Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Best Places to Take Photos of the Golden Gate Bridge: SF Edition

Whether you're a tourist, an SF noob, or an old-timer (like I'm becoming 😱), we all want the same thing: killer photos of the Golden Gate Bridge 🌉. After 13 years in this city (and 8 of them guiding folks around on hiking tours and writing hiking books), I've identified some special spots for memorable shots. This post covers 10 spots in San Francisco, and soon I'll post on where to take bridge photos in Marin County.

Ten spots to take great photos of the Golden Gate Bridge

Baker Beach
Battery Chamberlin Road in the Presidio

About: The combo of the bridge, beach, and ocean make Baker Beach a classic choice for Golden Gate Bridge photos. The only issue you can run into here is that it can get crowded on warm days. To ditch the crowds, head north, but if you're shy, don't roam too far as the north end of the beach is known for its nude sunbathers

Parking: LARGE parking lot (rare for SF!) at the end of Battery Chamberlin Road.

Batteries to Bluffs
Lincoln Boulevard in the Presidio

About: I literally wrote the book on hiking in San Francisco, and in my opinion, this is the most scenic 0.7-mile stretch of trail in the entire city. If you can handle the 500 or so stairs, you’ll rack up countless bridge views on your way. See the next entry for another special spot along this trail.

Parking: Park near the Immigrant Point Overlook to start at the south end of the trail or in the Langdon Court parking lot to start at the north end of the trail. 

Fun fact: This is where I shot Urban Trails: San Francisco’s cover photo.

Marshall's Beach

Location: Off the Batteries to Bluffs Trail in the Presidio.

About: Marshall's Beach can only be accessed from the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. Given its remote location, it’s often empty! To get this shot, make sure you don't miss the turnoff: look for a sign 0.3 miles from either end of Batteries to Bluffs.

Parking: Same parking areas as Batteries to Bluffs.

San Francisco National Cemetery Overlook

Location: Off Nauman Road in the Presidio

About: The San Francisco National Cemetery Overlook provides a poignant setting for bridge photos and there are rarely more than a few people here at a time. From Nauman Road, follow the paved path into the woods. When the path splits, stay right. Keep following the paved trail and after a minute or two, you'll end up at a viewing area with benches. Walk in front of the benches to get this view.

Parking: Nauman Road (enter 474 Nauman Road into Google Maps.)

Crissy Field

Location: Crissy Field

About: It doesn't get much more classic SF than Crissy Field. Walk as far as you want to get as close to the bridge as you want! Take beachy shots, marshy shots, or shots with buildings. There is no way to mess this up. Continue to Fort Point (see below) to get views of the bridge’s arch.

Parking: Start as far east as the Crissy Beach parking lot or as far west as the Hamilton Street parking area.

Fort Point National Historic Site

Location: Fort Point

About:  Built between 1853-1861, Fort Point predates the Golden Gate Bridge by multiple decades. When the bridge was being designed, there was talk of tearing down the military installation, but instead, a new plan was hatched...just redesign the bridge! If you wanted to know why there's an arch on one side of the bridge and not the other, it’s to accommodate Fort Point. Come here for military history and views of the first tower and arch. This is just beyond Crissy Field if you want to start or end your photoshoot there.

Parking: Marine Drive. See Fort Point on Google Maps.


Coastal Trail Gun Batteries

Location: California Coastal Trail leading up to the bridge. Look for Battery Godfrey, Boutelle, and Marcus Miller on Google Maps.

About: Visit old (never used) gun installations along the Pacific Coast with nonstop bridge views. Climb on top of the batteries to get unobstructed bridge views or take photos of the bridge with the batteries in the frame.

Parking:  Park in the Langdon Court parking lot and head north!

Battery East Picnic Area

Location: Battery East Trail just west of the tunnel

About: This special spot is sandwiched between two places called “Golden Gate Postcard Viewpoint” and “Viewpoint Golden Gate Bridge” on Google Maps. That said, those places can be crowded and everyone has those shots. I really love this spot as it’s crowded with tourists. On the Battery East Trail, look for the pedestrian tunnel (see location above). Make sure you’re on the west side of that tunnel. Walk behind the picnic benches and take this shot!

Parking: Battery East parking lot.

Pacific Overlook

Location: Lincoln Boulevard between Washington Blvd and Battery Dynamite Rd.

