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California’s Best Beaches South of San Francisco

September 4, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

by Lee Foster

This write-up continues my discussion suggesting the best beaches near San Francisco. See also my article California’s Best Beaches North of San Francisco.

If headed south from San Francisco on CA Highway 1, here are good choices regarding beaches at which to linger:

Montara Beach, 10 miles south:

Montara Beach offers a classic beach experience and is my favorite in this region. You park on a bluff overlooking the south end of the beach. Stretching in front of you are a couple miles of sand, going north. The lookout is inviting. The beach is wide and welcoming. The surf is crashing. In the hours before sunset a golden glow from the west settles on the beach and cliffs behind it.

You gingerly descend the stairs to the beach. The stairs get wiped out from time to time by storms. But then they get rebuilt.

Montara Beach, San Mateo Coast

Walk north along the beach. Admire the thunderous surf. Gulp in the fresh air. Accept the glow of the sun from the west. Indulge in a near-wilderness experience, yet very close to San Francisco. A few other people will be frolicking on the beach, perhaps with their dogs fetching sticks in the surf. This is a happy place.

For San Francisco area visitors, these folks run the popular Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours. They also have tours for a Boat-Trip-On-The-Bay, Alcatraz (get a secure date, plan in advance), Muir Woods/Sausalito, Attractions/Museums (sometimes with no wait in line, plus discounts), Wine Country, and more. See their All San Francisco Tours.

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve Beach, 12 miles south:

In the rush to the beaches at Half Moon Bay, many travelers overlook three-mile-long Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, one of the richest intertidal regions along the California coast. Here, you can meditate over tide pools with their variety of sea life.

The Reserve, established in 1969, is south of Montara, in Moss Beach. Turn onto California Avenue and make a right on North Lake Street. Try to have your visit coincide with a low tide. The Friends of Fitzgerald has a website showing the low tide time.

There’s plenty of parking, restrooms, stairs and paths to the beach, and a hiking trail along the bluffs to the south. Picnic tables in a sheltered cypress grove make a protected lunch spot. You can enjoy here a variety of terrain, including a sandy beach, a rocky shore, a stream corridor, and bluffs. Don’t remove or disturb any of the marine life here, which is protected. The tide-pool rocks can be slippery, so wear tennis shoes and plan to get your feet wet. Alternatively, wear high rubber boots.

Focus on understanding animal relationships, adaptation techniques, habitats, and the food web of the reserve. Closest to shore, along the beach and protected inner reef, you’ll find black turban snails in intense populations. Farther out, crabs populate the cobblestone lagoons. Red abalone, rockweed and nailbrush, chitons and urchins, green anemones and bullwhip kelp are some of the fauna and flora awaiting you here. You would have to journey to the South Pacific to find a richer ocean environment.

Ano Nuevo State Reserve Beach, 43 miles south:

Summer is the “off season” for Ano Nuevo. Summer is unlike the hectic winter, when you need a reservation to see the abundant elephant seals who haul out and position themselves on the beach. Elephant seals are a species that barely escaped extinction, but now grow comfortably numerous. Summer is a wonderfully quiet time for Ano Nuevo. Spring and autumn have clarity of light rather than fog. The size and diversity of this 1,500-acre holding are impressive.

Ano Nuevo State Reserve ranges from Franklin Point south to New Years Creek. The turnoff to the parking area is clearly marked. There’s plenty of parking and a modest fee for day use. Restrooms are located at the parking lot.

Paths and trails lead to the beach, which offers good fishing for halibut, croaker, and perch. The easily accessible beach at the mouth of New Years Creek, a short walk from the parking lot, is a good sunning and picnic area at low tide. The shoreline at Ano Nuevo includes sandy beaches, dunes, rocky areas, and bluffs. Get a map in the interpretive center, located in the old Dickerman Barn, where there are informative displays on nature and the human use of the area. Ano Nuevo is a particularly good area to see shorebirds, upland birds, and hawks. You can also explore Indian middens and the legacy of the Steele Brothers dairy empire, which started here in the 1850s.

The 1-1/2 mile walk out to the point is a favorite trek. A sensitive area here, with numerous harbor seals, has restricted access in summer to protect the vulnerable new-born pups. For an ambitious, all-day outing, walk from Ano Nuevo on the beach all the way north to Franklin Point.

The Pigeon Point Lighthouse, a few miles north, was built in 1871 to prevent a repeat of wrecks like that of the Carrier Pigeon in 1853. The lighthouse is an architectural monument, with brick walls seven feet thick. Pigeon Point functions as a rustic all-ages hostel. You can view the outside of the lighthouse at any time.

Waddell Creek Beach, 46 miles south:

Waddell Creek beaches are interesting for several reasons. Windsurfers and hang gliders gather here in record numbers. An observer sees them airborne above the waves. The Waddell Creek Beach and bluffs are a part of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. A seal rookery flourishes offshore south of the beach. The Theodore J. Hoover Natural Preserve, which includes Waddell Marsh, is located at the mouth of Waddell Creek. Wherever a creek enters the ocean, there is interesting wildlife to observe.

Waddell Creek Beach is along Highway 1 a mile south of the San Mateo County line. There’s plenty of parking, restrooms, and good fishing for lingcod, croaker, and perch. You’ll find sandy beach and dunes, the stream and wetlands, plus low bluffs overlooking the ocean.

From Waddell Creek Beach you can walk inland through Big Basin Redwoods State Park. In fact, you could walk all the way from the beach to the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains along a trail called the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, which became officially complete with the addition of the Rancho del Oso property along Waddell Creek. A bronze marker at the trailhead recalls that here Gaspar de Portola and his men rested for three days during their long walk from San Diego to San Francisco in 1769. Those ill in the party recovered their health so quickly that the Spanish called the area Canada de la Salud–Canyon of Health.

Capitola City Beach, east edge of Santa Cruz:

If the Santa Cruz City Beach, with its boardwalk and miles of sand, is already familiar or a little overwhelming, consider secluded Capitola, an artsy but unpretentious little beach town that clings to the cliffs east of Santa Cruz.

The Capitola City Beach is south of the Esplanade. Parking can be tight, but there is a free shuttle bus in summer that can take you from an outlying parking lot on McGregor Drive. Restrooms are available on the Capitola Pier.

A lifeguard watches over swimmers at this safe, warm, and sunny beach. The expanse of sand is a delight. The beach has volleyball nets and benches along the sidewalk. There is also a stream, Soquel Creek, with a lagoon for wading

East of Capitola City Beach, at low tide, you can walk toward New Brighton State Beach and inspect rock outcroppings with intriguing layers of sandstone and numerous fossils. From New Brighton Beach you can walk a full 15 miles all the way to the mouth of the Pajaro River.

Capitola offers a beach close to city pleasures, such as shopping in Capitola or perusing the historic buildings that were once part of Camp Capitola. Men of vision believed, at one time, that the area was destined to be the state capital; hence the name.

Campers enjoy New Brighton State Beach, immediately east of Capitola. The camps lie on a woodsy bluff overlooking a wide, sandy beach. One of the choice settings in the state park system, New Brighton also boasts an amenity appreciated by many campers–hot showers.

Carmel River State Beach, southeast corner of Carmel:

This lovely, quiet beach, with its half mile of unspoiled tan sand, is a respite from the faster pace of the urban Monterey-Carmel area. The 106-acre site includes a marsh and a lagoon near the river mouth.

There are two approaches to the Carmel River Beach. The main entrance, along Scenic Road, has a parking lot, restrooms, direct access to the beach, and good fishing. To get to the east side of the beach, which is a bird sanctuary, you can wade across the shallow river or take paths at access points along Ribera Road. The southernmost portion of the beach, known as San Jose Creek Beach or Monastery Beach, is accessible from Highway 1, but is dangerous because of the roadway and is used mainly by divers.

Terrific views of Point Lobos are one of Carmel River Beach’s many attractions. The southward orientation keeps the beach sunny and warm when other beaches in the area are windy. The beauty of the tan sand, shallow and safe wading in the warm Carmel River, the relative seclusion compared with Carmel City Beach, and birdlife in the tule marshes along the river are some of the pleasures at the Carmel River Beach. Divers use the ocean face of the beach extensively, but the surf is hazardous for the casual swimmer. The undersea Carmel Bay Ecological Reserve is adjacent to the beach.

The Carmel Mission, where mission-founder Junipero Serra lies buried, is upriver on Lasuen Drive a few blocks from the beach. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, celebrating the fauna and flora of the California coast, is the area’s major attraction.

The many attractive choices among these beaches suggest the joy of the California coast for a traveler.

This write-up is one of 30 chapters in my book/ebook  Northern California Travel: The Best Options.

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.

See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

Note from Lee:

I currently delight in putting much of my energy into travel books/ebooks/articles and photography about San Francisco and Northern CA. My latest effort is SF Travel & Photo Guide: The Top 100 Travel Experiences in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is available as an ebook for $3.99 on Amazon., or app for $3.99 in Apple and Google. It also exists in a new form, a “website book” on my website. Aside from this ebook/app, I publish other books/ebooks about San Francisco and Northern California. One is titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends I am now revising that book for a new release. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.

San Francisco

California’s Best Beaches North of San Francisco

August 29, 2017 by · 7 Comments 

by Lee Foster

Autumn and spring entice the connoisseur of beaches to the coast north and south of San Francisco because the sky will likely be clear rather than opaque with the fog of summer.

Whether you want to marvel at tide pools, escape from urban life, or simply restore your lungs in the bracing salt air, the nearby beaches offer something for everyone. If you think you already know the roughly 250 miles of coast between Point Arena and Carmel, peruse the following selections. You may have overlooked these well-known and lesser-known beaches, all true delights. Some beaches also boast features that may be new to you, such as an improved hiking trail between Bodega Head and Bodega Dunes.

Limantour Beach at Point Reyes

If you haven’t recently explored the beauty of the coast, many aspects beckon throughout the year. Most visitors marvel at the salubrious fall and spring sunlight with its visual clarity. But some prefer the pensive fogs of summer. A few visitors will savor the invigorating storms of winter. A yearly pageant of seasons awaits you.

For San Francisco area visits, these folks have secure dated voucher tickets, no wait in line and some discounts, for Bus Tours, Boat Tours, Alcatraz, Muir Woods/Sausalito, Attractions/Museums, Wine Country, and more. See their All San Francisco Tours.

This article covers beaches north of San Francisco. A companion piece looks at beaches south of The City.

Allow plenty of time when looking at the mileage to these beaches. The roads are narrow and winding. You will want to drive slowly and savor the scene. The mileage is the most direct route, but your desired road might be along the coast, adding more miles to the adventure.

Limantour Beach at Point Reyes, about 45 miles north:

Limantour would get my vote as the single most inviting beach on the Northern California coast. This length of lovely tan sand is so long. The setting is totally pristine. The backdrop of wooded hillsides is alluring. You are in a national park property with little intruding outside presence. Access is also excellent, with a large and available parking lot, so this beach is for everyone. A sense of seclusion and wildness pervades the Point Reyes area, putting you far from Highway 1 and the noise or speed of any automobiles.

Limantour is at the end of the road west to the coast as you enter the Point Reyes National Seashore region. Stop at the informative Visitor Center to orient yourself to Point Reyes and get a national parks map/brochure of the entity.

Heart’s Desire Beach, about 52 miles north:

Point Reyes is prime beach country, with McClures and already-mentioned Limantour among the good choices. If the weather is windy or chilly, and you want a warmer and more protected setting, Heart’s Desire is a good place to consider. Heart’s Desire Beach is in Tomales Bay State Park.

To reach Heart’s Desire Beach, drive into Point Reyes and turn onto Pierce Point Road to the clearly-marked entrance of Tomales Bay State Park. The road curls down from the ridges, passing clusters of bay, madrone, and oak trees, to the protected cove, which is complete with a grassy area and picnic tables, restrooms, and an agreeable wooded setting.

Heart’s Desire Beach offers the best ocean swimming in California north of San Francisco. The beach is ample, the ocean floor recedes gradually, rip tides and sleeper waves are unknown, and the water warms to as high as 80 degrees by the end of summer. For both adults and children, this is an ideal sunning and swimming beach. Heart’s Desire Beach is protected from wind, with the fog hanging up on the ridge. When the rest of the coast is foggy and windy, Heart’s Desire will often be sunny.

From Heart’s Desire Beach you can also hike south along Tomales Bay to more secluded beaches, such as Pebble Beach (a half-mile) and Shell Beach (4 miles). In the park you make the acquaintance of unusual Bishop pines, which flourish here as an aging forest. Fire is needed to open the cones and germinate seeds, but fires have been suppressed here, so the forest grows older.

An established tule elk herd can be seen if you drive farther out on Pierce Point Road. This large hoofed animal, so abundant in early California, survived a close brush with extinction and is now climbing back to safe and stable numbers.

Inverness offers several good bed and breakfast lodgings, such as Ten Inverness Way.

Drive-in campers use the Samuel P. Taylor State Park, which locates you in the redwoods. Camping sites in state parks can be reserved. Backpack campers favor the walk-in Coast Camp or Wildcat Camp, both on the sea bluffs in Point Reyes National Seashore.

A Czech restaurant at Inverness has a reputation for dishes such as chunks of lamb in paprika. Try Vladimir’s.

Bodega Head and Bodega Dunes Beach, about 70 miles north:

Bodega Head and Bodega Dunes present an elemental, rugged coast, expansive sandy beaches, and the most impressive sand dunes in northern California. The sandy beaches at Bodega Dunes extend for miles along the ocean. At Bodega Head, small pocket beaches can be found below the jutting, west-facing bluffs.

To get to Bodega Head, turn west at Bodega Bay along Westshore Road and skirt the bay. You pass day-use Westshore Park, an access point to dig for littleneck, Washington, and gaper clams in Bodega Bay. At the end of the road, Bodega Head, you’ll find a parking lot, restrooms, access to the pocket beaches, and a hiking trail.

From the bluffs at Bodega Head, you can gaze north and south along the rugged coast, communing with the rocky shoreline. Bodega Head amounts to one of the most inspiring vistas along the coast. You can thread your way from the bluffs to the small pocket beaches for a picnic or sunning. A trailhead sign alerts you to the 3-mile hiking trail linking Bodega Head with the miles of shifting sand dunes to the north. These dunes amount to a sand wilderness. Seeded European beach grass prevents the dunes from migrating freely. Walk north on this loose-sand trail for as long as you wish, allowing time for your walk back. The trail passes a University of California Biological Research station, but the tide pool and population studies are not open for public scrutiny.

After you’ve perused this splendid rocky promontory, for a direct route to the dunes, return to Highway 1, drive north a half mile, and turn west into the Bodega Dunes Campground. A boardwalk allows you to cross the dunes to the glorious, expansive beach. The boardwalk and restrooms here have wheelchair access. The beach is for walking and viewing rather than swimming because of treacherous sleeper waves and rip tides. Eight miles of crisscrossing trails in the sand dunes behind the beach afford plenty of hiking opportunities.

The beach environment at Bodega Head and Bodega Dunes has sufficient variety to please almost everyone. The Bodega area beaches are administered by the Sonoma Coast State Beaches entity. Chain link fences recall the era when the site was proposed for a nuclear power plant.

In winter, if you’re looking for a whale watching platform, keep Bodega Head in mind.

Bodega Bay’s Fisherman Festival in April is one of the area’s major celebrations.

The Chanslor Ranch, a quarter-mile north of the dunes entrance, is a bed and breakfast that rents horses for riding in the dune area.

