Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco California
Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco California

By Lee Foster

(Update Note: My ebook SF Travel & Photo Guide: The Top 100 Travel Experiences in the San Francisco Bay Area  has been released for $3.99 on Amazon at The ebook parallels my app on this subject available for $3.99 from Apple and Google See an announcement of the ebook on my website at The app has also been announced on my website. I have  answered some questions about the app. The app works on smart phones and tablet devices, but not on laptops or desktops. The ebook can be read on all devices.)

I am releasing here the content in my new travel ebook/app SF Travel & Photo Guide in ten alphabetical “clusters.” Each cluster will have 12 sections of the total 120 in the app. This is alphabetical release 3 of 10. (Other clusters released now include: cluster 1 and cluster 2).

This release on a website will not have the full functionality of the app structure, including its Google maps showing you contextually all the subjects around you. The ebook version is convenient because you can carry the content around with you in one small package and not require  connectivity. The 10 releases on this websites will show the text and photo of all the items, the full “SF A-Z” listings, but will not be able to present, as the app and ebook do, all subjects in a clickable Table of Contents menu as grouped in an area (such as Embarcadero) or in the themes/subjects (such as Culture/Museums). However, after the 120 subjects are released, I will post the Table of Contents Outline and will post each of the 120 items individually to give a “website ebook” approximation of the app and ebook.

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.

So, here is the third release:

SF A-Z, Alphabetical cluster 3 of 10, subjects 25-36:

Botanical Garden

The San Francisco Botanical Garden, located in Golden Gate Park, is one of the most diverse botanical gardens on earth, due to the special climate of San Francisco and Golden Gate Park, which is mild, cool, and fog-shrouded at times.

The 55 acres of gardens display about 8,000 plant species from all over the world, including some unusual collections. Be sure to see the Cloud Forest Collection and the impressive Magnolia Collection, the largest outside of China.


Your Best Shot: Within the Botanical Garden you can get a choice photo of a mature redwood grove, believe it or not. Put yourself in a picture with the signature plant of Northern California, which grows to become the tallest tree in the world. Seek out the Redwood Grove.

Even more plants special to California are visible at the California Native Garden.

The establishment was known earlier as the Strybing Arboretum, named after benefactor Helene Strybing, who donated significant funds in 1927 to get the entity going.

The garden has elaborate monthly plant sales as well as some daily sales at its The Arbor shop. There is a Garden Bookstore and an ample Library. The website has a printable map useful in planning a visit.

If You Go:

Area: Golden Gate Park


Address: 1199 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122

Phone: 415-661-1316

Price: Admission charge

Buena Vista: Only-in-SF Bars/Restaurants

Several bars and restaurants in San Francisco have an iconic and fun status that a visitor may enjoy or find amusing.

The Buena Vista is said to be the place where Irish Coffee was introduced to America. The idea was to counter the fog and chill of San Francisco by putting into your coffee a dollop of whiskey and some sugar, then float a thick cream on top.

San Francisco writer Stanton Delaplane was instrumental in getting this beverage concocted at the Buena Vista. The details are enshrined is the write-up on Irish Coffee on Wikipedia at

The Top of the Mark, 19th floor of the Mark Hopkins Hotel, is famous as a bar and dance spot where you can get a skyline perspective on The City. It was the place where servicemen and women spent their last night, with their beloved, before shipping out to the Pacific in WWII. See

Your Best Shot: A dusk or night photo of San Francisco from the Top of the Mark bar/restaurant at the Mark Hopkins hotel could be a memorable aspect of your San Francisco adventure.

Tadich Grill, still operating, is one of the earliest businesses in San Francisco, dating to shortly after the Gold Rush. You get an establishment feeling in the place, where grilled seafood would be a good entrée choice, as you are served by career waiters. See

John’s Grill is forever linked with chain-smoking Humphrey Bogart and the Dashiell Hammett mystery novel The Maltese Falcon. See

The Cliff House has been perched on the bluffs in the northwestern part of the city since 1863 and has gone through many transformations as the dining scene evolved. The swells from Nob Hill would carriage out here in the early days to dine and gaze out at the waves and Seal Rocks, as you can today. See

The info below is for the Buena Vista.

If You Go:

Area: Fisherman’s Wharf


Address: 2765 Hyde St, at Beach, San Francisco, CA 94109

Phone: 415-474-5044

Price: Moderate, for food and drink

Cable Cars/Cable Car Museum

The Cable Cars are both enchanting transportation and a highly practical way to climb up and down the steep hills of San Francisco.

