Get ready for Day 5 of our California to Oregon road trip recap!
In May 2013 we drove 1,840 miles from San Diego, California to Portland, Oregon. Just two states but we covered such a significant part of the west coast which included over five national parks, three breweries, three factory tours, a visit to one of the best restaurants in the world, and countless other amazing things along the way. As you can see we avoided Los Angeles and the coast, which was done on purpose to diversify our California experience. Check out our route:
Day 5 began our two full day stay in San Francisco. Normally on a road trip we are just passing through in any given place, even in the bigger cities, so having two full days in San Fran was really exciting. It gave us a break from driving and the road, and allowed us to fully explore this awesome city.
Up first – Alcatraz! We reserved tickets for the first tour of the day and took the Alcatraz Cruises ferry to the island. The views of the San Francisco skyline from the boat were awesome.
And off in the distance, the Golden Gate Bridge with the last bit of morning fog rolling out.
Alcatraz from the ferry:
The location of Alcatraz is, of course, strategic for many reasons but it’s so cool that it’s in the bay because the views are amazing.
There are many buildings on the island (old and new, administrative and residences) but the actual prison is the building at the very top of the island with the lighthouse coming up out of it.
Welcome to The Rock! Early settlers and explorers referenced the island as The Rock simply because that’s what it was. They didn’t pay much attention to it since it was resource-less and they couldn’t easily quarry the rock there. Over time the nickname took on multiple meanings but originally, it was called a rock because it was a rock.
Alcatraz has a long and extremely interesting history. In addition to being a famous prison it was also a military fortification, was taken over by American Indians for a time, and is now a nature preserve.
During the military garrison days (1853 to mid-1900’s), Alcatraz served as a defensive base in the bay.
A model of Military Point Alcatraz, 1866–1868:
From 1969 to 1971 Alcatraz was taken over by Native American activists who occupied the island to protest federal policies related to American Indians. They demanded reparation for the many treaties broken by the US government and for the lands which were taken from many Native American tribes. As a result, the U.S. government eventually returned unused land to the Taos, Yakama, Navajo and Washoe tribes. The occupation ended on June 11, 1971.
More recently, Alcatraz has become a nature preserve. It’s a sanctuary for thousands of nesting seabirds and is home to some beautiful flora as well. Gardens on Alcatraz were originally planted by members of the military and have been restored by local nature conservancies.
How cute are these goslings we saw?!
In 1972 Alcatraz became a national recreation area and received designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
The thing I found the most amazing about Alcatraz is that despite it’s long and storied past, you can still see the remnants each individual piece of the island’s history to this day. It’s pretty amazing that it has all been preserved and that the history of the island has been told for this long.
But on to the prison! Since the prison itself is at the top of the island you have to walk about a quarter mile uphill to get to it. You pass many of the old administrative military buildings and gorgeous gardens as you go.
Here’s a pretty good view of the hairpin turn leading from the bottom of the island to the top of the island:
The US Disciplinary Barracks on Alcatraz were acquired by the US Department of Justice on October 12, 1933 and the island became a federal prison in August 1934.
There was a self guided tour that took about an hour that led us through the entire prison.
The solitary confinement area was pretty ominous. The guided tour narration suggested standing inside one of the cells for a few minutes but I couldn’t step foot in there. Too creepy!
We also toured through the prison library.
And saw some exhibits about the inmates and life inside the prison.
While it was in use, some of the most famous criminals held were Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, Mickey Cohen, Arthur R. “Doc” Barker, and James “Whitey” Bulger. (Whitey Bulger is from our neighborhood, have I mentioned that before?)
Due to increased operating costs and salt water erosion, the Alcatraz prison closed on March 21, 1963. During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary claimed that no prisoner successfully escaped.
The tour led us outside at the top of the island and the views of San Francisco from that vantage point were also incredible:
After the tour we went through the gift shop and bought a bunch of souvenirs. It was kind of cool to see the all the movies made about Alcatraz over the years.
The ferry ride back to San Francisco was quick and so nice. The weather in San Fran was simply lovely – high 60s, not a cloud in the sky, light breeze. Just perfection.
We got another set of great skyline views on the ferry ride back as well.
Back on land, we headed to the Ferry Building.
I didn’t expect too much in terms of the eateries in the Ferry Building since I assumed they would have that kind of dumbed down mass tourist appeal but I was totally and completely wrong on that. They have so many vendors doing amazing, unique, and very niche things with their food. I was extremely impressed.
John wanted to stop immediately at Boccalone (owned by Chris Cosentino) for a meat cone.
We then got lunch proper at Prather Ranch Meat Company. My grilled pork loin sandwich was super good.
After lunch we walked around and checked out all the vendors at the Ferry Building.
There was so much to see and do in here! Much like Fanueil Hall here in Boston.
Cowgirl Creamery teased us with all of their yummy looking cheeses but we planned to come back the next day.
Our final stop in the Ferry Building was Miette, the french inspired patisserie.
It’s so cute and feminine! I love Miette, I’ve been following them and their cookbook for years.
We got a little afternoon treat – how could we resist?
After that super busy morning and early afternoon we headed back to our hotel for some downtime. We thought we’d do some laundry while we recharged but the hotel didn’t have a washer/dryer. Ugh! So we ended up walking a few blocks to the local laundromat and doing a few loads of laundry there. Not the most glamorous activity but totally necessary on a road trip!
A few hours later we were looking to get back out and explore San Francisco. We headed over to the Mission district and walked around a bit.
Overall the Mission wasn’t horrible but we thought it was a little shady with a lot of unsavory characters lurking around. Not an area we’d go back to (except we did the next day, kinda by accident). The architecture was really pretty though.
After that it was dinnertime! We headed to Seven Hills restaurant in the Nob Hill neighborhood. The meal was perfection. I had the turkey meatballs to start and they were, without question, the best meatballs I have ever had. They were served with garlic bread that was so delicious, I could eat like 8 loaves of the stuff. For dinner I had the penne with chicken bolognese which was equally amazing. I don’t eat red meat and was extremely impressed that the offerings at Seven Hills had so much (unbelievably tasty) white meat options. Usually I have to pass on meatballs and bolognese but I got to have both! For dessert we had the cookies and cream sundae which was just over the top good, of course.
Totally stuffed, we walked back to the hotel to crash for the night. It’s kind of difficult to walk these mega insane San Francisco hills when you are full of delicious Italian food!
Check this out. I took this photo on top of one hill looking over to another. If you look closely you can make out the crest of the other hill in the distance. Isn’t that insane? My poor quads.
Stay tuned for Day 6, our second full day in San Francisco!