Boat Rides

San Francisco ferry docks, Embarcadero

This week we’re experiencing wildfires in my county and adjacent counties in Northern California. This time, the fire skipped over us.


Those in my community who have not been evacuated have watery eyes and sore throats from the intense smoke, and breathing is a struggle. The sun is coppery from the toxic pall, and ashes have been falling for days. Our brave firefighters keep going.


I’m locked in, mending broken bones and staying distanced in a pandemic; so let’s do that virtual thing and focus on boat rides and the freshness of clean, moving air and abundant water.


The San Francisco Bay offers many opportunities to climb aboard. One day two years ago we took a birding charter on a winter day.


It was during the bird migration, so we saw loads of birds and sea lions, too.

Gulls and Sailboat, San Francisco Bay, California


A raft of sea lions, San Francisco Bay


Sailboats and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA


You can take a boat to Alcatraz.

Alcatraz Island


Or hop on a commuter ferry across the Bay. These days, masks and social distancing are required.

Ferry boat, The San Francisco. Athena on the top deck in 2018.


In 2018 and 2019 we enjoyed Fourth of July fireworks cruises on the San Francisco Bay. Hopefully next year that will be happening again.

San Francisco Bay, 07.04.18


While birding, we often take boats to small islands. This was a boat we took in the West Indies with the goal of seeing tropicbirds…which we found.

Boat guide and captain, headed for Little Tobago Island in the West Indies


Red-billed Tropicbird, Little Tobago Island, West Indies


River boating is also fun for birding. Some years ago, our guide Armando and his captain friend took us on this wooden outboard motorboat in Mexico.

Armando and the boatman, Mexico. Photo: Athena Alexandra.


I always put my hand in the water when I’m in a low-lying boat, I like to feel the temperature of the water. But not on our pontoon boat ride through the Okefenokee Swamp.

Alligator and Spanish Moss, Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia.


Last summer we signed up for a half-day trip on this paddle-wheeler riverboat. We were curious to know what being on the Columbia River was like. It was super windy and a blast in every way.

Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler, Oregon


Here’s a live-aboard I was on for a week, years ago, visiting the Galapagos Islands. The Diamante. We slept on the boat at night and hiked different islands during the day.

Galapagos Islands, our living quarters for a week. Photo: Athena Alexander


Fishing and small boats are a livelihood for many.

Zambia, Africa. Photo: Athena Alexander.


Fishing boats, Lake Baringo, Kenya, Africa. Photo: Athena Alexander.


The Sydney Harbor has a lively array of boats coming and going all day and night. We caught a ferry to the Taronga Zoo, and had an exhilarating time observing the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and local sail boats.

Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo: Athena Alexander.


Motorized canoes on an Amazon tributary–they move just fast enough to keep the mosquitoes from biting.

Athena and I are on this boat. Photo: Bill Page.


We’re lucky to have water and boats all over this planet, and someday soon our Bay Area fires will stop, the air will clear, and I’ll be back onboard another great vessel. Thanks for joining me, matey.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Most photos by Athena Alexander.

Jet. It’s always fun to go under the GG Bridge. Photo: Athena Alexander.


Fireworks on the Bay

San Francisco Bay, 07.04.18

The American tradition of launching fireworks on Independence Day is a festive event on the San Francisco Bay. If we have a Fourth of July when the skies are clear it is especially spectacular, but the ubiquitous San Francisco fog is also enjoyable.


These are photos from the past two Julys: 2018 was clear, 2019 had fog.


San Francisco Bay, 07.04.18


Many of the surrounding cities also set off fireworks, like Oakland and Sausalito. Here you can see Sausalito’s fireworks in the background.


Fourth of July on San Francisco Bay, 07.04.18. Sausalito fireworks in the background.


San Francisco hosts two synchronized sets of fireworks, one near Pier 39 and the other from a barge in the Bay. With so many steep hills, there are many perches for watching the fireworks, restaurants, rooftops. Pier 39 is a party all day long. No pedestrians on the Golden Gate Bridge, however, after 9:00 p.m.