There is a north-south line that splits into two segments as it heads north from Powell and Market to toward Fisher-man’s Wharf. An east-west line travels along California St from Market to Nob Hill and beyond.

Your Best Shot: Many visitors like to photograph the turntable at Powell and Market, where the cars are turned around by their athletic operators. Another favorite image is at the top of the Hyde St hill, at Chestnut, as the car climbs away from Fisherman’s Wharf. There you can get off, pause, and wait for the next Cable Car to come up the hill, getting a shot of the Cable Car with the Bay and Alcatraz Prison Island in the background. Due to tall apartments, the best light falls on the Cable Cars here from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

At night the Cable Cars return to the Cable Car Barn and Museum, where Mason and Washington Sts meet. This Cable Car Museum is a fascinating place to visit. You see up close the huge wheels that pull the cables around the system. Cars clamp onto the moving cable to proceed.

The system was begun in 1873 by Andrew Hallidie after he witnessed once too often a sickening sight. A horse was pulling a heavy wagon up a steep hill in muddy weather. The horse slipped and got pulled down the hill, breaking a leg, which necessitated that the horse be shot. Hallidie shook his head and vowed to create a better way to negotiate the hills.

The info below is for the Cable Car Barn and Museum.

If You Go:

Area: Downtown


Address: 1201 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94108

Phone: 415-474-1887

Price: Charge to ride the Cable Cars, museum is free

Café de La Presse: Traditional Restaurants

San Francisco has many traditional restaurants that have carefully built their reputations and clientele over a long time, sometime decades. They often epitomize an ethnic food style, good service, and good value, all of which allow them to survive.

Café de la Presse is a French restaurant on a corner near the entrance to Chinatown. Try the Plat du Jour, which might be a hearty Cassoulet, a casserole of duck confit, pork shoulder, Toulouse sausage, and white beans. Dinner classics are the Leg of Lamb or Boeuf Bourguignon. (See the contact info below.)

Your Best Shot: With a phone camera, a shot of your food or the restaurant interior can be pleasing. For this group, consider also a photo of Union Square stretching out before you from the elevated 8th-floor Cheesecake Factory location.

Henry’s Hunan Restaurant (1398 Grant Ave, is a critically acclaimed Chinese restaurant. Try the pork dumplings followed by deep-fried shredded pork. Chef-founder Henry Chung has seven lo-cations, run by various family members.

Fior d’Italia dates back to 1886 and calls itself “America’s oldest Italian restaurant.” This white table cloth eatery is the place to order veal scaloppine (2237 Mason St,

Sometimes a chain restaurant can get established in San Francisco and become a landmark if it has a special edge. For example, the Cheesecake Factory (251 Geary St, will please a family, even if kids are fussy, with pasta or pizza. There is a special attraction—its location on the 8th floor of Macy’s, over-looking Union Square, one of the more interesting restaurant views in The City.

The info below is for Café de la Presse.

If You Go:

Area: Chinatown/North Beach


Address: 352 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

Phone: 415-398-2680

Price: Moderate

Carnaval Parade

Carnaval Parade is the event of choice if you want to experience (and perhaps photograph) the entire Latin flair of San Francisco.

The word “Latin” is broadly interpreted here to include the Caribbean, Mexican, Central American, and South American contributions to San Francisco culture. The sensual, musical, culinary, and festive perspectives of all these cultures can be seen in the parade.

Carnaval occurs in the Mission District over the Memorial Day weekend, with the Sunday parade starting at Bryant and 24th Sts, then proceeding west to Mission St.

Your Best Shot: Get the Parade participants when they are fresh and their dance moves are most vigorous. Mission and 24th is a good place to photograph because there are no tall buildings to obstruct the light.

Be sure to convey yourself by public transportation be-cause car transport to the area will be totally choked off. Arrive on the BART and exit at the 24th St station.

The parade starts on Sunday about 9:30 a.m., but check the website for details in a given year.

At 24th and Mission the performers turn to face the light. The energetic samba dancers are just warming up, near the start of the event.

Begun in 1978, Carnaval is San Francisco’s version of Mardi Gras. The event is organized by the Mission Neighborhood Centers as a benefit for charity organizations.

