A Travellerspoint blog

San Francisco. Hippies and Prisons.

Day Two and Three.

Bay Bridge.

Next day we started by having a look at Union Square. This is right in the heart of San Francisco. Our hotel was just a couple of blocks from here. Union Square was built in 1850. It was named Union Square by San Francisco's first mayor, John Geary, because it was the gathering site for pro­-Union demonstrations on the eve of the American Civil War. In the centre of the square stands the Dewey Monument. This was named after Spanish–American War hero Admiral George Dewey and commemorates his victory over Spanish forces at Manila Bay, the Philippines, on May the 1st, 1898. At the time of our visit there was a lot of construction going on around the square. Macy's Department Store overlooks the square. I am so not a fan of shopping, in fact I hate it, but we had to take a look in Macy's department store as it was near our hotel and it is famous. There was a woman's and a man's Macy's Department Store on Union Square. We just went in the woman's one. It was beautifully decorated for Chinese New Year and there were great views over Union Square from the top floors.

Union Square.

Art Exhibits in Union Square.

Art Exhibits in Union Square.

Macy's, Union Square.

Macy's, Union Square.

We then took bus number 21 from Market and Powell Street to Alamo Square. Alamo Square is a large grassy hill surrounded by beautiful old painted wooden houses known as Victorians. The most famous of these are a row of wooden houses on Steiner Street known as the painted ladies. We looked at these then took a walk round to see more Victorians.

The Painted Ladies, Alamo Square.

The Painted Ladies, Alamo Square.

The Painted Ladies, Alamo Square.

At the top of the park there was a doggy play area brimming over with our faithful four legged friends.

Doggy Play Area.

The painted ladies on Steiner Street are worth seeing but there are plenty of other beautiful old Victorians around Alamo Square and in other parts of the city. We also saw plenty later in Haight Ashbury, too. I would not mind living in one of these lovely houses.

Other old houses.

Maybe it is just because in my head San Francisco and hippies are synonomous, but I really, really loved Haight Ashbury with its smoke shops and psychodelic murals and aged hippies shuffling around and off the wall stores. We spent much longer here than we expected to ­ well getting my husband out of the Amoeba Record Store was a challenge for a start. He's a bit of an aged hippy himself.

Haight Ashbury.

Haight Ashbury.

Haight Ashbury.

Haight Ashbury.

The Amoeba Record Store is a must see, ­ a wonderful voyage back into the world of vinyl. I grew up at a time of vinyl records. My husband had a large collection of vinyl records. Vinyl is making a come back and this place is helping it along. I doubt anyone could enter this shop and not be interested in at least something they have on offer. Address: 1855 Haight Street.

Amoeba Music Shop.

Another great shop was called Decades of Fashion: Vintage Clothes Store. This shop is a must see for its displays. They are amazing. Unfortunately, there are signs up everywhere telling you not to take photos. Such a shame they would have been great.

Decades of Fashion.

Decades of Fashion.

We wandered off the main street of Haight Ashbury in pursuit of the homes of some famous people. Our criteria was simply that the homes were nearby and involved little effort on our part. Thus we saw where Janis Joplin's house was and the house of the Grateful Dead, the headquarters of Hells Angels and the house of notorious killer, Charles Manson. We were not alone in our wanderings. Several people were around taking photos of the houses we went to see.

Janis Joplin's House

Headquarters of Hells Angels.

Janis Joplin's House.

The walls around Haight Ashbury are covered with murals depicting famous rock stars, the summer of love and other subjects. They were colourful and bright and interesting to look at. We enjoyed strolling around photographing them.

Murals, Haight Ashbury.

Murals, Haight Ashbury.

Murals, Haight Ashbury.

We spent way more time in Haight Ashbury than we had intended, so we did not spend quite as much time in the Castro as we had planned to make up for it. We mainly stayed around the main street which is called Castro Street. The Castro is home to much of San Francisco's gay community. Many of the buildings on Castro Street are topped with rainbow flags. The rainbow flag is a symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender movement. As well as rainbow flags, there are also rainbow street crossings. On the ground you will see Castro's Walk of Fame ­20 bronze plaques honouring famous members of the LGBT community.

The Castro.

Rainbow Crossing.

429 Castro Street is home to the Castro Theatre. This became San Francisco's Historic Landmark number one hundred in September 1976. The theatre was built in 1922 and its entrance way is quite ornate and worth a look. Also in the Castro you can visit the Harvey Milk Plaza which is dedicated to the memory of Harvey Milk.

The Castro Theatre.

Harvey Milk was an American politician. He was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, were shot dead in San Francisco City Hall by former Supervisor Dan White on November 27th, 1978.

Rainbow Flag.

Next we went to the Mission District. I love old buildings so when I found out that Mission Dolores was the oldest building in San Francisco I really wanted to see it. However, I messed up big time. I had planned a day that involved visiting the Mission District, the Castro, Alamo Square then Haight Ashbury, but for some reason I decided to change the order to Alamo Square, Haight Ashbury, the Castro, then the Mission. The result we arrived at Mission Dolores just as it closed, so we could only view it from the outside. Oh well! Such is life!