My favorite is taking a boat cruise on the Bay.


The fireworks begin at dark, approximately 9:30 p.m., so boats start cruising the Bay around sunset.


Sausalito Hills, California, 07.04.19


Sausalito Marina, California, 07.04.19


Whether it’s foggy or clear, it is always cold on the Bay. Locals know to dress in winter clothes. We wear our parkas to watch the explosive extravaganza, without a regret for the days of summery fireworks in shorts and flip-flops.


Blue and Gold Fourth of July Cruise, 07.04.19


As the sun inches lower, cruise boats and private vessels move to the center of the Bay and drop anchor; the excitement builds.


Sail boat on the SF Bay, 07.04.19


Police boats with red and blue lights circle the fireworks barge, to keep others at a safe distance.


The fireworks are always fantastic. State-of-the-art pyrotechnics, firing off in rapid succession.


The water reflects the colors for miles…the rockets’ red glare.


San Francisco Bay, 07.04.18


The fog reflects a massive glow.


Fog glow, SF Bay, 07.04.19


Whether it’s foggy or sunny, cold or dark, there’s never a bad time cruising on the San Francisco Bay.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

San Francisco Bay, 07.04.18


San Francisco Stairways

Jet at the beginning of the Filbert Steps

As a city famous for many hills, San Francisco has dozens of public stairways that offer stunning, expansive views. In addition, the stairways present terrific photo opportunities and a handsome work-out.


I have been on many of the stairways. Here are two–one old, one new.


1. The Filbert Steps.

They start at Levi’s Plaza and scale up the east side of a famous San Francisco landmark: Telegraph Hill.


Once a 30-foot deep (9 m) dumping ground, the steps today are an attraction for tourists and locals. Fortunately for all of us, in 1950 Grace Marchant moved here and changed things. Along with neighbors and friends over the decades, they got rid of the trash and transformed the land. At one point, two neighbors rappelled down the side of the hill to install plantings.


Telegraph Hill is California Historical Landmark #91, and has a rich history.


The Hill has an elevation of 275 feet (84 m). From many venues around the San Francisco Bay, it is easy to spot by its also-famous landmark, Coit Tower.


Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower (near-center) from SF Bay


The stairway has 600 steps.

These steps have a steepness that steals your breath.


From Filbert Steps looking up. Coit Tower (center) is the destination.


On the  l-o-n-g  way up, while you’re catching your breath, there’s time to turn around and look at the view. San Francisco Bay glitters below.

View of SF Bay from Filbert Steps including the Bay Bridge

As you continue to ascend, the charm of gardens and floral displays takes over.  For a minute you forget about your racing heart and become transfixed by the peace and sweetness of the gardens. Hummingbirds. Rose bushes. Wild nasturtiums. Elegant art deco architecture. There are a few sculptures, a plaque.


Filbert Steps


If you’re lucky you might also see or hear the raucous wild parrots that grace the skies; we did on a visit here last May. More info: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

Red-masked Parakeets (Aratinga erythrogenys). Photo by Jeff Poskanzer. Wikipedia.


For old movie buffs, it is thrilling to know that Humphrey Bogart climbed the Filbert Steps. Bogie and Bacall starred in a 1946 film noir classic called Dark Passage, set in San Francisco.


This is Bogart looking pretty raggedy on the Filbert Steps.

That’s what these steps can do to you.

Courtesy Warner Brothers and


Once you reach the top, Coit Tower offers panoramic views of the entire San Francisco Bay; inside are recently refurbished Depression-Era murals.

Coit Tower


SF Bay view from atop Coit Tower. GG Bridge center.


Inside Coit Tower, WPA “California Agriculture” mural by Maxine Albro


2. Sixteenth Avenue Tiled Steps

On the other side of town: the mosaic tiled steps on Moraga Street between 15th and 16th Avenue.

Sixteenth Avenue Tiled Steps

Completed in 2005, this stairway, like the Filbert Steps, was also a collaboration among neighbors to beautify their neighborhood.


