It's always been a bit of a conundrum that the famous high-security prison Alcatraz is one of the most popular sights in San Francisco, a city celebrated for its sense of social freedom and laissez-faire sexuality. I spend a lot of time on the road and I often hear right-wing deejays wishing that an earthquake would obliterate the decadent City by the Bay. I have a feeling that if you asked these deejays, "But what about Alcatraz?" they'd answer, "God no—we want The Rock to survive."
The days might be numbered for this example of opposites coexisting. The prison on Alcatraz Island is presently staring down the barrel of a New Age gun. Proposition C—which is going before voters as we go to press—lays out a plan to transform the island by demolishing the prison and replacing it with a multimillion dollar global peace center laid out in a hexagram design. The Global Peace Foundation (GPF)—the folks behind the initiative—would construct a medicine wheel, a labyrinth and a harmonium shooting out laser rays and whiffs of aromatherapy. The proposition actually got enough votes (20,000) to be put on the ballot, so we'll see if the negative vibes of Alcatraz can withstand the karmic rays of the GPF. At present, there's little funding for the effort, and the GPF is being opposed by various groups, including CADAR (Citizens Against Dumbass Resolutions).
Alcatraz Cruises has ferry boats departing daily for tours of Alcatraz Island and the prison. Ferries embark from Pier 41 from 9:30 a.m. until 2:15 p.m. Ferry service then continues in the late afternoon for evening tours, Thursdays through Mondays at 4:20 p.m. and 5:10. p.m.
Back on the mainland, there's plenty to enjoy during a visit to San Francisco. It's a great walking city, with a decidedly European ambiance. This past December marked the debut of the Japantown Self-Guided History Walk. The 10-block route can be accessed at any point, although it's recommended that walkers begin in the Peace Plaza of the Japan Center, at 1825 Post Street. Along the route, you'll see 16 interpretive panels chronicling the 100-year-old Japantown community. Self-guided tours will take you through the displays at your leisure.
This past September, the city unveiled its newest public space and outdoor arts venue. The former Jessie Street right-of-way, adjacent to the historic Old Mint building, has been transformed into Mint Plaza, a pedestrian-only plaza that comes with a price tag of $3.5 million. The 18,000-square-foot portion of Jessie Street showcases new restaurants and cafés offering both indoor and outdoor dining, farmers markets and street fairs. The space will also have regular arts and cultural programming, including music festivals and alfresco cinema.
One of the most beloved and tragic figures in modern art history is the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. From June 14-September 28, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art will present an exhibition called simply "Frida Kahlo." The exhibit will include 50 paintings spanning Kahlo's career, from 1926 to her death in 1954. "Frida Kahlo" will also feature photographs that once belonged to Kahlo and her husband, the equally talented painter Diego Rivera.
After working up an appetite exploring the city, if you're visiting June 1-5, take advantage of the "Dine About Town San Francisco" program. More than 100 of San Francisco's finest restaurants will serve up three-course prix-fixe menus for lunch at $21.95 or dinner at $31.95. À la carte menus will also be available and a complete list of participating restaurants can be found online.
And, of course, find some time to tour Alcatraz Island. You never know—a couple of years from now it might be replaced by a god-awful harmonium bombarding the bay with healing lasers and blasts of scented air.