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San Francisco

by Philip Greenspun, 1998


Cable

Market Street, San Francisco Chinatown. San Francisco, California Like every other member of the MIT Class of '82, I wanted to move to California. It would be warm, there would be lots of women, we'd play volleyball every day, it would never rain. So we all moved to Silicon Valley where it gets pretty cold at night, there are no women, nobody plays volleyball, and 1982 was the rainiest winter on record.

I worked at Hewlett-Packard's research labs in Palo Alto, a boring suburb about 30 miles south of San Francisco. HP has a reputation for being the best Fortune 500 for an engineer. This means that if you don't like it at HP, you don't have to try working at any other big company. One of the most frustrating parts about living in Palo Alto was that it was tantalizingly close to San Francisco while being a world away in spirit. You couldn't just move to San Francisco because there were no techie employers up there; you'd have to commute an hour every day down to Palo Alto or the truly hellish towns farther south.

Transamerica Tower. San Francisco, California. Painted wall on the border between Chinatown and North Beach. San Francisco, California My friend Gwyn went to Yale so she knew a lot of yuppies in the San Francisco financial industry. One time she took me to a friend's apartment on Russian Hill. His view stretched from the Golden Gate Bridge in the west to the Bay Bridge in the east. His apartment opened onto a huge roof-top flower garden. His rent was the same as mine. He walked out his door into cafes, art galleries, and thousands of desperate single women. If I could somehow contrive to live and work in San Francisco, that would be a kind of paradise. It never happened. I moved back to gray flat Boston to work at a start-up company with some friends and tried to put the image of that apartment on Russian Hill out of my mind.

Chinatown

The best dim sum place in Chinatown isn't quite in Chinatown; it is Yank Sing on Battery Street just across from the Embarcadero One building (where you can park for $4 or so on weekends).

Alamo Square

You have to go here to take a picture of the four Victorian "Painted Ladies" that constitute "Postcard Row":

Sic Transit Gloria Hippie (Haight-Ashbury)

Dust off your copy of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and walk around the birthplace of the 1960s counterculture. How has Haight-Ashbury changed since then? In 1998, on one corner of the intersection between Haight and Ashbury there is a Ben and Jerry's shop; on the opposite corner, a Gap.

The crepe place next to Ben & Jerry's serves really good crepes at low prices and has a clean restroom! Highly recommended.

Golden Gate Park

Windmill. Golden Gate Park. San Francisco, California. Golden Gate Park is the largest urban park in the U.S. so far as I know (3.5 x 0.5 miles). If the flower greenhouses and Japanese Tea Garden (see "museums") are a little too effete for you, check out the bison range.

Golden Gate Bridge

(gratuitous photos)

Museums

San Francisco really isn't a great museum city. There are a bunch of serviceable museums in Golden Gate Park, but they can't compete with their landscaping. The Asian Art Museum is the best of these, and its landscaping, a full-scale Japanese Tea Garden, is worthwhile. The M.H. de Young Memorial Museum is almost completely generic as to structure and collection, except that they kicked the European art out into the Legion of Honor over by the Golden Gate Bridge.

Down by the Civic Center, the new Museum of Modern Art is a splendid building filled with mostly appallingly ugly items.

If it is a nice day, you're probably better off spending your time walking around randomly.

The Japanese Tea Garden

Adjacent to the Asian Art Museum in Golden Gate Park is the Japanese Tea Garden:

You can actually sit down and order tea.

Nightlife

The San Francisco Opera is the second best in the United States (after the Metropolitan in New York) but they perform in the drably functional War Memorial Opera House in a dreary part of town. Davies Symphony Hall is a much more interesting modern building nearby even if the San Francisco Symphony isn't one of our very best ensembles.

The Sunset

At the western edge of the city, more or less surrounding Golden Gate Park, is a quiet almost suburban neighborhood: the Sunset.

