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 http://amzn.to/2qS9QtG. The ebook parallels my app on this subject available for $3.99 from Apple http://apple.co/2ow44IC and Google http://bit.ly/2o9sWKJ. See an announcement of the ebook on my website at http://bit.ly/2qXg8Zf. 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 this new travel ebook/app in ten alphabetical “clusters.” Each cluster will have 12 sections of the total 120 in the ebook/app. This is alphabetical release 4 of 10. (Other clusters released now include: cluster 1 cluster 2 and cluster 3.
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.
So, here is the fourth release:
SF A-Z, Alphabetical cluster 4 of 10:
Your Best Shot: City Hall faces east, catching the morning sun on its domed grandness. Photograph it from the plaza across the street, possibly with and without you in the image.
If you are here on a weekday, you can enter the main floor to admire the rotunda. Public tours are sometimes offered. Check the website for current times.
City Hall is a Beaux-Arts masterpiece from 1915, replacing the earlier City Hall, which was destroyed by the 1906 Earthquake. The spacious rotunda interior has been featured in many films, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Outside, on Civic Center Plaza, the serendipity of San Francisco life will greet you. This great open space is a palette for urban expression. You never know what you might see here, from Chinese practicing Tai Chi to a Farmers Market on Fulton St on the east side of the plaza. The great Asian Art Museum is also located adjacent to Civic Center Plaza
If You Go:
Area: Civic Center
Address: 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Pl, San Francisco, CA 94102
The Cliff House is a historic seafood restaurant with a fabulous view on the northwest edge of San Francisco overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The setting was once the home of the famous Sutro Baths, where revelers partied in the 19th century. Within the restaurant, as you walk the stairs, from the top floor to the basement floor, there is an engaging painting of the Sutro Baths. Sutro Baths was the place to see and be seen. The site is now an empty ruin on the north side of the Cliff House.
Your Best Shot: From the south side of the Cliff House, at the street, you can make a wide angle photo of a totem pole, the Cliff House, and Seal Rocks, perhaps with yourself in the image. If photographing food, the scallops dish with Seal Rocks in the background sets the scene from a window table.
From the Cliff House, either while dining or walking in the outdoor area, you can gaze out at Seal Rocks, a safe haven for seals, sea lions, and seabirds. Ships pass on the horizon as they approach or leave San Francisco Bay from the south.
Beyond the Sutro Baths, you can walk on toward Land’s End, an area whose landscaped amenities and hiking opportunities have improved in recent years.
The National Park Service has set up an information/memento store called The Outlook, adjacent to the Sutro Baths site. There is ample parking. This northern edge of the San Francisco waterfront is all part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, as is the Presidio National Park to the immediate east. All the trails and terrain are managed by the NPS.
With information and maps for the Outlook store, you could walk all the way from the Cliff House to the Golden Gate Bridge.
If You Go:
Area: Northern/Western Waterfront
Address: 1090 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
Price: Moderate for dining, free for hiking.
Coit Tower is a stunning place to visit because of its views. You can look out on the environs of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge from this Telegragh Hill location.
Your Best Shot: The statue of Christopher Columbus, with Coit Tower in the background, makes a pleasing shot, especially if the sky is blue and cloudless.
With Italian North Beach as a nearby setting, raising a statue to Christopher Columbus in front of Coit Tower was inevitable. The annual Columbus Day Celebration on October 12 confirms his enduring legacy here.
Lillie Hitchcock Coit funded this tower as a token of her affection for firemen. It has a fire hose nozzle look, although the design is apparently coincidental. Like many, Lillie Coit appreciated how firefighters tried to save San Francisco after the destructive Quake and Fire of 1906.
You can enter the tower and go up to the top for a more elevated view of San Francisco. The historic murals around the base floor are from the WPA (Works Progess Administration) era of the 1930s, when artists were hired as an effort to increase employment. Another WPA mural site is the Beach Chalet restaurant on the western edge of Golden Gate Park.
Looking west from Coit Tower toward Russian Hill, you will see the famous Crookedest Street, a winding block of Lombard St between Hyde and Leavenworth Sts. The crookedness is easier to see from a distance than from close up.
The Crookedest Street is an iconic zigzag of the street, begging for placement on a postcard. The postcard shot, however, requires that you get to the top of nearby private buildings.
The street appearance changes with the years, as the local homeowners debate their vision of just how floriferous they want to be and what is their visual entertainment mandate. A close-up photo of Crookedest Street works best as a morning photo because it faces east.
The info below is for Coit Tower.
If You Go:
Area: Chinatown/North Beach
Address: 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94133
Price: Free to walk around on the ground floor, charge to take the elevator to top
The Conservatory of Flowers is an immense, white, lacy Victorian greenhouse in Golden Gate Park, a delightful legacy from an earlier era, when collecting and displaying exotic plants was a mark of horticultural enlightenment.
