It’s A Bit Wet Outside

I awake to terrible weather outside, a howling gale, torrential rain and a raging sea. A bit different from my last morning in Pacifica a year ago… But there are people out surfing on Rockaway Beach! Well I suppose you get wet anyway. I awoke initially at 5.20 am which was not too bad and then dozed off again until 7 am. Today I’m visiting Alcatraz Island. The room rate includes breakfast and it’s a buffet style affair. It’s more than adequate apart from the plastic cutlery, which was nearly useless as it just kept bending.

Welcome to SF

Welcome to San Francisco

I set off for San Francisco at 10 am in the driving rain. I’m convinced that the boat trip to Alcatraz will be cancelled due to the weather, especially from what I can see of the sea conditions in Pacifica. All the way into downtown SF there is mist, low cloud and heavy rain. The traffic is bad as well. I’m not sure if this is due to the weather or just normal SF traffic. I come to a stop on the freeways many times before even getting into the heart of the city.

Alcatraz Cruises leafletI’d pre-booked a space in a hotel car park with ParkWhiz reasonably near the ferry terminal. At $24 for 12 hours during the day this was a brilliant idea because other parking I saw was over $50 for the same time period.

Out into the rain and off towards Pier 39. Except it’s not, as I didn’t read the ticket properly and it’s further down at Pier 33. I’m OK for time though and arrive well before boarding. Big tip if you ever plan on visiting Alcatraz. You must book well in advance, there are almost never any tickets available on the day. I’d booked online weeks before from the UK. The day I was there the ticket office was advertising the next available tickets were for 5 days time.

Across The Bay To Alcatraz

Alcatraz Cruises ferryLeaving Pier 33 for AlcatrazAlcatraz Island through the mistWelcome to Alcatraz signAlcatraz Dock

Amazingly, the boats are sailing. The rain is now a steady drizzle but the rough seas at Pacifica are not evident in SF Bay. In fact it looks quite calm. I’m guessing the inlet to the Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge acts as a barrier to wild ocean waves. The crossing is smooth if a little windy. The mist and cloud is so bad that I can hardly make out Alcatraz as we depart and as we cross the Bay I can’t see the Golden Gate Bridge at all.

Alcatraz IslandAlcatraz IslandAlcatraz IslandAlcatraz IslandAlcatraz Prison Administration BuildingWarden's OfficeAlcatraz LighthouseView of San Francisco from Alcatraz IslandView of San Francisco from Alcatraz Island

Discover Alcatraz tour guideI disembark on Alcatraz Island and for the next couple of hours or so wander around the place. I end my time on the island in the main cell block. There is a very good individual audio tour via headphones for a commentary as I walk around. The cell block is remarkably well preserved. The tour is well done in terms of evoking what the prison was like for the inmates and warders alike. It’s definitely well worth a visit, highly recommended all round – just hope for nicer weather than I had.

Inside Alcatraz CellhouseInside Alcatraz CellhouseLooking into a cell in Alcatraz PrisonCell in Alcatraz PrisonLooking out from an Alcatraz cellCell in Alcatraz PrisonLooking out from an Alcatraz cellAlcatraz Cellhouse - Solitary ConfinementAlcatraz Cellhouse - Solitary ConfinementCell in Alcatraz PrisonCell in Alcatraz Prison

It Rains – Again

Leaving Alcatraz IslandLeaving Alcatraz IslandHeading back to San Francisco

Sailing back across the Bay the weather is now dry but the clouds and gloom still hang over the city like a grey blanket. I can just about see the Golden Gate Bridge on the return journey. As we dock it starts to rain again. I go into the terminal’s café for a lunch of coffee and a turkey sandwich (what else?). A place where they let pigeons walk inside freely, including all over the tables where people are eating. It’s truly disgusting. It’s not helped by little kids chasing the birds around and encouraging them to stay. A little while later I go back out into the drizzle.

Aquarium of the Bay ticketIt’s still only 2.45 pm so I decide to visit the Aquarium On The Bay. I found a 20% off voucher online earlier when researching what I might do if Alcatraz was cancelled. The Aquarium is OK, but it’s not anywhere near as good as Monterey’s. It was expensive at $25 – even with the voucher – for what turned out to be just over an hour inside. Whatever, it was interesting. As I’m now back at Pier 39 I wander around all the tat shops there for a while before heading back to the car.

