How cruel! The prison on Alcatraz Island gave inmates a dazzling view of San Francisco, then treated them to hot showers (so they wouldn't acclimate to the bay's cold water) and fattening meals, all to thwart escapes. But now the island is as hard to get on as it used to be to get off. Tickets are tough to score if you haven't planned in advance.
The Vallejo, Oakland, and Larkspur ferries make their way into and out of the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
(Eric Risberg - AP)
Angel Island State Park.
Jump a different boat to visit bigger and lesser-known Angel Island, beyond Alcatraz nearer to Marin County. Once dubbed "Ellis Island of the West," it was the processing center for millions of Pacific Basin, Asian and Russian immigrants. It's also been home to Coast Miwok Indians and has played a military role since the Civil War. Now you can hike or bike its trails, paddle a kayak or tour old buildings and fortifications. For a great day on the bay with a historical bent, this beats the Rock, hands down -- er, hands up?
To get to Angel Island, take a Blue & Gold Fleet boat ($13; 415-705-5555, www.blueandgoldfleet.com/angel_island.htm) from Pier 41 in the Fisherman's Wharf area. For tour info: Angel Island Co., 415-897-0715, www.angelisland.com. General info: 415-435-1915, www.angelisland.org.
TOURIST ZONE :
This former chocolate factory is now packed with restaurants, stores and gee-gaws. Yes, they still have a shop where you can buy Ghirardelli chocolates, shovel down a hot fudge sundae and see some of the old chocolate manufacturing equipment, but the real factory is elsewhere.
Scharffen Berger chocolate factory.
Chocoholics know the Scharffen Berger factory, across the bay in Berkeley, turns out sinful Euro-style confections (it roasts the beans itself, then turns out the treats in small batches). Willy Wonka wonks can take a free one-hour tour, starting with a lecture on how chocolate is made. Generous samples compensate for having to wear hideous hairnets and ear protectors on the factory floor, but resist the urge to dive into that vat of velvety molten chocolate. Afterward, grab a chocolate-infused meal at the cafe, lurk in the gift shop chugging free hot chocolate or just hang around getting high on the aromas wafting off the factory line.
Scharffen Berger, 914 Heinz Ave., Berkeley. Reservations required for tours. Details: 510-981-4050, www.scharffenberger.com. There's also a San Francisco retail shop in the Ferry Building (foot of Market Street).
Golden Gate Bridge.
The Golden Gate Bridge rarely disappoints, even when wreathed in fog and tourist hordes. But can it open? No way -- this gate stays shut.
Francis "Lefty" O'Doul Bridge.
Right next to SBC Park (home of the Giants baseball team), you'll find a chunky, clunky drawbridge, built by -- surprise! -- Golden Gate engineer Joseph Strauss in 1933, four years before its larger sibling. Named for a San Francisco Seals baseball player, the historical landmark periodically entertains by swinging up to let sailboats breeze by. On game days, watch Giants fans cruise the cove waiting for Barry Bonds to pop one out. Or head to the water side of the stadium for a free field-level standing-room view of the game.
O'Doul Bridge crosses Mission Channel at Third Street, between Barry and China Basin streets.