Two neighbors spearheaded the grass roots project, and more than 220 neighbors, as well as local organizations, donors, volunteers, and the neighborhood association brought it to fruition.

Sixteenth Avenue Tiled Steps

Looking at the steps from a distance gives you an overview of the enchanting design, and flanking succulent garden.


Then as you climb the 163 steps, you get close-up views of fish, shells, butterflies, and other whimsical subjects.

Mosaic tile of a fish in the sea


Mosaic tile of a bat at night


When you reach the top and turn around, you are rewarded with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. In a few places, if you look to the north you can also see the Golden Gate Bridge.


With over 40 hills undulating through San Francisco, there are many opportunities to visit neighborhood stairways, climbing to great heights for new perspectives of this picturesque city.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.


A great book for San Francisco walkers:  Stairway Walks in San Francisco by Mary Burk and Adah Bakalinsky.

Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point, San Francisco, California


Boats on the San Francisco Bay

Sailing past Alcatraz

Although it is relatively shallow, San Francisco Bay has always been an attractive draw to mariners of the past and present.

Sailboat and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

The deepest part of the Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge,  goes down 372 feet (113 m). San Francisco Bay Wikipedia.


Commercial vessels here include container ships, oil tankers, ferries, pilot boats, tugs, and more. Frequent dredging maintains deep channels.


Fireboats operate here too.

Fireboat, SF

Privately owned sailboats and yachts are commonly seen.


Quieter inlets invite kayakers, windsurfers, and even paddle boarders to navigate the waves.

Paddle Boarders, Richardson Bay, San Francisco Bay


Many hardcore San Francisco Giants fans take the Giants Ferry to AT&T Stadium. And the baseball stadium has a special cove, McCovey Cove, where boaters wait for home run “splash hits.”


McCovey Cove, San Francisco


For people who can’t stomach the perpetual motion, permanently moored vessels are popular. Historic ships host sleep-overs for school groups or families; and many can be independently toured.


A few historic ships I have visited at San Francisco’s Hyde St. Pier in Maritime Park include The Eureka, an 1890 steam ferryboat, and The Hercules, a 1907 steam tug. My favorite is The Balclutha, an 1886 square -rigger.

Balclutha, San Francisco Bay

Retired military vessels are also anchored in this Bay, including the USS Hornet, a World War II aircraft carrier; and the USS Potomac, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential yacht.


If you’re tired of being on land and are looking for affordable ways to cruise the waters of San Francisco Bay, there are many fun options.


Frequent ferries visit the popular Alcatraz Island.

Alcatraz Island

One of my favorite day trips is a round-trip ferry ride to Angel Island, with a hike and a picnic.

Angel Island view, looking out at Alcatraz and SF skyline


I also like to go on birding boat charters. Seabirds and sea mammals are abundant in the Bay. A key migratory stop on the Pacific Flyway, San Francisco Bay provides important ecological habitats for hundreds of species.

Gulls and Sailboat, San Francisco Bay, California


An elaborate ferry system services commuters in numerous parts of the Bay. These ferries offer a short and sweet boat ride.

Ferry boat, The San Francisco, Athena commuting on the top deck


San Francisco Embarcadero. Ferry boats center right


In December marinas around the Bay are lit with decorated yachts. Parades of lighted boats thrill mariners and landlubbers alike.

Corinthian Yacht Club, Tiburon; Angel Island silhouetted in background


Sausalito Boat Parade


What is my favorite boat ride so far?


I’ve been on many. I love every single boat ride, whether it’s in dense fog and frigid temperatures, or on spectacularly sunny, scenic days. Satiated sea mammals and squawking birds, bracing wind, briny air.

Sea lion relaxing in ecstasy

But my favorite boat ride was last summer, a Fourth of July fireworks cruise.

San Francisco Bay


San Francisco Bay

It’s probably not too early to figure how to do that again. No, it’s never too early to plan the next boat adventure on the San Francisco Bay.


Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.