Bodega Dunes Campground is a close-up location amidst the dunes, beach grass, and cypress trees, but with no direct access to the beach. The campground boasts an amenity favored by many campers–hot showers. One good camp-on-the-beach situation is Doran Beach, a county camping park, whose lovely shore-side sites are doled out on a first-come basis.

Fresh seafood, such as locally-caught sole or salmon, is the specialty at a Bodega restaurant known as The Tides. Bodega Bay hosts the largest fishing fleet between San Francisco and Eureka.

Goat Rock Beaches, about 77 miles north:

Goat Rock Beaches, at the mouth of the Russian River, extend out on a peninsula between the river and the ocean. Watching waves crash against the rock pedestals, called seastacks, viewing sunsets from this west-facing beach, and collecting driftwood at the mouth of the Russian River occupy travelers here. (The park staff encourages driftwood collecting because the wood debris becomes a potential fire hazard to roofs in the town of Jenner. Periodic burning reduces the uncollected volume.)

To get to Goat Rock Beaches, which are not visible from the road, watch for the clearly-marked sign and take State Park Road off Highway 1. The grassy bluffs overlooking Goat Rock Beaches make excellent picnic sites. At the beaches you’ll find a string of parking lots with access to the beach. The northern edge puts you closest to the mouth of the Russian River. The most southerly parking lot locates you near the most protected beaches, although all of these beaches are too dangerous for swimming, due to sleeper waves and rip tides.

Resident harbor seals here haul out at the mouth of the Russian River in the spring to give birth to their young. Fishing is popular for salmon and steelhead in winter near the mouth of the river. Rockfish are plentiful in the surf in summer. Smelt netters are also successful here. Driftwood collectors cherish treasures and firewood gatherers appreciate the volume. The main features of this open peninsula for the average beachgoer are the size of the sandy beach and the drama of the Russian River meeting the sea.

For a meal or bed and breakfast in Jenner, try the Jenner Inn, a turn-of-the-last-century inn. Seafood is the dinner specialty, washed down with an ample selection of North Coast wines. The Sunday champagne brunch draws a crowd.

Camping occurs on the beach at Wright’s Beach, south of Goat Rock Beaches. If this is too chilly or windy, try the Casini Ranch Campground a few miles inland, at Duncan’s Mill, along the Russian River.

Fort Ross Beaches, about 90 miles north:

Fort Ross Cove is the original sandy beach where the fur-trading Russians landed, built a trading fort, and constructed ships. Lumber traders later in the 19th century loaded their boats here with redwood for the San Francisco market, using long chutes. For you, this sandy beach, complete with a meandering stream, is a seldom-appreciated aspect of the impressive Fort Ross restoration on the uplands above the beach. As you explore this historic beach, it’s intriguing to think of the Russians landing their supplies or the nimble Aleut Indians in the Russians’ employ casting off in small kayaks in search of sea otters. The Russians actually built four ships on this sandy beach between 1816-1824, using redwood and Douglas fir from the forests in the hills. The Russians’ failure at growing a surplus of wheat and vegetables here, plus the decline in the otter population, caused the retreat from here to Sitka, Alaska, in 1841, and eventually a return to the Russian mainland.

Fort Ross is on Highway 1, 11 miles north of Jenner. An entrance fee gets you access to the area. There’s plenty of parking, restrooms (wheelchair accessible), and picnic tables at the beach.

A pathway leads from the fort to the beach. Fishing for perch and diving for abalone is good in the surf. There are attractions here for every beach fan, including the sandy pocket beach, a rocky shore, an upland area behind the beach, and bluffs. The offshore underwater park adjacent to Fort Ross is popular with divers.

Be sure to allow time to see the restored Russian fort, a gem of historic reconstruction and interpretation. Self-guide yourself through the displays.

Campsites are available at Salt Point State Park, north of Fort Ross.

Manchester Beach, 143 miles north:

Manchester is a classic beach with miles of sand, huge sand dunes topped with European beach grass, a stream cutting through the dunes to the water, and plenty of driftwood. The size (972 acres) of Manchester Beach permits seclusion. Wildflowers show lavishly here in spring, especially Douglas iris.

Manchester Beach is accessible by three roads north of Point Arena. Alder Creek, Kinney, and Stoneboro roads lead to parking lots behind the dunes. Manchester State Beach runs the full 3-1/2 miles from Alder Creek to just north of Point Arena. There is a day entrance fee, plenty of parking, restrooms, and paths to the beach. Hiking trails crisscross the area. Fishing is popular for snapper and sea trout.

The Alder Creek entrance at the north end crosses a San Andreas fault line that jumped 16 feet in 1906. After passing a marsh with abundant bird life, you reach the beach. Kinney Road leads you through sand dunes to the state parks campground and the beach. Stoneboro Road leads to the major bird habitat at Hunter’s Lagoon. Rare and endangered whistling swans winter to the south along the Garcia River bottom.

Point Arena Lighthouse, immediately south, is worth a tour. Climb the numerous steps to the top of this lighthouse. In the Visitor Center see the famed Fresnel lens that magnified light, reducing the shipwrecks along the coast. You can lodge for the night at Point Arena in the former lighthouse keepers’ cottages.

Manchester State Beach Campgrounds is one of the best state beach camps along the coast. The 43 campsites locate you right in the dunes. There are also “environmental” campsites if you want to pack in your gear.

For further beaches suggestions, look at my website article California’s Best Beaches South of San Francisco.

My beaches articles are also chapters in my book/ebook  Northern California Travel: The Best Options.

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.

See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

Note from Lee:

I currently delight in putting much of my energy into travel books/ebooks/articles and photography about San Francisco and Northern CA. My latest effort is SF Travel & Photo Guide: The Top 100 Travel Experiences in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is available as an ebook for $3.99 on Amazon., or app for $3.99 in Apple and Google. It also exists in a new form, a “website book” on my website. Aside from this ebook/app, I publish other books/ebooks about San Francisco and Northern California. One is titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends I am now revising that book for a new release. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.

San Francisco

Northern California’s Top Museums

May 9, 2016 by · 12 Comments 

by Lee Foster

The great museums of Northern California have two new enticements begging for your attention. The newly reopened SFMOMA San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has been rebuilt to accommodate the donated Fisher Collection, with its many modern masterpieces, and to address other art-presentation needs. And the new BAMPFA Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, in Berkeley, sparkles with innovation.

SFMOMA closed for a few years for a multi-story rebuild to accommodate the donated Fisher Collection and other needs. The international architecture firm Snohetta won the design contract. Beyond housing the Fisher Collection, more space for education, public programming, conservation, and interpretation was desired. The passions of “modern art” flow in a number of directions, proving that you can’t delight all of the people all of the time. What impressed me in a recent walk-through were three subjects. Alexander Calder’s “Big Crinky” sculpture next to the outdoor Living Wall art form was as beguiling as his many mobiles in a room indoors. Andreas Gursky’s photos showing “structures of our world,”  such as thousands of items for purchase in a modern supermarket, define one special aspect of our time. For the San Francisco nostalgia buff, including those who might have been there, the graphics of posters from Bill Graham concerts 1966-1970 are a major art form in themselves.

SFMOMA's New Look in 2016

SFMOMA’s New Look in 2016

At BAMPFA, expect to be surprised. For instance, can spiders create intricate three-dimensional webs that are themselves works of art? That is the vision artist Tomas Saraceno shows at the newly opened BAMPFA museum in downtown Berkeley, California. BAMPFA, which stands for Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, is a striking architectural statement and a special collection of fine art and historic films. Innovation propels the museum into the stratosphere of the best museums to consider in California. When you walk along the street by the museum, you see a huge outdoor LCD screen showing a rotating display of clips from the historic film collection. (See the listing for BAMPFA below for more details.)

For San Francisco area visits, these folks have secure dated voucher tickets, no wait in line and some discounts, for Bus Tours, Boat Tours, Alcatraz, Muir Woods/Sausalito, Attractions/Museums, Wine Country, and more. See their All San Francisco Tours.

Spider web art by Tomas Saraceno at the new BAMPFA Museum in Berkeley, CA.

Spider web art by Tomas Saraceno at the new BAMPFA Museum in Berkeley, CA.

Overall, Northern California enlarges the notion of “museum,” especially if you focus on the top museums to consider.

Where but in California, in the heart of Silicon Valley, could one expect to find a museum devoted to up-to-the-minute technical advances? That’s the Tech Museum of Innovation. And where else, if one seeks out historic authenticity, would one find the premier museum to the railroad in the development of the American West than in Old Sacramento? From Sacramento the actual railroad first snaked its way east, across the Sierra.

Northern California’s great museums offer outstanding experiences of many kinds—art, history, technology.

Here are my nominees for the top museums to visit:

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco consist of both the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park.

The strikingly modern, copper-skinned de Young Museum, which replaced an earthquake-damaged earlier structure, is a major amenity in Golden Gate Park. The building, designed by Swiss architects Pierre de Meuron and Jacques Herzog, features a cantilevered roof and a 144-foot-tall obervation tower that offers sweeping views of the park out to the Pacific Ocean. Its Rockefeller Collection of American Art, with 140 of the finest pieces of American creativity, suggests the strength of the museum in American as well as European art. Classic paintings of George Caleb Bingham, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Eakins are on display. The basement gallery shows special exhibitions. Contact: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco, CA 94118; 415/750-3600; Legion of Honor is at 100 34th Ave., San Francisco, CA 94121.

The Asian Art Museum, housed in the city’s former public library, is an intriguing repository. The architects retained the Beaux-Arts facade, grand staircase, and ornate card-catalog room, but the rest of the building is strictly modern. The Avery Brundage Collection assembles some 10,000 items, one of the world’s major accumulations of Far East and Near East art. Contact: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; 200 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA 94102; 415/581-3500;

Designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, the original building for the SFMOMA San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, at Yerba Buena Gardens, might be seen as the largest art object in its collection. The new build, by the international architecture firm, Snohetta, adds to the design delight. The clean, boxy, geometric structure, with its skylight and elevated walkway, provides a fitting home for the strong collection and for traveling shows. The new space allows SFMOMA to expand its services in multiple ways. Every explorer coming to San Francisco should put the museum on his or her must-see list. Two paintings not to miss, for example, are Henri Matisse’s Femme au Chapeau, (Woman with a Hat, 1905), which started the Fauvism movement, and contemporary German Anselm Kiefer’s Osiris and Isis, 1987, which transforms the ancient myth into a metaphor for modern power. Contact: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 3rd St.; San Francisco, CA 94103; 415/357-4000;

Monterey State Historic Park. The Custom House and Pacific House Museum in Old Monterey were part of the first capital of California, when the Spanish and Mexicans were in control. The museum shows fascinating trade objects that a young Richard Henry Dana saw when he wrote his classic work, Two Years Before the Mast. In that pre-Gold Rush California, cattle hides were known as “California banknotes” and were in demand by New England shoe manufacturers. A Path of History walk amidst the early adobes of Monterey and a Maritime Museum on the plaza heighten the museum interest in this seaside city. Contact: Monterey State Historic Park, 20 Custom House Plaza, Monterey, CA 93940; 831/649-7118;

The Tech Museum of Innovation, in San Jose. The technology magic of the Silicon Valley, south of San Francisco, comes alive in this museum, which celebrates scientific curiosity. This showcase of technological breakthroughs is largely a hands-on affair, where you can watch a robot perform household tasks, such as cooking food. Guided by volunteer interpreters, you learn about modern developments transforming our lives in robotics, microelectronics, biotechnology, materials science, and space exploration. For example, the difficult ethical decisions in biotechnology are presented as a viewer becomes aware of how gene modification can create new plants and animals. Contact: The Tech Museum of Innovation, 201 S. Market St., San Jose, CA 95113; 408/294-8324;

Oakland Museum of California. The genius of the Oakland Museum is that it separates, on individual floors, the worlds of nature, art, and history in California. The Oakland Museum has been a leader in museum presentation, creating “environments” rather than static exhibits. Typically, you might find here a display of “tidepool life,” about the complex web of life in the ocean-shore environment, rather than a static “seashells of the world” exhibit. Innovators such as the Oakland Museum have changed the concept of what a museum can be. Contact: Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland, CA 94607; 510/318-8400;

Berkeley Art Museum – Pacific Film Archive. BAMPFA opened January 2016 with a temporary exhibit Architecture of Life, which shows the subtle interaction of buildings and human life. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the ingenious structure offers state-of-the-art theaters and galleries to display the best contemporary and historical art and film from around the world. Lectures, workshops, performances, and readings for all ages are part of the mission. An Art Lab and Reading Room encourage engagement with visitors. Dining is available at the Babette Cafe. Contact: Berkeley Art Museum – Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center St., Berkeley, CA 94704; 510/642-0808;

Old Sacramento. The cluster of historic buildings in Old Sacramento State Historic Park represents an alternative strategy for historic preservation. “Preservation for use” was the motto, re-creating the hustle and bustle of the post-Gold Rush scene along the Sacramento waterfront. One special museum here is the California State Railroad Museum, which rises far beyond a mere fascination with rolling stock, even though they have 21 restored locomotives. The Railroad Museum tells the sociological story of the effect of the railroad on the development of California and the country. The museum will excite anyone who feels a slight tug at the heart when the whistle of a train penetrates the stillness of night. A visitor can lodge on an authentic riverboat, the Delta King, a museum in itself. Contact: California State Railroad Museum, 111 I St., Sacramento, CA 95814; 916/445-6645;

If your travels take you to Southern California, consider these museum stops:

The Getty Center in Los Angeles. This permanent collection of choice works of art, from all ages, treats a visitor to room after room of priceless treasures. You leave the 11th-century illuminated manuscripts and pass into a collection of art, such as Ruisdael landscapes from the Dutch 17th century. The Getty is, simply put, world class, a statement of good taste superbly funded. Contact: The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Dr., Los Angeles, CA, 90049; 310/440-7300;

Los Angeles County Museum of Art. For the depth and range of its collections, the County Museum of Art is one of the country’s major art repositories. Whether the subject is American Art or Fashion and Textiles, the museum has strong collections. The five-building complex also features a changing show or two, often of contemporary art. Contact: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036; 323/857-6000;

La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. It’s amazing to think that, in the heart of Los Angeles, a tar pit, the La Brea Tar Pit, would yield some of the richest examples of ice-age fossils of mammals and birds. The huge reconstructed mammoths on display are the real thing, not just a movie fantasy. They died when they came to drink at the tar pit and became trapped in the goo. Contact: La Brea Tar Pits, 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036; 213/763-3499;

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. In San Marino, you will find a major cultural treat. If you’ve longed to get close to an original work of great literature, such as Ben Franklin’s Autobiography, in his own handwriting, or one of the first folios of Shakespeare’s plays, the Huntington can satisfy your desire. Their outstanding collection of rare books includes a Gutenberg Bible and the Ellesmere Chaucer. That’s only the beginning of the Huntington experience, which includes elaborate gardens and strong collections of paintings, especially 18th-century British. Contact: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, CA 91108; 626/405-2100;

San Diego Museum of Art, in Balboa Park. Both the permanent collection of Italian Renaissance and Spanish Baroque masters, plus the changing contemporary shows, attract visitors to this art museum. Of special interest is the unusual situation that there are another dozen fine museums nearby, such as the Museum of Photographic Arts, with its innovative shows, and the San Diego Air and Space Museum, which salutes the aviation and space accomplishments to which Southern California has contributed. Contact: San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92102; 619/232-7931;

California’s great museums nurture the developing California temperament, always a restless sensibility. In their great museums Californians keep pondering: What can we learn from the cultural legacies of the past, who are we as Californians today, and what is notable about our current achievements? These great museums constantly renew themselves, challenge the citizens of the state, and delight guests who come to visit.

