Big Bus Tour & Alcatraz

When catching up with J’s friend yesterday he recommended we try some great coffee at Blue Bottle. We went to the Blue Bottle at Mint Plaza. I had an almond milk latte and J had the African trio drip coffee (made through a Kyoto dripper). Oh were they delicious coffees! Not bitter and almost slightly sweet. Great wake me up and pick me up for the morning.

Blue Bottle – Kyoto dripper

We walked from to Union Square to join the Big Bus Hop On Hop Off tour. The first iconic building was the City Hall. The gold used is real gold and is meant to be beautiful on the inside. Marilyn Monroe and Joe Di Maggio (Yankees baseball player) got married there.

Dome of the City Hall with gold decorations

Next the bus took us past Alamo Square. The houses there are some of the oldest houses as they survived the fire and earthquake.

Houses along Alamo Square
Bay to Breakers was on – some people dressed up for it

Then the bus took us past the Golden Gate Park (modeled after New York Central Park), largest park in SF. We also learned about a few different areas in SF; Mission area is the Latino area and Haight Ashbury is the hippy area.

Afterward the bus took us over the Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge is named after Golden Gate strait that it spans across, painted International Orange and is the most photographed bridge in the world. A famous American landmark, made to withstand earthquakes. We hopped of the bus to get a view of the San Fran skyline, Angel Island and the bridge from the other side.

We hopped back on the next bus. Next spot we drove by was the Palace of Fine Arts. A pretty building.

Palace of Fine Arts (the one with the white dome)

We learned a few more things on the tour:

  • House in Mrs Doubtfire was in Pacific Heights, romance author Daniele Steele owned house there too
  • San Francisco fire in 1906 was the biggest fire in the USA and Van Ness street was the street that broke the fire
  • Second big earthquake in 1989
  • Earthquakes due to city being on St Andres fault
  • Levi’s headquarters in SF- originally made for miners, rivets to strengthen pockets were patented
  • 1990s the dot com revolution, lots of tech companies moved in and increased demand of housing thereby increasing rent and cost of houses

Got off the bus at Union Square and walked toward Ferry Building. The Ferry Building itself has lots of little local eateries, ice cream parlours, gourmet shops and bars.

Inside the Ferry Building
Great view of the Oakland Bay Bridge – behind the Ferry Building

Ate lunch at Bacalone, beer at Fort Point and ice cream (Secret Breakfast)  at Humphry Slocombe. Secret Breakfast is their signature ice cream; has a sweet caramel, salty and bourbon flavour. There’s a little market area outside the Ferry Building which was nice for a browse. Interesting store there which re-purposed glass bottles to platters.

Front of the Ferry Building

We walked along the Embarcadero toward Pier 33.

Out on the pier
Coulourful skateboards


We arrived at Pier 33 well in advance of our Alcatraz Night Tour so we decided to walk to Fishermans Wharf and back. We had some dinner before we boarded the ferry across to Alcatraz. Boarded the boat about 20 minutes before gates close and the boat took us to the island from Pier 33.  Alcatraz “the Rock” prison closed a few months after 21st march 1963 when the last inmates left the island. The prison closed due to high operating cost and deteriorating buildings.

We managed to catch some great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, SF skyline and Oakland Bay Bridge from the boat. As we approached the ‘rock’ the boat tour guide pointed out the cave where prisoners hid during one of the escapes.

We were met by the Alcatraz guide when we arrived at the island. The guardhouse/Sally port is the oldest and most significant building on the island. Electric shop used to house cells holding 150 prisoners.

Electric shop

We were taken to the start of the route to the cellhouse audio tour. Started audio tour at cellhouse. Whole audio tour includes perspectives of both the guards and inmates. It provides an insight to what prison life was like. Also goes through the 2 main escapes from Alcatraz

Start of the audio tour-Area where the prisoners had to strip down, shower and hand over all their belongings with no privacy in showers
Jail cell
Kitchen area
Famous inmates – one of whom was Al Capone
Solitary confinement cell
Bar spreader – a tool used to escape
Gun Gallery – the all important key is kept there, you may be able to see it hanging in this photo
Visitation area

Part of the audio tour took us outside of the prison, just in time to watch the sunset over SF.

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset

After soaking in the sunset, we headed back inside.

Guard control room
Hospital prison beds

There was also the ‘sound of the slammer’ demonstration during the time we were there. It was interesting to see the mechanics of the cell doors and how it opened and closed as well as where the keys were kept. Red line on the inside when the door is open help the guard see the number of cell doors open.

Cell doors open – red lines inside

It was very cold at the end of our tour as it was night time. Good view of SF at night. (Good to do night tour as we got to see SF during day, sunset and night. It does get very cold so make sure you wear lots layers. Recommend booking the Night Tour in advance as it does book out quickly. In fact, some of the day tours might too.

We walked back to our hotel from Pier 33!




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