Marin County

San Francisco, California. Famous for hot tubs and BMWs before Reagan made everyone (well, everyone with an MBA) rich enough to buy hot tubs and BMWs, Marin County also contains natural treasures. My favorite among these is Muir Woods National Monument. This sizable redwood forest is only about a 45-minute drive from downtown San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge and down through hills toward the sea.

If you have an afternoon, a great way to spend it is walking deep into Muir Woods, then turn left up the Dipsea Trail to a ridge over the ocean. You leave the moist dark redwoods and come out into Alpine fields, usually with a view of the Golden Gate and the city. It is only about 4 miles round-trip; pick up a map at the ranger's station.

Point Reyes National Seashore is also pretty well-liked by locals, especially for its lighthouse, but I personally haven't explored it much. If you just keep going north, you'll end up in Humboldt County, home to some of the most innovative marijuana agriculture in the nation.

If you don't want to drive far from the city, one of the closest and easiest hikes is Tennessee Valley Trail. This is basically a dirt road that gentle slopes down to the beach.

Berkeley

Oakland

Oakland is probably the most interesting town in the Bay Area but I haven't explored it (beyond the famous landmark Paramount Theater).

Napa Valley

If you like to see office workers from San Francisco spilling drunkenly out of rented limos and touring wineries owned by rich folks from Silicon Valley and Hollywood, Napa and Sonoma are for you. Photographic opportunities are most abundant when the grass is green and the mustard is flowering. This would be roughly January through March. I went there in October after the grapes had been picked. Here are my photos of the scorched earth:

My favorite photo from my last trip to Napa Valley was actually taken on the way back, in Richmond, at the northern tip of San Francisco Bay:

It looks a lot more impressive in the version at the bottom of my Fuji 617 review.


Readers' Comments


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erin o'neill , February 03, 1999; 07:00 P.M.

PHIL!!

Well you certainly skimmed over SF. I was surprised about your comments on our museums & yet you only hit the GoldenGate Park Museums and our New MOMA. We also have the Legion of Honor, and the Palace of Fine Art. The Mexican Museum is being refurbished as is the Jewish Museum...

SF is a photography town. The MOMA has finally gotten into the swing of things & makes sure there is at least one decent photo exhibit there (sometimes there's TWO!). Last time I was at the NYC MOMA I was very disappointed with their photo exhibit.

BUT don't stop there! We have CameraWorks just around the corner from the MOMA. THen there's the Ansel Adams photo center 2 blocks away (which rarely shows ansel adams photos and has great shows!) . And then there's 49 Geary (again walking distance from the MOMA) where you start on the 5th floor & work your way down checking out all the small galleries. You'll see paintings & sculpture at 40 Geary and a LOT of photography.

There are different districts with their own galleries. You could waste a good month seeing art in this town. And of course all that walking is gonna make sure you have an appetitite for some of the BEST restaurants in the world!!

Next time you visit have a local (preferably a native) take you to a few cafes, a restaurant & a gallery or two!

erin o'neill , February 03, 1999; 07:01 P.M.

PHIL!!

Well you certainly skimmed over SF. I was surprised about your comments on our museums & yet you only hit the GoldenGate Park Museums and our New MOMA. We also have the Legion of Honor, and the Palace of Fine Art. The Mexican Museum is being refurbished as is the Jewish Museum...

SF is a photography town. The MOMA has finally gotten into the swing of things & makes sure there is at least one decent photo exhibit there (sometimes there's TWO!). Last time I was at the NYC MOMA I was very disappointed with their photo exhibit.

BUT don't stop there! We have CameraWorks just around the corner from the MOMA. THen there's the Ansel Adams photo center 2 blocks away (which rarely shows ansel adams photos and has great shows!) . And then there's 49 Geary (again walking distance from the MOMA) where you start on the 5th floor & work your way down checking out all the small galleries. You'll see paintings & sculpture at 40 Geary and a LOT of photography.

There are different districts with their own galleries. You could waste a good month seeing art in this town. And of course all that walking is gonna make sure you have an appetitite for some of the BEST restaurants in the world!!

Next time you visit have a local (preferably a native) take you to a few cafes, a restaurant & a gallery or two!