Around The Coast

The rain has now finally stopped thankfully and I take the long coastal route around the SF headland back to Pacifica. This is part of the famous 49-Mile Scenic Drive that highlights much of San Francisco. It must be an awesome drive in good weather. The scenery looks stunning but the clouds are still making for a grey old view. As I drive due south along the city’s Pacific coast on Great Highway, passing Ocean Beach, I’m at sea level right next to the beach. The sea here is churning like a demon. It’s also creating sea spray that is visible across the road as a light mist.

I stop off for a quick walk on the beach to sample the sea air, but it’s not a pleasant afternoon to be on a beach to be honest. So I’m soon back in the car and up and over the hills. The road becomes Skyline Boulevard for a while, a road I shall revisit later in the trip. I leave the Drive as it passes Lake Merced. Then I’m on Highway 1 South, the Pacific Coast Highway, and soon down into Pacifica.

Great Highway Beach

Great Highway Beach

The beach on the Great Highway

As I pull into the hotel there’s a glimmer of blue sky peeking through for the first time today at 5.50 pm. As sunset approaches, more appears and the sun makes an appearance as well. But there’s too much cloud for a decent show, and whilst it’s good to see a Pacific(a) sunset again, it’s not a particularly good one.

Out For Dinner

Later on I venture out to Nick’s again for dinner and music. It’s busy tonight and I’m lucky to get the last free seat at the bar. Before I’ve ordered anything the guy to my right starts talking to me and then a few minutes later so does the one on my left. But I become more engaged with David – right hand man – than Eric on my left. I end up chatting to him for ages. He’s a regular and tries to persuade me to have the crab main course but I’m not keen. So he then recommends the broiled beef Teriyaki strips. Scotty takes my order and suggests medium-rare but I ask for medium. It’s only an appetizer size so I request fries but he then suggests the special Nick’s garlic sour dough bread, so I agree.

Big mistake. When it arrives half of the beef is not cooked medium but practically rare and the quality is terrible. The meat is mostly sinew and fat. It’s really, really bad and I end up spitting out loads of it because it’s inedible. What’s cooked is good but there’s not a lot of that. The garlic bread is average at best with the garlic butter being overloaded in the base. Overall there’s enough to fill me up – just, hence why I didn’t send it back – but to be honest it’s crap. I should have ordered the burger I was thinking of having. Must remember this if I ever visit Nick’s again…

David departs and he wishes me well on my travels – it was a good chat – whereupon Eric re-engages. Every third word he says is “fuck” and he’s a bit of strange chap truth be told. But I’m happy to talk to him. A while later he also hits the road. Like David, he wishes me well with a handshake and a “nice to meet you.”

Nick's music calendarThe band – called The Band at Nicks, tonight featuring Mike Renwick – has been playing all this time. The dance floor keeps filling up with locals dancing the night away. The band is a bunch of old-ish guys apart from the drummer. They play covers but put a bit of a twist on the songs rather than doing note-for-note copies, which is good and the best way.

There’s a good mix of songs too – Stuck In The Middle With You, What A Wonderful World, Get Ready – and everyone’s enjoying themselves, which is good to see. It’s good honest entertainment and none the worse for that. It’s all about having a good time on a Friday night and that’s what happened! Sure it’s not 5* or ground-breaking. But in its way it’s as good as anything I’ve seen in bars in the US, given what it set out to do.

Time to depart and outside the sea is raging again, even worse than last night. I’d glimpsed it from inside Nick’s and I briefly went out during a band break. The waves were – and still are – bouncing high over the sea wall and into the car park. So I stick around to watch it some more and it’s amazing – so powerful and so LOUD! It’s better than last night and brilliant to witness despite its cause casting a slight over the day earlier. I found out later that it was also a high spring tide which, allied to the storm surge, made it so awesome.

So despite the weather the day was OK. Alcatraz was very interesting although I might have stayed longer to walk around the island more if not for the rain. Ditto the drive back would have been so much better if the weather was nice. However you can’t guarantee that, and I just needed to make the best of it. I wasn’t sure how long the Alcatraz visit would last so I expected some dead time to fill, which was the case. It’s still interesting though to people watch and observe a different place and culture. To bed…

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