The Misión San Francisco de Asís was founded on June the 29th, 1776, under the leadership of Father Junipero Serra. It is the oldest original Mission in California. Nowadays Mission Dolores Parish is made up of both the Old Mission and a larger, newer basilica. They are next to each other. Address: 3321 Sixteenth Street.

The Mission.

The Mission.

After looking at Mission Dolores, we walked to Clarion Alley to look at the murals there. I had read that the Mission District was an area where you had to be careful and use street smarts. I must admit I did not feel too comfortable in that alleyway just as the sun was beginning to go down. There was a big group of young guys hanging around the centre of the alley. They were doing no harm, but we decided not to pass them and to get out of the area before darkness fell, so we looked at just some of the murals and left. The murals themselves were mainly political in nature and quite interesting. Some of them were really very beautiful.

Clarion Alley.

Clarion Alley.

Clarion Alley.

Clarion Alley.

Clarion Alley.

We then travelled to the Ferry Building on the wonderful f­-line historical trams. Great fun! The Ferry Building first opened in 1898. However, for years it was neglected and hidden behind an elevated highway which cut off the waterfront from the rest of the San Francisco. In 1989 the Loma Prieta Earthquake severely damaged this elevated highway. It was decided to tear it down and revitalize the waterfront area. The Ferry Building was fully renovated and reopened in 2003. The Ferry Building was absolutely packed with people wandering around eating and drinking when we visited. There were also some live musicians and several people were up dancing. Apparently an excellent farmers' market is held here on Tuesdays and Saturdays. We visited on a Friday.

Step outside the Ferry Building on its waterfront side and you will be confronted with a magnificent view of the Bay Bridge. The San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, to give it its full name, is a group of bridges spanning San Francisco Bay. It forms part of the direct road between San Francisco and Oakland and carries around 240,000 vehicles a day. We especially enjoyed watching the bridge change as darkness fell. The Bay Bridge has one of the longest spans of any bridge in the United States.

Ferry Building.

Ferry Building.

Ferry Building.

After that we went for dinner. We ate in The Last Drop Tavern, located at 550 Powell Street. We saw it as we passed on the cable car and decided to give it a try. It was a bit dark and noisy inside. Service was efficient and polite though. I had chicken tacos and my husband had fish and chips. My meal was tasty but quite small ­I guess it was meant more as a snack than a meal. The fish and chips were good. One thing we did like was there was a good selection of draught beer. We tried Anchor Steam, Scrimshaw Pilsner, Speakeasy Prohibition Ale and Lagunitas IPA. All were very nice. We arrived at the restaurant by cable car and did not realise how steep it was to walk back down to Post Street where we lived. My husband found getting down the hill without slipping really quite hard. Address: 550 Powell Street.

Next day we went to Alcatraz. 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. 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.

Alcatraz Island.

Ruins on Alcatraz Island.

Alcatraz Island.

The Recreation Yard.

Over the rooftops.

Looking up at the prison.

The Guard House.

The Parade Ground.

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.

The Dining Hall.

The Kitchens.

The Former Library.

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.

Notorious Inmates.

Inside a Prison Cell.

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 papiermâché 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.

Despite its rather gruesome history, Alcatraz is a surprisingly beautiful place with wonderful flower filled gardens and lots of sea­birds. 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 - the flowers.

Alcatraz - the flowers.

Alcatraz - the flowers.

Alcatraz - the flowers.

Alcatraz is also 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.

Looking towards San Francisco.

The Views.

The Views.

The Views.

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.

Native American Occupation.

Native American Occupation.

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.

After our trip to Alcatraz we decided to walk along the waterfront as far as Fort Mason. It is a pleasant walk past the piers and then along a beach in front of the chocolate factory. To our surprise there were actually several people swimming in the sea here in February. Fort Mason is a former US army post. It served as an army post for about a hundred years. Fort Mason was the main port used in the Pacific Campaign in World War II.

Fort Mason.

Domenico Ghirardelli was born in 1817 in Rapallo, Italy. He served as a confectioner’s apprentice in Genoa. Then, when he was twenty years old, he sailed to Peru where he became a coffee and chocolate merchant. Ghirardelli's friend, James Lick, went to San Francisco in 1848 just before the gold rush and told Ghirardelli it was a great place to set up a business, so Ghirardelli travelled to San Francisco a year later and opened a general store supplying mustard, coffee, spices and chocolate. Over the years his business was located at four different sites before he took over the Pioneer Woollen Mills on North Point Street. The business was sold in the 1960s, but fortunately the chocolate factory buildings were preserved and turned into a shopping centre. If you visit here nowadays you'll find shops selling delicious Ghirardelli chocolate, other high end shops, restaurants and pubs. When you visit the shop, you are normally given chocolate samples to try. The chocolate really is excellent. Address: 900 North Point Street at Larkin.

Ghirardelli Square.

Ghirardelli Square.

Posted by irenevt 22:13 Archived in USA Tagged san francisco

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We'll have to check the record shop. As two musicians, when we married, we combined two wonderful record collections and they were vinyl in those days. We still have them and a record player that will play them. We now have CDs, tapes and MP3s to go with them.

We've visited Ghirardelli Square but didn't know about the free chocolate samples. That is now on my must-do list. Thank you for the idea. ;)

by Beausoleil

That record shop was amazing. I guarantee you will be in there for hours. You should definitely visit.

by irenevt

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