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.

See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

This article is one of 30 chapters in my book Northern California Travel: The Best Options.

San Francisco figures prominently in my book/ebook titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.

San Francisco

San Francisco’s Main Tourist Attractions

July 31, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

San Francisco Attractions – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

San Francisco, perhaps more than any other American city, evokes images of romance, including sweeping hills studded with pastel Victorians, the clanking of cable cars, the wail of the foghorns, the glow of sunset on the Golden Gate Bridge, the way-stop to the Gold Rush, and the meeting of sea, fog, and hills.

The City, which the locals like to capitalize in their fond descriptions, sits on the edge of a peninsula separating the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco Bay. San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods where diverse cultures and lifestyles cooperatively exist side-by-side. You can immerse yourself in worlds as different as Chinatown, Italian North Beach, and the Mexican-American Mission District.

Two major airports serve San Francisco, both an easy half-hour drive to downtown. San Francisco International Airport lies 13 miles south of San Francisco off Highway 101.  Across the bay, the Oakland International Airport offers equally easy access.  From both airports you can catch the BART train into San Francisco.

These folks have secure dated voucher tickets, no wait in line and some discounts, for Bus Tours, Boat Tours, Alcatraz, Muir Woods/Sausalito, Attractions/Museums, Wine Country, and more. See their All San Francisco Tours.

One mode of transportation, the cable cars, is a major part of the San Francisco experience for many travelers. The famous cable cars have been beautifully restored and maintained. Some cars on the three branches of the line are painted in the original 1870s colors, maroon with cream and blue trim. The cars can be boarded at any place along the routes: Powell Street to Fisherman’s Wharf, Powell to Hyde, and California Street from Market to Van Ness. The waiting line for a chance to ride the cable cars is sometimes long, unfortunately. Remember that you can board the cable cars anywhere along the line, where the wait may be less. Leave some time in your schedule for a visit to the Cable Car Museum, Washington and Mason streets, where you can see historic paraphernalia about the system and glimpse the innards at work.

San Francisco History 

San Francisco began with the tranquility of the Spanish-Mexican era from 1776 to the 1840s. Then came the exhilarating shock of the Gold Rush, in 1848, followed by the reflective gentility of the late 19th century.  All this was shattered by the Quake and Fire of 1906. (The earthquake of 1989, fortunately, did not possess the destructive force of the 1906 Quake.)

In 1776, Juan Bautista de Anza established a Spanish fort, the Presidio, and its surrounding settlement. Soon after, Junipero Serra founded Mission San Francisco de Asis, his sixth in California. Popularly known as Mission Dolores, the restored structure at 16th and Dolores streets still stands, one of the oldest buildings in San Francisco.

The Gold Rush of 1848 transformed the face of San Francisco. Within a few years, the pastoral scattering of Spanish-Mexican dwellings with a population of 100 became a restless prospecting region of 250,000. Statehood came in 1850. By 1852 an estimated $200 million in gold had been mined.

To witness this early American era in San Francisco’s history you can visit the brick fortification called Fort Point, located immediately below the south anchor of the Golden Gate Bridge. This was where Juan Bautista de Anza first planted a cross in 1776 and the Spaniards erected a crude stockade by 1794. Today the Civil War era fort remains a prime example of 19th-century military architecture.

The Great Earthquake shook San Francisco on April 18, 1906, but the Great Fire that followed caused the most damage. Fed by broken natural gas lines and unchecked because the city’s water mains were destroyed, the fire raged for three days, destroying 28,000 buildings. Thereafter, San Francisco developed a certain fondness for firemen, most noticeably expressed in Lillie Hitchcock Coit’s fire-nozzle-shaped Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.

San Francisco’s circa 1860 to 1900 Victorian houses that survived the 1906 earthquake have become a symbol of the city as much as the cable cars or the Golden Gate Bridge. You can tour one of the most striking and best preserved of these dwellings, the Haas-Lilienthal House, located at 2007 Franklin Street, which was built in 1886. The classic Queen Anne building with its gables, bay windows, and turret tower, still houses much of the original decor, with mahogany walls, marble hearths, and fine tapestries. Another prominent Victorian is the Spreckels mansion, at 2080 Washington. Streets adjacent to Lafayette Square offer many examples of Victorians.

At 1000 California Street stands the James Flood Mansion, built in 1886 by the Comstock silver lode millionaire. Today the Flood Mansion is the last of the great mansions from the baronial days of the mining and railroad kings. Other mansions in the neighborhood were swept away in the fires that followed the Quake.

San Francisco’s Main Attractions

Even a selective list of the most popular San Francisco attractions could not omit Golden Gate Park, Telegraph, Russian, and Nob hills, Chinatown, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the scenic 49-Mile Drive (which takes you through all of the above).

In 1887, Golden Gate Park was comprised of 730 acres of dunes and 270 acres of arable land scattered with oak trees. Today, Golden Gate Park stretches across lush meadows, lakes, dense stands of Australian eucalyptus, and encompasses more than 6,000 varieties of shrubs, flowers, and trees. The park is both a cultural and recreational center of the city. Within its boundaries is the Japanese Tea Garden, the California Academy of Sciences, including the Steinhart Aquarium and the Morrison Planetarium, the 60-acre Strybing Arboretum, the deYoung Museum, and the Conservatory of Flowers. For recreation in Golden Gate Park you can rent a bicycle or put on your running shoes and join the multitude of joggers and walkers.

Climb the famous hills of San Francisco and you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the city and the surrounding bay. Atop Telegraph Hill sits Coit Tower, the memorial built in 1934 to honor the city’s volunteer firemen. Russian Hill lies to the west. Here you’ll find Lombard Street, the city’s crookedest street. The third famous hill is Nob Hill, once the site of mansions, today the home of famous hotels, including the Mark Hopkins and the Fairmont. Both offer panoramic views of the city from cocktail lounges on the top floor.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the largest Chinese communities outside of the Orient. The community is best experienced on foot, enabling you to browse through shops and explore side streets. Grant Avenue is the main street for general shopping. Stockton, between Washington and Broadway, is where you’ll find the largest concentration of markets, exhibiting an amazing array of vegetables and meats. For a spicy Chinese meal, try the Hunan Restaurant (924 Sansome Street). The Chinese New Year occurs in late January or early February, complete with parade and firecrackers.

North Beach is the Italian district of the city, located between Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf. Here you’ll find many Italian restaurants, bakeries, cafes, and Italian groceries, all within a few blocks of Washington Square, the heart of North Beach.

An excellent bakery to consider is the Italian-French Bakery at 1501 Grant Street. For a cappuccino or glass of wine, stop in at Mario’s, on the corner of Columbus and Union. Some dining options are long established, such as seafood at Caffe Sport at 574 Green Street. Others are newer, such as movie director Francis Ford Coppola’s Cafe Zoetrope, 916 Kearney, located in his lovely and historic Zoetrope Building, once known as the Sentinel Building. The restaurant is elegant but casual, featuring Coppola’s selection of fine wines by the glass, with pizza, pasta, and calzone dishes.

The birthplace of the Beat movement, North Beach is the home of bookstores, cafes, galleries, small theaters, and nightclubs. City Lights Books at 261 Columbus Street still thrives as a bookstore, publisher of local poets, and gathering place of writers.

Once the center of the fishing and canning industry in the city, Fisherman’s Wharf today attracts tourists with a wide variety of shops, galleries, and restaurants. Nearby Ghirardelli Square, first a woolen works, then a chocolate factory, was remodeled into a shopping and restaurant complex. Pier 39 lures millions of visitors with its shops and resident sea lions.

Attractions within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (35,000 acres of land and water) include Alcatraz, Aquatic Park, and the Golden Gate Promenade. Guided tours of Alcatraz Island, a federal prison until 1963, leave from Pier 41. The boat ride out to the “rock” offers a fine view of The City. Aquatic Park includes the National Maritime Museum, plus several historic vessels you can explore. The Golden Gate Promenade is a walk from the Marina to the Golden Gate Bridge, passing through the restored Crissy Field military airport, now a tidal marsh and open public area. This three-mile path along the waterfront is a popular strolling and jogging area.

San Francisco is a city for walking, but for an overview of the major attractions, the scenic 49-Mile Drive is recommended. The Visitor Information Center at Hallidie Plaza, Powell and Market streets, can assist you with a map. Allow half a day for the drive, well marked by blue and white seagull signs.

Arts and Entertainment

In San Francisco, the arts and entertainment life is thickly textured. For one Saturday each July an “Only in San Francisco” event occurs. On that day comedians gather at the bandstand in Golden Gate Park, braving a bright sunlight that seldom penetrates their nightly comedy clubs. During an all-day marathon of mirth, called the Comedy Celebration Day, the comedians give a collective annual thank you to their audiences. As many as 30,000 appreciators of humor gather for this annual free event. The superstar of American humorists, local resident Robin Williams, has guided the event in the past as the twilight filters over San Francisco.

Comedy is but one thread of the arts and entertainment life of San Francisco, but the degree of vitality in the local comedy club and comedy theater scene is unique. Start a comedy evening at Punch Line (444 Battery Street) and perhaps move on to Cobb’s Comedy Club (The Cannery). If comedy appeals to you, several additional clubs in San Francisco can be visited.

To many past visitors San Francisco has meant topless. It was in North Beach, at the corner of Broadway and Columbus, that one Carol Doda began a revered tradition. Carol Doda descended from the ceiling  on a white piano with her bare, silicon-injected figure to titillate a generation of travelers. Similar clubs within view of the Columbus-Broadway intersection promise such events as the He And She Love Act. There was a time when Carol Doda needed a phalanx of lawyers to keep her free of city jail, but the tastes of the modern era have dealt an even crueler fate by declaring such acts passe, vice gone boring.

One refreshing North Beach entertainment is the music and comedy review called Beach Blanket Babylon (at Club Fugazi, 678 Beach Blanket Boulevard). Year after year this theater-musical performance, originally created by the talented Steve Silver, plays to packed houses, partly because the material is constantly updated to parody the current political or sitcom scene.

A spectrum of theater can present either a diverting or thoughtful evening in San Francisco, depending on your wishes. The major company to watch for is the American Conservatory Theater (415 Geary Avenue), but there are also a dozen smaller and more experimental groups. Other theaters whose offerings you might check during your visit would include Theater on the Square and Marines Memorial.

Ever since 1848, when the first lucky prospectors brought their gold nuggets out of the Sierra foothills to San Francisco, certain elements of the population have generously supported the crowns of established culture, the opera and the symphony. In San Francisco there is one element that defines the good life as an evening pubbing around the North Beach jazz joints and refers to San Francisco with passionate familiarity as Frisco. But there is also another high-tone element given to black ties, designer gowns, and limousines. These carriage-trade patrons tend to congregate at the Opera House (Van Ness Avenue and Grove Street) for an evening with one of the great divas. If you don’t fancy taking in an opera, you might want to stop by Max’s Opera Cafe (601 Van Ness Avenue), a classical music bar where the waiters and waitresses aspire to be opera singers and will regale you with arias. The San Francisco Symphony ranks among America’s finest.

What a visitor needs to comprehend, when thinking of the arts and entertainment world of San Francisco, is that there are many San Franciscos, and each is as authentic as the others. How would one classify such events as the annual Bay to Breakers run in May (about 100,000 participants each year, with many in costume) or the annual San Francisco Pride Parade in late June (another 100,000 participants in this lesbian, gay, and transgender event, led by Dikes on Bikes)? Not all the theater and performers in this city can be confined indoors.

San Francisco enjoys its share of art museums. South of Market Street on Third, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (151 Third Street) has never been accused of lagging behind its audience. This museum also makes a special effort to show modern photography. The de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park has been rebuilt to display its diverse painting collections more advantageously. The Palace of the Legion of Honor (Lincoln Park, near 34th Avenue) hosts European and American shows. Many of the major modern art galleries in San Francisco are located downtown around Union Square. If you want to browse them, walk along Post and Sutter streets.

If you want to engage in the art of conversation with an agreeable San Franciscan, one place to locate the natives is the Buena Vista (2765 Hyde Street). The proprietors claim this is where Irish Coffee was invented. This is a fitting drink for San Francisco, a city of brisk weather, a fact noted by the American writer, Mark Twain, when he reportedly said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was my first summer in San Francisco.” Drink and food are taken seriously in San Francisco, a city that helped invent the notion of the celebrity chef. Try Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio (545 Post Street). There are numerous restaurant styles to explore. Restaurant Lulu (816 Folsom Street), for example, lures patrons with its country-style Southern French/Northern Italian ambiance, where the rosemary rotisserie chicken is a favorite. Source (11 Division Street) is on the leading edge of inventive vegetarian cuisine, with a carefully thought out rationale feeding the body and the spirit.

San Franciscans with a decided interest in art and entertainment also tend to argue passionately that the canvas of greatest interest here is the cityscape itself. The symphony with the most soothing sounds is composed of the assembled foghorns, strategically placed around the bay, each with its own instrumentation. The laser light show that dazzles most in this urban disco is the sight of sunlight breaking through the fog bank. And the fitting center stage place for you, the traveler, to witness all this is an evening cruise out on the Bay, with the Red and White Fleet (Pier 41) or the more posh Hornblower Yacht (Pier 31-33). The cruises amount to floating cocktail parties, some with a full dinner, music, and dancing, plus a display of one of the most glorious works of U.S. urban architecture, San Francisco, bathed in the setting sun, framed by curls of fog.


San Francisco: If You Go

The overall San Francisco information source for travelers is San Francisco Travel,

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.

See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

San Francisco figures prominently in my book/ebook titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.

San Francisco

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge Beyond 75 Years

July 30, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

Golden Gate Bridge 75th Birthday – Images by Lee Foster

(To view photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, see 252 images in Lee’s three galleries at,, and

by Lee Foster

San Francisco celebrated in 2012 the 75th birthday of its beloved Golden Gate Bridge. 

All visitors to the Golden Gate area will notice some subtle improvements in the setting. The visitor experience at the south end Vista Point of the Bridge has been enhanced.  The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, a local ally of the National Park Service, took charge of the existing Round House gift shop and art deco-themed Bridge Café, upgrading the quality of the merchandise and installing a restaurant with locally-grown food.  A new interpretive Visitor Pavilion was built, and became the starting point for guided tours of the south area of the Bridge

Views of the Bridge were improved as non-native trees were eliminated and more overlooks added.  Trails along the north side of San Francisco, part of the Coastal Trail system, were improved, as was the trail system east from the bridge through Crissy Field, part of the Bay Trail.  If a visitor has not yet walked any of these trails in recent years, a pleasant surprise awaits.  It is now possible to walk west from the Golden Gate Bridge all of the way to the Cliff House along the north side of the San Francisco peninsula.  It is also possible to walk east from the south end of the Bridge through Crissy Field to the Marina Green, another engaging outing.

The 75th birthday was an occasion to contemplate many aspects of the Bridge, including its beauty, its engineering design genius, and its economic importance.  The Bridge became a symbol of America’s vision of a brighter future, approved of and constructed during the darkest days of the Great Depression.

The Golden Gate Bridge at Any Time

Any day of the year, it is a joy to view and photograph the Golden Gate Bridge. Spring is an especially wonderful time in the Bay Area for such a pursuit. Each day, thousands of travelers engage in a private ceremony of affection for the Bridge.

Consider the Bridge’s history and beauty, then some suggestions on how to enjoy and photograph it today.