Bay Area USGS satellite image

(1) Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, (2) Golden Gate Bridge, (3) San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, (4) San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, (5) Dumbarton Bridge, (6) Carquinez Bridge, (7) Benicia-Martinez Bridge, (8) Antioch Bridge. Courtesy Wikipedia


Underneath the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is always notable no matter how many times you’ve experienced it. Another extra special delight is going under the bridge.


Public tours, private charters, and privately-owned watercraft cruise beneath the orange span every day. Tourist or resident, we all like to visit the waters under this famous bridge.

I was on a birdwatching boat recently on the San Francisco Bay. Even though it was January, we had lucked out with the weather and the waters were calm and the sun was bright. Coastal bird flocks were our destination.


While still docked, the guide said, “I have a surprise for you.”


We were a boat-load of birders heading out to see what the herring were attracting. What could be more exciting than this?


“The Captain says the water is calm enough, we can go under the Golden Gate Bridge today.”


Everyone cheered.


When you’re on the bridge there is one prevailing sound: the traffic. Six lanes of fast-moving traffic and a constant thu-dud…thu-dud…thu-dud of vehicles speeding across the highway grates. It’s wonderful.


But when you’re under the bridge, all you hear are the wind and the water.


Harbor seals relaxed in the sun near their prime-real-estate beach caves. Western grebes, black oystercatchers, and western gulls were busy all around us.

Harbor Seals

From the water, the bridge is 220 feet (67 m) above you, and seems so far away.


The water under the bridge is turbulent, and there are always warnings to beware. The majority of the under-bridge adventurers are experienced boaters, but sometimes a few reckless individuals are there to catch a thrill, too.

Surfers at the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco

There are many factors here at the conjunction of the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean that make the water dangerous.


There are two different kinds of water. The Bay water is runoff from the surrounding land, it is earth-warmed and carries silt. Contrastingly, the Pacific Ocean is cold, nutrient-rich water stirred by upwellings and tides. The two different water types clash here and funnel through a narrow land constriction, thereby creating a tumultuous disturbance.


In addition, underneath the water is an ever-changing sea floor. Tectonics, dredging, tidal currents, and many other alterations have re-shaped the underwater landscape year after year. U.S. Geological Service images, click here.

Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands

Black Oystercatchers more interested in barnacles than the Bridge

Defunct military forts stand at each end of the Golden Gate Bridge, these are also good spots for getting a close-up underneath view. Fort Point and Fort Baker.  Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point, San Francisco, California

Post I wrote about Fort Point. 

Golden Gate Bridge Facts


If you have ever visited this iconic bridge, you know the specialness to which I refer. We each leave a little bit of our heart in San Francisco.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander


Golden Gate Graveyard Has Arrived

Golden Gate Bridge Clock

Golden Gate Bridge Clock

The time is here!


I am pleased to announce my new mystery novel, Golden Gate Graveyard, is now available for your enjoyment.


Available in paperback and e-book, below are links for convenient internet purchase.  If you prefer to purchase from a bookstore, you can special-order it at your favorite bookstore.


Golden Gate GraveyardClick here to order paperback or e-book at publisher’s store

E-book also available at

Paperback: $20.00

E-book: $6.99



Briefly, I spent the past three years writing and researching this mystery novel set in San Francisco.  The plot and characters are entirely fiction, interwoven with some of the city’s history and traditions.


Golden Gate Bridge-and-sailboatRead more here for the book description or go to the Books by Jet Eliot tab above.


Next week and in the weeks to follow I will be featuring highlights of San Francisco sites as mentioned in the book, here on my blog.




San Francisco cable car

San Francisco cable cars

You will not only find posts with iconic San Francisco vistas, but also posts about the writing of the book.


San Francisco Painted Ladies

San Francisco Painted Ladies

So if you have a question about my writing process–the tools I use, how I write, or research, etc.–I am happy to answer your questions. Just shoot me an e-mail via the Contact tab (above) or ask in the comments below.