Michael Mastroianni , May 04, 1999; 04:56 P.M.

I think you were wrong about the best dim sum: try Ton Kiang in the Richmond district (Geary and 28th or so)--

Daniel Bucher , May 11, 1999; 03:48 P.M.

I wonder if you realize that you captured the true essence of Berkeley: Hangin' out sitting on the Sproul Plaza steps, which I did first as a high schooler then as an undergrad.

bill Baggens , May 27, 1999; 06:45 P.M.

As an alternative to the crowds and heard mentality of Napa you might try the laid back owner operated wineries out in the east bay near the town of Livermore. It is what Napa was like 15 years ago, before it was the hip place to get drunk and wine tasting became a profit center.

Robert Landrigan , May 28, 1999; 12:49 P.M.

Not to be nitpicky, but the world's largest urban park is Shelby Farms, in Memphis, TN. I thought that Central Park was a tad larger than golden gate, as well, but could be mistaken.

However, Golden Gate is definately the best of the three-during my 6 hours in SF, 3 were spent reading and avoiding the world in the Japanese garden--almost made the 10 hour flight bearable after that:)

Liz Andrews , August 12, 1999; 12:33 P.M.

You are pretty dead-on about the degeneration of the general Napa-Sonoma area. Last month, while driving by one over-popular winery/picnic site/tourist trap, we spied a giant banner exclaiming: "Welcome NASCAR!" Ugh.

However, there are still a few gems among the tourist sites, so please don't dismiss the region altogether. A couple of note: Ehler's Grove and Hans Fahden. Both places are still small and owner-run. They are both a literally off the beaten path, so they are protected from the onslaught of tour buses that march up and down the main highway. Ehler's has a great little bocce ball court under their olive grove, and Hans Fahden has beautiful water gardens (not to mention a killer cabernet.) In both places, we recieved a personal tour by the owner, and at Hans Fahden, we were the only couple there.

I'm sure there are many more "craft" wineries that still offer a great wine-appreciation experience, so don't be swayed by the NASCAR fans.

Robert Patterson , November 03, 1999; 09:29 P.M.

San Francisco could have easily occupied 10 Web Pages. Hunter's Point was completely left out. This is an area many people don't wish to vist due to drug trafficking. It's changing for the best though. Ocean beach and it's fame for Stripped bass (seasonal) was not included. The mission district was left out completely as was San Bruno Mt. The Civil War fort at Fort point could cover several pages unto itself. Fisherman's wharf is a seafood lovers and photographers paradise. The DeYoung Museum and the adjacent Aquarium are fabulous. I've travelled the country for years and have visited most large cities. None can compete with San Francisco. I was born there in 1947 in the back seat of a taxi cab. I no longer live there but do visit whenever I can. I'd like to suggest including an option to play an audio file of Mae West singing San Franciso!:) "San Francisco, home again, home again, never to roam again...." Do some shots inside Tommy's Joint!

Tom Hardy , December 12, 1999; 03:49 A.M.

Your perfectly apt alternative to the MOMA ("If it is a nice day, you're probably better off spending your time walking around randomly") is a great alternative to any of the 'attractions' of San Francisco. Forget the guidebooks and put on your walking shoes. I lived there 25 years and never tired of random treks around the neighborhoods, widespread bookstores, cafes, restaurants... Throw in a random bus or streetcar and you can cover the city. And if anyone's wondering, your assessment of Palo Alto, where I live and work now, still holds true (sigh).

Kendall Willets , January 04, 2000; 04:56 P.M.

Your comments about the decline of the Haight Ashbury into a cheesy pseudo-mall are well-founded, but there's another thing you might notice. If you look at the photo of Ben and Jerry's, you'll notice that the intersection of Haight and Ashbury has been converted to a stoplight (actually, a networked, synchronized one), whereas until about a year or two ago it was a safe, neighborhood-friendly 4-way stop. Now the mall punks speed through in their SUV's at 35 mph and honk at anyone who doesn't move out of the way. There have been several crashes since the light went in, but the traffic "engineers" from the city refuse to do anything about it. That's life in a city with a $5M mayor, I guess.

