Playing Tourist – A Visit to Alcatraz

A view of Alcatraz Island from the ferry

A view of Alcatraz Island from the ferry

I have probably mentioned this before, but it’s worth noting here again that I’m a Bay Area native. I was born and raised in the Bay Area and have lived here my entire life. 

Which brings me to my point–I’ve lived here my entire life and I have never been to Alcatraz. Until now, of course.

Actually, I can ask any of my friends who were born and raised here and I can tell you only one or two have been to the infamous penitentiary. 

Why? Well, for one, it’s pretty difficult to just go there on a whim. You definitely have to plan ahead. Another reason? It’s right in the middle of all the tourist traps in the city. Fisherman’s Wharf is known for cheap souvenirs, windy cold weather, sea lions, Pier 39, and any other touristy thing you can think of.  

About four weeks ago, we made plans to finally take a trip to Alcatraz! Was it worth it? Absolutely. There were so many unexpected perks from this trip, like panoramic views of the city and East Bay and beautiful spring wildflowers. 

Here’s a recap of our trip: 

The view of Coit Tower from the waiting area

The view of Coit Tower from the waiting area

The waiting area and ticketing area is legit. The National Parks Service really knows how to herd crowds of people and streamline the process. While we were waiting, I snapped this photo of Coit Tower. 

A view of Alcatraz Island from the ferry

A view of Alcatraz Island from the ferry

We were sailing over rough water but our ferry got us to the island in one piece. That’s a view of the island from the ferry. 

As soon as you get to the island, you’re greeting by this gigantic sign. Really, you can’t miss it. 

Right when you get off the ferry, a ranger gives you a quick rundown of what’s happening on the island and where things are at. They have some special demonstrations throughout the day but the main attraction is the guided audio tour that takes you through the jail cells and various rooms of the prison. It’s included in the admission to the island. 

On the way to the guided tour, you’re taken to a room that shows the toiletries they used, the laundry area, and the showers:

alcatraz-toiletries

Toiletries

alcatraz-laundry

Laundry

Almost all the rows of jail cells looked like this, with the exception of solitary confinement cells. These cells were state of the art. 

Alcatraz Jail Cells

Alcatraz Jail Cells

Entrance to the admin building

Entrance to the admin building

Dining Hall Menu

Dining Hall Menu

Their meals were a mere 20 minutes long. Pictured above is the menu from the last day Alcatraz was in operation.

After the tour (which took about an hour), we walked around the island to take in the views. 

Sailboats on the bay

Sailboats on the bay

And that’s pretty much it! We headed back on a ferry back to the mainland right afterward. 

Some tips, if you’re planning on making a trip:

  • Book your tickets in advance. The ferries are usually booked one week out. 
  • Try to go in the early afternoon so that you’re there before the heavy winds kick in
  • Eat well before you go. There is food available on the ferry (hot dogs, nachos…) There’s no food on the island and you’re not allowed to bring food to the island. You can drink water though!
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. There’s a lot of walking involved.
  • There isn’t much cell phone service on the island. Plan accordingly. 
  • There are other special trips available, such as night tours and combo trips to Angel Island. Take a look to see what they offer!

Have you been to Alcatraz? What do you think? 

Rainy Day Date Ideas

Rainy Day Date Ideas

For the first time in years, we’re California is finally experiencing a winter with rain. Lots of it. There’s no shortage over here. 

Quick pros and cons list for you: Pros include that we aren’t really experiencing a drought anymore and that our reservoirs are getting pretty full, while Cons include flash floods, reservoirs spilling over, power outages, and bad driving. Oh, and it feels like there’s nothing to do. 

But feelings aren’t facts (haha!) and there is actually plenty to do when it’s raining. We just don’t feel like we want to do anything when it’s raining. But that feeling gets old and cabin fever can set in pretty quickly. There’s only so much Netflix someone can watch. Maybe you’re tolerance is higher than mine, but I would rather not spend every weekend binge watching a new show.

 Here’s a list to refer to when you can’t think of anything. This list is for everyone everywhere, but I’m also going to list local suggestions for those in the Bay Area. 

Go Bowling – If you’re in the Bay Area, head out to San Francisco’s Mission Bowling Club or Oakland’s Plank. 

Appreciate art and history at Museums & Art Galleries – Oakland Museum of California, Pace Gallery, and SFMOMA are popular spots. 

Look at fish, sea critters, and more at an Aquarium – The only thing cuter than watching otter videos on Youtube is watching otters IRL. Aquarium by the Bay and Monterey Bay Aquarium are your Bay Area options! 

Shoot some pool at your local Pool Hall – Slate in San Francisco also has skee ball sooooo 

Get active and go Rock Climbing – Planet Granite has locations across the Bay Area, but there are also other small gyms around so do some research before you head out. Also, if you’re a beginner, you might have to take a training class so keep that in mind.  

Buy a book you’ve been eyeing from a local bookstore or visit the Library –  I love the feeling of picking up a book that I’ve been thinking about buying and finally making the purchase. Pay a little more to support your local bookstore (or else Amazon will eventually be your only option) or pay nothing and pick up some books at the library. My favorites include Green Apple Books in San Francisco and Books, Inc. across the bay area. 

