The @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz exhibit is an inspirational, uplifting show of color, light and even whimsy, with a profound depth and thought provoking message. There are several parts to the exhibit, located in four main areas of the former penitentiary: With Wind, dominated by a massive dragon suspended from the ceiling and colorful kites that look like self portraits of the artist, Trace covering an immense span of floor with portraits of political prisoners and detainees rendered in Legos, Refraction, another suspended piece, cold and grey with the option to view it from the narrow guard gallery above, Stay Tuned, a sound installation in 12 separate cells, Illumination, a pair of tiled chambers used to observe mentally ill inmates in what was once the Hospital, Blossom, where porcelain flowers fill pin-spotted tubs, toilets and wash basins and Yours Truly, where you can read about and correspond with detainees and political prisoners in various countries around the world.
These are nonviolent people who have lost their freedom simply because they expressed their ideas. . .In truth, they are heroes of our time.
Book your ticket to see this once in a lifetime display well in advance of your visit. The show will be at Alcatraz through April 2015. While you’re visiting San Francisco, stop by the Presidio to view artwork by another of my favorite artists: Andy Goldsworthy whose ongoing site specific installations involve felled trees. (For more info, you can visit our Gift Guide where we feature these artist’s beautiful art books. https://EncinoMom.com/emom-shop).[Template "responsive" not found]
This quick trip involved a lot of walking up and down hills! The terrain on the island is very hilly, steep and can be slippery, too. This is a job for sturdy shoes and layers of clothing. We were on the first boat out in the morning (8:45 am) and it was cold, but by the time we walked up the hill to the first part of the Ai Weiwei exhibit, the sun had come out, and I was carrying everyone’s jackets! You can see it was windy, too. So there was quite a bit of adding and subtracting of layers to meet the changing weather.
TRAVEL TIP:In general, San Francisco is a scarf city. As San Franciscan’s know, you can become dramatically more comfortable in a moment or two with the addition or subtraction of a scarf. (We’ve seen this wisdom in Paris, too.) Scarves are easy to tuck into a pocket, purse or backpack and they have a tendency to make you look like a local. Tourists are notoriously devoid of stylish accessories! Choose a featherweight wool, silk or cashmere. These are the easiest to stow and carry once you warm up while providing more warmth than weight at the same time. Even a lightweight cotton scarf can cut a breeze or slight chill, especially when wrapped several times to trap and warm the air around your neck. Although cotton is no match for freezing temps, it’s a great choice for Summers in the City.
(photo provided by Amazon.com)
Back to the prison for a moment before we move on, Alcatraz has a unique vantage point offering views of the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, the TransAmerica Pyramid Building, Coit Tower and other San Francisco landmarks. Allow a minimum of 2 hours for your visit to Alcatraz and the Ai Weiwei exhibit. If we weren’t working, I would have liked to double my time on the island. This was my first time visiting Alcatraz, despite having grown up in the Bay Area. I basically missed the Stay Tuned portion of Ai Weiwei’s exhibit. By the time we got there, more boats had arrived each bringing another 374 passengers and we were trying to stay ahead of the crowds! After writing our postcards in Yours Truly, my crew was ready to move on. They barely even paused in the extensive gift shop, a sure sign they were ready to go!
I’ll have to return someday, just to visit the museum and gaze at the decaying buildings that once held prisoners on an island with some of the best views in the world! Ironic, isn’t it? There is substantial lore about escapees and historical information to be discovered if you are interested. There was a Civil War expert conducting a tour while we visited. Apparently, the island was the site of a Fort during that time. You know yourself and your family’s metabolism best, so you may not be able to spend all day here, but I recommend finding parking for the whole day. Once you return to San Francisco, you’ll find yourself steps away from Pier 39 which is full of eateries and attractions for the whole family to enjoy. (The boats that serve Alcatraz come and go from Pier 33.)
From Pier 39, you can easily continue a nice flat walk to Fisherman’s Wharf. The area is know for it’s fresh seafood. When I was a kid it was a common site to see large vats of boiling water where fresh crabs where cooked right along the sidewalk. We opted for lunch at one of the classic Fisherman’s Wharf eateries with a view of the harbor. From our table upstairs in the back, we could see Scoma’s where my husband and I dined when we were dating! The menu was full of old fashioned staples like Crab Louie served at tables with white linens by career wait staff. The sourdough made me swoon.
If you continue following the coast on foot, you’ll pass The Cannery and notice you are beginning to walk uphill. Turn left at Hyde Street Park and go up (literally) to The Buena Vista Café across the street from the cable car turnaround at Hyde Street. The whole time Ghirardelli Square will beckon you to walk farther and farther up hill. If you really want to have the hilly experience of a lifetime, take the Cable Car to the top of Hyde and get off. On your left, you’ll find yourself at the top of Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world. It’s lovely and novel with fantastic views. There are stairs on the sidewalk to help you up and down the block long street of brick, lined with flower boxes and impossible houses!
On this trip, we skipped the extensive shopping stops of The Cannery and Ghirardelli Square and instead went back for the car. We arrived early that morning and found an unlimited parking meter right in front of Pier 33! Rates were $2 or $3 an hour depending on the time of day. We used a credit card to put time on the meter and the meter calculated the cost. There are several parking garages nearby as well. Once we were back in the car, we drove up Hyde St. behind the cable car and drove down Lombard, much to my daughter’s delight. (Don’t follow my lead here. There is no left turn from Hyde to Lombard, so I had to make an awkward 3 point turn and made a new friend. That’s what it means when someone honks and waves their middle finger at you and your family in SF, I guess. I didn’t remember it being that way, it must be a new thing.)
From Lombard we headed West and drove all the way to the ocean passing some of my old haunts along the way. There was construction around Union Square where I saw Robin Williams for the first time. I was just a kid, but I’ll never forget the electrical charge I felt when we made eye contact. It was as if he said to me, “watch me, I’m going to amazing places!” He juggled, and joked and passed the hat. I never wanted to leave. I longed to follow him, like you’ve seen in movies when children run away and join the circus.
Once we reached the beach, we began the drive South on Pacific Coast Highway. We stayed with family in Redwood City that night and enjoyed an amazing meal prepared for us! There were dogs and kids and people coming and going and it felt good to be lost in the chaos. This was our puppy’s first road trip and first time being with other dogs. They all got along remarkable well and our Toby found his place in the pack almost instantly. The next morning, after a delicious home cooked breakfast of pancakes, bacon and coffee, we were on our way again. Read about our adventures in Carmel-by-Sea and decide if this family friendly, dog loving destination is right for your next road trip in California.
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