Lynne Taylor , January 08, 2000; 05:01 P.M.

I am a native of California, I lived in Petaluma for 22 years and then moved to Sonoma, and lived there for 7 years, I moved to Tennessee 5 years ago and needless to say I am desperatly homesick for the Bay Area, people who have never been to Northern California don`t know what they are missing, I`ve done alot of traveling but have yet to find a place more beautiful than Northern Ca. Not only is it the beauty but its the kind of place that gets in your soul, a place you can`t forget, I can still smell the ocean,the redwoods and the eucalyptus trees. I actually ache for home. I will always be a Californian no matter where I choose to live, and someday I`m sure I`ll be back where I belong, I would just like to thank you for all the wonderful pictures, they brought back so many great memories, if only I could taste the food from here, they don`t have sourdough bread in Tennessee, so I learned to make my own. Anyway for any one who thinks that California is full of weirdos and freaks, well to hell with them. Until you experience life there you don`t know how awesome it is.

Wes Y , April 08, 2000; 12:09 A.M.

Phil, Et Al,

I am a native Californian. I would like to commend you on your photos. You did manage to capture a good amount of the State's grandeur. It's too bad some of the responses were a bit indicative of the prevalence of arrogance in CA: "Welcome NASCAR!" Ugh - *and* "for any one who thinks that California is full of weirdos and freaks, well to hell with them" *or* "I`ve done alot of traveling but have yet to find a place more beautiful than Northern Ca." These people see CA through rose colored glasses. SF is especially full of wierdos and freaks(and graffiti and prostitutes, and crime, and traffic, etc.) Weirdos are one of the things that made it famous. NASCAR was there long before Napa became the icon it is today. That statement was from a reader who was ignorant of the Sears Point Raceway located nearby. Never mind the world famous Laguna Seca raceway in Monterey, which is easy on the eyes with it's rolling hills and trees. Both are just as much a part of CA as Napa. As for nothern CA being the most beautiful place in the world, one may wish to try Ireland or Scotland, some parts of which appear untouched for centuries - or even the Monterey coast and 17 mile drive - or perhaps Yosemite. CA is what CA is. It has a little bit of everything; good and bad. It's a gorgeous state, but as Phil knows from his travels, every State has it's charm. Every country has it's charms. Being a world traveller, I know there's wonders elsewhere...So, I say goodbye to CA, and won't be looking back.

Ian Baker , April 11, 2000; 04:39 A.M.

I'd have to say, coming from Sonoma County, that it's best experienced in April or May (still too rainy in March). The mustard is still around in mid-late spring, too.

I was recently back home for a week (currently exiled in Minnesota), and was suprised by how green everything is. Of course, I was amazed by that every spring...

If traveling in the area, the forest around the Russian River area (Sonoma County, directly north of Marin County) is worth seeing. A pretty drive: Hwy 116 to Cazadero Hwy, and then Fort Ross Rd from there. You pass through Cazadero (don't blink - you'll miss it), and cross a mountain with lots of pretty views of the forest before being dumped out on Hwy 1 (Shoreline Highway) right at Fort Ross, which is also worth visiting. I grew up there (Guerneville) and still manage to appreciate it...

Jared White , July 29, 2000; 12:59 A.M.

Philip, I really love your photos and your essays are most enjoyable. However, I must take offense to your comments regarding Sonoma and Napa counties. Yeah, Napa sometimes has a bit too much of the "nouveau riche" attitude, but the countryside is delightful, and many of the wineries are some of the most beautiful buildings to be found anywhere. Except for a few rich snobs, the people are generally friendly and charming, and they have the BEST DELICATESSEN on the PLANET here! (Genova's Delicatessen)

As for Sonoma County, I live in Santa Rosa, and it's the biggest small town you've ever laid eyes on. We have everything, yet we're never no more than, oh, 15 or 20 minutes away from the best scenery in California (IMHO!). As long as Sonoma County doesn't go the way of Santa Clara County (i. e., Silicon Valley) -- it's becoming high-tech mania around here -- I daresay it's one of the best places to live on this planet.