I have spent hundreds of hours in the past three years on San Francisco hills, street corners, and shorelines–taking notes, listening and observing, attending tours and events.


Pier 39, California Sea Lions

Pier 39, California Sea Lions

A former San Francisco resident for 13 years and a monthly visitor, I have really enjoyed creating this story and sharing the spirit of this lively and diverse city.


Whether you read books or not, with the holidays around the corner surely there is someone you know who would enjoy a good page-turning mystery.


San Francisco Ocean Beach

San Francisco Ocean Beach

It is a joy and honor to share this book with you.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander


Fort Point, San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point left center

Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point left center

Tucked underneath the Golden Gate Bridge is a military fort once so important to the Bay Area that the bridge was designed and built around it.


Today it is a national and state historical landmark, the site of tours and recreation.


Fort Point and Golden Gate Bridge

Fort Point and Golden Gate Bridge

In 1853 the fort was strategically built at the entrance to the San Francisco Bay to withstand any foreign attack. It first served to protect during the Gold Rush of the 1850s, then later when the Civil War broke out.


Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, there were seven-foot-thick walls; concrete fortifications; steel, breech-loading rifled guns; and 103  of the most formidable cannons of the time.


Fort Point entrance

Fort Point entrance

A shot was never fired and an attack never came, but over the years the fort would be used for various military needs.


Interestingly, this major military fortification hosted a family Halloween event last week, featuring a children’s costume parade.  Part of the mosaic of living in the 21st century.


More info at Wikipedia and National Park Service.


Fisherman at Fort Point

Fisherman at Fort Point

In the 1930s during the design phase of the bridge, there was much debate about what to do with the fort. Joseph Strauss, the lead engineer, recommended the bridge be built around the fort, so that is what was done.


Many movies and television shows have been filmed at this picturesque site, the most popular being Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” when Kim Novak jumped into the water and Jimmy Stewart rescued her.


Watch for another thrilling scene that takes place at Fort Point, in my new book available in a few days.

Golden Gate Graveyard

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

San Francisco Bay from Fort Point

San Francisco Bay from Fort Point


Happy Birthday Golden Gate


Golden Gate Bridge, with Ft. Point below, far left

The Golden Gate Bridge opened to the public on this day, May 27, in 1937.  It was the longest suspension bridge in the world, at 4,200 feet (1,300 m).


The roadway is suspended from two cables that pass through a tower at each end.  There are 80,000 miles (130,000 km) of wire in the main cables, and 1.2 million steel rivets hold the bridge together.

Golden Gate Strait before the bridge, c. 1891. Ft. Point in foreground. Courtesy Wikipedia

Read more about GG Bridge here.


Bay City Ferry, late 1800s, SF Bay. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Before this magnificent bridge was built, residents took ferries across San Francisco Bay.


Extensive ferry services crossed the Bay in the 1800s and early 1900s.  Once the bridge was built, they ceased to exist.


Hyde Street Pier

Hyde Street Pier in May 2016

Back then passengers boarded at the Hyde Street Pier, and took the ferry to Sausalito on the north side, or Berkeley on the east side.

Hyde St. Pier, c. 1930s. Courtesy Wikipedia


Original plans for the new bridge design spanning the Golden Gate Strait began in 1916.  It would be 21 years of surveys, plans, sketches, and patents.  Numerous architects, designers, and engineers were consulted.  Legislation, politics, financial plans, and lawsuits were generated.


Courtesy Wikipedia.

Strong tides and currents, ferocious winds, deep water, and blinding fog were all natural elements with which to contend.  Many experts said a bridge could not be built.


In addition, the bridge had to be high enough above the water to allow clearance for large ships, important for trade and war vessels.



1936, the two main ends of the bridge are joined. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Construction began January of 1933.  Joseph B. Strauss, chief engineer, had a large network of engineers and architects working on various aspects of the bridge.


3.25 million cubic feet of dirt was excavated.  Huge barrels of cement and aggregates were brought in on barges, and mixing concrete occurred on-site.


Anchorages were built 12 stories high, and a long tube (called an “elephant trunk”) transported the mixed concrete down.


