Alcatraz – Day 74


Day 74 – June 13, 2003 – Friday

We spent a wonderful day with son Ryan in San Francisco, California. In addition to an Internet business, Ryan owns a tour company (see, and we got the deluxe tour. When you travel to San Francisco or anywhere in North America, please contact Ryan’s company for tours. 

The tour of Alcatraz departs daily from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Alcatraz was used as a federal maximum security prison from 1934 until 1963, when it was closed due to high costs and security issues. Allowing tourists to visit Alcatraz has proven far more popular and much more profitable. Many tourists come to San Francisco and are disappointed when they can’t get tickets to Alcatraz. Alcatraz is so popular that tours are often sold out a week or more in advance, and there are often long lines at Fisherman’s Wharf, and you never know what times or dates will be available until you get up to the ticket window. The best way to ensure a tour at the right time for you is to book a tour as far in advance as possible. Son Ryan is one of the biggest tour operators handling Alcatraz tours, so getting to Alcatraz has not been a problem for us. See

Ryan’s company offers two tours — a City Tour with Alcatraz or a Muir Woods – Sausalito Tour with Alcatraz. If you’ve never gotten a good look at the many sights of San Francisco, the City Tour with Alcatraz is best. In about five hours, you see Alcatraz and the major sights in San Francisco. It would take much longer if you tried to find each of the sights on your own, and the tour guides provide a lot of great information. If you’ve seen San Francisco but have never seen the nearby redwood forest, then take the Muir Woods – Sausalito Tour with Alcatraz. Alcatraz is the most popular tourist attraction in San Francisco, so it really is a must-see.

The Alcatraz Tour begins with a ferry boat ride from Fisherman’s Wharf over to Alcatraz Island. It’s an erie feeling as you approach the island and think about the stories you’ve heard or read and the movies you’ve seen about Alcatraz aka The Rock. The tours are self-guided with a great audio tour that provides fascinating information. The tour includes a movie about Alcatraz history and a 35 minute audio headset tour of the Alcatraz cell block. This tour is available in seven languages: English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. After the tour, there is time to visit the Alcatraz Museum, the bookshop, and to just wander around the island. The museum contains interesting displays and artifacts, but we enjoyed the cell block tour the most. Al Capone’s cell is marked, and we saw where the Birdman of Alcatraz spent his time, but few cells are marked, and the audio tour is the only way to know who was in what cell and what happened where.

The cell block has been maintained, but parts of Alcatraz have been destroyed or deteriorated. The Warden’s House was destroyed by fire when Indians took control of Alcatraz a few years ago. You can stay at Alcatraz as long as you like, but it takes two hours to get a good look — longer if you like to read a lot of what is offered in the museum. Once we felt we had a good tour, we went back and caught the next ferry (they run every 30 to 45 minutes going back to Fisherman’s Wharf).

City Tour sightseeing includes three or four scheduled stops of 10 to 25 minutes at selected sights, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Twin Peaks, the Palace of Fine Arts, Cliff House, and City Hall. We also saw the Marina, Nob Hill, Chinatown, the Financial District, Presidio, Golden Gate Park, Civic Center, and North Beach. This is the most popular tour in San Francisco, and it is an excellent way to see San Francisco in a short period of time. It would have taken us a day or longer to see all of this…with a lot of frustration in the always jammed streets of San Francisco.

San Francisco is such a beautiful place.

In addition to Alcatraz, we saw the sights of Fisherman’s Wharf, took a walking tour of Chinatown, saw a building with furniture all over the outside of the building, saw beautiful Victorian homes, drove down the crookedest street in the world, enjoyed Musee Mecanique, had lunch at Ryan’s favorite spot, and had a delicious gourmet dinner prepared by Ryan’s personal chef (a lady who prepared gourmet meals and delivered them to Ryan’s home).