The celebration attracts thousands of participants and partygoers. It is likely you will return home after this event thankful that the severe American sensibility of 16th-century Puritan New England was later augmented by the sensuality and musical verve of later immigrants from “Latin” America.

If You Go:

Area: Mission/Castro


Address: Mission and 24th Sts, San Francisco, CA 94110

Phone: None

Price: Parade is free, charge to ride the BART

Castro District/Gay SF

The Castro, heart of The City’s gay culture, is a hilly district. It is bounded by Douglas, Church, Duboce, and the crest of the hill at 21st St.

Begin exploring at Market and Castro. Make your first stop the classic Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, a restored movie palace, which gives the area its name.

Your Best Shot: The facade of the Castro Theatre makes a pleasing photo when light falls on it in the afternoon. To photograph gay people in a celebrative mood, attend the annual Gay Pride Parade (see that write-up).

Design details of the theater may interest your eye. The movie house was built in 1922 by San Francisco theater entrepreneurs, the Nasser brothers, who started in 1908 with a nickelodeon in the neighborhood. The exterior design, reminiscent of a Mexican cathedral, has large windows, and the plaster wall decorations all combine to convey a look of grandeur that was typical of many theaters built in the 1920s. The marquee and the vertical neon sign were added in the late 1930s. The glazed tile street foyer, ornate tent-like box office, and the wooden doors are all from the early 1920s.

Up the street at 575 Castro is the camera store operated by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay supervisor in San Francisco. Milk was gunned down by Supervisor Dan White in 1978. There is a marker in the sidewalk honoring Milk. The address now houses the Human Rights Campaign.

The GLBT History Museum (4127 18th St, documents the gay movement and its struggles, locally and nationally. Stop in to see the rapidly evolving archives

California, San Francisco: The Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands
California, San Francisco: The Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands

If You Go:

Area: Mission/Castro


Address: 429 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114

Phone: 415-621-6120

Price: Theater tickets, as per show

Cesar Chavez Park/East Bay Parks

Berkeley’s Cesar Chavez Park presents a tranquil walking path along the Bay with benches and some secluded picnic tables.

The view offer a direct look at the Golden Gate Bridge and the green bucolic outline of Marin County.

Your Best Shot: Cesar Chavez Park is the place to photograph people flying a kite or stretching out on the grass. You can make a selfie here with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

This Berkeley city park is a brilliant example of urban design and planning. When I moved to Berkeley in the 1970s, it was literally a garbage landfill with mounds of waste material, bulldozers pushing around the piles, and thousands of hungry seagulls. You can still see methane-relief pipes going deep into the ground to allow gases to escape.

Eventually the landfill was covered with dirt and landscaped to create a pleasing park.

There is a circular paved perimeter path around the park, which takes about a half hour to walk. This is a bracing walk or an easy bicycle outing.

The hour before sunset and the darkness after sunset can have surprises in these parks. I remember turning back one evening after watching the sun set, only to find a perfectly full moon rising.

Get to Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley by taking the University Ave exit off I-80 and turning towards the Bay. Keep to the right when the road divides at the marina, putting the boats on your left. Drive ahead on this Marina Drive and turn left at the only road, Spinnaker, to park at a circular loop near the water.

Cesar Chavez is a close-in park for the explorer of the East Bay, but there is much more in parklands for further ad-ventures. An entity known as East Bay Regional Parks ( manages 65 more parks with 122,000 acres and 1250 miles of hiking trails in the two East Bay counties, Alameda and Contra Costa. Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills is a close-by option.

If You Go:

Area: East to Oakland/Berkeley


Address: 11 Spinnaker Way, Berkeley, CA 94710

Phone: None

Price: Free

Chinatown Food

Enjoying and photographing exotic food offerings in a destination can define an intriguing aspect of the local culture.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is an example. Many types of meats are eaten here, and unusual parts of animals are consumed. You might begin with some delicious cow tongue.

One good place to start is a simple Grant Ave eatery known as Yee’s Restaurant, 1131 Grant Ave.

Your Best Shot: The roast ducks hanging in the window at Yee’s make an intriguing photo. Inside, the small plates of multiple kinds of meats offer an interesting interior image.

Enter the restaurant to enjoy a tasty lunch. Choose some meat plates as you observe the scene. The chefs may be cutting up a roast pig in front of you.

