Daily Archives: March 15, 2022

San Fran Again . . .

Since I had so many nice comments about my reposts of our visits to Hearst Castle and the Biltmore, I thought I repost these two combined blogs of our time in San Francisco in 2010, our 3rd year on the road.

May 10, 2010

The Rock . . .

This morning we left about 9 am headed for prison…

Alcatraz, that is.

By 10 am we were parked at a parking lot right across the street from Pier 33 on The Embarcadero, the street that runs along San Francisco’s waterfront

We were suppose to be in line to board our ferry at 10:30 am and I thought I had allowed plenty of time, but I didn’t count on it taking 20 minutes to pay for our parking.

This was one of those parking lots where your parking spot had a number and you go to an automated machine, enter you spot number, and feed machine cash or a credit card. The problem was that many of the people trying to pay were foreign tourists who apparently didn’t read English very well. And they were having a lot of trouble with the machine. So there was a long line at the machine.

Luckily, since we were right across the street from the dock, we had time for a quick bathroom break before picking up our tickets and getting in line.

Clipper Line

While waiting in line, we could see Coit Tower up the hill behind us. This was neat because we just saw Coit Tower in the closing episode of Amazing Race on Sunday night, where the contestants had to climb the side of the tower to get their next clue.

Coit Tower
Our ferry, the Alcatraz Clipper left the dock about 11 am, right on time and headed toward Alcatraz Island, about 2 miles away.

Alcatraz Clipper

Off to our left we could see the Golden Gate Bridge that we had crossed earlier emerging from the fog.

Golden Gate in Fog

And then Alcatraz itself started to become visible.

Alcatraz 1

The “Indians Welcome” sign is left over from the Indian occupation of Alcatraz in 1969.

Alcatraz Sign

The first thing we noticed was all the lush vegetation around. Lots and lots of flowers, shrubs, and ground covers.

Alcatraz Flowers 1

Alcatraz Flowers 2

We made the quarter-mile, 130 foot vertical climb up to the cellhouse and began our audio tour using headphones, narrated by former guards and inmates.

Here’s the shower room for the inmates. Guess you couldn’t be too shy.

Alcatraz Shower

The three levels of cells.

Alcatraz Cell Block

And here’s a typical cell. 5 feet wide by 9 feet deep by 7 feet high.

Alcatraz Cell

And here’s Jan being locked away in one of the high-security detention cells.

Alcatraz Cell 2

The gouges and holes in the floor were made by grenades dropped into the cell blocks by the US Marines during a botched escape attempt in 1946.

Alcatraz Grenades

Looking back at downtown San Francisco from The Rock.

Alcatraz San Francisco

One of the actual cells that the three inmates used spoons to tunnel thru the concrete and disappear from Alcatraz in 1962. They were never found, nor were their bodies. The FBI concluded they had drowned, but other inmates and guards who were there at the time think they all escaped to South America, since they had all been studying Spanish via correspondence course.

That’s the hole underneath the sink.

Alcatraz Escape

After watching a very good 20 minute film on the history of Alcatraz Island.

The island became Fort Alcatraz in 1858 and remained under direct Army control until 1907 when it officially became an Army prison.

In 1933 the Army closed their prison facilities and transferred the island to the newly-formed Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Then it 1934 it reopened as America’s highest security prison. Over the years, it was home to many famous inmates, like Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelley, Alvin Karpis, and Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz.

On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz was officially closed, and the remaining inmates transferred to other Federal prisons.

We caught the 1:35 pm ferry back to the dock and headed for the car.

Then we headed over to Joe’s Cable Car Diner. We had seen this place on Diner’s, Drive-ins, and Dives and wanted to check it out.

Joes Cable Car

They mainly serve hamburgers, or as they say, “Ground Steak Burgers”. And talk about fresh ground!  They grind your burger from fresh chuck as you order it.

And Joe, the owner, is adamant about his burgers. He was sitting at the next table when got our orders, and when he saw Jan start to put mustard on her burger, he said, loudly, “No, No, No. You must taste it first. Don’t put anything on it before you taste it”

Jan and both agreed this was absolutely the best burger we have ever eaten, bar none.

As we were leaving the restaurant about 3:45 pm, Jan talked to our daughter Brandi as we headed back to the rig.

Getting home about 5 pm, we settled in.

Tomorrow we’re going to take a DUCK Tour of San Francisco, ride the cable cars, and eat at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Another busy day.

May 11, 2010

Quack, Quack, DUKW, DUKW . . .

Today we headed into San Francisco about 8:50 am, with a quick detour to a gas station to get some air in one of my tires. Yesterday my tire pressure monitor told me my passenger front tire was down about 10# so I aired it up. Then this morning it was down again. So I’ve got a slow leak. I’ll have to get it fixed tomorrow.

We got to our Duck Tour pick up point, but then found a problem. We were supposed to be picked up at the corner of Powell & Ellis, but there was nothing there to indicate this was a pickup point. When we’ve done these tours before, there’s always a ticket booth or sign or something. But nothing here.

After making a couple of phone calls and getting no more info, we just hoped that we would be picked up at noon on schedule.

We had about a hour before our supposed pickup so we decided to take a Cable Car ride down to Fisherman’s Wharf and back.