Chinatown is fun to see, and the food is great. Enter Chinatown at the Dragon’s Gate at Bush and Grant Streets. This gate was a gift to San Francisco from the Republic of China in 1969. The characters above the gate translate to read “Everything in the world is in just proportions.” San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of North America’s largest Chinese communities. It covers 18 square blocks centered along Grant and Stockton, bordered by Bush and Columbus. The streets are lined with restaurants, shops, and trading companies. Souvenirs, silk, jade, and antiques are all offered from numerous vendors. Ross Alley is located between Grant and Stockton and runs from Jackson to Washington. Ross Alley was once lined with opium dens and brothels, and it has been a backdrop in many movies, including “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” “Karate Kid II,” and “Big Trouble in Little China.” The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company is a fun stop. You can see how fortune cookies are made. Other attractions in Chinatown include the Chinese Cultural Center, Portsmouth Square, and Old St. Mary’s Church (built in 1852, it was one of the few buildings to escape the fire of 1906).

Fisherman’s Wharf is the hot spot in San Francisco. Lots to see and buy, and even more people. There are fishing boats, fish restaurants, shops of all types, museums, and various street entertainers (folks spraypainted silver, reggae bands, and the like). Across the street from Fisherman’s Wharf are a wide variety of shops and attractions, including the Wax Museum.

Musee Mecanique is very interesting. It is a museum filled with fully operational arcade games of all types. It was really a treat to see all of these wonderful old games, fortune tellers, and other attractions. We especially liked the looks of the shop “After The Quake” as it looks like what’s left after an earthquake did serious damage. San Francisco is the headquarters for several chocolate companies, so there’s always plenty of chocolate to be had.

Ryan took us around Sausalito for a few minutes. He lived in Sausalito when he first moved to the area, so we’ve seen it before. It’s a beautiful area surrounded by some of the most expensive homes in the San Francisco area. We went down to the marina and saw some of the yachts that Ryan rents for VIP tours. We also saw some multimillion dollar houseboats! We had lunch at the Sausalito Gourmet Deli — Ryan’s favorite spot for lunch. The sandwiches were great as was the carrot cake, and the folks who own and operate it were delightful. Bozzie Jane and I love Victorian architecture, so we enjoyed just driving around and seeing the beautifully restored Victorian homes. The real estate is outrageous here. A home that might sell for $150,000 in Atlanta could be $750,000 here. Many people will live in the San Francisco area their whole lives and never own a home.

Just about everyone has heard of the crookedest street in the world. It’s Lombard Street in San Francisco. It is one giant curve after another — speed limit is 5 miles-per-hour. It’s impossible to drive any faster due to the turns and the ever-present tourists taking the drive. We never saw it when we lived here, so we enjoyed taking the drive today.

High on our Quirk-o-meter for San Francisco was the building with furniture all over the outside. We asked a man in the street, and he gave us general directions. Then Ryan called a friend who got us to the right place. It’s an abandoned tenement at Sixth and Howard streets (rough part of town). Artist Brian Groggin launched a project he called “Defenestration” — defined as the act of throwing something or someone out a window. Furniture hangs out windows and runs down the side of the four-story building. There are over 30 pieces of furniture and home appliances welded and rigged to the two street sides of the empty building. There are also a variety of sideshow-like pieces of art surrounding the building. The building was for sale on March 9, 1997 when Brian held an Urban Circus to do the installation, and the building was still for sale (with or without the furniture). If in a safer part of town, it could be the ideal location for our collection of hotel shampoo and ballpoint pens. See

We met several of Ryan’s friends and business associates today including Chris the Airborne driver.

We met Vanessa in Chinatown as well as some folks from Washington state and Geesa and Kim from Germany.

We had no problems on Friday the Thirteenth, but one of Ryan’s tour buses did have mechanical problems out in the Muir Woods redwood forest, so that tour took a little longer than planned. We were impressed with how another tour operator came to Ryan’s aid by dispatching an idle bus.

Always enjoy every moment you can with your children as you never know when they will move completely across the country to California.

The Daily Journal of Round America:

Each day, we collect our thoughts on a web page just like this. We drop in some of the photos from the day. Our goal with the Daily Journal is to write about the towns we visit, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat. We write about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, but we also make observations about what we’ve seen and done as well as about life in general.

You can follow our travels from the Daily Journal section of this website. Other pages of interest include the running report of “vital statistics” on the Trip Scorecard, our nominations for the Best & Worst of the trip, as well as a rating of the pie we eat. If you’d like to see information for a specific state or town, click here, and then click on the state of interest, and the full itinerary is shown.


More Information on the Sights Visited Today:
San Francisco California — Alcatraz — Chinatown — Defenstration — Crookedest Street in the World — Sausalito California