Beautiful Images from a Not So Beautiful Place

“Break the rules and you go to prison,
break the prison rules and you go to
Alcatraz,”
– Author Unknown

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We’ve all heard of Alcatraz. A prison located on a very small island off the San Francisco Bay, where there was no chance of escape and if you did, then you had the sea to battle next.  A prison that housed the likes of Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Mickey Cohen. Walking through, the cells are tiny and dismal and the entire prison has a harsh feeling to it compared to modern day prisons.

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The best room of the place was easily the kitchen, where it’s said that prisoners were served the best food in the entire United States prison system. Not only that, but they had a small glimpse of the freedom that was just beyond those walls.

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Another hazy view of a distant San Francisco skyline that could be seen from peering out of one of the small windows, now gritty with dirt.

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Alcatraz has a history that began with Native Americans who used the island to collect bird eggs from the many birds that called the island home. From there, it became the defense location to protect San Francisco during the Civil War, was used as a military prison and finally became the Alcatraz prison that it is most famous for today. Despite it’s largely war and criminal related history, the location of this prison is unlike any other. From outside of the prison walls there is a beautiful view in each direction that you turn.

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The remnants of what used to be the warden’s house and the lighthouse.

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Baker Beach: A Photo Montage.

“There is magic in the ocean.
Be free and dive in.”

A collection of photos from Baker Beach, San Francisco. To read more about Baker Beach, click here :)

The Cure For Anything Is Salt Water…

“The cure for anything is salt water:
sweat, tears, or the sea”
-Isak Dinesen

Soft sand hits your feet, sun caresses your shoulders, and the salty scent of the ocean breeze fills your nose. It is one of my very favorite moments, that moment when you step onto the beach and walk towards the sea. Isak Dinesen was correct when he said that the sea can cure anything. All of my day-to-day worries melt away the instant I see the ocean before me. Foamy white waves crash into the shoreline and the sparkling blue water of the Pacific Ocean goes as far as the eye can see.

It has been over a year since I have traveled and although university stops me from going away as far and as long as I would like, I had a wonderful opportunity to spend some time in San Francisco with my aunt. Although we only had a weekend to spare, we did our best to make the most of our second visit to this vibrant city. My auntie and I both agreed that our favorite day was the day that we spent on Baker Beach. Roughly a mile long stretch of sand, Baker Beach awards sunbathers a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge on one end and a picturesque residential neighborhood (apparently home to Robin Williams) that overlooks the ocean at the other.

 Golden Gate Bridge

Children Playing

Golden Gate Bridge

Eager to explore every inch of the beach, I dragged my auntie with me on a walk towards the Northernmost point of the beach. The closest we got to the rocks at the north end of the beach, the more naked men we saw. For those of you who will be visiting Baker Beach for the first time, just remember that the North side of the beach is considered a nudist beach due to the “clothing-optional” policy. Despite the many naked old men we walked by (and I say good for them if they’re confident enough to want to let it all hang out on a sunny day), the views of the ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge from that end of the beach were picture perfect.

my auntie walking along the beach

view from the north side of the beach

A nudist in the water.

If you get tired of lounging around and walking up and down the beach, I would recommend hitting up Baker Beach’s sand stairs for a decent leg workout. The stairs take you from the sand up to the road, where you have gorgeous views of the bridge, the beach, and every direction of water. If they look daunting to you, I promise they are worth it!

Sand Steps or Sand Ladder at Baker Beach

View from the top of the steps

View from the top of the steps

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Sailboat.

To top off our afternoon, we spotted a group of dolphins on our walk from the steps back to our blanket (aka, a stolen hotel bed sheet). Unfortunately, there’s no photos to show for it but it was a beautiful moment. I think it is so important, whether you’re traveling or not, to make time for something that makes you feel happy and rejuvenated.

For me and my aunt, that is the ocean so it was easy to decide to take up an entire day for this. Although I live in a land-locked province, I try to make a point to get to the ocean at least once a year. It might not sound like much, but being by the water fills me up in a way that nothing else can and I come home feeling so at peace with my life.

My First Taste of the United States.

Six months ago in September of 2011 I crossed the borders and found myself in San Francisco. Twenty years old, I had never been to the USA, even though it’s only a few short hours away from my hometown in Canada. September in Canada means that it’s starting to get a bit chilly, so it was with delight that I stepped out of the San Francisco International Airport into a warm, humid temperature. On this mini getaway, something was different. I wasn’t traveling solo this time, but with my auntie. Together we had planned a fun-filled, four day weekend in San Francisco.

For the first time in two years, I stayed in a hotel near the Fisherman’s Wharf rather than a hostel, dined in seaside restaurants instead of cooking in the hostel kitchen, splurged on red wine instead of cheap beer, and shopped to my heart’s desire in Union Square. After having a tourist day of seeing the painted ladies, the brightly colored Victorian townhouses, and driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, we boarded a cruise ship at dusk that evening that took us around the island of Alcatraz, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and around the harbour.

We both had big hopes to do a tour of Alcatraz, a prison made famous for it’s imprisonment of notorious criminals but, unfortunately, we were too late in getting tickets and the tours were booked days in advance. To make our last day the best day, we hopped a local bus to take us to Ocean Beach. This was not just any ordinary day on the bus, let me tell you. It was a Sunday morning and a bluegrass festival was being held in Golden Gate Park. My auntie and I had hit rush hour on the bus it seemed. Every stop loaded on more passengers until it surely couldn’t fit anymore. But somehow it did, again and again for multiple stops until bodies were squished uncomfortably close to one another and the light smell of sweat lingered in the enclosed space. While this kind of public transport isn’t new to me, as I have had numerous experiences in overpacked local buses in hot weather, my auntie was not impressed. A woman who goes nowhere without her hand sanitizer, I was certain she would have a heart attack by this unsanitary situation.

The sticky bus ride was absolutely worth it once we reached Ocean Beach. This afternoon epitomized what I have imagined California to be since I was young. The soft sand, crashing waves being mastered by surfers and mountains in the distance, peeking over the low clouds. It was such a beautiful sight that we walked up and down the shoreline, picked a spot in the sand and sat staring at the waves for the entire afternoon. I have seen a number of oceans and beaches on my travels, but I have never seen one like this. I’ve never really watched the ocean’s roughness as it’s waves crashed continuously into the sand. Often times, the water is simply still and transparent. We found ourselves mesmerized.

I was extremely happy that San Francisco was my first destination in the United States. Four days flew by and were simply not enough. I found so many things that I wanted to do and see. After a brilliant weekend spent with family, sunshine, beaches and shopping, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself there again. I tend to judge a destination by whether or not I could see myself living there and I have to admit, San Francisco passed the test. How could a city that contains such diversity not pass the test?