Tag Archives: sanfrancisco

The Beach

Baker Beach

This weeks PhotoFriday theme is “The Beach.” Here is my entry.

When I first saw the challenge I thought of the Danny Boyle movie of the same name. Unfortunately I didn’t go anywhere near a beach when I went to Thailand, and when I went to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam it was so foggy you could barely see it was there! So instead my entry is a picture of Baker Beach in San Francisco from my first trip to California.

Also, please vote for my entry in last weeks challenge, “Fantasy.” I’m entry number 160.

San Francisco

Transamerica Pyramid

San Francisco StreetIn April last year I had never visited the west coast of America, so it’s slightly odd to think that this was my third trip there this year — first to Berkeley and Monterey, and last month to Marin for work. This time I increased by “bridge count,” visited The City (as locals call San Francisco), Marin (the county north of the Golden Gate Bridge), and two universities (Berkeley and Stanford).

From there I saw the Transamerica Pyramid in the distance and decided to wander over for a closer look. As I got closer I lost it a couple of times but I persevered and you can see a shot from the base here. At ground level there was a lot of building work. Don’t know what they were doing but it wasn’t pretty.

In the Friday evening we took a tour out to Alcatraz. By the time we were heading back it was sunset and this allowed some beautiful pictures of San Fransisco itself lit by the golden, fading sun.

San Francisco from Alcatraz

Heading back to the UK and seeing all the flooding in the news it’s sad to think that it’s going to be a while before we head back to the Bay Area again.



AlcatrazI know, I know. Alcatraz is an obvious tourist destination, as Buckingham Palace is in London or the Statue of Liberty is is New York. Equally, I couldn’t not go.

In the end we chose the evening tour on a Friday. Going later in the day would allow better light and the trip includes a number of thing such as an audio-tour that cost extra during the day.

The trip starts near Pier 33 where there’s a queue for the ferry. At least, that’s what it claims to be. The line is actually for a photographer taking “souvenir” pictures for those customers who simultaneous have more money than sense and no camera. I didn’t see anyone buy a print so in practice it seems to be for people who feel unable to do what we did: join the line after the photographer. Such rebels.

Heading into Alcatraz

The ferry circles around the island, allowing views of all parts of it and back to San Francisco and some magnificent sunset views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Once my feet were back on solid ground, the tour takes everyone up hill to the main building in the centre of the island.

Alcatraz cells

Alcatraz cellsWe first enter the shower room. As the guides are keen to tell us, this is not the shower room that you see in the movie “The Rock.” Here there is no balcony for the guards to look down (and shoot) from. These days this is where you get your audio tour. They tell you to press the play button when you get to a particular sign in the cell blocks.

Given the amount of time that the prisoners would spend each day in their cells, they are frighteningly small. I think I would lose my mind sat in them each day every day. But many of the ex-inmates who provide some of the audio commentary are nostalgic about them. I guess if you spend enough time somewhere is does become home. They also note that the cells were safe from attack from other inmates.

Sunset on AlcatrazOnce the audio tour had finished there was still plenty of time to wander around, take in some talks by rangers and see some videos. The latter seemed popular but we decided to check out the view of sun-set over the San Francisco Bay.

One “spooky” bit was back inside the main hall. Most of the exhibits had been static during the rest of the tour, but here they opened and closed a whole row of cell doors. The sound is so frightening, even to people who have not been incarcerated, that the effect has been used in many films, including Star Wars!

Overall we were impressed. We were expecting it to be overly cheesy and touristy but it was very well done and gave a good insight to the island. Having good weather only improved things.

Muir Woods

Muir Woods sign

Redwood trees in Muir WoodsIf you were to travel to San Francisco, drive north over the Golden Gate Bridge and keep going for another six or seven hours you would get to a marvelous part of California with trees as high as sky-scrapers, far too wide for a large man to hug and as old as some of our more sacred books1.

I didn’t go there. I was only in California for a week and didn’t want to spend nearly two days traveling just to see some trees, no matter how spectacular. Instead, if you come off the freeway and head west shortly after the Golden Gate you get to Muir Woods.

Redwood trees in Muir WoodsI was expecting a grass clearing to park the car and a muddy path leading under the dark, humid canopy of the Redwoods. Clearly I’ve not spent enough time in the US yet. There were at least two large car parks — sorry, parking lots — and tarmac paths leading up to the ticket booth. Once past the gate-keepers you can see where the money has gone, and it’s difficult to argue that it’s a bad thing. The path becomes a wooden platform leading you between all the magnificent trees. There’s actually nothing preventing you heading off into the woods, stomping on the various delicate flora, but the walk-way leaves you in no doubt where you should be.

I wander deeper into the forest, admiring all the Redwoods. At ground level there is also a wide range of plants. I know nothing about these things (as is readily becoming apparent in this commentary) so it’s good to see that there are plaques identifying the various things to keep an eye out for. After a while I cross a stream and head back to the car park along a dirt path — this is the kind of route I was expecting for the whole area!

It’s great that areas like this can be found so close to big urban areas. It made a great contrast to all the man-made things I saw for the rest of the week.

  1. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” was only published in the late seventies. I’m talking about certain religious books here. []