About:  The Pacific Overlook was added to the Presidio in 2012. Here, you’ll get views spanning from Lands End to the bridge—and you’ll also get views of the Marin Headlands across the Ocean. There are benches here so take your time with these views.

Parking: WWII Memorial parking lot or the Langdon Court parking lot.

The San Francisco Bay

Location: Multiple spots around SF

About: If you want to take unique photos of the bridge, head into the bay for a boat cruise. I personally love riding with Adventure Cat. You’ll even go under the bridge for some seriously striking views. 

Parking: Adventure Cat's tours depart from Pier 39.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Play tourist in your own town: Go on a sea lion "hunt."

Lockdown day 1,000,000. Let's face it, it's going to be a long time before any of us go on a vacation with a plane, so I'm trying to get good at being a tourist in my own town. On the Sunday before Memorial Day, I decided to go on a sea lion "hunt" along the Embarcadero. (As a 20+ year vegetarian, I would never go on an actual sea lion hunt—this was a hunt for sea lion sculptures.)

Here's a little backstory....

Last weekend, I decided to run home to the Mission from North Beach and explore some hills and stairways along the way. On my way back, I noticed a sea lion statue on the Embarcadero. (I originally thought it was a seal, but I was wrong. Here's the difference.) I am a huge animal lover, so I crossed the street to get a closer look. It reminded me of the "I left my heart in San Francisco" sculptures you can still see around town, so I figured this statue might be part of a series. When I got home from my run, I decided to learn more.

On the Aquarium of the Bay website, I found out that through January 2021, you will be able to find 30 hand-painted 6-foot-tall sea lion statues throughout San Francisco. The statues commemorate the 39th anniversary of the sea lions arrival at Pier 39. In order to be seen by a maximum of people, the sea lions have been placed in some of SF's most-visited areas.

I found a map of their locations online (and made a fun link" and decided to visit as many sea lions as I could. So I started out in Mission Beach and ran just under 5 miles to Aquatic Park. As this is lockdown, some places like Pier 39 (which houses an abundance of statues) are closed, but I still got to see a lot of them.

sea lion statues map

I highly recommend taking yourself or your family on a sea lion "hunt." If you stay on the Embarcadero, you don't need to think about any directions and can just spot the statues alongside the path. For a short 1.5-mile walk, start at the Ferry Building and walk to Pier 39.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Quarantine wanderings, i.e. getting reacquainted wtih your neighborhood during the COVID-19 pandemic

It's been a LONG time since I posted. So long that in fact that since that last post, I have given birth to two babies: one human and one paperback

Being a mom has been wonderful, but I do feel like I have a lot less time than before. And while some people feel like they have more free time during quarantine, my experience has been quite the opposite! In addition to holding down a job, I was now a house cleaner, nanny, dog walker, and chef.

One thing that has not just kept me sane, but also brought me great pleasure during COVID-19 is taking daily walks. During this pandemic, exercise in fresh air was always considered an essential activity, but for a while, the rule was that you were supposed to exercise in your own neighborhoods. Guided by the mantra "If you need a car, it's too far," I started taking off on walks and runs from my home in the Mission District seeing where I would go in any direction in a 2.5-mile radius—which roughly equated to the time I had off between shifts watching our toddler.

At first, I was BORED. I felt I had seen everything there was to see in my neighborhood, but then I looked at my surroundings with new eyes and I got creative—and I've found so many new things. It made me think that there's always more to see. You just have to be open to it.

If you're feeling a similar case of boredom right now and you live in San Francisco, here's what's helped me get out and explore.

1. Visiting parks. This is easy. Open up Google Maps and see what parks are near you. Walk to them. You'll get to see the park, but you'll also find interesting homes and places on the way. This is how I ended up in Corona Heights Park, Buena Vista Park, Billy Goat Hill, Walter Haas Playground, and more.

Billy Goat Hill

2. Visiting stairways. San Francisco has some 700 or so public stairways, and I've decided to list them all in a spreadsheet and map them all out on Google Maps. This way, everyone in the city can use this as a resource to check out stairways whenever they want. (I will share this as soon as I'm done!) In mapping out the stairways, I was reminded that there are a lot of stairways close to my home, so I decided to check out a bunch of them in person. Some of them are basic and functional, but some are really elegant. And just as with visiting parks, when getting to your destination stairway, you see a bunch of other neat stuff on your way.

