Monday, January 16, 2012

Route 66 & California - San Francisco - Alcatraz

The next morning we drove up the pacific coast highway (PCH), one of the most beautiful drives in all of the United States in my opinion.  The stretch from north of San Simeon up to Carmel is truly jaw dropping as you wind your way along shear ocean cliffs and through coastal forests.

Pacific Coast Highway View.
We made one stop along the way to see the elephant seals just north of San Simeon.  The best time to see these tubs of blubber is in December when they calve but there were quite a few there in July.  A few more pictures of the seals and the PCH can be found in my 2011-07-18 Route 66 - California - Pacific Coast Highway Google Photos album.

Elephant seals.  Looks like they're laughing or singing.
As we approached San Francisco I did as I've always done when I've gone to this city, I missed a turn.  I ended up downtown on streets I've never been on before but I managed to get some bearings (though I wasn't very sure of myself) and got to where I wanted to be.  We reached our hotel, the Royal Pacific Motor Inn, and checked in.  This is one of those hotels that we can not recommend to anyone really.  It's located on the border of Chinatown and the red light district.  It's a little scruffy around the edges ... and it's seen better day.  Having said this, we love this hotel.  Nothing fancy but we don't travel for the hotels.  While the location, at first blush, appears sub par, it turns out to be in a great location.  It's a couple blocks from the cable car line.  Chinatown is right there for those who like exotic smells and sights, which we do.  Getting to fisherman's wharf and the ferry terminals is easy-peasy.

The hotel is multifloor and the other two times we were here we were a few floors up.  This time we were on the ground floor and on the street side.  It was their last room and it turned out to be noisier than our past stays.  It was also a larger room than the other times.  They also improved their WI-FI which I'm finding to be indispensable when I roadtrip.

We'd been to San Francisco two times before ( in 1997 and 2008 - I've been there four times).  Each time we tried to go to Alcatraz but were thwarted either by bad planning (you need tickets ahead of time for Alcatraz) or family emergencies.  This time we had tickets for the night tour and our families were healthy so we had a good chance of success.

Sunset behind Alcatraz.
We reached the pier where the tours departed and found a place to park.  We got our tickets at the will call window and then went to the gift shop, which also served food, and ordered some burgers for dinner while we waited for out tour to start.  As the tour boat left the fog rolled in (San Francisco fog - shocker!!!).  The tour boat was comfortable and circled the island before pulling up to the dock.  We met a tour guide on the island who gave us a quick overview of Alcatraz before taking us inside.  At this point we picked up audio tour guides and did the self-guided tour.

Inside Alcatraz prison.
It was pretty cool.  The recording was made by ex-guards and ex-prisoners.  Their descriptions and stories added to the tour experience.  You were marched around the prison like you were a prisoner - in a nice way.  The prison was definitely worth the fourteen year (!?!) wait.  I took a few pictures of the prison and they can be found here in my 2011-07-18 Route 66 - California - Alcatraz Google Photos album.

Sun setting through the clouds.
The boat ride back was was shortly before sunset (it was July so the sun was setting late).  The ruddy sunset and the low clouds made for some gorgeous "pink moment" views.  It was interesting seeing the city lights slowly turn on as it got darker.  San Francisco lit up.  The fog obscured the tops of some buildings but it was still pretty cool.  I tend to prefer the beauty of nature but there are times the labors of humanity can be just as beautiful.

San Francisco skyline.
Tomorrow we would visit another island, Angel Island.

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