Opening day on Golden Gate Bridge, pedestrian, 1937. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The two main towers were completed  in June of 1935, then the cables were created, and “catwalks” for workers were erected.


Read more chronology of the bridge building here.  About the men who built the bridge here.



In 1937 the bridge toll collected by toll-takers in booths was $.50 each way, and $.05 for every additional passenger.


GG Bridge

GG Bridge

Today it costs $7.25 per vehicle (with lower fares for car pools and others), and collection is 100% electronic.


After 79 years of service, the Golden Gate Bridge remains a major thoroughfare for residents, visitors, and commuters.  It dazzles everyone who crosses, shows up in films and songs, and is a tourist destination for people from around the world.

Tourists in the rain photographing Golden Gate Bridge

Tourists in the rain photographing Golden Gate Bridge


Happy Birthday Golden Gate.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander (unless otherwise noted)



Singin’ in the Rain

Wintry rainy day at the Golden Gate

Wintry rainy day at the Golden Gate

Following a four year drought here in northern California, we are having rain again.  As predicted, the El Nino weather pattern has arrived.


There are landslides, and trees down, flooding too.  So far I have been lucky.


We are constantly warned, this isn’t enough after four years…and I do not doubt it.  For so long we have been using our boiled egg water for a second and third purpose, taking military showers, sharing flushes.  Gardens and lawns have been choked to death.  Leaders don’t want us to squander this valuable resource, get lazy or crazy.


Forest mushroom

Forest mushroom

What a wonderful thing it is to see fresh blades of grass again.  It’s so strange that I do a double take.  Mushrooms popping up, like an old friend who’s been away.


Singing in the rain poster.jpg

Courtesy Wikipedia

One of my favorite old movies is “Singin’ in the Rain” which I have been humming a lot lately.  My favorite scene of the movie (hint, it’s not what you think):   Click here.


The rain really is a glorious feeling, makes me laugh.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Driving the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge Morning Rush Hour

GG Bridge Morn. Rush Hr Last Week

I’ve been driving over the Golden Gate Bridge for decades and I still get a thrill each time.  If you’re not at the wheel you can space-out on the giant orange suspension cables overhead, take in Alcatraz and the boats in the Bay below, ponder the Pacific Ocean, or delight in the sparkling (or foggy mystical) views of San Francisco and the Marin Headlands.  For drivers:

  • It costs $6 to cross (for two axle vehicles), unless you have a FasTrak transponder  (then it’s $5).
  • The cost to cross only applies to one way:  heading southbound into San Francisco.  Crossing north is free.
  • The speed limit is 45 mph.
  • The length is 1.7 miles.
  • I have never seen anyone get a speeding ticket, probably because it is hazardous to stop traffic.
  • There are six lanes of traffic for both directions and the dedicated number of lanes in each direction changes, depending on the flow of traffic.  During morning rush hour, for example, there are four lanes going into the City and two lanes exiting the City.  This is usually the opposite for the evening rush hour.
  • There are no people in the toll booths.  The toll booths are from yesteryear when humans collected money.  Now it’s all electronic.  That way we can zoom through really fast.
  • If you don’t have a pre-purchased pass, there are other options for paying the toll, but cash is not an option.
  • There are sidewalks on each side of the bridge.  Usually one side is for bicyclists and the other side is for pedestrians, but this changes all the time and there’s a bunch of rules that most drivers know nothing about.
  • If the fog is coming “into the Gate” at night it is going to be a cold night (and next morning) across most of the Bay Area.
  • Most of us drivers have serious looks on our faces because we’re all concentrating.  Well, not everyone.  Some drivers are not paying attention (so much to take in!), you keep your distance from them.
  • It’s exhilarating to walk the bridge and biking is big too.  If you’re dressed appropriately (it’s windy, cold, and loud) the adventure is a lot more fun.
GG Bridge and Marin Headlands

GG Bridge and Marin Headlands

If you do make the crossing, I know you’ll have fun!