Stairway in Noe Valley

3. Wandering aimlessly. Sometimes I just feel I can't be creative and come up with a new destination and I just wander aimlessly around the Mission, Noe, Hayes Valley, or Potrero. I think to myself, "I'll never see anything new...I'm close to home." But soon enough, I pick up a small sidestreet and see interesting things on the way. If I end up on main streets instead of small side streets, I take photos of boarded-up shops and restaurants to help future me remember what it was like to live through during COVID-19.

Beautifully boarded-up buildings

I hope these ideas help you get out in your neighborhood. Even if you've lived in the same neighborhood as I have for 11 years, you can still find new things to see. And you can even use these tips when quarantine is over if you have just a short time to get outside. Stay safe and enjoy this strange time as much as you can. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Oakland Urban Wine Trail

Distance: 3.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 10 feet
High Point: 30 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 2 ½ hours including stops at wineries
Fitness: Walkers, hikers
Family Friendly: Yes. The tasting rooms allow children in them.
Dog Friendly: Yes, all wineries on this walk are dog friendly 
Amenities: Restrooms at all of the wineries and in Jack London Square Marina, benches and picnic benches along the Bay Trail.
Contact: City of Oakland
GPS: 37° 47' 49.5132'' N 122° 15' 57.816'' W
Map to: Lake Merritt BART
Strava Route:

Getting there:
Public Transit: The hike starts and ends at Lake Merritt BART
Parking: There is $3 parking at Lake Merritt BART station

A short distance from the Bay Area are the world famous wine-growing regions of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. I love visiting wine country, but always wish it were just a bit closer. Well, now it is! Every day, grapes of from all over California are brought to the city of Oakland for blending, barreling, and bottling at a number of urban wineries.

In 2010, Oakland wineries and tasting rooms banded together to form an urban wine route through the city. Visit Oakland, the city’s visitors bureau got involved in 2015 to infuse the route with a branding and marketing boost. Since then the route—now known as the Oakland Urban Wine Trail—has gained popularity and includes 10 wineries in a 10-mile radius.

This hike, inspired by the Oakland Urban Wine Trail, visits four wineries in three miles as well as Jack London Square—an area named for the author who spent a lot his early life on the Oakland waterfront. Today in the square, you’ll find shops, restaurants, ferry service to San Francisco, a Sunday farmers’ market, a former presidential yacht, an 1880s saloon, and even Jack London’s cabin—rebuilt and relocated from the Klondike region of Canada’s Yukon Territory.

Wine lovers can sip tasty white and reds in industrial warehouses and on sunny outdoor patios. And drinkers and non-drinkers alike will enjoy a waterfront stroll infused with late-1800s history. This route is designed to be safe those who are imbibing. It’s short, spaces out the winery stops, and starts and ends at Lake Merritt BART so that no driving is required.

Get Moving
Start the hike at Lake Merritt BART, on the northeast corner of 8th and Oak Streets. Head south on Oak until 4th Street, passing some charming Victorian homes before passing under the 880 highway overpass. Turn left onto 4th Street to arrive at the first winery on this route, Dashe Cellars (55 4th Street). Dashe is situated in a red building that takes up the second half the block.

If you visit Dashe, head back to the intersection of 4th and Oak Street and turn left on Oak. At 3rd Street, cross to the far side of Oak and continue south (left). Pass 2nd Street and then cross over train tracks. Oak Street drops you on Embarcadero West where walk to the far side of the street and turn left. Stay on Embarcadero West 0.2 mile. Pass a building to your right with a striped roof, the Jack London Aquatic Center. Then take your next right onto a sidewalk, The San Francisco Bay Trail.

Follow the Bay Trail along the water 0.1 mile, past the Aquatic Center and to a park, Estuary Park. Pass a picnic area with a geometric wood overhang, then continue along the waterfront path and follow it as it turns right, passing a few sculptures as you continue. Stay on the path and exit the park, following a Public Shore sign to pick up a more manicured part of the Bay Trail. Over the next 0.6 miles, you’ll have iews of the Oakland Inner Basin and Alameda Island across the water. Toward the end of this stretch, you’ll see cranes that have become icons for the city of Oakland (no, they did not inspire the All Terrain Open Transport [AT-OT] walkers from Star Wars), views of the San Francisco skyline, and a marina.

