San Francisco, California
8/5/2018 to 8/8/2018
Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge, Street Cars, Winchester House
And the worst traffic I've ever driven in
Sunday 8/5/2018 We drove from Sacramento to Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore, CA which was about 100 miles away. I chose this park because it was about as close to San Francisco as I could find. From the campground to downtown San Francisco is 58 miles. We arrived around 1 pm and had to wait in a line of cars at the check-in booth. When it was our turn, he checked us in but said we couldn’t set up until the 2 pm check-in time. This was the first time we ever had a campground turn us away for an early check-in. Usually, if no one is in our assigned site they just let us in. He said we had to turn around and park the trailer in a parking lot about a half mile down the road. So we sat in the hot parking lot in our lawn chairs trying to stay out of the sun for 45 minutes. When it was 2 pm we drove back to the park to set up. We were a little surprised to see that some tents and trailers were already set up. I guess he decided to let some people in early. Oh, well. This is a California regional park so there are no long-term residents. We got a pretty nice pull-through site and the way they are set up there was no one in the front of us so we had a great view. There was also a flock of wild turkeys walking around the area. After setting up, we just took a walk around the campground and relaxed the rest of the evening.
Monday 8/6/2018 Our plans today were to drive into San Francisco and tour the island of Alcatraz. It was a 58-mile drive from the campground to downtown San Francisco. We thought maybe it would take an hour and a half but because of the traffic, it took two and a half hours to arrive. The worst traffic tie-up was at the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge toll booth where they funnel 14 lanes of traffic at the toll booth down to five lanes to cross the bridge. I had reserved a parking spot online at a parking lot close to the pier where we needed to be to board a ferry to Alcatraz. Once we parked we walked around the bay area awhile. A big tourist area is Pier 39 which has many shops, restaurants, and even a carousel. On one end of the pier, the city built wooden platforms in the water for sea lions to gather and rest. We watched them for a long time and they were quite entertaining with their loud barking and antics. They seem to enjoy keeping each other from climbing out of the water onto the platforms. It is the sea lion form of bullying.
Here's a short video Rose took of the sea lions
Our ticket for Alcatraz was for 12:30 and they loaded us promptly and we began the 15-minute ferry ride to Alcatraz. When we disembarked a ranger gave a short introduction and told us where to walk to pick up the headphones for a self-guided audio tour. It was a very steep walk up to the prison cells where you begin the tour. The audio tour took us about an hour to complete. You walk down several cell blocks, most are empty but some they re-staged to appear as they did during the time Alcatraz was opened. They have several interesting photos and stories on the various escape attempts and some of the famous prisoners such as Al Capone and the Birdman of Alcatraz. You also see the control room, visitation windows, the outside recreation yard, the library, and dining room. It is very windy and cold on the island and the worst spot was the recreation yard. The cold wind was unbearable and we only spent a few minutes out there. After the audio tour ends you are free to roam back around and re-visit the areas and also visit outbuildings such as the small morgue, a place they called the model industry building and the remains of the warden’s home which burned down in the early part of 1970. Before Alcatraz was a prison during the Civil War, they also used a building as a barracks for the Union soldiers who were stationed there to protect the San Francisco Bay during the war. They were expecting an invasion that never happened. We were able to watch a short movie in the barracks. We roamed around a little more and then stood in line to wait for a ferry ride back to the pier. We got back to the car at 4:15 and decided to begin the drive out of the city back to the trailer. We thought that by leaving a little early we would beat some of the people leaving the city after work. It was a good idea but the traffic out of the city was miserable and it took us about three hours to arrive back at the trailer.
Tuesday 6/7/2018 We woke up a little earlier today and again drove into the city but the traffic was just as heavy as yesterday. It took us two and a half hours again to park in the same lot. We were taking a shuttle tour of the city today and we didn't have to be at the pickup spot until 12:30 so we had a few hours to roam around. We walked to the area of the pier known as Fisherman's Wharf. There are a lot of shops and restaurants here so there's quite a crowd. We continued walking to the street that the cable cars go up and down. It's expensive to ride the cable cars and it was just as enjoyable watching them travel the hilly street. We just continued walking around the side streets and then back to the pier area to wait for our tour. It's a small shuttle bus accompanied by a tour guide. It's not a hop-on-hop-off type of tour. We stay on the same shuttle bus with the same passengers the length of the 4 1/2 hour tour. Our tour guide's name was Kyra and the bus driver's name was E. Paul. Our first stop was The Palace of Fine Arts. It was originally constructed in1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Only a few of the original buildings remain but what a beautiful place it is. The city tried to tear it down to build condos but hopefully, the citizens have put an end to that idea.
