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.