You arrive at the Jack London Square marina, a building with a faux lighthouse tower. Just past this building, you can walk left and out onto the pier for a nice view of San Francisco. Whether you explore the pier or not, you’ll next want to head into pedestrian plaza full of palm trees. In the middle of the plaza, among other things, you’ll see Heinhold’s First and Last Chance Saloon and Jack London’s Cabin.

An 1800s saloon, still open today
Built out of an old whaling ship in 1880, Heinhold’s First and Last Chance Saloon was first a home for men working oyster beds on the San Francisco Bay. John Heinhold purchased the building in 1883 for $100 in and turned it into a saloon. When it first opened, waterfront workers frequented the watering hole as well as local literary luminaries Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Joaquin Miller. The saloon has been in continuous operation since its opening and became an Oakland landmark in 1975.

A cabin from the Klondike
Jack London is often called a native son of Oakland, but he was born across the bay in San Francisco in January 1876. His mother was Flora Wellman, and while it’s not confirmed, many believe his biological father was astrologer William Chaney. Flora Wellman married John London late in 1876, giving Jack London his last name. London went to grade school and high school in Oakland, then attended UC Berkeley.

He headed up to Canada’s Yukon Territory in 1897 looking for gold. While he didn’t strike it rich, his adventures became fodder for his writing. London’s log cabin was abandoned after he returned to California. It was later dismantled and reassembled as two cabins—one in Dawson City, Yukon Territory and the other right here in Oakland.

By age 30, London was internationally famous for Call of the Wild (1903), The Sea Wolf, (1904) and White Fang (1876). Before he died at age 40, he had written more than 50 fiction and nonfiction books and hundreds of short stories.

Continue by the plaza and turn left at the large Water Street sign to stay along the water and get more San Francisco views. When you reach a viewing area with an old mast, turn right. Continue on the Bay Trail and look for a statue of Jack London. Stay on the Bay Trail 0.2 more miles until the San Francisco Bay Ferry is on your left and Rosenblum Cellars is your right. This is Clay Street. Between the ferry and Rosenblum Cellars, look left out to the water where you’ll see the the USS Potomac, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidential yacht from 1936 until his death in 1945.

If you like, take a break at Rosenblum Cellars or keep going on Clay Street past Embarcadero West where you cross train tracks. Continue one more block to 2nd Street where you turn right. You’ll be on 2nd Street for a total of 0.5 miles. After two blocks, reach Broadway (no sign) where you look right to see a Jack London Square sign. As you continue along 2nd Street, you’ll pass an area with produce markets. Then four blocks later, at the intersection with Alice Street, pass by the Oakland Amtrak Station.

Arrive at Urban Legend Cellars on the corner of 2nd Street at Jackson Street. Take a left on Jackson Street and once you get to 3rd Street, you can pop into Brooklyn West Winery at 201 3rd Street. From here continue one block east to Oak Street where you turn left. Stay on Oak until you arrive back at Lake Merritt BART.

Go Farther
Have a picnic at Lake Merritt or walk around the lake.

Redwood Regional Park - West Ridge Trail, Stream Trail, East Ridge Trail

Distance: 3.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 690 feet
High Point: 1,330 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
Fitness: Hikers, walkers, runners
Family Friendly:
Dog Friendly: Dogs are allowed under voice control on park trails. There is a dog fee of $2 per dog. (No fee for guide/service dogs.) Fees are collected on weekends and major holidays.

Amenities: Numerous restrooms and picnic areas throughout the park.
Contact: East Bay Regional Park District
GPS: 37° 49' 53.9544'' N 122° 11' 5.6616'' W
Map to: Redwood Regional Park Skyline Gate Staging Area
Strava Route:

There is just something so calming about hiking through redwoods. Perhaps it’s because as the tallest trees in the world, they make us realize just how small we are. Perhaps it’s because their thick canopy seems to block out the noise and chaos of the the outside world. Whatever it is, whenever I see them, I feel very lucky to live in the Bay Area—one of the few places on earth where these trees grow and thrive.