The object of all this adulation is one of America’s best-loved landmarks. Whether seen from the south and north end visitor viewpoints or from special vantage points, such as the deck of a Blue and Gold Fleet excursion boat, the Golden Gate Bridge is a pleasing sight. The gracefulness of its suspension construction, the bridge’s proportion alongside the green hills of Marin County to the north, and the orange-vermilion color of the bridge against the blue sky and sea all add to the breathtaking effect. The ship lane below the Golden Gate has become its own bridge to the orient, adding to the mystique of the site.

How the Golden Gate Bridge was Built

Building the Bridge required both political vision and technical imagination. A San Francisco character of the 1860s, named Emperor Norton, is credited with the first public proposals for a bridge. In the 1870s railroad magnate Charles Crocker presented plans for a bridge. However, the task was enormous and public interest dwindled until 1916, when newspaperman James Wilkins launched an editorial campaign favoring a bridge. The idea appealed to North Bay residents who were transporting their cars across on time-consuming ferries. Spanning the Golden Gate, however, seemed more like a dream than a possibility. In 1917, San Francisco’s chief engineer, M. M. O’Shaughnessy, enlisted the aid of a Chicago engineer, Joseph B. Strauss, to design and build the Bridge.

Strauss followed the project attentively for the next two decades. A distinguished bridge builder, Strauss engineered over 400 bridges from Leningrad to New Jersey in his lifelong record. A statue at the south end of the Bridge acknowledges his role as “The Man Who Built The Bridge.”

The political hurdles required to build the Bridge were considerable. In 1930 voters in the six counties making up the Bridge District approved issuing the bonds to finance it. This act required some vision as the nation waded through the Depression. In January 1933 Strauss broke ground for construction of the towers. Admirably, the Bridge was built on time and under its $35 million budget, with the last bridge bond paid off in 1971. Today’s toll goes entirely to maintaining the Bridge, including its never-ending schedule of painting.

The first technical challenge in the 1930s construction involved the 4,200-foot length of the span, which many said could not be bridged successfully. Strauss weighed plans for a suspension bridge, which risked being too flimsy, and a cantilever bridge, which might be too heavy for the site. His original plans called for a design incorporating both ideas. From an aesthetic point of view, his later decision to focus just on the suspension approach proved far superior. At that time, a suspension bridge of this length had not yet been built.

The location of the Bridge, bearing the full brunt of the ocean elements, exacerbated potential problems of design. Winds of 20-60 miles per hour are commonplace. A broadside wind at 100 miles per hour produces a midspan sway of 21 feet, which had to be allowed for. Heat and cold expansion and contraction of the Bridge meant a movement of 10 feet up and 10 feet down. The depth of the water underneath the Bridge and the speed of the current were major technical challenges. Pacific tidal pressures are enormous in the narrow outlet, especially when the 7-1/2 knot tidal outrush combines with the swift-flowing waters of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers emptying through this gap into the ocean. Strauss decided to anchor one of the 65-story towers right in the waterway, 1,215 feet from shore.

The 36-1/2 inch cables manufactured for the Bridge were the largest bridge cables ever made, incorporating 80,000 miles of wire about the thickness of a pencil. Each of the two cables has a tensile strength of 200 million pounds. During construction, Strauss paid particular attention to worker safety. It was assumed in bridge building that a worker would die for every million dollars worth of construction. The safety record was excellent until near the end of the project. A special net saved 19 men who fell at various times.

Pete Williamson, one of the bridge workers, recalled what it was like.

“I had to walk along those girders with nothing to hold onto,” said Williamson, “balancing myself on 8-inch I-beams with only net and water underneath. The thought of walking the flanges scared the hell out of me. But I did it. I learned quickly that when the wind was blowing, which was all the time out there, you had to carry lumber on the side away from it. If you didn’t, it could get hold of you and blow you into the drink.”

The safety record remained excellent until 1936 when a falling beam crushed an iron worker. Unfortunately, another tragic incident, in February 1937, took 10 lives when a scaffolding with workers broke off. The weight of the scaffolding tore through the net, carrying the workers to their deaths below.

Over the years the bridge has set some remarkable and gruesome records. Over 100,000 cars a day cross it, joining San Francisco to Marin County and the redwood country to the north. By February 1986 the billionth car had driven across. More than 1,200 people have jumped suicidally to their death from the span.

How to Enjoy and Photograph the Golden Gate Bridge Today

If you want to enjoy and photograph the Golden Gate Bridge today, here are some suggestions.

From mid-afternoon through sunset, choice photos and spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and its setting are best from beaches on the western side of the Golden Gate in San Francisco and from bluffs on the Marin Headlands on the north side of the Bridge. For these outings, you will want to have your own car.

Baker Beach

West of the Bridge, the Baker Beach turnoff from Lincoln Boulevard is well marked. There is ample parking and direct access to the beach. Good shots can be made of the Bridge in the distance with breaking waves in the foreground. The beach is extensive. Many photo strategies can be employed. You can draw in the Bridge with a long lens or use a wide-angle to create vertical photos of the Bridge and the surf. If the sky is clear, the afternoon light can be golden. If the sky is cloudy or foggy, the interplay of the setting sun on the clouds/fog can be dramatic.

The cover photo for my recent guidebook and app, The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco (Countryman/Norton) and San Francisco Travel Photo Guide (Sutro Media), is from Baker Beach, and you can replicate the image. Get to Baker Beach at about 3 p.m. on a gorgeous, sunny day and prepare to meditate on the scene for an hour. Walk from the parking lot area toward the Bridge until you see the image that pleases you. It is helpful to have a tripod and rubber boots that allow you to stand in the surf. The singular beauty of the Bridge, the beach, and the surf is appealing. Optional amenities to bring are a bottle of wine, some brie, and a baguette.

One unusual aspect of the scene at Baker Beach will help orient you to the fact that you are in San Francisco. The “family” area of Baker Beach is near the parking lot. Walk toward the Bridge on a warm and sunny day and you will see perhaps a thousand naked people cavorting in this salubrious environment. You will need to be patient as you wait for the Bridge and the surf to appear alone in your frame without naked people running into the surf. A bottle of wine can help. Be litigiously respectful of naked people running through your photos. This is not the proper occasion to whip out your model releases. Although no thefts have been reported, it is best to have a colleague present to watch over your camera equipment if you decide, after getting your fabulous photo, to run naked into the surf yourself.

Marshall’s Beach

Another, closer beach access to the Golden Gate Bridge is also possible, but the trek to it requires some athleticism. That is Marshall’s Beach, but it is less well signed and the walk to the beach is long and steep. The parking spot is one of the first available parking areas, good for only a few cars, as you travel west on Lincoln Boulevard from the Vista Point at the South End of the Bridge. You will know you have the right parking spot if you see a Park Service board path leading toward the water. An extensive set of steps and paths, part of the glorious California Coastal Trail system, leads down to the beach.

The experience is one of an extraordinary wildness. You will wonder if you are still in San Francisco. The vegetation is Californian, with the blue blossom ceanothus bushes especially fragrant in the spring. If you are up to the physical demands of the steep ascent and descent on the steps, the extraordinary private pocket beach, known as Marshall’s Beach, awaits you at the bottom. Fairly close-up photos of the Bridge from water’s edge in afternoon and sunset light are possible.

Crissy Field

The entire stretch of public land east from the Bridge south end Vista Point to the Marina Green is now a splendid public park known as Crissy Field. A walkway along the Bay is shared by an eclectic mix of joggers, hikers, dog walkers, and families on outings.

Stop in at the Warming Hut Cafe for a break in the walk. Lovely views of the Bridge are possible all along this walk. To enjoy and photograph the views most advantageously, walk from the Marina Green to the Bridge so that an image of the span is always in your sight. Morning is a good time for this walk, when the sun light is on the Bridge. Wind surfers and huge container ships sometimes present themselves on the waterway.

Conzelman Road in Marin County

Grand afternoon and sunset views of the Golden Gate Bridge are possible from the Marin County side. Drive across the Bridge and take the first turnoff, which is Sausalito. Then turn west at a T onto Conzelman Road, which snakes along the Marin Headlands bluffs.

Three turnoffs here are recommended stops.

The first turnoff, immediately above the North Tower of the Bridge, amounts to a walk out to Battery Spencer and a close-up view of the Bridge. A vertical photo of the North Tower is possible. Another visual concept is the military fortification and the Bridge together. The Marin Headlands played a critical part in defending the United States following the hysteria of Pearl Harbor. There was substantial fear that Japan would mount a mainland invasion, with San Francisco as the target. The Marin Headlands hillsides were heavily fortified with gun emplacements. Gone today are the guns themselves, but their concrete bunker support systems are a sobering reminder of the World War II era.

The second turnoff, a quarter mile to the west, is the classic view of the Golden Gate Bridge North Tower with The City in the background. This is a vertical image that is seen in many postcard collections about San Francisco. Possibly a photo visit will have extraordinary good light in the hour before sunset. If the sky is clear, the Bridge will have some golden glow on it. If the sky is foggy or cloudy, you may just happen upon a dramatic dance of fog and bridge.

There is also a third turnoff to a site known as Hawk Hill, which is choice for getting a grand pespective on the Golden Gate. Continue on the road west, and keep to the left, following the Point Bonita Lighthouse signage. You will come to a famous place called Hawk Hill. Park where the two-lane road ends and a one-way road begins. This promontory offers one of the most amazing views of the Golden Gate area, which is a famous Bridge, of course, and is also an entrance to San Francisco Bay. This view calls for a wide-angle horizontal photo encompassing the Golden Gate and The City.

At the parking turnoff at Hawk Hill, there is signage alerting you to the naming of this Golden Gate location. Credit falls to John C. Fremont, who was a lieutenant in the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers.  He wrote, “Between these points is the strait about 1 mile broad in the narrowest point, and 5 miles long from sea to bay. To this gate I gave the name Chrysopolae, or Golden Gate.” Fremont was making reference to the fabled Straits of Bosporus and the Greek city, Chrysopolis, which translates as City of Gold.

Hawk Hill is unusual because this is where many migrating raptors on the West Coast cross the Golden Gate span, due to the favorable thermals available. An informal count of raptors migrating each year becomes an index of the health of the western U.S. ecosystem. If your photographic or nature passion is birds, especially raptors, this is a place you should visit.

All aspects considered, there is much to celebrate regarding the Golden Gate Bridge, from its history and beauty to today’s opportunities for enjoyment and photography of this beloved object. Besides the land-based approaches, an excursion from Fisherman’s Wharf on a Blue & Gold or Red & White fleet boat shows the Bridge from the water, including from its west side.

The more one meditates on the Golden Gate Bridge, the greater will be your appreciation of the aesthetics and practical value of this world-class icon.


San Francisco: If You Go

The overall San Francisco information source for travelers is the San Francisco Travel Association,

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.

See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

San Francisco figures prominently in my book/ebook titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.

San Francisco

San Francisco’s Neighbor: The Oakland-Berkeley East Bay

July 29, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

Oakland Berkeley East Bay California – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

East across the Bay from the grand tourism capital of San Francisco stretches her sunnier neighbor, the Oakland-Berkeley East Bay. Those of us who live in the East Bay area are quite content to let San Francisco carry the heavy burdens of tourism fame. We enjoy the many amenities and good life of the less pretentious East Bay, which we also delight in sharing with visitors.

Oakland, a brawny port city, and one of the largest container freight ports on the West Coast, is home to the salt-of-the-earth laborer and the rapping, streetwise citizen. However, Oakland also has large numbers of resident artists and writers because it is one of the few places in the Bay Area where people in the arts can survive financially. The East Bay, especially Oakland, also includes one of the largest U.S. concentrations of immigrants from diverse Asian and Pacific Island regions.

These folks have secure dated voucher tickets, no wait in line and some discounts, for Bus Tours, Boat Tours, Alcatraz, Muir Woods/Sausalito, Attractions/Museums, Wine Country, and more. See their All San Francisco Tours.

For each subject, Foster presents a succinct write-up on why the subject was selected, based on his watching over the area for 40 years. Foster provides all the practical details you might want for a visit, such as a phone, exact address (for easy map search on your device), and the website for more information and for current information (such as today’s price and hours open for admission to a museum).

Neighboring Berkeley is the intellectual and liberal political mecca of Northern California, and home of the University of California Berkeley, the state’s most prestigious public university. Berkeley is Oakland’s cerebral counterpart, whether the revolution is 1960s politics or contemporary cuisine. An observer might think of Berkeley as the whiz kid scholar and trendy culinary explorer. It is no accident that some observers call the city Berserkeley, shaking their heads over Berkeley’s apparent need to proclaim its own foreign policy or to take other eccentric actions. The city has one of the most-used libraries in the state, but you have to check out your books yourself because the librarians don’t want to get carpel tunnel. Berkeley is an easy target to bash.

Rising above Oakland and Berkeley are the East Bay hills, which include 53,300 acres set aside for recreational use as part of the East Bay Regional Parks District. It is easy to steal away from the urban area to Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills, epitome of these public spaces. Few walks exceed the pleasure of a stroll on the spine of the hills at Inspiration Point in Tilden Park.

When locals want to travel far, far, away, they use the relatively un-congested Oakland Airport, a few miles south of downtown Oakland along the Bay. This is one of the easiest airports to use in the Bay Area and is actually quite close to San Francisco, only a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train ride away. Those who live in the East Bay make heavy use of the convenient BART trains to get around the area and into San Francisco. Those who drive into San Francisco cross on the Bay Bridge, which was completed in 1936, the same year as the Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate will always be seen as the more beautiful of the two bridges, though the Bay Bridge will soon get a facelift with a dynamic new eastern span and signature tower. The Bay Bridge is definitely the workhorse of the two, when one considers the number of cars that cross per day.

Oakland’s Waterfront Origins

The city of Oakland grew up along the bay waterfront, now Jack London Square, a multi-block area of shops and restaurants struggling for recognition, even as the namesake author did.

Jack London is indeed the town’s favorite son and the main luminary around whom one could build a themed waterfront area. At the Square you can view Jack London’s cabin, his Yukon abode from the winter of 1897-98. Next to the cabin, quench your thirst at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon. Built in 1880, Heinold’s was a bunkhouse for the oyster fishermen. At Heinold’s, London acquired some of his self-made literary education. Inside this saloon, you’ll find Jack London photos and memorabilia.

Popular attractions here include shopping at places like Cost Plus, book browsing at a large Barnes & Noble store, and dining at the fish restaurant, Scott’s. A Sunday Farmer’s Market draws large crowds looking for everything from heirloom apples to goat cheese. Franklin Roosevelt’s presidential yacht, the USS Potomac, a National Historic Landmark, is now permanently berthed at Jack London Square. The public can tour the 165-foot boat, a coastguard cutter that became the “floating White House,” and participate in yacht excursions out on the Bay. The Jack London Cinema features nine state-of-the-art theaters. A bright night spot in the Jack London area is the jazz club known as Yoshi’s, which also features Japanese dining. At Jack London Square, you can kayak in the estuary with equipment from California Canoe and Kayak or experience a yacht overnight with Dockside Boat and Bed. Loft living is popular in the Jack London area. Former and current California governor  Jerry Brown had a loft at 2nd and Harrison while he was mayor of Oakland.

From Jack London Square, you can walk up Broadway into downtown Oakland. A spirited civic group of volunteers sponsors free architectural walks around downtown Oakland each Saturday. At 9th Street, looking a block west to Washington Street, you’ll see renovation and restoration in progress. This “Old Oakland” restoration consists of shops and restaurants, supplementing the long-lived Ratto’s international market and restaurant, at 821 Washington, a kind of culinary mirror of the city. Around Old Oakland are new office buildings that have changed the face of the downtown.