Of course, I'm biased, but, hey, at least I'm happy. ;)

Take care, have a nice day, enjoy the show,

Jared

Ty Fultz , February 06, 2001; 01:09 A.M.

Nice picture of my friendly neighborhood refinery. I get to see it, smell it and get carcinogens from it every day.

BTW that is the Shell RODEO (not Richmond who has Chevron) Refinery and looks like a Disneyland for chemists at night when it's all lit up.

tung lov , August 04, 2001; 03:01 A.M.


ow!!!!!

ow !!! i really like your photos. your a seemingly very extrodinary personality. i feel envy. i took the skyline photos. i've come across your work several random times now. once several weeks after veiwing some of your photo pages concerning the dogs i was in the process of relating to a relative how i had come across your pages and photos and was attempting to relate how i liked them and how the randomness sometimes made the web seem small when .... i kliked a link on a page and god forbid ... there were your effing dogs again on some persons page... stolen photos.... oh and just because its the kind of person i am : the refinery photo is of the philips petroleum, nee tosco west, nee union oil, refinery located in Rodeo, CA. the shot was taken from a vantage somewhere on or about the Interstate 80 freeway. allah akbar !!

Guido Martini , August 06, 2001; 06:04 P.M.

Please note that the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas is one of the best orchestras in the world, with perhaps the most interesting programming of any major orchestra. Did you go hear them? It's the hall that's second rate.

Kush Malhotra , August 09, 2001; 10:55 P.M.

If you want a find dining experience, you must try out the Delfina. We found the restaurant from a food and wine magazine on the way into San Francisco and had the pleasure of eating one of the finest 3 course meals we had in a long time. The wine recommendations by the staff (Lisa) were spot on and the food divine.

Ake H Olsson , August 14, 2001; 12:11 A.M.

As for scenic beaty two astounding places - very close to the city were missing:

The Marin Headlands - the piece of land just across the Golden Gate bridge.

Mount Tamalpais with a lot of trails, microclimates, wildlife and scenics.

Doug Pearl , October 25, 2001; 01:41 A.M.

One area I've found to be great for photos is the waterfront area along the Embarcadero. This stretch of the waterfront includes the Bay Bridge, great views of the bay, and a variety of people doing a variety of things. The area has been smartened up in recent years with a bunch of new hotels, restaurants, condos, and the addition of colorful retro-style trolley cars running up and down the palm tree-lined waterfront.

Regarding SF in general, it's truly a city of contrasts. There are parts of the city that are absolutely beautiful and charming, and other parts that are destitute, filthy, ugly, and dangerous. Just like most big cities in the US I guess but in the case of SF, the bad stuff tends to get glossed over. SF is a great city for sure, but I think it's actually a bit overrated (I've lived in the area most of my life, so I'm probably jaded). It's also a dense and hilly city and is brutal for driving and parking.

BTW, I was in the Haight today with my camera, and apart from Ben & Jerry's and the Gap, it's still mostly freaky shops and stores and is largely non-establishment, and quite scuzzy too.

rudy pospisil , February 19, 2003; 04:29 P.M.

¡VIVA LA MISION!

Isn't this a great city!!! I'm actually heading out right now to shoot some b&w city shots.

Yank Sing on Battery is now kaput. The building was torn down and a new one being put in. I'm not sure if Yank Sing will go back but there are a couple other locations. The best dim sum is eternally debated here!

I do have to make a comment about "ugly" things in the museum. Nothing is ever ugly. Probably what you mean is that it doesn't appeal to you. Somebody else may think that it is the most beautiful thing in the world. :) But I was also disappointed a bit in the museums when I got here. Spending a lot of time in NYC kind of tailored my expectations. I find the art here a bit kitschy. I'm hoping to see more serious stuff as people continue the mass exodus and the champagne loses its bubbles.

