So if you go to San Francisco, there are two things everyone will ask if you're going to do. The first is ride a cable car. Which we did. In my opinion, it was rather over-rated. We waited for at least an hour to board, then it took us to the other end of the city. It was basically just a form of transportation jammed with passengers. But there you go, we did it.

The other obvious must-do in San Francisco is visit Alcatraz. And this experience did not disappoint. Clued in by a friend that we needed reservations in advance, we booked early enough to score a night tour and it was so worth it. The National Parks Service does an amazing job and has never disappointed us, and this tour was no exception. The audio tour, narrated by former guards and prisoners, the live tour guides, the ferry operators... everyone was incredibly informative, friendly, professional. Ah, National Parks Service, long may you reign.

The infamous Rock.

After an incredible lunch at the Slanted Door at the Ferry Building, we headed for our designated pier to catch our tour. We set off around six in the evening, giving us full light to appreciate our landing on the island, followed by perfect sunset views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay, ending with the gathering gloom of dusk as we experienced the fading light from inside the prison. Coming home we watched the glittering lights of shore grow closer as the ferry neared land. If you can see Alcatraz, see it by night.

After the jail closed, Native Americans occupied the island for a time in protest of government treatment. Who knew?

From the main landing, looking towards the water tower.
Once we departed the ferry in an orderly fashion, we headed up the winding road the shackled prisoners would have taken to get to the main building on the island, the jail. I was taken with how much lush greenery was present - the families of the guards and in some cases, the prisoners themselves, had planted gardens that have gradually flourished in this now empty space. We headed into the main shower room, where prisoners would have received their prison-issued clothing, and were given our tour-issued headsets before heading up the stairs to the main cell block. The audio was incredible. Narrated by guards and prisoners, enhanced by well-placed background sound effects, it gave explicit directions (now turn to your left and find cell number 104...) that led throughout the jail. I can't imagine having the same view, day after day. Apparently they also were granted "music hour" when everyone played their choice of instrument... can you imagine the din?

The cells were tiny! 

The windows of D-Block... solitary confinement.
The view from D-Block, just as the sun was setting, was beautiful. The views from inside the pitch-black rooms of solitary, less so. We heard the story of one prisoner who would pull a button off his clothes, toss it somewhere in the darkness of his cell, then hunt around until he found it, just to repeat the entire process - anything to keep from going crazy in the dark.

The Warden's House

Something I had never considered but learned during our tour - the guards working on Alcatraz had families and children living with them. The kids would take a boat to the mainland to go to school, then come home again in the afternoon. They could even bring friends with them for playdates. Imagine! If you could look past the jail, the island is not a bad place to be. Rather isolated, of course. And everything - water, food, everything - has to be brought in. But the views, as long as you're not viewing them through steel bars, are amazing.

It got colder as the evening wore on, but we had to step outside to catch the sunset.

The lighthouse.

The island is now a swell place to be a bird - no predators!

Sunset over the Bay.

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