown and the Financial District before crossing the Bay Bridge for photos at Treasure Island.
Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so please aim to arrive 20-30 minutes before your preferred tour time. Note This is not a hop-on, hop-off tour and if you are going to sit up top make sure you dress warmly as it is cold no matter what time of year.
On our return we decided to splash out on a nice Italian Seafood Meal at the wharf and chose "Restaurant Cioppino's" which did not disappoint and I would highly recommend this place. The meal for 2 with a carafe of white wine came to $88.00 and the service and the food was worth every cent. A short walk to the bus stop at Ghiradelli Square and the No. 30 whisked us back to our Hotel.
Up early the next day and the sun was getting up with us and after another breakfast at "Mel's Diner" we hopped on the No. 30 bus and made it to Pier 33 to find that the Alcatraz trips were going ahead and we were lined up for the 10 am boat and were soon on our way.
The ferry departs from Pier 33 every 30 minutes and the trip across the bay to Alcatraz takes 20 minutes including transfers on to dry land.
As soon as you arrive there is a Ranger waiting in the dock who explains the procedure and where to collect the headphones for the guided tour but first we all paraded into a cinema built into the walls and watched a history of how the prison came into existence who the Governors were and some of the famous inmates that had been housed there. The film lasted about 30 minutes and was very interesting and sets you up for the guided tour.
The headphones guide you through the prison from where a prisoner first steps through the door, strips, showers and is incarcerated into the Rock. It shows the prison in all its faults and recount stories of how guards families lived on the Island with their children going to the mainland daily for lessons and the austere conditions in the cell blocks as well as the attempted breakouts.
I have posted a selection of pictures to show conditions as well as pictures of some of the high profile prisoners you may have heard of and one you may not as it was kept a secret shared by only those holding the highest security clearance
George "MachineGun" Kelly Alphonse "Al" Capone Robert "Birdman" Strauss Lynda "Mad Ma" Marlow
The visit to the Island can be for as long as you like as long as you catch the last ferry back to the mainland which leaves the dock at 4.25 pm. In the summer months there is more to see than in the winter with the tour of the gardens worth a stroll but all in all 2 hours is plenty of time.
We got back from Alcatraz early afternoon and Lynda decided to allow me to relive my teens by using our Big Bus Ticket to revisit a district of San Francisco made famous in the 60's by flower power and hippies for those of the same era as me here are some images to reminisce over.
I was amazed to see that 50 years after listening to songs from The Mamas and Papas, Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Scott McKenzie about peace and Love and The Flower Pot Men sang "Lets go to San Francisco" the ones that did seem to be stuck in a time loop. Believe it or not 1524 Haight Street still advertises itself as Jimmy Hendrix Red House / Ashbury Tobacco Centre and still sells Pipes and waterpipes.
Leaving my past behind we head back on the Red Line and alight at a stop close to our hotel bringing the day and our time in San Francisco to a close. Tomorrow morning it's an Uber taxi to San Francisco airport Terminal 1 and a 15.05 flight to Heathrow arriving 09.40 am.