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The San Francisco Guide to Nature

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The San Francisco Guide to Nature

Ben Ashby

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When I travel I really want the best of all possible worlds to be right around me. I want nature, I want the city, and I want it to mix perfectly together. This was my first trip to San Francisco and I had no idea that this city would provide both worlds with great ease. The idea behind this trip was to spend three days in San Francisco. Our goal was to spend as much time as possible photographing the area. Before we arrived Paige had already made a list of all the places and spaces she wanted to visit. We broke those into three areas and decided to tackle one area a day. The following is our guide for three days in San Francisco. 

 

For the trip our home base was the Marker Hotel. It is just a few blocks from Union Square and has much of the city within walking distance. Their onsite parking made frequent in and out trips super easy.

 

 

Day One: The Golden Gate Bridge and North

 

We’ve all seen that opening to Full House. We’ve seen the car and the family going across the bridge, and as kids we all dreamt of the day we too would go across. That nostalgia is most certainly why the northern area had to be our first location.

 

This guide can really be done in any order,

we typically plan things around the position of the sun. 

 

Stops:

Golden Gate Bridge (Fort Point) — this Civil War era fort sits under the south side of the bridge. The area around it provides a perfect spot to get that under the bridge photo or a shot of Alcatraz in the distance.

 

Muir Woods — we were really surprised at the sheer beauty of this park. The redwoods, while only 2/3 the size of those found further inland are still massive and truly a sight to see. The wooden footbridges throughout the park create a wonderful aesthetic and harken back to days gone by. Do this park during the day as light is on short supply below the tree canopy.

 

Mount Tamalpais — go at sunset. This mount is one of the highest peaks in the bay area. Known for its golden hills and its views above the clouds and fog this is the best photo moment of your trip. While there we were surrounded by grazing deer and other wildlife. 

 

Fort Baker — is on the northern side of the bridge. It gives glorious shots from above the bridge looking into the bay. This spot is usually crowded. Plan enough time to hunt for parking. The view is worth the wait or hike. 

 

Kirby Cove — there is a swing that hangs over the water. It is the perfect photograph, but it requires a rather long and steep hike. We did not venture to this spot, but have heard it is worth the hike.

 

Point Bonita Lighthouse — the hours at this lighthouse are odd. Check the hours before you go. Once you’re there follow the audio walking tour to learn about the park and the lighthouse. It was a highlight of the short trip to the lighthouse. From here you get a really wide shot of the entire city, bridge, and bay. Hike up above the lighthouse for amazing views of the Pacific. 

 

 

Sadly we didn’t take any time for food stops while north of the city. We ended our day at the Cheesecake Factory. 

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Day Two: Inside San Fransisco

 

Sutro Bath Ruins — we started our day well before sunrise. Paige’s favorite spot of the trip was our sunrise at the ruins of the Sutro Baths. When built in the late 1800s it was the largest indoor pool complex in the world. The entire property burned in the 1960s and the ruins have since become iconic for their weathered concrete pools and amazing glassy reflections. The waves of the Pacific crash along the shoreline behind the ruins. Before you go educate yourself on the ruins. It was a fascinating story. If you go in the afternoon or evening eat at the historic Cliff House on the cliffs above the ruins.

 

Lands End — this park and area of the city is heavily wooded and sits along the coast. We stopped at two beaches to get views of the bridge in the distance. We also spotted cute sea life along the shore. Locals say Baker Beach is a great stop for views of the bridge.

 

Ferry Building — the perfect stop for breakfast or lunch. Vendor and food stalls line the hallways of this historic building. From here you can take a ferry across the bay for wonderful shots of the city. 

 

The Painted Ladies — the iconic park scene from the Full House opening comes to life high on a hill in the city. If you’re looking from the house with the red door that the Tanner’s lived in…you’ll find it three short blocks away.

 

 

Day Three: South of San Francisco 

 

For our final day we wanted to see the area south of the city so we would be closer to the airport. 

 

If time allows go to Big Sur. Before you go check on road conditions. If the weather and roads are good this is a must do drive while in central California. 

 

Bixby Canyon Bridge — a classic on Highway 1. Wide turn offs allow for sweeping views of the bridge as it crosses the cliffs of this historic highway.

 

Shark Fin Cove – sunrise at Shark Fin Cove is a must do. Rock formations out in the water look identical to a shark fin. The sand covered cove has a cave with crashing waves surrounding it. This is the spot to get your coastal pacific cliffs image. Stop for breakfast in the town of Davenport after you leave the beach.

 

Big Basin Redwoods State Park — surround yourself with hundreds of ancient redwoods as you take leisurely hikes. The roads into the park also allow for high vistas above the tree lines. 

 

 

Sadly we know we missed many other spots are the city and around Central California. When planning your trip to the region keep in mind that many of the roads are winding and steep. Speeds are slow, but with nature all around you, surely you’ll want to drive slow and take it all in. Cell service is rather spotty in most of the areas, even those just a short distance from the city. 

 

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Our Tips for Your Trip

 

1) Our biggest tip for visiting this area is pack plenty of water. While the city and the bay area typically has a cooler wetter climate, you’ll notice as soon as you leave the bay that the temperatures rise. Pack water and plenty of snacks. 

 

2) When renting a car keep in mind that you’ll most likely be staying within the city. Think compact. The majority of the roads to the parks are easily doable in a compact car. Small cars also allow for easier maneuvering around the tight switchbacks. 

 

3) Plan ahead. If Paige hadn’t been as well prepared with a list of all the places she wanted to see we wouldn’t have been able to plan as strategically to fit in as many stops as we did.

 

4) Slow down. After years of doing these overly fast photography trips I can assure you nothing is worse than rushing. While you may think you’re only in these places for the photographs, you want to enjoy your time there. Slow down and step away from the camera. Create an experience and a memory to go along with your photos. 

 

5) Make friends with locals. While looking at a map in a coffee shop a local beside us offered her recommendations for local restaurants and shoppings spots. Take their advice. Nothing is worse than a bad food experience. 

 

6) Leave the selfie stick at home. When you’re traveling please be aware that you aren’t alone. Don’t ruin others memories by parading around selfie sticks, live streaming, or droning your entire experience. Ask someone to snap a photo of you, or stick to images of nature. 

 


SPECIAL THANKS TO:  JDV HOTELS (THE MARKER) || BH PHOTO (WE USED A CANON 5D MARK IV) || MAKERS MARKET, AVIATE, STOCK MFG CO, AND BUCK MASON FOR CLOTHING AND ACCESSORIES)

Additional thanks to: National Car Rental and Delta Airlines