While we waited for the cable car, I saw this sign and just had to shake my head.


It’s really a shame that they just don’t teach spelling in American schools anymore.

We started our cable car ride at the Market St. Turnaround.

Calble Car 1

The turnaround is a turntable that allows the cable cars to reverse direction.

Cable Car 2

Once the car is on the turntable the crew turns it by hand.

Cable Car 3

This is the Grip, the guy who controls the cable car. The cable runs underground, kind of like an upside down ski lift.. The cable is constantly running at about 9.5 mph. A gripper extends below the car into the slot between the tracks. The lever in the Grip’s left hand grips the cable that pulls the car along. Releasing the grip lets the car coast. The lever in the Grip’s right hand controls the car’s brakes.

Cable Car 4

And good brakes are really needed on some of  these hills.

Cable Car 5

Cable Car 6

We got back to our DUKW pickup point about 10 minutes before noon, and looking around, suddenly, our DUKW was there. The DUKW’s are WWII amphibious 6 wheel drive trucks used in the D-Day landing at Normandy and others. The DUKW name is not a military acronym, but the designation given to it by General Motors Corporation, the builder. The D indicates a vehicle designed in 1942, the U meant “utility (amphibious)”, the K indicated all-wheel drive and the W indicated two powered rear axles.


And it was a special tour. We were the only two people on the tour, so we had the DUKW all to ourselves.

The driver/tour guide noticed I was wearing an SR-71 Blackbird T-shirt. It turns out that he was stationed at RAF Mindenhall in England as a SR-71 support officer in the USAF. Since I had worked on the SR-71 once when I was working for the Department of Defense back in the early 70’s, we had fun trading our favorite Blackbird stories.

We started with a tour of the sites of SF. Here’s San Francisco’s iconic Transamerica Building.


And of course, Chinatown.

Chinatown 1

Our driver said there is no natural level ground in San Francisco. The only level spots are from hills being leveled off, or valleys filled in. This really illustrates that.

SF Skyline

After about a hour we drove into San Francisco Bay and started the water part of our tour. This is AT&T Park where the Giants play.

AT&T Park

And here’s the Bay Bridge…and the back of Jan’s head.

Bay Bridge

Our DUKW lasted about 90 minutes, so by 1:30 pm we were back where we parked the truck. And after grabbing a Starbuck’s coffee and a bathroom break, we got our truck out of the parking garage and head down to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch.

We liked the look of Castagnalo’s so we decided to give it a try.


The place was beautiful inside and had a great view of the Wharf.


Castagnolas View

We started off with a half dozen raw oysters, and then Jan had the Fried Shrimp and I had the Lobster Bisque in a sourdough bread bowl. Both were delicious.

Leaving Castagnola’s, we walked down a couple of blocks and turned a corner. And suddenly I wished we had eaten somewhere else

What I saw was Fisherman’s Grotto.

Fishermans Grotto

And I remembered this as the place my family and I ate in the summer of 1964 when we did our big month-long western vacation. Bummer!

It would have been neat to eat here again after 46 years.

Leaving the Wharf area we headed over to Lombard St. to drive the ‘Crookedest Street in the World”. It consists of a 27% grade with 8 hairpin turns, and looks like this.

Lombard 3

Here’s what it looks like going down.

Lombard 1

And here’s what it looks like from a couple of blocks away looking back up.

Lombard 2

Lombard St. may be the crookedest, but certainly not the steepest, at a 27% grade. Here’s a list of steeper streets. A couple of these we took. And I’m glad our truck had good brakes and a V-8 engine.

The Steepest Streets in the City
1. (tie) Filbert between Leavenworth and Hyde (31.5% grade)
1. (tie) 22nd between Church and Vicksburg (31.5% grade)
3. Jones between Union and Filbert (29% grade)
4. Duboce between Buena Vista and Alpine (27.9% grade)
5. Jones between Green and Union (26% grade)
6. Webster between Vallejo and Broadway (26% grade)
7. Duboce between Alpine and Divisadero (25% grade)
8. Jones between Pine and California (24.8 grade)
9. Fillmore between Vallejo and Broadway (24% grade)
Source: San Francisco Bureau Of Engineering

Supposedly there is another street with a 34% grade, but I wasn’t able to locate it.

Some of these streets are so steep that it’s like driving off a cliff. When your vehicle is level before you start down the hill, you can’t see the roadway in front of you. You just have to take it on faith that the road is still there.


Before heading home Jan wanted to drive past the famous “Painted Ladies” near Alamo Square. They are on so many postcards that the street is known as Postcard Row. The street was also featured in the credits of the TV show “Full House”.

Painted Ladies

Heading home, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and decided to stop at Vista Point, a viewing area overlooking the bridge.

Here we got our last look at the Golden Gate.

Golden Gate

We got home about 6 pm and Jan heated up what was left of last night’s crockpot King Ranch Chicken. I forgot to mention yesterday that we had it cooking for us when we got home. Jan’s King Ranch Chicken is always great.

Tomorrow is our last day in San Francisco, and we have some things to get done before we leave on Thursday for the Redwood National Forest about 295 miles north.

Thought For The Day:

“Sometimes in life there are no solutions, only trade-offs.” – Renowned American Economist