A Day on The Rock

Alcatraz Island - View from the ferry in San Francisco Bay.

Alcatraz Island – View from the ferry.

“Break the rules and you go to prison. Break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz.”

You see this quote posted in several places throughout the tour of The Rock. I don’t recall who said it, but it has an impact as you walk through the 22-acre island. The island was first used as a U.S. Military Base in the 1800s. It wasn’t until 1934 that the island began operating as a federal penitentiary.

Building 64 and the Warden's House on Alcatraz Island - View from the docks.

Building 64 and the Warden’s House on Alcatraz Island – View from the docks.

The first thing you see as the ferry pulls into the dock is Building 64, and then the ruins of the Warden’s House up above. Building 64 was originally constructed for military officers and their families, and was later used to accommodate the families of the guards working at the prison.

Many of the buildings, including Building 64, fell into disrepair over the years. When you visit the island now, many of the buildings are in ruin, or have been destroyed. However, the Cellhouse has remained in decent condition. The tour is self-guided, and includes the use of audio headsets. You can walk through the island at your own pace, taking in the history and scenery.

Here is the view from the Cellhouse of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Here is the view from the Cellhouse of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

I particularly enjoyed the photographic opportunities on the island. The broken buildings with the beautiful blue of the bay in the background, the view of San Francisco, the sailboats in the water. Even the flowers along the pathways were beautiful. However, I know many people are interested in some of the facts about the prison, so to appease those curious minds, here are a few bits of information I learned along the way:

  • Alcatraz operated as a federal prison from 1934 to 1963.
  • During its operation, Alcatraz had 36 prisoners who attempted to escape. All but 5 of those prisoners were recaptured/accounted for.
  • Alcatraz had 3 cellblocks, B, C and D. B and C blocks were for general population, while D was for those prisoners considered unruly or more dangerous. There were 42 isolation cells on D block, along with 6 “Holes” (the deep, dark rooms for those who behaved really badly while in prison).
  • There was no “death row” or execution facility on the island.
  • After closing as a federal prison, Alcatraz island was later occupied by American Indians from Nov. 1969 to June 1971. The occupation was orchestrated as a protest of the lands taken from the American Indians in the past, and it was effective in shaping Indian policy moving forward.

There are many other fascinating stories about the island, from the perspectives of inmates, guards and others who occupied the island. I highly recommend taking the tour. We’ve been twice now, and it’s more intriguing with each visit.


Tours are available through Alcatraz Cruises. Go to http://www.alcatrazcruises.com to book your tickets. They sell out quickly though, so I would recommend booking your tickets as soon as you know your travel plans to San Francisco.

We have no affiliation with Alcatraz Cruises. We have simply taken the tour, and we loved it!


Palace of Fine Arts: a glimpse of ancient Rome in San Francisco’s Marina District

While Derek was in town at the end of June, we visited many of the iconic destinations San Francisco has to offer. One of them was the Palace of Fine Arts. There are few locations in the States that make me feel like I’m wandering the beautiful old architecture of Europe, but this was definitely one of them. With my camera in hand, I proceeded to get lost in the beauty of my surroundings. What a beautiful place to go for an afternoon stroll.

Near the eastern entrance, the tops of these giant columns all have figures facing inward. I don’t know what it means, but it is beautiful architecture.

Looking toward city residences, I thought this was a beautiful view. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a house right on the park?!

This was my attempt at an artistic shot, looking straight up from underneath a set of columns.

The architecture reminds me of ancient Rome, but the color almost reminds me of ancient Egypt. How fascinating.

It was a lovely visit, and the late afternoon sun created some beautiful shots. I highly recommend adding the Palace of Fine Arts on to your visit into the city. You don’t have to stay long, and parking is free. It truly is a magical place.

High Fashion or Shock Factor

Jake and I visited the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to see the special exhibit on fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier. The exhibit, “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: from the Sidewalk to the Catwalk,” is currently running at the de Young until August 19, 2012.  The exhibit features designs from the 1970s through the 2010.  To give you an idea of Gaultier’s approach, this is the first thing you see when you walk toward the entrance to the exhibit.

Madonna, Lady Gaga and other celebrities have worn his designs while on tour. His designs are provocative, highly sexual in nature, and reflect the multi-cultural and transgender world of Paris in the 1970s, when Gaultier began as a designer.

I realized part way through the exhibit that I wasn’t taking pictures. Why? Because I was completely entranced with all the crazy designs! Gaultier’s work does have that shock factor, but I also admire his ability to communicate through design. The mannequins at the exhibit’s entrance are facing you when you walk in, but then you see eyes and faces staring at you, and moving! Are they real models? No, they are projections, but it is almost impossible to tell unless you look at them from the side.