Within the Old Oakland complex, next door to Rattos, is a contemporary restaurant named The District, 827 Washington, that suggests the liveliness of the area. The District has a friendly bar lounge casualness and an extensive wine and mixed drinks repertoire. What distinguishes The District is its elaborate small plates menu, with dishes such as seared scallops or Moroccan spiced lamb meatballs, which can be paired by the knowledgeable sommelier with specific suggested wines.

Farther up Broadway, at 2025, is the Paramount Theatre, one of the loveliest and most lavishly gilded art deco movie palaces of the 1930s. Fans of Art Deco can participate in guided Saturday tours of the 3000-seat Paramount, which is now used for concerts, ballets, and various performance events.

West toward the 980 Freeway is another intriguing Oakland development, Preservation Park, between 12th and 14th Streets. Preservation Park includes 16 Oakland Victorians, now gathered and restored, all housing non-profit organizations. Adjacent is the Pardee Home Museum, 672 11th, home of George Pardee, a former Oakland mayor and California governor. The house, built in 1868, was kept in the Pardee family until 1981, when the last spinster Pardee sister died, leaving intact all the family belongings, which included obsessive collections. In the mansion you see the objects gathered by three generations of Pardees. Guided tours are offered on selected days.

East from Broadway, between 9th and 12th Streets, you can walk into a thriving Asiatown. It could be called a Chinatown, but there are also Koreans and Vietnamese. The morning scene here is lively, with the selling of produce and wriggling fish. If you indulge in a dim sum lunch at Peony, 388 9th, you will see more insiders than outsiders. Asiatown is a pageant of family cohesiveness and thrifty concentration on getting and spending.

Farther east, beyond Asiatown, is Lake Merritt, a saltwater lake in downtown Oakland. Two major pleasures at Lake Merritt for a traveler are the Oakland Museum of California and the Lakeside Park and Garden Center.

Lake Merritt is a 155-acre body of water and a popular recreation area. On the north shore of the lake lies one of the country’s oldest waterfowl refuges, founded in 1870. You can rent sailboats, rowboats, and canoes at the boathouse on the west shore. Many Oaklanders enjoy walking and jogging around the lake in the usually sunny weather.

The Oakland Museum, 1000 Oak Street, is a major cultural force in the Bay Area, both for its permanent collections and its changing shows. The museum was one of the first to present whole environments, possibly “the American kitchen in the 1940s,” rather than static collections, such as seashells of the world. Separate floors cover California art, California history, and nature in California. The museum architecture is noteworthy, with the building sunk into the ground and roof gardens atop each tiered floor. One of the popular annual shows is the Mycological Society’s Fungus Fair, held in November, which displays the season’s offerings in wild mushrooms. Similarly, there is a Wildflower Show each April.

Along the edge of Lake Merritt, at 666 Bellevue Avenue, you’ll find one of the outstanding public gardens in California, the Lakeside Park and Garden Center, covering 122 acres that are intensely cultivated throughout the year. Permanent displays include a Japanese Garden, Herb and Fragrance Garden, Cactus and Succulent Garden, Polynesian Garden, and a tropical conservatory. The chrysanthemum displays each autumn are famous, but fans of specialized plants might single out a preference for the bonsai show in autumn or the dahlia root sale in spring.

Emeryville: The Small City In Between

Sandwiched between Oakland and Berkeley, adjacent to the Bay, is Emeryville, a small city that seems to epitomize the best aspects of its larger neighbors. Emeryville has big box stores, such as Best Buy and Ikea, plus its fashionable boutique shopping on Bay Street, with , typically, an Apple store. Emeryville has numerous modern condos housing the upscale high-tech young. Its renovated brick warehouses host startups, and there are substantial new media companies, such as the Pixar movie animation studios.

For a restaurant that catches the spirit of the place, try the Honor Bar, Grill & Cocktails, 1411 Powell. This is where sociable high tech types come to unwind after work, perhaps with a fancy cocktail or a glass of Merlot. For food, the grill gets the emphasis, with BBQed Texas Ribs a favorite.

Berkeley’s University Legacy

Berkeley had its start as a modest land grant university in the 19th century. Although the city was subdivided in 1862, the early scene was bucolic. A big population influx occurred, however, when twenty thousand escapees from the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 decided to stay on the east side of the Bay.

A look at the University is one of the major pleasures of Berkeley, starting at Sather Gate, the entrance to the University in an earlier trolley-car era. Tours of this thousand-acre landscaped campus, with its 20 libraries, start at 10 a.m. each morning from the Visitor Center at 101 Sproul Hall in the Student Union. Landmarks include the Bancroft Library, with its nine million books. For an impressive view of the East Bay, ride to the top of the campanile tower on campus. Be sure to see what’s showing at the University Art Museum, 2626 Bancroft Way, and the Pacific Film Archives. The Robert Lowie Museum of Anthropology on the campus often hosts impressive displays of archaeological finds. The University has a significant influence on the East Bay. About a fifth of the 122,000 people in Berkeley are students, faculty, or staff. It is said that the University has about a billion dollar annual impact.

Around the campus extend vital streets, pulsating with craftspeople, dreamers, and culinary enthusiasts. Many of the streets of Berkeley were named with more purposefulness than in most cities. Streets running east-west were named after men of arts (such as Blake, for the poet) and streets running north-south were named after men of science, such as Bowditch (who made contributions to navigation science).

Telegraph Avenue, which extends south from near Sather Gate, is the most active of these streets, populated by students, artisans, and the homeless. The street was originally named after the transcontinental telegraph, which reached here. A browser will find a lot of interesting places to explore in a three-block stretch. Several coffee shops offer venues at which to sip a cappuccino and watch the daily parade of humanity, with Mediterraneum Caffe claiming the longest Bohemian legacy. There’s an out-of-the-60s “head” shop, Annapurna, full of marijuana smoking paraphernalia.   Smart Alec’s has veggie fast food.  The huge Moe’s used book store is a major intellectual force. The patch of greenery named People’s Park, one block off Telegraph, has always been a contentious area. In 1969, when the University tried to build dorms, the local populace protested and Ronald Reagan called out the National Guard.

A few blocks west of the University, running north and south, is Shattuck Avenue, the center of “downtown” Berkeley.  Downtown is blooming as a cultural force. Here you will find the Addison Street Arts District, anchored by the highly respected Berkeley Repertory Theatre, which has two large performance stages. Next door is the innovative Aurora Theatre, a more intimate scene. Also on Addison is Jazzschool (with 600 students). A block away is the lavish YMCA of Berkeley, which has an amazing 11,700 fitness enthusiasts utilizing its facilities.


If you were to walk north on Shattuck to between Cedar and Rose, you would be at the heart of trendy culinary Berkeley. Alice Waters’ landmark Chez Panisse restaurant is at 1517 Shattuck. The restaurant still manages to excite the palate with the fresh ingredients and imaginative cooking that were its hallmark when founded in the 1970s. One aspect of the magic is that Alice Waters seems to encourage offspring, so many waiters and chefs sees a stint here as a journeyman ritual on the path to his or her own establishment. Next door is Alice Waters’ more casual restaurant, Cesar, where tapas and a glass of wine can be enjoyed. Across the street is the legendary cheese and bread shop, the Cheese Board, with its notable pizza restaurant. On the corner at Cedar is the gourmet supermarket, Andronico’s, with its large entrée takeout section for those who like to eat in but dine well.

Berkeley salutes culinary dreamers and supplies a large number of patrons for innovative restauranteurs. Several establishments stand out in the current scene.

Ajanta, 1888 Solano, is a sophisticated Indian cuisine restaurant with a menu that evolves monthly. The various regions of India are featured with their specialties. The proprietor’s monthly newsletter keeps customers abreast of nuanced culinary developments.

Revival Bar & Kitchen is a fine-dining leader in downtown Berkeley, poised at 2102 Shattuck on the edge of the theatre district. Consider the rabbit sausage appetizer, followed by the Long & Bailey Farm pork chop. Revival does its own charcuterie on the premises.

The best strategy at Joshu-ya, a contemporary Japanese cuisine specialist off Telegraph Avenue at 2441 Dwight, is to order the “omakase” or chef’s tasting menu to get a sample of what’s best that day. A good beverage choice would be a bottle of cold sake.

One former landmark restaurant making a comeback is Spengers, a mammoth-sized establishment at 1919 Fourth Street with a venerable fresh fish legacy going back 110 years. Try a grilled catch of the day or indulge in the sumptuous Sunday Brunch.

Virtually every neighborhood  in Berkeley has its special restaurants. Another neighborhood to browse, running from the University south to Oakland, is College Avenue.  If you stroll down College, you pass intermittent cozy apartment/condo and shopping clusters, all part of one of the most livable areas in Berkeley, known as The Elmwood. At the corner of College and Ashby, you might pause for a coffee at the Espresso Roma Cafe where perhaps half the patrons will be lounging about with their laptops.

The Elmwood also happens to boast one of the most distinctive lodgings in the East Bay. That would be the Claremont Resort & Spa, which is tucked into the hills a few blocks up Ashby. This white fin de siecle palace of gentility has been recycled and repositioned by its owners as an “urban resort” with a spa. On a clear day you can enjoy a drink at the Claremont’s Paragon Bar and watch a panorama of San Francisco, the Golden Gate, and Berkeley unfold in front of you.

Walking farther down College Avenue to Claremont, you come upon another cluster of those small shops that Oakland/Berkeley people like so much. In the single block of College south of Alcatraz is VerBrugge Market, where you can procure the finest seafood and meats. Adjacent is La Farine, where they bake all the baguettes and pastries on the premise. On the other side of Verbrugge is the wine merchant, Vino, where you could pick out a good Merlot or Chardonnay. Two doors down, a Burmese clan runs the Yasai Market, where the freshest produce and herbs are an easy pick.

From Jack London Square to The Elmwood, there is much to celebrate in the relatively sunny East Bay. Collectively, the area will never be as “famous” or as foggy as San Francisco. But to the locals, and to visitors, the easy-going East Bay is livable and immensely interesting.


Oakland-Berkeley: If You Go

For Oakland information, contact the Oakland Convention and Visitors Authority,

Berkeley’s tourism source is Visit Berkeley,

This article is one of thirty chapters in Lee Foster’s new book Northern California Travel: The Best Options.

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.

See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

San Francisco and Oakland figure prominently in my book/ebook titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.

San Francisco

Five Good Day Trips from San Francisco

July 28, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

by Lee Foster

The diversity of possible day trips amounts to a special pleasure for those fortunate enough to live in the San Francisco area or visit here. Perhaps you haven’t treated yourself recently to an excursion from the city. Or maybe you are a potential visitor wanting to look around. Some of these suggested day trips may already be your past favorites, but you’ll be surprised to note what has changed if you retrace your steps.

As a day tripper, you probably have a time frame in mind. Five suggested trips require only a day each. My recommendations include the major sights and a restaurant for a culinary interlude. Five further trips can easily absorb an overnight. These write-ups offer the principal sights, a possible lodging, and a recommended restaurant. (The five overnight trips are in my coverage Five Good Overnight Trips from San Francisco.)

Muir Woods

When you want to see the famous California redwoods, but stay close to San Francisco, proceed to 560-acre Muir Woods in Marin County.

For San Francisco area visitors, these folks run the popular Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours. They also have tours for a Boat-Trip-On-The-Bay, Alcatraz (get a secure date, plan in advance), Muir Woods/Sausalito, Attractions/Museums (sometimes with no wait in line, plus discounts), Wine Country, and more. See their All San Francisco Tours.

Muir Woods satisfies partly because it honors the great conservationist, John Muir, who wrote so eloquently about the California outdoors, helping to create the constituency needed to protect redwoods and other treasures. For the preservation of Muir Woods we have Marin resident William Kent to thank. Theodore Roosevelt suggested at the 1908 dedication that the woods be named after this patron, but Kent declined and indicated that Muir’s name would be a more appropriate title. What more fitting place could be imagined at which to commune with the redwoods, which are the tallest living things on the earth.

To get to the tallest tree, which is about 367 feet, you would have to journey farther afield, to the Redwood National Park, north of Eureka. The trees at Muir Woods, however, are 240 feet high and 16 feet wide. (If such a trip launches you to pursue further California arboreal superlatives, you could also proceed to the most massive tree on the earth, the General Sherman inland redwood at Sequoia National Park, and the oldest living thing on the earth, the bristlecone pines in the White Mountains, outside of Bishop. See my write-up on this at California’s Three Arboreal Superlatives.)

The drive to Muir Woods is an easy 17-mile outing, but allow plenty of time because the road twists and turns along Mt. Tamalpais State Park. Drive north from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge and follow Highway 101 to the Highway 1 turnoff. Muir Woods is clearly marked at the Panoramic Highway turnoff 2-1/2 miles west on Highway 1. Parking can be tight at the site because of its popularity, so choose an off day if possible or prepare to walk a short distance to get to the entrance.

The redwood grove at Muir Woods has a hushed, sacral aura, with the choicest section appropriately called Cathedral Grove. The trees extend down a narrow valley with a stream, a typical redwood terrain with an undergrowth of sorrel and ferns. Deep within the grove the light diminishes and few other plants can compete. In late autumn you can see coho salmon and steelhead rainbow trout migrating up this stream, Redwood Creek. In summer the coastal fog drips off the redwood branches, providing a substantial amount of moisture.

The farther you walk from the parking lot, the fewer people you will see. If equipped with walking shoes, a knapsack lunch, and bottle of wine, you can find pleasing picnic spots on the edge of Muir Woods where the trails meet Tamalpais Park (picnicking is discouraged within Muir Woods). Hillside, Fern Creek, and Ben Johnson are three trails that lead away from the central grove. For the ambitious hiker, Ben Johnson Trail can be followed four miles down to Stinson Beach.

The gift shop at Muir Woods sells an authentic, pleasing California gift–a redwood burl. A burl is a part of the redwood tree that can regenerate the whole tree, a remarkable adaptive trait that has allowed redwoods to thrive and dominate within the coastal forests. You simply put the burl in a shallow dish, flood part of it with water, and watch the tree sprout. The effect is not one of instant gratification, but over time the burl does sprout and the redwood begins to grow. For years the redwood will continue to thrive from the food stored within the burl, growing ever larger. I have watched as burl gifts sprouted and grew for a decade.

For a restaurant repast, backtrack to Sausalito. Consider, after a walk in the quiet of the groves, a drink and a meal of fresh seafood at The Spinnaker. The extra benefit here is that you complement your day’s views of the redwoods with panoramic perspectives on the beauty of San Francisco Bay.


A visitor may already have some strong impressions about what Oakland and Berkeley are all about. Berkeley is perhaps less of a divisive symbol of activism today than it was in more strident times, and Oakland, with its booming port, is less a model of the down-and-out urban area, but these images linger in the collective public imagination.

The East Bay is one day trip easily accessible on public transit by taking BART (the Bay Area Rapid Transit train) to the University of California and to the Oakland Museum of California. However, if you want to travel beyond those destinations, a car or taxi will be useful unless you are adept at discerning bus routes.

For a day in the East Bay, you’ll need to make some choices, but here are some main attractions.

The University and nearby Telegraph Avenue are always interesting to stroll. If you park at the public garage on Channing, just below Telegraph, you can plunge in.

Walk Telegraph Avenue from Channing down to Dwight and then cross the street and walk back to the University. Telegraph Avenue is a kaleidoscope of humanity, a cluster of bookstores, and a collection of coffee hops that invite lingering. Summer can be quiet on Telegraph, but as school starts in September and as the Christmas season arrives, Telegraph becomes a carnival of street vendors selling their crafts. Moe’s (2476 Telegraph) is the major surviving bookstore. Moe’s, located on several floors, offers a large selection of used books.

