We were lucky as the parade ground and Agave trail were open when we visited. These are closed at certain times of the year presumably as they can be dangerous in high seas. A lot of the piles of rubble covering the parade ground are probably the result of the pounding sea.
I'll include here a few remaining photos of our trip including views of the parade ground, the Agave Trail and a good shot of the guard tower I did not fit in anywhere else.
On November 20th, 1969, eighty-nine Native American Indians sailed from Sausalito on a five-mile trip across San Francisco Bay to Alcatraz Island. When they landed, they declared the former prison Indian land “by right of discovery".
Their aim was to gain funding from the U.S. government to turn it into a Native American cultural center and university. They occupied Alcatraz for more than 19 months before being finally removed in June 1971. Their demands were not met, but their actions gained a lot of publicity for the Native American cause.
Wandering around the island you will see some reminders of their occupation. You can also learn about it in the museums in building 64.
Alcatraz is a good place for views. You can enjoy looking back towards the skyline of San Francisco or towards the Golden Gate Bridge or the Bay Bridge.
The best views of the island fortress that is Alcatraz are from the parade ground when you look at the prison and the lighthouse clinging to the edges of the rock up above you.
Despite its rather gruesome history, Alcatraz is a surprisingly beautiful place with wonderful flower filled gardens and lots of sea-birds. When we finished the prison tour, we took a stroll around.
On the introductory film we listened to in building 64 when we arrived, a woman who was the daughter of a former prison officer ,recalled her idyllic childhood growing up on Alcatraz and playing on the parade ground almost unaware of the dangerous prison inmates living nearby.
Alcatraz is most famous for being the site of a federal prison from which escape was almost impossible.
The price of your ticket to Alcatraz includes a 45 minute audio tour of the prison buildings. On the tour you will visit the main cell block, the library, the kitchens, the dining room, the prison officers' rooms.
You will learn about the escape attempts from this island and the prison's most notorious inmates.
The most notorious criminals ever to be imprisoned on Alcatraz include: gangster Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud - also known as the Birdman of Alcatraz, gangster Machine Gun Kelly, and gangster Alvin Creepy Karpis - who served more time at Alcatraz than any other inmate.
In its twenty-nine years as a prison a grand total of thirty-six prisoners made fourteen escape attempts. Two inmates even tried twice. Of those who tried to escape twenty-three were caught alive, six were shot and killed, two drowned, and five are missing, presumed drowned.
The most violent escape attempt occurred from May 2nd to May 4th, 1946 when a failed escape attempt by six prisoners resulted in the Battle of Alcatraz. Two guards and three inmates were killed in this battle. Eleven guards and one uninvolved convict were injured. Two of the would be escapees were later executed for their roles in the battle.
On June 11th 1962, Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin carried out an escape attempt. They tucked papier-mâché heads into their beds, broke out of the main prison building through an unused utility corridor, and sailed away an improvised raft. If they survived, their escape attempt was the only successful one ever, but their fate remains unknown.
Alcatraz was originally named "La Isla de los Alcatraces," or "The Island of the Pelicans," by Spaniard Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775. It is located in San Francisco Bay - 1.5 miles offshore from the city of San Francisco.
Alcatraz was home to the first lighthouse built on the American west coast and to an early U.S. built fort. It was used as a military prison from 1868 and as a federal prison from 1933 until 1963. In November 1969, the island was occupied for more than 19 months by a group of North American Indians from San Francisco who wanted more rights for Aboriginal people. Alcatraz became a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
I know it's not really off the beaten path, but I'm putting it here as my things to do section is getting too long.
We pre-booked out trip to Alcatraz, as all the advice told us to do so and I think it was probably right. We were there in February - not peak season - and it was still a very popular and busy trip.
Boats leave from Pier 33. You are advised to be there at least thirty minutes before departure. Again this is good advice as you will arrive to find a long queue.
You can choose to visit by day or at night. We opted for the day time tour. I'd imagine the island is quite atmospheric and creepy at night.
You can sit in or out on the boat. Inside there is a cafe selling soft drinks and snacks. It sells alcohol on the return journey.
We sat outside to get views over San Francisco and views as we arrived at the island. The trip only takes 15 minutes. You book a set time for going and can take any boat back.