Redwood Regional Park is a treasure and gives you access to a redwood forest that’s close to the city, but free of the Muir Woods crowds. These redwoods aren’t nearly as large as some of those in Muir Woods, but they are still tall, majestic, and plentiful.

Redwoods are native to this part of the East Bay, however, all of the area’s old-growth trees  were chopped down between 1845-1860 as people flooded into the Bay Area during the Gold Rush. After that time, trees began to grow back and it was thought that many of them grew to be over 100 feet tall. But these second-growth trees were logged again—this time to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. While some second-growth trees remain, many of the redwoods you see in the park today are third-growth trees. They are far from ancient, but they’re still over 100 years old, tall, and growing more with every passing year.

There are seemingly limitless possibilities for hiking in Redwood Regional Park. I like this particular route, which includes the West Ridge Trail, the French Trail, the Stream Trail, the Prince Trail, and the East Ridge Trail as it has a nice variety of scenery (exposed sunny trails, redwoods, creeks, etc.)—and because it comes with a special bonus in winter—thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of ladybugs converge here in the months of November through March. The beetles fly into the park seeking a place to mate and to feast on aphids, using pheromones left by previous generations to return to the same spots year after year. Center stage for this annual phenomenon is the junction of the Stream and Prince Trails.

But there’s no need to wait until winter to do this hike. Whenever you do this route, it’s an excellent escape from urban life just miles away from the city.

Get Moving
Start the hike in the Skyline Staging Area and head right. When the trail splits almost immediately, head right to pick up the West Ridge Trail, a wide fire road above a canyon. Be aware that trail is bike friendly, so you may be sharing the trail with cyclists. You will also want to be on the lookout for poison oak.

After one-half mile, see a first stand of redwoods on your left. 375 feet later, turn left on the French trail, a single-track trail heading downhill. The trail is shaded and lined with bay laurel trees, ferns, and abundant amounts of poison oak. Watch your step as you descend—the trail is dotted with rocks and roots and there are sometimes downed trees here.

After 0.6 mile on this trail, turn left onto the Tres Sendas trail (a “senda” is path or route in Spanish), a wide trail full of redwoods and running along Redwood Creek. Continue 0.25 mile on the Tres Sendas trail, walking through a fallen tree and bearing left to stay on this trail at its intersection with the Star Flower Trail. After another 425 feet, cross Redwood Creek and turn right onto the Stream trail. This is a wide, relatively flat trail, and due to the creek’s sensitive habitat, dogs must be on leash here.

After 0.45 miles on the Stream Trail, reach the Prince Trail. If you’re visiting during ladybug season, feel free to take a little detour to continue farther on the Stream Trail to catch more glimpses of the colorful beetles. Otherwise, head left and uphill on the Prince Trail. You’ll be on this trail for 0.4 mile, half of which is shaded and half of which brings you up and out of the trees. Take your time on this steep trail as this is where you’ll gain back 300 of the 550 feet you lost on the first half of the hike.

Turn left on the East Ridge Trail, a wide fire trail with no tree cover. After 250 feet, look for a bench with views of the tops of redwoods. Stay straight on the East Ridge Trail when you pass a turnoff for the Philips Loop after 0.2 mile. After you pass this intersection, start looking behind you for views of Mt. Diablo.

From here, there are two ways you can finish the hike. The most straightforward way is to continue on the East Ridge Trail another mile to the parking lot where you started. Like the West Ridge Trail, this trail is bike friendly, so be aware that there may be cyclists here.

Another option if the East Ridge trail is crowded or you feel like changing things up is to turn left on the Eucalyptus Trail 0.3 mile after the Philips Loop turnoff. If you do this, you’ll head downhill on the Eucalyptus Trail 0.1 mile and then turn right on the Philips Loop. Follow the Philips Loop 0.65 mile, enjoying this partially shaded trail lined with eucalyptus and some madrone trees. This trail can get muddy after a winter or spring rain and can be lined with poison oak. If it’s recently rained when you’re visiting, the East Ridge Trail may be your best bet.

Then turn left on the East Ridge Trail and continue 0.2 mile on the East Ridge Trail back to the parking lot where you started.

Go Farther
If you’re up for more hiking, Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve and Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve are close by. Or, if you’re done with hiking, feel free to check out the Chabot Space and Science Center, an observatory with exhibits, telescopes, a planetarium, and more.