Your Best Shot: The skilled gardeners who have managed Golden Gate Park since the early days of chief-gardener John McLaren seasonally replant the flower beds in front of the Conservatory. Catch these beds in a luxuriant phase, with the Conservatory in the background, and you will have a memorable image. Go ahead and put yourself in a few shots as the main blossom to celebrate.
April-May and September-October can be the best times to make an afternoon photo in good light of this outdoor landscape. Flowers in the beds may be in their prime. Summer fog and winter rainy clouds sometimes deaden the sky.
The Conservatory, from 1879, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only major conservatory with wooden window pane holders still extant. See more details of the remarkable historic journey of the building through time at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservatory_of_Flowers.
If You Go:
Area: Golden Gate Park
Address: 100 John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118
Price: Free outside, entrance charge inside
What is the most iconic view of The City? If I had to make a single choice, it would be the view from the second turnout on Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands.
Your Best Shot: Position yourself here after 3 p.m. as the sun advances to the west. In front of you is the Golden Gate Bridge, a green hillside, the skyline of SF, and the Golden Gate, likely with a ship passing through the narrow channel between the Bay and the Ocean. The photo opportunity is without parallel as the advancing sun falls on the Bridge.
There is a small gravel shoulder at the second turnout on the road for parking. Fog, clouds, and moisture in the air all contribute aesthetic elements to what you see.
Get to Conzelman by taking the first exit on the right side after you travel north across the Bridge. Then make the first turn left, which will take you under the highway and on to Conzelman Road, a long hill.
Much of the surrounding land is administered by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There is much to see in the Marin Headlands area, such as Battery Spencer, the WWII bunker that is at the first turnout on Conzelman Road.
Hawk Hill is the third turnout, a turn left onto a side road, giving you a perch high over the water. Signage describes how John Fremont named the Golden Gate after a spot in Turkey he had read about in poems but never seen in Turkey. Raptors at Hawk Hill sweep in close here in their annual migrations north and south.
If You Go:
Area: North to Marin County
Address: Conzelman Rd, Marin Headlands, Marin County, CA 94965
The paved path at Crissy Field is sometimes called the Golden Gate Promenade. The word “promenade” is not too lofty for this glorious walk.
Crissy Field offers one of the loveliest urban outings on the planet. Here the beauty of the Bay, the Bridge, and the greenery of the Presidio and Marin Headlands combine. Some of the freshest air breathed by humans blows in from the Pacific.
Your Best Shot: People on the walking path at Crissy Field, including yourself, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, contribute to a satisfying image. Sometimes photos or video can capture the visual drama of a ship emerging from the Golden Gate or approaching the Bridge from Oakland. Morning light falls on the path and Bridge.
Crissy Field is a reclaimed shoreline, once a small air base for the military. Joggers, bikers, and dog-walkers now love this pathway.
Come prepared for a brisk wind blowing in through the Golden Gate. The Warming Hut restaurant offers hot beverages and sandwich/salad/soup lunches.
If You Go:
Area: Golden Gate Bridge/Presidio
Address: Crissy Field, San Francisco, CA 94129
San Francisco hosts a substantial number of cruise ships each year, due partly to its strategic geographic location. About 80 ships call at San Francisco annually, bringing in about 300,000 passengers.
Ships repositioning before and after the summer cruise traffic in Alaska frequently stop in San Francisco to take on passengers.
The cruise ship terminals are the James R. Herman Pier (Pier 27) and Pier 35.
Your Best Shot: Some of the most engaging shots can be made as the great cruise ships come in through the Golden Gate and approach their berths at the piers. An open shot of a cruise ship isolated on the water can be compelling.
Some ships travel back and forth from the Mexican West Coast or go through the Panama Canal to the Caribbean for the winter.
A few ships will use San Francisco as the launch point for Hawaii or South Pacific voyages.
For all these geographic reasons, San Francisco attracts great cruise ships.
Of course, there is also the reality that The City itself is a dynamic and desirable port for exploring, dining, shopping, and its California history.
If You Go:
Address: Pier 27 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133
This is where a veteran travel journalist can help you use your time well. I can cut through the hype and even bypass the sometimes “gamed” systems of crowdsourced reviewers. I acquaint you here with my Top Five choices.
Your Best Shot: A delicate image of some art object that inspires you, with or without you in the image, is one takeaway from cultural exploring. No one will object to your non-commercial capture, probably on your phone, of some artistic object that brings you joy or enlightenment.
Where should you go? First, go to Downtown/Civic Center to see the world-class San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Asian Art Museum. Then go to the Golden Gate Park area for three more prominent museums. Each of these entities has its own write-up in my presentation.
SFMOMA, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St, should be your first stop. All the art objects presented here were created in your lifetime or within a century earlier. Art displayed here may reflect aspects of your modern sensibility.