The exhibit was incredible. I highly recommend visiting the de Young, both for the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit and for the permanent exhibits in the museum. It is a modern structure, which is very different from the Legion of Honor we visited earlier in the day, but the setting is just as beautiful, and the artwork incredible. Once again, thank you Auntie and Tio for such an incredible day!

To see more about the exhibit, please visit the de Young website here.


Walking the Streets of San Francisco

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

For my birthday last summer, my Uncle John (“Tio”) made me a CD. He does this every now and then, celebrating various occasions. This CD in particular was my California-bound playlist. He and my Aunt Carol (“Auntie”) live out here, so they were particularly excited we were making the move cross-country. For my listening pleasure on the long haul to the West Coast, Tio made me a disc with 20 or so songs, every single one of them about the Golden State.

Though not every song is about San Francisco itself, many of them are about this magical city. About the peaceful, gentle people. About the music. About the protests and the peace rallies. While much of the mindset of these songs was focused around the ’70s and ’80s, you still feel the same energy and movement of the city. For example, the “World Naked Bike Tour” we saw riding near Ghirardelli Square. This group of people found a way to speak out against the consumption of foreign oil while encouraging healthy activity, all with a hippy flare. That is very “San Francisco” to me.

Before the naked cyclists, and before our delicious ice cream cones, Jake and I started the day walking around Pier 39. We were originally planning to do a tour of Alcatraz with Jake’s brother, Derek, but since Derek sadly broke his leg a few days before, Jake and I decided we would do a walking tour of the city instead. We parked near Pier 39 and began exploring from there. One of the first things we came across was the drumming team from Humboldt State University. The students were awesome drummers, the crowd was energized, and it was the perfect way to start off our adventure with an extra kick in our step.

Once we left Pier 39, we walked to Fisherman’s Wharf for a crab sandwich. Yum! I wish we had splurged the calories to get the fries to go with the crab, but we definitely made up for it when we stopped at Ghirardelli for the best ice cream cones on the planet. Then, as many of you may remember from a prior post, we saw naked cyclists! It was becoming quite an interesting day.

After dessert and a show, we looked at our walking map of the city and decided to make the trek up to Coit Tower. It was a long walk, and there were LOTS of stairs, but the view from the top was worth it. You could see in every direction. From the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge, and back through the climbing hills of the city. We even saw a full rainbow, from end to end, springing from a pier and back down into the bay.

So, we had dessert, a show, and then a nice hike to burn off our delicious calories. We then hiked down through the many steep stairs on the north side of Coit Tower, past a quaint little cluster of apartments and a few small neighborhood gardens. We found a little oasis along those steps, where the noise was completely blocked by the steep cliffs of Telegraph Hill and the charm was maintained by the lush surrounding greenery. While I don’t know how we could possibly make a place like that work with our two greyhounds, it is certainly a peaceful nook of the city I would visit again.

It was a beautiful day, not to mention very good exercise. San Francisco has so many places to explore, and we only touched on a few them. I guess the good news is that we have plenty of time to explore the rest. Why? Because we live here!

“Burn Fat, Not Oil”

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

Jake and I were in the city on Saturday. We had just visited the Ghirardelli Factory and ordered two of the most delicious ice cream cones known on the planet. Chocolate dipped waffle cones with Ghirardelli chocolate and coffee ice creams. Wow. We walked down toward the waterfront, found a park bench in the sun, and sat down to indulge in our afternoon treat. And then we heard it…






“Burn Fat, Not Oil!” The chanting was not overwhelming. The message, certainly something I can support. The scene, well, it definitely got our attention! It was the World Naked Bike Tour, in full view, and I mean FULL VIEW for all of us to see, riding their bicycles through the crowd. Their message was clear, that we should all get on a bicycle, or walk, or otherwise prevent the consumption of oil to get ourselves from place to place.

(Fair warning, these are images of the cyclists from Saturday, but I blurred out any body parts that were exposed.)

At first, the sight was shocking. Seeing a bunch of grown men and women riding through the streets of San Francisco, completely naked, was not exactly how I anticipated spending my Saturday afternoon or my Ghirardelli ice cream cone. However, after the shock had worn off, I began to see the method to their madness. They were trying to get people’s attention. Quite frankly, it worked, and now I am writing a post about it. Aside from the drastic measures to get people’s attention, which was clearly a success, I do think they have a good point. Too many people use up gallons and gallons of gasoline driving around. It might not always be feasible for someone to walk to the store, or ride a bicycle to work. However, it is important for all of us to do our part in reducing our dependence on foreign oil and coughing more pollution into our atmosphere. Plus, it’s much healthier to get out and move around.

I may not feel comfortable with the idea of riding naked through a heavily populated area (or any public area for that matter), but I do think the people involved in the World Naked Bike Tour on Saturday had a good point. Burn fat, not oil. Get out and move around, and don’t waste gas when it is clearly unnecessary.