To enter the University, walk across Bancroft and approach the Sather Gate. On your left is the Student Union, where you can get a free walking map of the campus at the Visitor Center. Morning tours at 10 a.m. leave for a 90-minute guided walking excursion. Beyond Sather Gate is the Sather Tower, popularly known as The Campanile, the major symbol of the University. East on Bancroft, the Lowie Museum manages exhibits on Native Americans and other ethnics. The University Art Museum, 2626 Bancroft, hosts traveling shows.

Then drive into the hills behind the University, up Centennial Drive, to the University Botanical Garden, an excellent picnic spot with strategically-located tables in the different plant communities. Besides the plantings from several continents on the south side of the road, cross to the young redwood forest on the north side.

Above the Botanical garden, also on Centennial Drive, is the Lawrence Hall of Science. This promontory offers excellent sunset views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate. The wonder of science and technology, the subject presented inside, appeals to both adult and child visitors.

Tilden Park sprawls for thousands of acres across the Berkeley Hills. My favorite enclave in this vast park is the California native plant garden, technically called the Regional Parks Botanic Garden. This garden is a wonderful site at which to meditate over the diverse beauty of the Golden State.

When considering Oakland for your outing, the Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak Street, is a major resource. The state’s natural history, human story, and art occupy three tiers of the museum.

Strolling around Lake Merritt is a favorite weekend activity in the East Bay. Park along Bellevue Avenue for a walk along the scenic boathouse and bandstand side of the lake.

The Jack London Square at the foot of Broadway contains London’s cabin from the Yukon and Heinold’s Saloon, where London supposedly polished his literary skills.

For an East Bay restaurant, try Revival, in downtown. Revival is known for its careful sourcing of ingredients and its own house-made charcuterie.

Stanford University

In 1881, after the tragic death from typhoid fever of their 16-year-old son in Florence, Italy, Leland Stanford and his wife turned their 8,200-acre stock farm in Palo Alto into the Leland Stanford Jr. University so that “the children of California may be our children.”

Today this cerebral farm, home for 13,000 students and an establishment of medical and technical professionals, is well worth a visit.

Drive south from San Francisco along Highway 101 and turn onto University Avenue, which takes you through the heart of Palo Alto, once known as Professorville. University Avenue becomes Palm Drive after you cross the El Camino Real. As you proceed up Palm Drive, stop at the University Museum of Art. The Museum shows memorabilia of Stanford and describes how he rose from a Sacramento hardware merchant to become the railroad builder and governor. One of the appealing California Native American exhibits is a Yurok canoe carved from a single redwood log.

Continue on Palm Drive to the oval parking area. Immediately in front of you is the most historic part of the University, the Main Quadrangle, a sandstone enclosed courtyard in the Romanesque style, with archways and thick walls. Red tile roofs inadvertently echo the missions. Memorial Church, dedicated in 1903, was Mrs. Stanford’s memorial to her husband.

Walk east from the main quadrangle to the Hoover Tower, the 285-foot landmark. You can take an elevator to the top. The tower houses the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, which has substantial collections of papers and books related to world conflicts. At the base of the tower you’ll find a museum room honoring Herbert Hoover, the Stanford graduate and engineer whose enduring legacy was not his presidential years, but his earlier feat, as Secretary of the Interior, when he negotiated successfully among the Southwestern states the agreement to construct the Hoover Dam. Without the dam’s impounded Colorado River water, hydro-electrical power, and flood control, life in California and the West would be substantially diminished today.

To get a feel for campus life, walk from the Hoover Tower to Tresidder Union and stop for a food/beverage break. You’ll pass such landmarks as the Main Library, Encina Hall, and the Campus Bookstore.

For a delightful restaurant, try MacArthur Park, 27 University. To get there, as you leave Palm Drive to enter Palo Alto, turn right after you pass under the railroad trestle. The restaurant resides in an ample white-painted building, a World War I hostess house designed by Julia Morgan for Camp Fremont. Try the mesquite charcoaled swordfish or the oak-wood smoked baby back ribs.

San Mateo Coast

The San Mateo coast between the Montara and Pigeon Point lighthouses offers a bucolic seaside drive with beaches, farmlands, and small coastal towns. Morning fogs tend to burn off by noon, so plan this as an afternoon outing. The road is relatively straight, compared to the roller coaster rides possible along the coast north of San Francisco or in Big Sur.

Pick up Interstate 280, then Highway 1, at the southwest edge of San Francisco and drive along the coast. At Pacifica, pause and drive inland along Linda Mar Boulevard. Where the road intersects with Adobe Lane, you’ll find the Sanchez Adobe, a whitewashed structure completed in 1846 during the Mexican era. This is the only adobe in San Mateo county open to the public. Memorabilia at the adobe recall the era of Francisco Sanchez, mayor of San Francisco and commandant of militia under the Mexican Republic. Moving south along Highway 1, you pass the treacherous Devil’s Slide area where road washouts periodically occur.

In Montara, stop at the Montara Lighthouse. Turn toward the sea where you notice a small Youth Hostel sign. After several major shipwrecks along this coast, the lighthouse was built in 1875, first as a fog signal station with a deep whistle run by coal-generated steam power. Today the grounds are open to the public and the buildings function as a rustic all-ages hostel.

Proceeding south, at the fishing village of Princeton, watch the boats return and see what the sea has offered up as prizes. Several sport-fishing charters leave from Princeton. Shops and restaurants offer seafood. Ketch Joanne serves tasty shrimp and crab sandwiches.

Next you’ll encounter the original and main coastside community, Half Moon Bay, once called Spanishtown and populated by the Spanish as early as the 1830s. Today floriculture is big business here, managed in massive greenhouses. Take a stroll on Main Street, where the blue Zaballa House, 326 Main, is the most historic building. South of town, the landmark to see is the white Johnston House, poised up on a hillside. It’s amazing that this New England-style “saltbox” house could have been built in the roadless, isolated area in 1853. Hand-hewn timbers were floated ashore from ships at high tide. The setting exudes a certain longing, such as one feels in Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World.

Many beaches attract visitors south of Half Moon Bay, with San Gregorio and Pescadero among the most popular. The inland roads along the coast are also appealing. Drive inland south of Tunitas along Stage Road to the juncture of Stage and La Honda Roads, site of the Peterson & Alsford General Store, built in 1899. They sell everything from Levis to kerosene lamps, but mainly the establishment provides a friendly ambiance for locals and visitors around its bar.

Proceed on Stage Road to the small community of Pescadero, which means “fishermen” in Spanish. At Duarte’s Restaurant, try the cioppino or grilled fish-of-the-day, followed by dessert of local olallieberry pie. When you drive the mile west to the sea from Pescadero, you pass Pescadero Marsh, one of the most important remaining habitats along the coast for birdlife. More than 180 species have been recorded here. Be sure to pack your binoculars.

Pigeon Point, five miles south, is one of the major architectural legacies among lighthouses along the U.S. Pacific coast. The brick structure, the second tallest lighthouse on the coast, is open on weekends. Wooden houses on the site function as an all-ages hostel, similar to Montara. A generation of houses in nearby Pescadero were painted white after the SS Columbia wrecked here in 1896, floating landward its cargo of white paint.

Memorial-Big Basin Redwood Parks

Redwood parks south from San Francisco are as inviting and are far less crowded than Muir Woods. Memorial Park in San Mateo County is quite close and is particularly cool and pleasing in the heat of summer. Big Basin is a longer drive and a much larger park.

Redwoods have a capacity to inspire wonder, especially those at Big Basin, partly because of their age. At park headquarters you’ll see a cross section of one tree that has been ring-dated as 2,200 years old. When the Romans flourished, this tree was young. But the tree may in fact be countless eons older. Most redwoods sprout clonally from the roots of their parent tree rather than from seeds. This same tree may have perpetuated itself in this fashion for thousands upon thousands of years. (If the trees at Muir Woods seemed impressive, know that the tallest tree there, at 240 feet, is dwarfed by the 329-foot tallest tree at Big Basin. The acreage of virgin timber at Big Basin is also much larger than that at Muir Woods.)

The ride to these parks on Skyline Boulevard takes you along the spine of the mountains. Drive south from San Francisco along Interstate 280, turn west on Highway 92, and proceed south on Highway 25 (Skyline). As with coastal outings, this terrain can be foggy in the morning, but tends to burn off in the afternoon, so plan an afternoon excursion if possible. If you drive Skyline in fog, the experience is otherworldly as the fog sweeps past you.

Memorial Park is a small, choice 560-acre redwood park at 9500 Pescadero Road. From Skyline, turn south on La Honda Road to La Honda. The park is 5-1/2 miles beyond La Honda on Pescadero Road.

Memorial Park, which honors World War I soldiers, has impressive first-growth redwoods and two interesting nature trails, plus a small interpretive center explaining both nature and the logging history of the region. The two trails are the short Tanoak Trail that meanders through the streambed area and the more ambitious mile-long Mt. Ellen Nature Trail, an excellent introduction to the redwood forest environment. Be sure to pick up leaflets for these self-guided trails at the ranger station.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, originally called California Redwood State Park, was established in 1902 as the first park in the California state park system. To reach Big Basin, leave Skyline Boulevard via Highway 236.

When you arrive at Big Basin Park headquarters, pause for a few minutes at the Nature Lodge, which celebrates the park’s history, flora, and fauna. Then walk the nearby Redwood Nature Trail, which has one of the noblest stands of coastal redwoods south of San Francisco. You make the acquaintance of the massive Santa Clara Tree and the Chimney Tree, whose core has been hollowed by fire. An additional 60 miles of hiking trails twist through the park.

The restaurant Bella Vista, 13451 Skyline, offers a remarkable view toward the bay, a cordial bar, and culinary pleasures such as veal oscar or fillet of salmon.

(To continue a discussion of the pleasure of trips near San Francisco, see the Write-up Five Good Overnight Trips from San Francisco.)

This article is one of thirty chapters in Lee Foster’s book Northern California Travel: The Best Options.

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.

See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

The San Francisco region figures prominently in my book/ebook titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.

San Francisco

Five Good Overnight Trips from San Francisco

July 27, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

by Lee Foster

This section continues my Day Trips feature from San Francisco. For those shorter trips, see my Five Good Day Trips from San Francisco. The trips discussed here can best be enjoyed on an overnight from San Francisco, although a hard-driving traveler can experience some of them in a very long day.

Point Reyes

If you have ever wondered what the 1906 quake was like, the place to go is Point Reyes National Seashore. Behind the large barn that serves as Park Headquarters, you can take the Earthquake Walk. The dramatic display along that walk is a fence that split apart 16 feet as the earth’s tectonic plates lurched past each other in the Great Earthquake of 1906. The walk circles for a mile through meadows and bay laurel trees along the San Andreas Fault, with markers alerting you to the Pacific and American plates grinding past each other at roughly two inches per year. Along the Earthquake Walk, you begin to imagine that Point Reyes is truly an island in time, destined to join the Aleutian chain off Alaska.

For San Francisco area visitors, these folks run the popular Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours. They also have tours for a Boat-Trip-On-The-Bay, Alcatraz (get a secure date, plan in advance), Muir Woods/Sausalito, Attractions/Museums (sometimes with no wait in line, plus discounts), Wine Country, and more. See their All San Francisco Tours.

The Earthquake Walk is only the first of many discoveries at Point Reyes. To get there, drive north along Highway 1, past Mt. Tamalpais, and follow the sign beyond Olema that directs you to the Point Reyes National Seashore park headquarters. Orient yourself at this large barn-like headquarters, built in 1984. Elaborate displays describe both natural history and the human story of Point Reyes, from the days of the Indians to the century of dairy ranching. The more than 2.5 million annual visitors rank Point Reyes as one of the most-used units in the National Parks system.

Walking and hiking are the major activities here. The Bear Valley Trail is a 4.4-mile walk from park headquarters to the sea. This is a pleasant half-day walk with time for a picnic at the coast side. The slope of the wide trail is gentle and the terrain varies from oak forest to stream bank.

Near park headquarters, the Kule Loklo Indian camp recreates what life was like for the Miwok Indians. Rangers give talks and demonstrations about the dugout dwellings, food-gathering techniques, and craft skills that allowed Indians to flourish here. A sweathouse has been constructed and a re-dedication occurred, officiated over by actual Native Americans.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse is a place to keep in mind for whale-watching in January, though the area can be rather congested on January weekends. You can look at the lighthouse and its lighting system at any time of the year.

Beaches, easily accessible by car, offer much variety to the Point Reyes visitor. Three options are Limantour Beach at the end of Limantour Road, Drakes Beach off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, and McClures Beach at the end of Pierce Point Road. Limantour is a favorite for bird watchers. Drakes Beach, of course, may be the site where Sir Francis Drake landed his ship, The Golden Hinde, for repairs in 1579. Drakes Beach is relatively sheltered and is safe for swimming. However, Tomales Bay State Park, adjacent to Point Reyes, with its Heart’s Desire Beach, offers the warmest-water ocean swimming north of San Francisco. McClures is noted for its tidepools and for its access to 12 miles of the “Great Beach,” a stretch unsurpassed for a walk along the beach to witness the crash of breaking waves.

Pierce Point Road out to McClures Beach offers two special attractions. A herd of tule elk has been established here and the historic Pierce Point Ranch has been restored to acknowledge the role of Point Reyes in dairying history.

Almost 150 miles of maintained trails crisscross the more than 65,000-acre triangle that forms the Point Reyes peninsula. Backpack camps can be reserved.

A lesser-known part of the park, approachable from Mesa Road in Bolinas, includes the Point Reyes Bird Observatory. Displays and a ranger or volunteers will explain the manner in which birds are counted and studied at Point Reyes. You may see bird banding in progress. A trail at the observatory leads you through prime bird habitat. Beyond the observatory, you can drive to the Palomarin Trailhead, one of the least used and most scenic parts of the park, especially if you walk into Bass, Pelican, and Crystal lakes to enjoy the views.

A bed and breakfast lodging and restaurant close to park headquarters is the Olema Inn. Pasta, local seafood, and fresh, organically-grown vegetables are the restaurant specialty. Another lodging option is The Blackthorne Inn. If you feel compelled to soak in a Marin county hot tub, this inn can satisfy your fantasy.

Mendocino Coast

The rugged beauty of the Mendocino Coast and its relative seclusion create the faraway feel of this northern California destination. Mendocino is a better overnight or multi-day option than a strenuous single-day trip.

One driving strategy to consider would be a circular trip, driving up Highway 101 to Cloverdale and then west on Highway 128 to the coast, with the return to Highway 101 via Highway 20.

A fast route up would be the drive on Highway 101 to Willits, then west along Highway 20 to Fort Bragg. Highway 20 is a pleasing route through redwood and Douglas fir forests with extensive rhododendrons as you approach the coast.

Driving up Highway 1 all the way from San Francisco is an engaging route, but allow a full day for the drive alone.

The town of Mendocino is the focus of the region. Attractively sited on bluffs, this former logging town is now the quintessential tourist town, with art studios, boutiques, and a blossoming performing arts program. Focal point for art shows and instruction is the Mendocino Art Center. Preserved architecture adds much to Mendocino’s charm. The Mendocino Hotel, now an inviting “garden” bar and restaurant, typifies early structures converted to tourist use.