Wine Tasting / Brewery Tours – Depending on the winery and brewery, they may offer tours during the rain, so you’ll have to do a little research. Some brewery options: Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, 21st Amendment in San Francisco, Gordon Biersch in San Jose, Lagunitas in Petaluma. 

Play some games at an arcade – Coin-Op Game Room in San Francisco, Dave & Busters, and Brewcade in San Francisco are some good options. 

Check out live performances like concerts, plays, or comedy shows – This one is easier said than done for sure, but many restaurants and bars have live music at night. Grab some drinks at a local dive. Savanna Jazz in San Francisco, Berkeley Playhouse in Berkeley, and Tommy T’s in Pleasanton are a few options for you. 

Go to the Movies – This isn’t very creative but the movies are always an option. Consider going to a matinee if tickets are expensive. To switch things up, go to a historic theater, or one that serves alcohol and or has dinner service. Sundance Kabuki and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema are popular in SF. 

Belt out your favorite song at Karaoke – You could do this in a group or just as a couple but head to a karaoke place and just sing. 

Relax at the spa – Go to a nice spa in the area and get massages and facials or whatever you want. Watercourse Way Bath Room Spa in Palo Alto and Serenity Spa in Atherton have great reviews. 

Have an adventure at an Escape Room – What’s an escape room you ask? “Real-life room escape games are a type of physical adventure game in which people are locked in a room with other participants and have to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles, find clues, and escape the room within a set time limit. ” – Quora. There are quite a few in SF and in the South Bay

Play Indoor Mini Golf – Urban Putt in SF and Subpar in Oakland are good options. 

Play with some animals at a Cat Cafe – These aren’t located everywhere but there is KitTea in SF and Cat Town in Oakland. You may have to make reservations in advance. 

Shop for some vinyls – Check out a good record store and buy favorite albums on vinyl. 

Get some tickets to a game – Basketball and Hockey take place indoors. Look for last minute deals on SeatGeek and StubHub. 

Want to stay in instead? 

Home-cooked Meal / Bake something – Why step out in the rain if you really don’t have to? Make some comfort food at home or bake something! 

Plan a trip – Think of a place local or a new destination where you would want to go! 

Learn a new language – Open up Duolingo on your phones and start learning! Then start speaking to each other in that language. 

Listen to records/music – ’nuff said

Board Games – Some aren’t as fun with only two people but that doesn’t mean you can’t play! 

Video Games – Not everyone’s cup of tea but it can still be fun. 

That’s what I came up with! What are some rainy day date ideas you have? Please share! 

Weekend Brunch at Sideboard in Danville, CA

Sideboard-brunchBrunch is one of my favorite meals, and I have a feeling a lot of you feel the same way.

Tucked away in a nondescript house on a street corner at the edge of Downtown Danville is a lovely cafe that serves freshly baked pastries, light and healthy appetizers, hearty entrees, gourmet coffee, and flavorful cocktails called Sideboard. Really, the location is so easy to miss, we didn’t see the building the first time we drove by, leading to this exchange:

“Are you sure it’s here?”

“Yes, I’m sure! Google says so, too!”

Some of the decor at Sideboard

Some of the decor at Sideboard

Once you enter the house from a side door, not the front entrance, you immediately find yourself in this homey, comfortable environment. The walls are a deep red from with all types of art on the walls, and almost everything inside is mismatched in a the way you might see at someone’s house. All of tables, chairs and benches were mismatched, all the plates were mismatched, and all the silverware was mismatched, but in a good, likable way.

Some of the artwork at Sideboard

Some of the artwork at Sideboard

The place is packed with families, groups of girls catching up, men and women on brunch dates, students working on papers, elderly men reading the newspaper…basically everyone.

There’s no menu on the wall, so you pick up a paper menu and proceed through the line while making a decision on what to order. The menu here is extensive, and there’s something for almost anyone. You will have plenty of time to decide on what to order, and but if you’re anything like me, you will still second guess your choices once you reach the cash register and you’re placing your orders. There’s so much delicious food to choose from, you really have to make sure you have enough room in your belly to actually eat everything you order!

I was pretty tempted by the mac and cheese, but we ended up getting the Grilled Chicken Breast Salad, the Roasted Pink and Gold Beets Salad, a Four Barrel espresso, a Four Barrel Latte, a slice of coffee cake, and the Vampiro (spicy bloody mary!)

A slice of coffee cake

A slice of coffee cake

Since we were there at a peak time, it took us over 10 minutes to find a place to sit,

We ended up sitting at a large community table inside, which was quite roomy and actually made it really easy to talk in the midst of all the loud and fun conversations happening around us.

As soon as we sat down, our food came out quickly, and we devoured our food. I don’t know how but I was somehow able to fit a heaping salad, soup-sized latte, a slice of coffee cake, and half a bloody mary in my belly. My bloody mary ended up being too spicy for me (as in it was burning my stomach), so I decided to not finish it. I’m a fan of spicy bloody marys but my body just wasn’t ready for this one.

Vampiro - Spicy Bloody Mary

Vampiro – Spicy Bloody Mary

I was kind of amazed at myself for eating so much food for one meal! Oh well, we all have those days where we pig out, right?!

If you’re in the Bay Area and you’re out in the East Bay looking for a place to eat that combines healthy food with good flavor, you need to go to Sideboard!

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