Before heading east next month, I flew west for a brief visit to see my dad in the US, starting in San Francisco. Known as ‘Fog City’, San Francisco is home to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the infamous prison island of Alcatraz and its own herd of urban bison.
Our exploration of the city began with a ferry ride to Alcatraz. Upon arrival on the island we were welcomed by a large sign noting ‘Indians Welcome’. Following a brief, and optional, talk by a park volunteer, we learned that in the years following the closure of Alcatraz as a state penitentiary (in 1963), the land was reclaimed and occupied for nineteen months by a group of American Indians activists. It was only in 1972, after a few remaining protesters were removed, that Alcatraz Island became a national recreation area – opening for public visits for the first time in 1973. Graffiti from the native Indian occupancy is still visible around the island.
During our visit an interesting art exhibit was open, displaying the work of Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei. Weiwei’s sculptures are of particular interest as he explores captivity, liberty and speaking out about your beliefs – something Ai himself has been detained for previously (in China). Even now he is not able to travel outside of China, and both Dad and I were inspired by his creations and the messages they portray.
The highlight of our visit was, of course, the self-tour around the prison buildings. Before heading into the main cellblock we were handed a headset each, and a narration guided us around the buildings. Despite not usually being a fan of audio guides, I found the Alcatraz tour to be fascinating and well-worth the island entrance fee. Voices of Alcatraz wardens and prisoners enabled me to really get lost in the story and gave a true insight into life on Alcatraz.
Golden Gate Bridge
After travelling on a bus recently vacated by a large group of naked passengers, we arrived at San Francisco’s most recognisable landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge.
Although we had already seen the bridge from Alcatraz Island, the first close-up view was spectacular. Covered from mid-way up in the infamous fog, the Golden Gate Bridge, with its autumnal red paint, contrasted with the crystalline blue waters of the bay below. We took a walk along the seashore and read up on the design and history of the structure.
I loved riding to work on a tram each day during my time in Melbourne, and having seen photos of the iconic cable cars in San Francisco, I knew it would be worth the queue to ride on one. Making our way up and down the steep hills of the city, I was lucky enough to have the chance to hang off the side. No longer an official mode of public transport, the trams now run down only a couple of streets in San Francisco and have been revived for tourists.
Our short time in San Francisco quickly came to an end. Making our way down the coast we made one final stop at the Golden Gate National Park to visit the donated crowd of American Bison that now call it home. Having never seen one before, it was quite surreal to see these big fellas chilling in a city park!
Things to Note
– Ensure you pre-book tickets at least three weeks in advance, especially for visits over weekends. Only a limited number of tickets are sold, and they nearly always sell-out.
– There is a small cafe at Pier 39 (where the ferry departs for Alcatraz).
– Take a hooded jumper/coat. Alcatraz Island is infested (?) With seagulls and Cormorants, as well as a few other bird species, and a walk across the poop-covered penitentiary yard told me there had been a lot of lucky/unlucky visitors!
Golden Gate Bridge:
– As a pedestrian you aren’t allowed access onto the bridge, and can only view it from the bay area. Although we didn’t ourselves (dye to time restrictions), I’d recommend hiring bicycles, as this enables you to cross the bridge and get a different perspective.
– Don’t despair if your visit isn’t accompanied by clear, sunny weather. I was worried that the fog and dull skies would ruin my chances of a decent photograph of the bridge; in fact the fog gave an eerie feel and my favourite snap has since become my most popular Instagram one.
We stayed in a twin room at the Mosser Hotel. The location was spot-on, very central and close to the various transport options. Our room and ensuite bathroom were both on the small side, but the frappe coffee on check-in and complimentary breakfast muffins were a nice touch.