North from Mendocino is Fort Bragg, a working logging and fishing town, the other major urban destination. Fort Bragg, the blue collar balance to Mendocino’s artsy atmosphere, is known for its California Western Railroad (the “Skunk” Train, named for the former smell of its coal smoke, now a mere memory) and the museum adjacent to the train depot. The steam train makes a daily run inland along the Noyo River to Willits. The 40-mile round trip to Willits takes 7-1/2 hours and passes extensive redwood and Douglas fir forests, crisscrossing the Noyo River.

The entire Mendocino coast from Point Arena to Rockport is a joy to drive. Two special state parks, flanking the town of Mendocino, are Van Damme and Russian Gulch. Van Damme’s main features are its lush Fern Canyon, where an extraordinary variety of ferns grow, and its Pygmy Forest, where acidic and impervious soil bonsais the trees to a fraction of their normal height. The beach at Van Damme attracts divers looking for abalone and rockfish. Russian Gulch boasts a hospitable sunning and swimming beach, although the water is chilly. The promontory on the north side of the park provides one of the most pleasing coastal views, looking south toward the Mendocino headlands. Russian Gulch’s moist, elevated headlands support lavish spring displays of coastal wildflowers, including seaside daisy, Indian paintbrush, and pink mallow.

The Mendocino coast emphasizes quaint bed and breakfast lodging. One popular inn with a good restaurant is the MacCallum House. Try the poached king salmon at this Victorian mansion. Another good option is the Little River Inn, a home built by lumber baron Silas Coombs in 1853. Little River Inn specializes in seafood and steak at its restaurant. The inn is south of Van Damme Park. If looking for a place to dine at Fort Bragg, try seafood at the Cliff House, located on a bluff along the south side of the Noyo River.

Napa Wine Country

Much to the envy of other wine-producing areas in California, Napa retains its prime position in the imagination as The Wine Country. Napa acquired the reputation because it was so important in the era when Americans re-discovered wine, circa 1950-1970. The 30-mile stretch of vineyards also possesses extraordinary natural beauty as a well-proportioned valley between the Mayacamas and Howell mountains. Today the Napa wineries continue to produce some of California’s outstanding wine.

To enter the Napa Valley, drive north from San Francisco on Highway 101, then east on Highways 37, 121, and 12 to reach Highway 29, the main artery in the valley.

Your challenge in the Napa Wine Country is which of the valley’s many wineries to visit. For a good map, pick up the free Wine Country Review, available everywhere in the valley.

One approach is to consider visits to three or four well-known names that have strong tours, tastings, and attractive architecture: Domaine Chandon, Mondavi, Beringer, and Sterling in that order. Chandon, in Yountville, presents its sparkling wines in an outdoor cafe, with or without a tour. They also maintain an excellent restaurant with dishes such as salmon with champagne cream sauce and candied ginger. Mondavi, in Oakville, sprawls over a Cliff May-designed mission-style building. Mondavi offers instructive tours, plus entertainment on some Sunday afternoons with music concerts. The tour at Beringer, on the north edge of St. Helena, takes you through their palatial Rhine House, from 1876, and emphasizes the historical wine story as you visit elaborate caves cut in limestone hills and used to store and cool wine. At Sterling you ride up in a gondola to witness the modern high-tech operation on a self-guided tour. From Sterling you also enjoy sweeping views of the valley, looking south.

As an alternative strategy, consider a visit to three smaller producers. They provide a more intimate tasting experience and may appeal more to the experienced wine drinker. They sometimes offer a tour only if you call ahead to make arrangements. Some good choices would be Joe Heitz, Joseph Phelps, Grgich-Hills, and Stag’s Leap.

Be sure to drive the road along the east side of the valley, The Silverado Trail, at some point in your outing. This elevated road from Calistoga to Napa City shows the beauty of the area, minus the traffic of Highway 29. Consider driving up Highway 29 to Calistoga and then back along the Silverado Trail, which is especially lovely in the autumn as the vine leaves turn yellow and red.

In St. Helena stop in at the Silverado Museum to peruse the Robert Louis Stevenson memorabilia. For a charming look at Stevenson’s view of the Napa Valley, buy his little volume called The Silverado Squatters. If you want to follow Stevenson himself on a wine tasting, read his account of Schramsberg and then visit the winery.

For lodging, the Napa Valley has an ample number of full-service hotels and bed and breakfast inns. Typical of the quaint bed and breakfast inns is the four-room Ambrose Bierce House in St. Helena. The structure, formerly the home of the curmudgeonly philosopher and author of The Devil’s Dictionary, has been decorated to recall his work and friends, such as Lillie Coit.

Your lodging proprietor can alert you to the ever-changing restaurant scene in the valley (as well as to special wine tastings, ballooning, and mud baths). For a restaurant reflecting the exuberance of the valley, try Mustard’s Grill (north of Yountville on Highway 29), where the style is mesquite-grilled fish or ribs, plus house vegetable specialties.

The Napa Valley invites picnicking with wine and deli purchases. The Oakville Grocery, along Highway 29 in Oakville, stocks a complete assortment of picnic fare. Many wineries have picnic facilities. Joseph Phelps, Chateau Montelena, and Rutherford Hill are examples. The area parks are also favorite picnic destinations, including George Yount Park in Yountville, Crane Park in St. Helena, and Bothe Napa State Park north of St. Helena.

Santa Cruz

The city of Santa Cruz benefited by its backwater prosperity from the Depression to 1965. If civic boosters had sufficient funds, they would probably have “improved” out of existence such downtown landmarks as the brick Cooperhouse. In one of the cruel ironies of fate, the Quake of 1989 destroyed the Cooperhouse and gutted the picturesque brick downtown. Go to Santa Cruz today, however, and you will see a vibrant, recovered city.

Most of the wood Victorian houses of the city were spared in the Quake. You can make walking tours of Santa Cruz’s old Victorians, such as the cluster on Walnut Street, on your own with the aid of brochures from the Visitors Council.

A short walk away from the Pacific Garden Mall you can enter the block-square Art Center and examine the works of hundreds of local craftspeople.

Aside from downtown, be sure to see the Boardwalk, 400 Beach Street, which was built in 1904. This last of the California boardwalks is vintage Americana. The Giant Dipper rollercoaster, from 1924, has thrilled millions of riders. The merry-go-round horses of Charles Loof are monuments to the woodcarver’s art.

The Boardwalk’s Coconut Grove Ballroom, restored in 1981, recreates occasionally the flourishing big band culture of the 30s and 40s. From the Boardwalk, take a stroll out on the pier, where you can see the harvest of the seas displayed in fish markets and restaurants, such as Riva Fish House on the Wharf.

Much of the energy that thrust Santa Cruz forward came from the University of California at Santa Cruz, which can be toured. The clustered colleges, located on 2,000 acres of rolling grasslands, have distinctive architectural personalities.The campus starts at 1156 High Street, where you’ll find self-guide maps.

The early Mission of the Holy Cross, founded by Fermin Lasuen as the 12th in the 21-mission Franciscan chain, has perished with time, but a replica of reduced size has been constructed at 126 High.

Babbling Brook Inn is a pleasing lodging in the Santa Cruz area.


One of the great pleasures today of Monterey is that its Aquarium enhances so superbly its earlier legacy of nature-and-history attractions. The Aquarium presents the wonder of the sea, such as fish in a huge kelp forest, as a diver would experience it. This wonder, so thoroughly scientific and precise, does not need enhancement with amusement park attractions. San Diego’s SeaWorld, moving from emphasis on performing whales to its purely scientific penguin exhibit, suggests a detour that the Monterey Aquarium has happily bypassed. Monterey never went through an amusement-park phase. Monterey also had the genius to portray initially the local California coast. Other aquariums create a fish warehouse of unrelated exotic species from all over the world. The Monterey Aquarium, one of the world’s largest, is at the north end of Cannery Row, housed in the converted Hovden cannery building, the last cannery functioning here. New and interesting exhibits debut each year.

The Aquarium complements other natural phenomenon here, such as the gathering of millions of monarch butterflies on the eucalyptus trees in Pacific Grove’s Washington Park. The butterflies congregate from October-March, with the annual Butterfly Parade scheduled for October.

At any time of the year, include in your visit a ride along the 17-Mile Drive to see the Lone Cypress tree and other cypress groves in the ocean-edged Del Monte Forest. This is all private property, but public ownership is emphasized further south, at Point Lobos Reserve State Park, a few miles south from Monterey-Carmel along Highway 1. Point Lobos’ 1,225 acres are a superb place to watch for sea otters, harbor seals, and sea lions or ponder the tidepools after you’ve been oriented to Monterey Bay life at the new Aquarium.

History in Monterey synopsizes the story of California and, like the attractions of nature here, this is true history rather than a Disneyland or Hollywood version. With a map from the local Visitor Bureau, you can stroll the three-mile Path of History Walk through the adobes and other structures of old Monterey, the original Spanish capital of California. The major structures start with the Customs House, oldest public building in California, now a museum of early trade goods. Pacific House, a two-story adobe, tells the story of the Spanish-Mexican periods. Colton Hall hosted the 1849 state constitutional convention. Stevenson House is where writer Robert Louis Stevenson recuperated. The explorer of history will also want to see Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, on Rio Road in adjacent Carmel. This church became mission-founder Junipero Serra’s headquarters and tomb. You can gaze at his spartan bedroom and peruse artifacts from the Indians he sought to convert.

Monterey’s Cannery Row, immortalized by John Steinbeck’s accounts of the brief sardine-packing heydays of the 1940s, now houses good seafood restaurants, plus numerous stores and antique shops. Twenty canneries flourished here at the peak year, 1945, which coincided with the publishing of Steinbeck’s novel, but the sardines soon disappeared, for reasons imperfectly understood, and most of the canneries were bankrupt within five years. Adjacent Fisherman’s Wharf is an emporium of stores for the traveler. Two blocks east, you can see today’s working fisherman’s wharf.

Drive to Monterey by proceeding south on Highway 101 and turning west on Highway 156 until you meet Highway 1. The drive down Highway 1 is more appealing if you have the time, but from San Francisco add another hour to the 2-1/2 hours via 101. The Monterey Jazz Festival each September is a favorite time for a visit here.

For an attractive lodging, try the Tickle Pink Inn, south of Point Lobos on Highlands Avenue. Among restaurants, consider seafood on the Wharf at Domenico’s.

This article is one of thirty chapters in Lee Foster’s book Northern California Travel: The Best Options.

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.

See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

The San Francisco region figures prominently in my book/ebook titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.

San Francisco

Northern California Travel Itineraries

July 5, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Northern California Travel Itineraries – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

As you peruse the bountiful travel options in the Golden State, the question arises: just what are the best things to do and see in Northern California at each of the major travel destinations?

You probably don’t want to be overwhelmed, so let’s consider just five choice options for each area destination.

If traveling with kids, you might enjoy a couple of further suggestions for each destination that would be especially fun for kids.

Here are my judgments on the choicest picks for a traveler.

San Francisco

Suggested Itinerary:

For San Francisco area visitors, these folks run the popular Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours. They also have tours for a Boat-Trip-On-The-Bay, Alcatraz (get a secure date, plan in advance), Muir Woods/Sausalito, Attractions/Museums (sometimes with no wait in line, plus discounts), Wine Country, and more. See their All San Francisco Tours.

*Tour the downtown of the City on a Cable Car, which you can board anywhere on the line if the Powell/Market start has long lines.

*Pause at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge to marvel at the aesthetics of the structure, then walk out to mid-span for a look back at San Francisco.

*Stroll in Golden Gate Park and take in the current art show at the DeYoung Museum, stopping for tea at the Japanese Tea Garden.

*Walk Grant Avenue in Chinatown from Post to Columbus, then turn left and walk Italian North Beach up to Washington Square.

*Indulge in a Red and White Fleet tour boat ride from Pier 41 to get out on San Francisco Bay, which gives you views of the City, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marin Hills from out on the water.

Especially For Kids:

*Rent a bike at Fisherman’s Wharf and bike out through Crissy Field to the Golden Gate Bridge.

*Immerse kids in the gangster world of Al Capone with a tour of the former federal prison on Alcatraz.

Oakland-Berkeley East Bay

Suggested Itinerary:

*Explore California nature, history, and art at the Oakland Museum of California.

*Walk Oakland’s Asiatown and Old Oakland and have lunch here, perhaps at The District.

*Tour the University of California Campus, making a stop at the Lowie Museum to see the anthropology exhibits. Meander down Telegraph Avenue to visit the bookstores, such as Moe’s.

*Explore north of the campus in the Berkeley “Gourmet Ghetto,” headquartered around Chez Panisse restaurant, near Cedar and Shattuck.

*Encounter the East Bay Parks with a walk out Inspiration Point in Tilden Park, above Berkeley.

Especially For Kids:

*Turn kids loose amidst the wonders of science at Lawrence Hall, on a hill above the U.C. Berkeley campus.

*Hike, bike, or fly a kite at Cesar Chavez park along the Berkeley waterfront.

San Mateo County

Suggested Itinerary:

*Treat yourself to a trail in one of the foothill redwood parks of San Mateo county, such as Memorial Park.

*Walk the beach at San Gregorio to enjoy the rolling surf of the Pacific.

*Explore the one-street town of Pescadero, with its whitewashed frame houses, and stop for a seafood dinner at Duarte’s.

*Tour William Bourn’s Filoli Estate to glimpse the turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th) grandeur of this water baron.

*Sample the boutique agriculture for which the Bay Area is famous, perhaps on a u-pick day at Phipp’s Ranch or at a goat-cheese demonstration at Harley Farms.

Especially For Kids:

*Meet the giant elephant seals that haul out at Ano Nuevo State park, celebrating that these creatures narrowly averted extinction.

*Make the acquaintance of seashore life in the tidepools during low tide at the James Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.

San Jose and Silicon Valley

Suggested Itinerary:

*Peruse the high tech exhibits at The Tech Museum, which catalogs many of the innovations in the Silicon Valley region.

*Sample the cultural life of San Jose at its downtown Art Museum or at its Performing Arts Center.

*Taste wine made by the pioneer Mirassou family at their winery east of San Jose. Their main growing area is now in Monterey, a wine region that the family helped develop.

*Escape from the world of computer chips to rustic Los Trancos Reserve for a walk in the oak trees along a trail describing earthquake effects.

*Attend the Gilroy Garlic Festival, held in late July, to sample the many ways in which garlic can be eaten.

Especially For Kids:

*Instruct a robot to do tasks for you at The Tech Museum in downtown San Jose.

*Turn kids loose on the thrill rides at Great America amusement park.

Marin County and North Coast

Suggested Itinerary:

*Immerse yourself in the glorious redwoods of Muir Woods, the closest redwoods to San Francisco.

*At Point Reyes, take the Earthquake Walk, observe the Miwok Indian Village, and drive out to Limantour Beach for a beach walk.

*Proceeding up the coast, note the Russian presence in California at Fort Ross, a restored Russian fortification.

*At Point Arena, meet one of the classic lighthouse constructions in the western U.S. See the ingenious Fresnel lens that magnified a spare kerosene light to be visible 20 miles out to sea.

*In Mendocino, indulge in a picturesque California seaside town and its quaint B&Bs, such as the McCallum House.

Especially For Kids:

*As you start the drive north, pause at Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands to show them a classic view of the Golden Gate.

*Show kids the nesting white egrets at Audubon Ranch near Bodega Bay.

Sonoma Region

Suggested Itinerary:

*At the Sonoma Mission, see the most northerly penetration of Spanish influence in California.

*Visit the home of General Mariano Vallejo to make the acquaintance of a survivor, a Spanish Californian who knew how to function in American California after the Gold Rush.

*Taste wine in Sonoma at the original winery, Hacienda, of the father of California viticulture, Agoston Haraszthy.

