Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Looking Back: San Francisco, CA with kids - Alcatraz

On our second day in the city we were feeling adventurous and apparently full of energy so we decided to walk all the way down to Pier 33, which is the location for catching the ferry to Alcatraz. The temps were in the mid-60s so it felt great to be walking outside. We came across a little café so my husband and I stopped as we wanted to grab a coffee. It turns out the cafe carried chocolate soy milk so I surprised my kids with these special drinks for our walk!

We made our way through the Financial District, past the Embarcadero, and finally reached our Pier. I purchased our tickets online about 6 weeks ahead of time as it was August when we visited, still at the height of tourist season. When I purchased them there was already one slot sold out so I highly recommend booking the tour well ahead of time!

We arrived about an hour before we were due to board so we killed some time by having a small snack in the gift shop/cafe. We got in line to board the ferry about 30 minutes before departure and others soon followed. I had read that in order to get the best view of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge as the ferry departs for Alcatraz one should sit on the top deck on the left side. We were sitting towards the back on the left and this was definitely a great spot! We got our first glimpse of the Golden Gate and beautiful Marin County beyond with it’s emerald hills rolling peacefully as far as we could see. In front of it was a rocky outcrop known as Alcatraz Island!

Approaching Alcatraz Island

Once we disembarked at the dock of Alcatraz Island, a Park Ranger tried to gather the crowd around so he could give a PSA. A lot of folks decided to just go on their merry way but we stopped off to listen. He gave us information on where to get the headsets for the cellhouse tour and how the departure worked. We decided to do the cellhouse tour first, as it was what the kids were looking forward to most. We got our headsets and made our way through the cellhouse, seeing the bleak cells that criminals once called home. We listened to testaments from both former guards and former inmates. They retold the story of the infamous escape and to this day it’s still a mystery if the escapees survived or not. We learned that Alcatraz wore many hats, having been a lighthouse, military outpost, military prison, and most famously a federal penitentiary. Alcatraz also harbored many well-known criminals, such as Al Capone, Robert "The Birdman Stroud", and George "Machine Gun" Kelly.

Inside the cellhouse, sights on Alcatraz Island, the kids peering into the kitchen, and menu with the last meal served

Once we finished touring Alcatraz Island, we boarded the short ferry back to the mainland. We were hungry for lunch so we headed to Fisherman's Wharf where we ate at a quaint little water front restaurant, the Eagle Cafe. The staff was very helpful with the kids' food allergies and they enjoyed hamburger patties and french fries. My husband dined on the quintessential San Francisco bowl of clam chowder. We also had great views of the pier and waterfront so it definitely was a great first restaurant to try in San Francisco. From the cafe we ventured to Pier 39 to see the famous sea lions! We easily found it as there is signage directing you to this popular spot throughout the Wharf. My kids had a blast watching the sea lions frolic around in their natural environment!

Watching the sea lions at Pier 39

Afterwards, we took a spin on the carousel and checked out the many touristy shops. Our last stop at the Wharf was Musee Mechanique, which is basically an interactive museum of old carnival games. The kids all had fun playing a few games and were impressed to see how far games have come.

As for dinner this night, we discovered The Cheesecake Factory across the street from our hotel. We often to have to rely on chain restaurants when we travel as we are familiar with their menus enough to know that they are safe for our kids’ allergies. Like usual, it was a very long wait but it was worth it. We finished our delicious dinner and headed back to our hotel for some shut-eye.

Another day of fun in the city by the bay was behind us. Up next: Day 3 – The bus tour!

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