Here's a short video I took of the cable cars.
Next, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and stopped to take pictures for 30 minutes or so. This viewing area was extremely crowded and it was difficult to find a spot to take a picture. Also, the bridge was almost completely covered in fog and we could see only a small portion of it. But at least we made it to the famous Golden Gate Bridge! We continued on to The Golden Gate Park where we stayed for about an hour. It's a very nice park with an amphitheater, The California Academy of Science and the de Young Museum. We had a snack near the fountain and then we walked to the museum which has a viewing area on the 9th floor. It is surrounded by windows on all sides and you can get a great view of the city.
We loaded back onto the bus and headed to an area of town with a park named Alamo Square. From here you can view a row of old "Painted Ladies" homes and get another great view of the city. Our last stop was the famous Lombard Street, "The crookedest street in the world." It's a curvy bricked lane that's covered in beautiful flowers and greenery. I'm sure you've seen this street in movies or TV shows and our photos don't do it justice. It was full of walking tourists and well as a line of cars waiting to drive down, It's really nice but must be a nightmare for the people who live in the adjoining houses. After this stop, we were dropped off back in the pier area and our tour had ended. We walked back through the Pier 39 before heading to our truck to begin the drive back to the trailer. We left later today - about 5:15 and weren't sure what to expect with the traffic leaving the city. This was probably our worst experience ever trying to drive out of a large city. It was even worse than all the trips we made from New York City. There's a road that leads from the pier area to the freeway but off this main road are a dozen side streets feeding onto it. It's only 1.9 miles according to Google Maps but it took us three hours to drive. It was just complete gridlock. Once we made it to the freeway and over The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge we had another hour to drive back to the campground. We were worried because the campground we are staying at closes it's gate at 10 pm and you cannot enter. I thought I would have to park the truck at a lot about 3/4 of a mile from our trailer and walk in the total darkness into the campground. Thankfully, we made it back at 9:30 pm.
Wednesday 6/8/2018 We were only 42 miles away from The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. I've read articles about this house built by Sarah Winchester in 1884 who was the widow of William Wirt Winchester (maker of the Winchester rifles). He left her an immense fortune of 20 million dollars and her shares of the company were worth $ 1,000 a day for life. That's in the early 1900's! She continued construction on the house until her death in 1922. History remembers her as the eccentric, superstitious woman who lost her infant daughter and her husband at a young age. The story goes that a Fortune Teller told her that she would be haunted by all the souls of the victims of Winchester rifles and she needed to move west from Connecticut and build a house continuously. We purchased tickets online to the main tour and also an additional "Explore More Tour" which takes you to previously unseen rooms of the house. We drove to San Jose early so we could walk around and explore some of the areas around the house. Not far from the house is a shopping and dining area called Santana Row which is the premier destination for Silicon Valley workers and residents. It is very high scale. We walked up and down Santana Row searching for a place to eat lunch and couldn't find anything that wasn't very elegant and expensive. We continued to the end of the row and crossed a busy intersection and found a nice shopping mall with a food court and had lunch. After lunch, we walked back to The Winchester Mystery House and waited for our tour to begin. The tour guide was very nice and friendly but we felt very rushed as we were led through the house. The tour times were only ten minutes apart so they had to keep us moving. We were unable to linger and really take a close look at the rooms. There were a few stairways that didn't lead anywhere and a few windows that didn't open to the outside but instead to other rooms. Supposedly she used one of the rooms as a seance room and tried to work the number 13 into as many parts of the house as she could. The house has 40 bedrooms and rumor has it that she slept in a different bedroom every night to confuse the ghosts. This main tour lasted about an hour and after a short wait we began the "Explore More Tour." It was very similar to the main tour but they show you the area of the house that was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and take you down into the haunted basement. We never had the feeling of it actually being a haunted house or that Sarah Winchester was indeed driven insane by ghosts. We felt that she just became an extremely wealthy widow depressed by the death of her only child and her husband which led to her becoming semi-reclusive and eccentrically building onto her house. Unfortunately, they did not allow any photographs of the inside of the house, we were only able to take outside shots. When we had seen enough of the house and grounds we drove back to Del Valle Park where we had spent the last three nights.
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