*In Glen Ellen, visit the tragically burned Wolf House of writer Jack London, now a state historic park.

*In Santa Rosa, see the house of gifted horticulturalist, Luther Burbank, who stimulated the flourishing fruit and vegetable agriculture of California with his experiments.

Especially For Kids:

*Make an adventure trip from a Sonoma Farm Trails outing. You never know what you’ll find, from beekeepers to apple juicers.

*Show kids the daily life of the soldiers and the priests at the Sonoma Mission, well interpreted at this state historic park.

Napa Wine Country

Suggested Itinerary:

*Tour wineries and taste wine, perhaps on a first trip with stops at Chandon, Mondavi, and Sterling.

*Meet the spirit of the genial commentator on the early Napa wine country, Robert Louis Stevenson, at the Silverado Museum in St. Helena. Read his slim book, The Silverado Squatterss.

*Visit the wine country in September when the season has changed, the harvest is in full swing, and the green vine leaf of summer has changed to striking reds, oranges, and yellows.

*Take a hot air balloon ride to give yourself an aerial perspective on the Napa region.

*Soak in one of the hot pools or mud baths at Calistoga.

Especially For Kids:

*Show them the Old Faithful Geyser at Calistoga, which is faithful, spurting out every 50 minutes or so.

*Acquaint them with the Petrified Forest west of Calistoga, where they can see felled trees turned to stone, and emerge with a souvenir of petrified wood.

Redwood Country

Suggested Itinerary:

*Stop at the Humboldt Redwoods Park for an orientation at the Visitor Center and an acquaintance with the big trees at Founder’s Grove.

*Meander along the Avenue of the Giants and stop at some of the road-side attractions, such as a drive-through tree.

*Visit the quaint Victorian town of Ferndale and admire its excellent hometown museum to the dairying and logging heritage of the Eel River delta.

*Walk the Lady Bird Johnson Trail in Redwoods National and State Parks to see the full spectrum of plants in the redwood environment.

*Lodge in the main redwood town, Eureka, perhaps at the Carter House Inn, and sample some of the finest dining in Redwood Country at their Restaurant 301.

Especially For Kids:

*Track the Roosevelt elk herds in Prairie Creek Park to get close to these magnificent animals.

*Take home as a souvenir a redwood burl, which is a growth around a bud on a tree. Water the burl and watch it sprout over the years into a new tree.

Santa Cruz

Suggested Itinerary:

*Stroll the last of the California boardwalks and take a nostalgic ride on the Big Dipper, one of the best of the old-fashioned roller coasters.

*Enjoy a seafood dinner out on The Wharf.

*Walk Pacific Garden Mall to assess how the city recovered from the Earthquake of 1989.

*Amble around the University of California-Santa Cruz campus to see its innovative and diverse cluster architecture.

*Take a barbecue dinner ride on the Roaring Camp Railroad into the redwoods.

Especially For Kids:

*The Boardwalk is a kid pleaser, whether it’s the carousel horses for the young or arcade games for the teen. An ocean beach good for swimming and boarding is nearby.

*The Roaring Camp Railroad through a redwood forest takes kids of all ages back to the era of steam trains.

Monterey and Carmel

Suggested Itinerary:

*Visit the final resting place of Junipero Serra, the indefatigable Franciscan, at the Carmel Mission.

*Observe the marvels of offshore life along the California coast at the Monterey Aquarium.

*Tour the 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach and note the manner in which the Lone Cypress tree has survived the elements.

*Spend a half-day strolling the art galleries of Carmel.

*Walk the trails of Point Lobos to commune with California wildflowers in spring and observe all year the California sea otters cavorting in the kelp beds near shore.

Especially For Kids:

*Introduce kids to the wondrous world of the nearby ocean at the Monterey Aquarium.

*Let kids build sandcastles at China Cove in Point Lobos while you open a bottle of Cabernet to toast the Pacific.

Exploring Big Sur

Suggested Itinerary:

*Stop at turnoffs along the drive, such as at Bixby Bridge, to savor the Pacific.

*Meditate at the Point Sur Lighthouse on the isolation of the area before the road was built.

*Walk the beach at Andrew Molera and Big Sur state parks to discover the driftwood presentations.

*If you have the time, take a side trip on Palo Colorado Road to see redwoods and the pine-covered back country of Los Padres National Forest.

*Enjoy a drink on the deck at Nepenthe, high over the Pacific.

Especially For Kids:

*Let kids become apprentice beachcombers at Molera or Big Sur state park beaches.

*Arm them with binoculars to spot whales, from the Nepenthe deck, going south in January and north in March.

Sacramento and the Delta

Suggested Itinerary:

*Witness the story of the railroad in the West at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.

*Observe Swiss entrepreneur John Sutter’s outpost of civilization, Sutter’s Fort, in Sacramento. Sutter’s empire was overrun by the Gold Rush. Adjacent is the State Indian Museum.

*Feel the political power of the Golden State as you gaze up at the State Capitol dome.

*Meander through the Delta waterways by taking side road Highway 160 along the Sacramento River.

*Tour Locke, a Delta town originally founded by Chinese.

Especially For Kids:

*Lodge kids on the restored riverboat, Delta King, now a hotel in Old Sacramento, and immerse them in railroad romance at the State Railroad Museum.

*Authentic Indian lore and artifacts are abundantly evident in the State Indian Museum adjacent to Sutter’s Fort.

Gold Rush Country

Suggested Itinerary:

*Immerse yourself in the Gold Rush at Columbia, the best-preserved Gold Rush community, now a state historic park.

*Lodge in a quaint Gold Rush hotel, such as the City Hotel in Columbia or Murphys Hotel in Murphys.

*Attend a Gold Country event, such as the annual Fireman’s Muster at Columbia, the spring Daffodil Hill flowering, or the Angel’s Camp Jumping Frog Jubilee, recalling Mark Twain’s story.

*Stop at the site where the Gold Rush began, in Coloma, when John Marshall discovered gold nuggets in a logging millrace.

*Indulge in a cozy dinner at one of the Gold Rush era dining rooms, such as the National Hotel in Nevada City, and wash down dinner with a Gold Rush country wine, such as a Zinfandel from D’Agostini.

Especially For Kids:

*Learn how to pan for gold at the Matelot Gulch Mining Company in Columbia.

*See how Indians ground up acorns for food in the thousands of depressions in the rocks at Indian Grinding Rock State Park.

Yosemite National Park

Suggested Itinerary:

*Take the park service tram around Yosemite Valley to see the major land forms, such as Half Dome and El Capitan, from different perspectives and in the varying light at different times of the day.

*Walk to the various falls, such as Yosemite Falls and Nevada Falls, in Yosemite Valley. Use the tram to take you to the farther-away falls.

*Walk up to Mirror Lake to see an alpine lake naturally progressing from lake to meadow.

*Drive up to Glacier Point to get an elevated view of the Valley and the major land forms, stopping at the Wawona Tunnel for the striking mid-level vista of the valley.

*Drive south to Wawona to see the Mariposa Grove of massive inland sequoia trees.

Especially For Kids:

*Show kids the Ahwahneechee Indian village recreated in back of the Visitor Center.

*Rent bicycles for a family ride along the paved paths in Yosemite Valley.

Lake Tahoe

Suggested Itinerary:

*Savor the view of Emerald Bay at the southwest corner of the lake.

*Get out on the lake on one of the cruise boats, such as the Tahoe Queen.

*Spend a leisurely day driving around the lake, with time to stop and explore the Nevada-side state parks, such as Sand Harbor.

*Get an elevated perspective of the area from the top of the year-round tram at Heavenly Valley.

*Drive south on Highways 89 and 88 through the Hope Valley to Kirkwood for a sense of the alpine environment, which is exceptionally lovely during October fall color.

Especially For Kids:

*Take both major tam rides to the top of the mountains, at Heavenly Valley and Squaw Valley.

*Cruise the lake on the second of the major tour boats, the MS Dixie II.

Death Valley and the Southern Sierra

*Marvel at the tufa mounds in Mono Lake.

*Meet the General Sherman tree, the most massive living thing on earth, at Sequoia National Park.

*Drive high into the White Mountains, east of Bishop, to meet the oldest living things on this planet, the bristlecone pines.

*Witness the profuse spring wildflowers at the California State Poppy Park, west of Lancaster.

*Enjoy the rumpled and wild landscape at Zabriske Point in Death Valley National Park.

Especially for Kids:

*Tour Death Valley Scotty’s fantasy castle at the north edge of Death Valley and learn about this desert character.

*Let a Death Valley park ranger introduce kids to a pupfish in a desert spring during one of the guided park outings.

This article is one of thirty chapters in Lee Foster’s book Northern California Travel: The Best Options.

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.

See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. San Francisco figures prominently in my book/ebook titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.

San Francisco

The San Francisco Earthquake of 1989

June 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

by Lee Foster

Those of us who live in the Bay Area of California experienced the Earthquake of October 17, 1989, as a frightening and immediate event.

But those of you who travel to San Francisco also have a stake in these seismic upheavals. The San Francisco-Bay Area has been changed in subtle ways.

Living through a major earthquake amounts to one of the more de-stabilizing experiences of life. If the earth moves below your feet, what is secure? In my three-story Berkeley apartment, during the 20 seconds or so of shuddering, I wondered if the structure would survive. Would the 1920s building collapse onto my ground-floor lodging? It stood. Few TV watchers, when hearing that this quake was Richter 7.1, differentiate it much from, say, a Richter 6 magnitude. However, a jump of one point in the scale means a 10-fold rise in the quake intensity.

My next thought was of my two young children, Paul and Karin, visiting their mother a half-mile away. Were they OK? Fortunately, the phones in our area were still working. Yes, they were shaken and frightened, but not injured. Then my older son, Bart, at the University of Santa Cruz. Was he OK? Yes, he was uninjured, but he lost thousands in property damage. His computers, computer printer, and all his apartment furnishings had been “trashed”, as he described it, at this epicenter of quake activity some 80 miles south of San Francisco. And finally, had my friend Robert Black, the sculptor, who returns daily from his studio south on Interstate 880, arrived home safely? Yes, he had, because he left work a half-hour early, to run an errand, thus escaping the 14-block entombment when the concrete freeway collapsed. Such is the roulette of life in California’s earthquake country.

Knowing that I and my family and friends were safe, I sat back and watched the tragedy unfold, as did the nation, via TV. The magnitude of the catastrophe took a full day to sink in because communication, especially with Santa Cruz, was so slow in being restored. The full horror of the event became apparent, only a few miles from my apartment, as extrication began for the bodies trapped in their squashed cars. So moving was the scenario that only grim horror fiction could have imagined it.

Gradually, it became apparent to me that we locals were not the only victims. Every traveler who has every visited this gifted area of the world, everyone who has left a little bit of their heart in San Francisco, had a stake in the catastrophe.

Travelers who return to San Francisco on future pilgrimages will find the region changed both physically and psychologically.

Some aspects of this jolt are as follows:

*San Francisco’s Marina District would take years to re-build. This choice piece of landfill real estate, just off the Marina Green, next to the Bay at the north edge of San Francisco, is one of the pleasant places in the City to go for a stroll. The area was the epitome of the good life, filled with upscale professionals in their resort clothes, sipping Chardonnay and enjoying the brilliant October sunshine. Within moments of the quake, much of the area was a rubble heap.

Many of the corner buildings, fashionable apartments, had been reduced to twisted wreckage. A major fire blazed out of control for five hours, burning a city block and threatening to spread, because broken water mains reduced to nothing the water pressure. Only when a fireboat, on the Bay, hooked into the fire hoses did a quantity of water become available to douse the blaze. For a few hours it looked as if the San Francisco Quake of 1906 was repeating itself, with the fire, not the quake, destroying the city.

The Marina has been rebuilt since the quake, but the illusion of security and the good life apparent there has been shaken.

*San Francisco’s historic brick warehouse district and more aging downtown buildings were severely damaged. The brick warehouse district, now the home of designers and architects, would never be the same. Brick has become an evil word here. It is unlikely that anyone will champion re-building in brick again in this region. The brick structures had survived the fires of the newborn city, in the 1860s, and the fires of the great Quake of 1906, but this quake shook many of the structures down.

*Downtown Oakland was cruelly affected. People who had sunk their lives and fortunes into restoring the downtown area saw those efforts destroyed in a moment. Alice Waters, the talented culinary artist of Chez Panisse restaurant, was about to open a market and restaurant in the area, but the brick edifice was shaken down. The elegant Capwell Building, the major department store, needed to be re-sheathed.

The buckled streets, damaged buildings under construction, and the horror of the freeway collapse nearby took private and public fortunes to repair. The pity is that those diverted funds will not go into the other local crises, such as funding of schools or waging the battle against drugs.

The immediate damage of the quake has been repaired, but the expenditure of resources to solve those problems, and not other more mundane problems, has left invisible scars.

*On the Peninsula, the area south of San Francisco, one of the charming small mountain towns, Los Gatos, was lain waste. Los Gatos was a civilized enclave of old Victorian structures and a carefully nurtured downtown of historic brick structures. This tony environment was damaged severely as some houses jumped four to six feet sideways from their foundations. Rebuilding was out of the question for many. How do you recreate a crafted Victorian house of the 1890s? Who could afford the materials or workmanship required?

Travelers and locals lost a little bit of the California heritage with each building that had to be demolished.

*But worst hit of all areas in the seven-county disaster area was the small coastal gem of Santa Cruz, at the epicenter of the quake, 80 miles south of San Francisco. Travelers with memories of this gracious coastal town has to prepare themselves psychologically for the trauma of their return to the site.

The pride of Santa Cruz was its downtown Pacific Garden Mall. This was an architectural monument, a downtown that was never “improved” with boosterish modernism, a downtown that languished until the 1970s, when the era of preservation took hold. Then the buildings, such as the Cooper House, were restored with loving attention. The area was reclaimed for foot traffic, as cars were banned. Trees were planted. Urban amenities is the term that comes to mind.

All of the Pacific Garden mall was destroyed. Trees were snapped off and overturned. Again, brick was the downfall of the area. Brick is not a suitable building material in this earthquake region. The entire Pacific Garden Mall needed to be bulldozed. One of the poignant human losses during the quake occurred when a coffee roasting company collapsed on a clerk. Santa Cruz’s mall, though it has been rebuilt, would never be the same.

*The final change, for the San Francisco Bay Area, is one of mood and perspective. The previous great Quake of 1906 had receded so far into the background that it was almost regarded with affection, a kind of conversation piece, a reference to be made with some bravado. Those of us in the San Francisco region always knew the Quake might be repeated, but when? Perhaps not in our lifetime, which is why so few of us bought earthquake insurance.

But the quake did occur. A known 69 people were dead, 2,400 injured, and seven billions of direct property damage sustained. Some element of the exuberance of life here, some lightness of spirit, some joy in passing your days in this salubrious milieu was sadly diminished. The region remains so beautiful and so desirable a place to live that the confirmed residents, such as myself, will choose to remain. But the cheerfulness of life here will be overshadowed by a new element of sobriety.

Travelers have a great stake in the San Francisco-Bay region. The cities, the Bay, and the coastal towns are beloved by millions of visitors. The rubble has been cleaned, the dead have been buried, and the repairs have been made, but the experience of coming to San Francisco has been subtly altered.

With each passing year, the memory of the Quake of 1989 becomes more distant. But the imminense of the next Great Quake also becomes more proximate. The major fear now is of a massive quake along the Hawyard Fault in the East Bay Hills, where a large population lives. But who knows when that event will occur?

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