San Francisco Alcatraz Prison

Escape from Alcatraz, Pier 39 & Ghirardelli Square

Due to all the attractions we wanted to see in SF, the most economical and convenient way of seeing the city was to buy a CityPASS. If you’re not familiar with this term, several North American cities have a ticket booklet that allow you a choice of several attractions to visit at a discounted price ($135CAD in total). Some of these cities include Toronto, New York, Chicago and San Francisco. With the San Francisco package, we were admitted to these:

  • 7-day cable car & MUNI bus pass
  • California Academy of Science
  • Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
  • Exploratorium OR de Young Museum
  • Aquarium of the Bay OR Monterey Bay Aquarium

However, we could swap the Cruise Adventure for a day tour to Alcatraz if we pre-ordered the pass. Of course, this is precisely what we did. Since the prison is such a huge part of the San Francisco history, and a major tourist attraction, I figured we had to at least go and see it.

Despite being the most water fearing person (due to my notoriety for getting sea sick), the boat cruise to Alcatraz is a smooth 10 minute ride. I had brought Gravol but forgot to take it in our rush to leave that morning. For any unfortunate people who suffer the same malady as me, I’d say the only time I felt remotely sick was when the boat was docked as the waves were quite strong.

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Inside Alcatraz

Once at Alcatraz, you’re free to wander around the prison yourself, but we decided to take the free audio tour. This was definitely a good decision – the audio tour is fantastic. You’re given a small player with headphones, and the device directs you to key spots in the prison, just like a live tour guide might. It’s also narrated by past prisoners and prison guards, and also includes background noises (ie. prisoners banging on cell doors, music in the prison) to really bring history to life. It’s approximately 45 minutes to an hour, if you pause the player at certain places.

The island isn’t big, and we were back on the mainland within 2.5 hours. Once there, we hopped over to Pier 39 and ate at the famous Bistro Boudin (160 Jefferson St). They’re most well known for their Sourdough Bread Bowl, so we both decided to try that. Hannah was in bread heaven.

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Bistro Boudin’s Clam Chowder Sourdough Bread Bowl

If you eat here, you can take the upstairs museum tour for free. Otherwise, it is $3 to enter. Here, we watched them make their daily batches of bread by hand and by machine. It was pretty cool to see them create bread from beginning to end.

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Other attractions at Pier 39 include the Aquarium of the Bay. My camera ran out of battery at this point, so there are no more photos for today (except those on my 4 year old phone camera). Frankly though, the aquarium was nothing spectacular. I personally believe the Ripley Aquarium in Toronto or Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium are much bigger with more things to see. However, since it came with the CityPASS, we were obligated to check it out. I do wonder if the Monterey Bay Aquarium would have been more worth it, but it was way out of the way and not even in San Francisco.

Our last stop was Ghirardelli Square to pick up some chocolates for souvenirs at the famous factory. There are a bunch of small, cute independent shops in the plaza to look around as well. We also prepared our stomachs here for dinner by means of a giant ice cream fudge dessert 😉

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Ghirardelli Square

We ate dinner at the Buena Vista Cafe (2765 Hyde St) along the Pier, which is famous for its Irish coffee. However, one cup of gold cost $10, and I couldn’t bring myself to spend that amount of money on a drink that might have caused me to stay up until 6am the next morning. Curse the biology of caffeine. Our waitress recommended we try anything with crab though because the restaurant catches the crab and cooks it fresh. So, one crab quiche and one crab salad later, we went home to rest up for another day.

All personal photos – KW

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