As a counterpoint, the great Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St, in the Civic Center area, is a window into the thousands of years of culture that is Asia. What is “Asia” may startle you. I remember seeing a clay cylinder made in the era of Cyrus the Great, 5th century BC Iran, declaring that diversity of political/religious thought would be allowable in his kingdom.
The other major area for cultural institutions is in and near Golden Gate Park.
Stop first at the de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, the great repository in San Francisco of historic art from Europe and around The World. There is even an Oceania section with many treasures. The de Young is not a musty fusty place, however. Check out their current shows.
Opposite the de Young in Golden Gate Park is the California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr. This is a showplace museum about the natural wonders of our modern world, and how we might sustain them. You’ve got to love a Rain Forest and find it wondrous before you’ll vote to save it. The sod roof on this science museum suggests that catching water, where it falls, has merit.
A third institution near Golden Gate Park is known as the Palace of the Legion of Honor. This is a major showplace and cultural repository for the special San Francisco-Paris connection that has flourished, especially since WWI. Both cities celebrate cultural attainments, plus the good life of culinary, artistic, viticultural, and bodily sensuality. Current shows and the permanent collection are worth perusing. Palace of the Legion of Honor is at 100 34th Ave.
These five great institutions can be a start. There are more ideas also, as you peruse my presentation in detail. San Francisco’s cultural/museum offerings are extensive, and are always changing in refreshing new ways.
The de Young Museum is a jewel in the crown of Golden Gate Park. Both the permanent fine art collection and transient shows are impressive. The exterior of the building is a striking experience because of its tower construction and copper sheathing
Your Best Shot: If you want to photograph art masterpieces and people interacting with great art, including yourself, or appreciating distinctive museum architecture, the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park is a premier candidate.
Even if you don’t enter the museum, take the free ride to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of the park’s greenery and a bird’s-eye close-up of the sod roof of the California Academy of Sciences across from the de Young.
Though the de Young was founded in 1895, the museum has a modern look because it was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and had to be entirely rebuilt, opening anew in 2005.
If You Go:
Area: Golden Gate Park
Address: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118
Price: Admission charge
The Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio offers a good illustration of the “recycling” of the Presidio military buildings into life-enhancing cultural use. The Presidio military area near the Golden Gate Bridge is officially a National Park.
The Disney Museum features the life and entertainment legacy of the great director and cartoon/movie innovator, Walt Disney. As you walk through two levels of rooms in a handsome brick building in the Presidio, you can observe his life gradually unfolding.
Your Best Shot: The museum is as close as you will likely ever get to Mickey Mouse, so get your selfie skills ready for the moment. Details of the Walt Disney story can make poignant vignette photos for your visual memories.
The museum proceeds from Walt Disney’s gradual early invention of Mickey Mouse to his theme park vision for Epcot near the end of his life.
Born in Chicago in 1901, Walt had a fairly idyllic early life. His family moved to a farm in Missouri, then back to Chicago. Walt showed a flair for drawing and a fascination with early movies. He took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and eventually got a job at a Kansas City ad agency, where he started making short animated films.
At age 21, Walt headed west to Hollywood. Throughout the museum, as you watch Walt’s life progress, you’ll see artifacts from each era, such as some of his boyhood drawings.
After founding Disney Brothers Studios with his brother, Roy, Walt created the iconic animated character, Mickey Mouse, which was wildly successful. Emboldened, Walt ventured into full-length animated feature films, with his Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs a major hit. The museum displays original art used in the creation of both Mickey Mouse and Snow White.
If You Go:
Area: Golden Gate Bridge/Presidio
Address: 104 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94129
Price: Admission charge
Dungeness crab and sourdough bread are classic foods associated with San Francisco. One good place to enjoy them is at Fisherman’s Wharf.
The Wharf is where a lot of crab come ashore when the fishing boats go out for their winter harvest, November to June. This crab species flourishes all along the northern half of the West Coast, mainly from Santa Barbara north to Alaska.
Your Best Shot: You might enjoy photographing crabs as the bustling open-air vendors toss them into the hot boiling pots for their fresh preparation. This scene occurs at the corner of Taylor and Jefferson Sts. You can buy some crab and consume it at the outdoor tables.
Crab season usually gets going in early November. There is always much speculation about how big or small the catch will be each year. Some partisans argue that Dungeness crab is the tastiest of all crustaceans. An opposing contingent champions another creature from the San Francisco Bay Area–the Hog Island oysters from Tomales Bay at Point Reyes.
The classic food with which to accompany your Dungeness crab is San Francisco sourdough bread. You will find this a few steps away at the Bistro Boudin bakery and restaurant, 160 Jefferson St.
The favorite order here is clam chowder, served in a hollowed out sourdough bowl. Informative self-guided tours at Boudin acquaint you with the legacy of sourdough.
If You Go:
Area: Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39
Address: Jefferson and Taylor Sts, San Francisco, CA 94133
Price: Free to walk around, moderate charge for restaurants
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.