One of the northern missions, this was originally part of Mission Dolores in San Francisco. Founded in 1817 as a sanitarium for Indians afflicted with European diseases, it was named for the patron saint of healing. This is still an active church and school. The phone number is that of the gift shop.
Father Junipero Serra founded this and most of the other missions in California.
This often overlooked park is directly across the bay from San Francisco, just west of the Golden Gate. It offers stunning views of the city, as well as some great hiking. The lighthouse at Bonita Point is also worth a visit; guided tours are given daily.
For many years, coastal defense gun batteries guarded San Francisco bay. Later, Nike-Hercules surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries were installed here. The weapons are all gone now, but the emplacements, barracks, and other historic Army buildings are still here, along with historical markers. The Headlands are also home to a variety of wildlife, and a stop-over for many species of migratory birds.
Marin Headlands are about half an hour north of the city across the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a great place to go for a hike or a bike ride. You can get some of the most amazing views of the city and the Pacific from the Marin. Make sure to check the weather forecast though, you don't want to waste your time on a foggy day!
More information, maps and directions can be found at the website below.
For those of us who are used to the ocean, the idea of traveling for access to water seems a silly idea. That was my thought when a family friend booked a day trip to the Central Valley to go rafting anyways. What I learned is that rivers are way different than oceans (duh!) and that rafting was a great way to get our whole family into the whole outdoor recreation thing.
Our trip started in Knights Ferry, CA, a small town that included ruins of old mills, an old ice cream shop, and other small historical monuments. After checking in, we got our paddles and life jackets, and got a safety talk from a young man about possible dangers on the river. While this talk freaked some of us out, it proved to be strictly cautionary, as the trip itself was very mellow.
The trip itself was self guided, and lasted about 4 hours. Sunshine Rafting told us to bring our own ice chest with food and drink, and we were glad we did. Halfway through the trip was a beautiful park that we had a picnic at (they had picnic tables and BBQ pits). Throughout the idea we swam, splashed around, talked with other rafters, and generally just enjoyed having access to a steady stream of sunshine as well as the cool water.
At the end of the trip the company shuttled us back to our cars and we explored Knights Ferry a bit more. All in all I felt tired but accomplished, and it was great to get the kids out and active in a way that they enjoyed. I would recommend this as a family trip for sure, as it provides an outlet to connect with your family in a semi-enclosed space while still being outside! Also it was only about $20 per person, which was reasonable for a full day activity.
When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I read an article about the Winchester Mystery House and I always thought it would be really neat to visit this rather eccentric mansion. My trip to San Francisco being my first time out in California, I did a bit of research online to see if it was possible to book a trip from SF to San Jose to visit the Winchester Mystery House and when I found out that Super Sightseeing Tours could take us there, I immediately decided to book it (http://www.supersightseeing.com).
The shuttle picked us up at our hotel - they showed up 40 minutes late, so I was glad the lady at our hotel's tourist info desk could call them to make sure they were coming. We left San Francisco at 2:30 pm and made our way down to San Jose aboard a not-so-comfy shuttle bus, but at least the scenery was very nice. Once we got to the Winchester Mystery House, we were given some time to visit the firearms museum, which features a large collection of Winchester rifles, "The Gun that Won the West". Our guide Dzimitry then took us on an amazing 1h tour of Sarah Winchester's fantastic mansion. The tour goes through 110 of the house's 160 rooms, which are filled with weird architectural details. Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Winchester and heiress to the rifle maker's fortune, believed her family was being haunted by the spirits of men and women killed by the famous rifles. In order to appease the spirits, a medium recommended she built a house for them - construction began in 1884, and for the next 38 years (until Sarah Winchester died at the age of 83) carpenters worked on the house 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Mrs. Winchester would hold "seances" at night and give instructions to the crew the following day, many of which were down right bizarre: staircases leading to the ceiling, windows and doors opening up on a wall, chimneys that stop a few feet short of the ceiling... it all makes for a very entertaining tour!
Once we were done touring around the house, we were invited to do the garden tour on our own, and we also had a bit of time to visit the giftshop before it was time to head back to San Francisco (we got back at around 6:30 pm). I thought the price ($60) was fairly reasonable, especially considering that it costs $26 just to visit the house. For me, visiting the Winchester Mystery House was a bit of a dream come true and it definitely lived up to my expectations!