Day 45: Finally get to actually see San Francisco!

Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
Trip End Jul 29, 2010

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Where I stayed
Chez Kao-Chow, Sunnyvale

Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, July 15, 2010

Route: From Sunnyvale, CA to San Francisco, CA (and back of course!)
Kilometres: probably 100ish, via Caltrain

Even though we booked last weekend, today (Thursday) was the earliest day any tours of Alcatraz were available – at 9:30am nonetheless! Alas, we planned to hit San Fran working traffic with them, getting on the 7am Caltrain bullet train heading north, then eventually figuring out how to take the MUNI trains (the light transport trains, that run on cables at street level, many looking like cable cars) to the right pier where the start of our tour departed.

We loaded onto the Alcatraz-island bound ferry, giving great views of the entire bay (with some fog still over the Golden Gate bridge of course). We arrived on the island, and watched the quick intro doco about Alcatraz – letting the masses go ahead before we went and got our headsets. Everyone who comes to Alcatraz gets access to a self-guided narrated tour, in which they give you a headset and you listen to it as it walks you through the entire prison block and gives you many recounts and stories of what it was like to be on Alcatraz while it was open and filled with prisoners. It's really well done and gives you an excellent idea of Alcatraz at its prime – and it’s always funny to watch hundreds of people wandering around the prison in headsets, in silence, looking at the same things and turning into people suddenly, not realising who’s around them as they are so engrossed in the stories when the recording tells them to turn. What’s also neat is that you can go into many cells, plus see examples of what cells may have looked like in their day, and examples of what escapes looked like too. There’s so much more history of Alcatraz Island after the prison shut down too, which is also fascinating, plus the amount of vegetation and wildlife that is being so well preserved.

The only tour we were able to book on was a double-bill: Alcatraz and Angel Island. We both had no clue what Angel Island was about, and the website didn’t inform much, but it was a pleasant surprise when we got there! We had to take a small hybrid ferry about 30mins further into the bay, and were dropped off for a tram tour of the entire island. We toured through and learned about the many forts and barracks that were on the island, and used prominently throughout many wars. There was also the extensive vegetation and wildlife that had been cultivated on the island, and the most pleasant spot of all – an impeccable view looking back onto the San Francisco Bay! The weather and clouds had actually lifted, and we had a brilliant blue-sky view from the Bay Bridge, through the downtown waterfront, to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was neat to learn about this area in the bay and then we boarded the hybrid ferry back to San Francisco.

With the tour over, it was already mid-afternoon, so we made our way down to crazy-busy-mad part of San Francisco’s piers and found Boudin Bakery – the home of the sourdough! I wanted to come here for the traditional clam chowder in the original sourdough bowl... so yum. Then we walked to Pier 39, a hub for tourists really, and wandered through there awhile. It was kind of disappointing, and kind of sad, to take Cam to see the sea lions docks – I remember going there over the past 10 years or so, and it always being so deafeningly loud and stinky from the hundreds of sea lions crowded on all the docks.... and now there was maybe a couple dozen, on the far docks, all sleeping and barely moving or making a peep. Definitely a different scene from what I remember. Alas, we hopped back onto the MUNI trains in hopes to catch the Giants game that night. Even though we had to wait many trains in order to find some empty room (there were a few tourists about!), our wait was worth it when we stumbled upon a crazy ol’ lady talking loudly on her Bluetooth headset (which was so well hidden she just looked like she was talking to herself), wearing her crazy-looking Skechers (those new ones that look massive and ridiculous and claim to make you lose weight while walking), while pushing her baby carriage which, upon closer inspection, actually contained an ugly-looking pug dog that was dressed, of course, in a baby sailor suit. Needless to say we let her go ahead and push her carriage onto the packed train and watched the people’s faces as they realised what was in the carriage... we’re sure the loud conversation she continued was just as delightful on the packed train!

We finally made it back to AT&T stadium, home of the San Francisco Giants. We bought some great last minute tickets for $20, got some beer & hot dogs & garlic fries (of course), and watched the Giants take on the New York Mets. It was a great game, and another neat stadium to check out. Just before the 9th inning, we decided to take a walk around the entire promenade of the stadium, to check it all from all angles, then made the short trek to the Caltrain station and beat the game crowds to get on the next train back to Sunnyvale.
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