Day 2 in San Francisco – Alcatraz Island, Financial District, Union Square and the Mission Murals

In the morning, we went for gorgeous and peaceful walk to see some of the many murals down pretty much every alleyway stemming off of 24th Street in the Mission. We wandered down each and every back alleyway that we passed by, checking out the many colourful and unique murals along the way. There were so many different styles of painting. There were so many narrow alleys and all of them had murals along the building walls, gates and doors. It was a beautiful walk in the morning though, cool weather, quiet and peaceful. Though the murals were beautiful, they all smelled of strong urine, and it was a reminder of how many homeless people are probably living in these alleys (and obviously using them as their washroom).

We then walked around the Dolores Park neighbourhood and quickly discovered that looks are deceiving; the hills may not look that steep, but they sure kill your legs! I couldn’t imagine trying to park on those hills. We hiked to the top of a hill (on the other side of Dolores Park) on Church Street that had beautiful overlooking views of the city and downtown area. San Francisco definitely has a lot of homeless people. We saw them sleeping on benches, in the parks covered with tarps as blankets and in doorways and on the sidewalks. It is really quite sad.

After a long two and half hour walk in total, we headed to the BART train station underground at 16th and Mission and got on a train going towards Fremont. I think I have finally got the hang of the train ticket system! You load your card with money at the electronic ticket station, swipe your card to get into the station and swipe to exit the station at your destination. When you swipe to exit, the system deducts the money for the fare from your card balance. We got off the train at the Embarcadero and started walking towards Pier 33 where the ferries depart for Alcatraz. The walk along the water and piers was nice and palm trees lined the street.

We arrived at the Pier and began lining up for our ferry that was scheduled to depart at 11:30 am (I recommend arriving at the Pier at least half an hour in advance of your ferry departure time, because it gets busy and confusing to find the right line-up). The pier was packed with people. We waited for awhile, boarded the ferry and were on our way. It was about a 10-15 minute ferry ride to the island. It was windy and cold and I wished I had listened to the reviews I read earlier online and brought a jacket! (Trust me, you will want to wear a jacket and maybe even a scarf. It is colder than you think, regardless of how warm it feels on the mainland).

Touring Alcatraz was an amazing and fascinating experience! We did the audio tour through the cell blocks and it was interesting to learn and listen to stories about the riots, escapes and lives of the prisoners and guards. There is a lot of steep walking involved to get to the cell blocks and my legs were so sore by the end of the day! We got to see the solitary confinement cells and stepping inside was eerie and hard to imagine how the prisoners coped through this. We saw many other cells as well, the dining hall, the library, and administration building. The inside of the cells looked similar to the prison I work at, but they were much filthier. The only thing I disliked was the amount of people there. We walked against a strong and chilly wind to the other side of the island where there were great views of the bay and the city. Unfortunately, the thick fog blocked the views of the bridge. We walked to the former prison laundry building and inside was an exhibit called Prisoners of Age. It showcased large portraits of aging prisoners along with their stories. It was fascinating to read about their backgrounds! It was also cool to see the old Warden’s house, powerhouse, apartment blocks where the guards and their families lived and other remains of old buildings. We spent over three hours at the island and although it was very touristy and crowded, it was definitely worth it.

We boarded the ferry back to the mainland and walked to Pier 3, for a late lunch at The Plant Cafe Organic. We both had the “full belly salad” which was loaded with goodies like hummus, avocados, beets, quinoa, kale, carrots and cucumbers. It was delicious!

Following that, we walked a long ways throughout the streets of the Financial District and Union Square. It was packed with people everywhere and you could barely walk without bumping into someone. There were lots of high-rise business buildings, large department stores and upscale designer stores. Not my type of neighbourhood, as a minimalist trying to reject excess materialism (but it was still interesting to walk through)! We walked by a cable car which was cool to see and I am looking forward to riding them soon. We found the BART station near Powell and Market and boarded a very full train to the Mission. The trains and stations are packed at rush hour!

I definitely prefer the character and atmosphere of the Mission. We relaxed for a bit as our legs were sooo sore from all the walking and hiking up hills we did today. Then we walked to Bi-Rite Market to get some more organic groceries. I was craving a taco so we headed to Los Coyotes Taqueria on 16th Street between Wiese and Julian. There was typical Mexican music playing and the interior was decorated in colourful tiled walls. I had a vegetarian taco which was amazing. They had so much variety of food to choose from. We checked out a street market with fresh fruit and veggies displayed in crates on the sidewalk. It felt really authentic and local. We bought some organic strawberries for breakfasts. On our walk back to our house, a couple of men dressed in tye dye were dancing on the sidewalk to loud catchy music and we smiled as we walked by. The one guy told us that all he needed was a smile to brighten his day. I love the people of the Mission! There is so much diversity. We also saw a needle exchange operating out of a side alley near our street so that was interesting also.

We had a relaxing evening at the house and we had the whole place to ourselves! I enjoyed some fresh salsa and chips that we had bought earlier at Bi-Rite Market and planned our next day.

I am looking to visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park and Haight Ashbury neighboirhood tomorrow!

One of the many sidewalk markets in the Mission


Arriving at Alcatraz from the ferry.

It was so windy and cold! What was I thinking, wearing capris and no jacket?!

Lunch at The Plant Cafe on Pier 3

The recreation yard at Alcatraz

A typical cell.

Solitary confinement cell

View from the top of Church Street near Mission Dolores Park

24th Street Alleyway Murals






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