Be unobtrusive, respectful, and follow the pattern of the local patrons. After you sit down, rice and tea will be set before you.

If You Go:

Area: Chinatown/North Beach


Address: 1131 Grant St, San Francisco, CA 94133

Phone: 415-576-1818

Price: Moderate

Chinatown Walking Self-Tour

Chinatown in San Francisco is an endlessly fascinating place to wander and to photograph.

There is an ongoing exotic feel to the area, which got started in the 1840s. Chinatown can only be experienced on foot.

Your Best Shot: You need to walk around with your camera or phone camera until a suitable photo subject appears. Maybe it will be the red lanterns hanging across the street on Grant, if you can catch them at the right angle and in good light.

Chinatown is roughly a 16-block rectangle bounded by Stockton, Broadway, Kearny, and Bush. The main street is Grant Ave, between Bush and Broadway.

A city within a city, Chinatown invites the browser. Shops sell jade, porcelain, silk, and succulent food. Food stores sell live pigeons, chickens, and turtles.

Today’s Chinatown was rebuilt after San Francisco’s earthquake of 1906. This is one of the older Chinatowns in North America and is one of the larger communities of Chinese outside Asia.

If You Go:

Area: Chinatown/North Beach


Address: Main Gate is intersection of Grant and Bush Sts, San Francisco, CA 94133

Phone: None

Price: Free to walk

Chinese New Year

The annual Chinese New Year celebration in San Francisco is one of the most colorful and vigorous ethnic celebrations in America to experience and photograph.

The parade celebration day occurs, rain or shine, in February each year, as the Chinese lunar calendar dictates and the local organizers determine.

Your Best Shot: On the Parade route, sophisticated lights will be set up, high overhead, at Union Square for all the major TV media. Take advantage of these lights and position yourself in the crowd to get some illuminated images.

There are two aspects of the celebration to consider: the street fair on Grant Avenue during the day, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and the night parade, 5:30-8:30 p.m.

The street fair is an amazing event. Grant becomes a freeway of humanity, even in a rainy year. Chinatown, always colorful, shows an exuberance of people, food, crafts, and general human excitement. Grant is closed off, with side streets also closed. On the Washington side street, an all-day musical venue provides audio entertainment. People will be dancing in the street.

The parade is a world-class event, one of the great pa-rades in America today. It will be telecast locally, nationally, and internationally.

For parade watching (and photos), get to the Union Square area early, about 4:30 p.m., and commandeer a spot on the street, planning to tough it out 5:30-8:30 pm for the full parade.

The parade itself is a pageant of Americana with a Chinese emphasis. A dragon will appear at roughly 15-minute intervals.

If You Go:

Area: Chinatown/North Beach


Address: Street Fair on Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94108

Phone: None

Price: Free to watch

Christmas Holidays

Christmas is a festive time in downtown San Francisco, starting at Union Square.

If you have children in your entourage, they will want to see the huge Sugar Castle that is displayed each Christmas in the lobby of the Westin St. Francis Hotel. The hotel is located on Powell St on the western edge of Union Square. This gingerbread Victorian fantasy confection, which changes thematically each year, is a charmer.

Your Best Shot: The Sugar Castle itself is an image to consider, and the setting is one of the most selfie-worthy places you will see at Christmas in San Francisco. The huge tree, outdoors in Union Square, is a close competitor.

Union Square boasts an ice rink, beyond its large and decorated tree. Stores, such as Macy’s, have large wreaths or other holiday décor in their windows. The street between Macy’s and Nieman Marcus is closed off and called a Winter Walk, with food carts and Christmas snowflake projections on the building walls. Inside Nieman Marcus you will see another huge tree in the rotunda.

Besides Union Square, there are three other sites eminently worth considering.

The Westfield San Francisco Centre at Powell and Market Sts portrays Nutcracker graphics, with music, on the interior of its huge dome each evening.

An ice rink on Justin Herman Plaza, next to the Ferry Building, attracts many visitors. The nearby Embarcadero Center buildings themselves are outlined in lights to look like giant gift boxes.

Pier 39, adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf, offers an ambiance of Christmas trees, holiday decoration, and numerous performers singing carols or doing tricks.

The info below is for the Sugar Castle at the Westin.

If You Go:

Area: Union Square


Address: Westin St. Francis, 335 Powell St, San Francis-co, 94102

Phone: 415-397-7000

Price: Free

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


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. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.



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