BTW, I discovered this site 3 days ago and am LOVING it!!!

Victor Chan , February 23, 2003; 01:51 A.M.

I lived in the Bay Area for over 10 years, and was first photographically inspired by SF. Between the sun/fog/bay/hills/victorian architecture/bridges/, the Bay Area is truly one of the most amazing places to photograph... and it's all in such a small area, that with every turn, you find a great shot. Besides all this, there is the cultural diversity which always makes good subject matter. There's also the 280, one of the most beautiful stretches of highway anywhere, and highway 1. Finally, there are plenty of great urban spots to shoot, such as the whole eastern side of the SF (esp. the cable car graveyard and Hunter's Point)

Gerry Thrash , July 31, 2003; 05:06 P.M.

I've lived in the Bay Area for about eight years, and I find SF to be a likeable, yet flawed city. It seems the city's only real redeeming factor is that it looks good from a distance, and distances look good from it. There is no questioning this area's beauty but beyond that, there really isn't much there. In terms of the arts, culture, entertainment and especially nightlife, San Francisco is Mayberry RFD compared to New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. People in SF like to bash LA because of it's supposed lack of culture, but LA has much better museums, galleries, theater facilities, concert halls, libraries and sports arenas than San Francisco. And SF has the usual problems that other big cities deal with, like crime, homelessness, traffic and urban blight. But it seems that the difference is that in SF, people choose to not focus on the problems and just concentrate on what's good in the city. And that's fine, but if nobody focuses on the problems, then nothing gets done about them. And on the rare occasion that someone tries to address an issue like homelessness, the extreme leftist political establishment shoots the effort down.

Other than that, I basically like SF. I want to love SF, but there are too many shortcomings. I love the photos, however...they are a reflection to me of what this city could be. And should be.

Lawrence Hosken , October 28, 2003; 12:39 A.M.

The Asian Art Museum moved to the Civic Center area. The Japanese Tea Garden remains in Golden Gate Park.

ian bromehead , January 02, 2004; 12:24 P.M.

Phil has included Berkeley in the SF section I feel it would be shame for people looking for clues of campus scenes to miss seeing the Stanford campus. Although somewhat further away, it does have significant architecture and such a spleasant place to stroll

Image Attachment: Stanford1.jpg

I K , February 08, 2006; 12:44 A.M.

Your comments about San Francisco , Palo Alto and Silicon Valley sound like very limited experience of a person used to the life stile of the east coast. So enjoy Boston

Maria Bostenaru , May 13, 2006; 02:52 P.M.


Golden Gate bridge, 22nd of April 2006

The cable car and the Golden Gate bridge I find well chosen as symbols of San Francisco, on the top of the page. However, apart of those two, I must say that I enjoyed visiting other places. Maybe it's a European perspective. San Francisco seemed very European, and more so by contrast to neighbouring localities (San Ramon, for example), which were very different from Europe.

I went to see the St. Mary's cathedral by Nervi, simply enjoyed the buildings of the 20s in the centre, with their very characteristic external staircases (I recall a photo of a building of this type, by a photographer whose name is also Maria if I'm not wrong, in winter, during snowfall, was awarded photo of the week a while ago), the Art Museum, the Fisherman's Wharf with chowder soup and the Pier 39, the old trams, not only the classic cable car. Of course I also went to China Town, but I did not find it as interesting as the other mentioned.

Since I suppose I can add a single photo, I'll stay with the Golden Gate - I was in San Francisco 14-24th of April 2006 and since it wasn't so warm I was lucky not to it in fog, as most people do ...

ciao Maria

marie goff , April 02, 2008; 11:55 P.M.


I am not sure about these photos, they look pretty amateurish I have to say. Is this an informational site or what is the purose? Selling banner ads?

Go here to Find A Top professional San Francisco Photographer and To Find Professional San Francisco Photos

marie goff , April 02, 2008; 11:59 P.M.


Thanks for building a directory of local photos. I am not sure about these photos. Is this an informational site or what is the purpose? If you want to find a professional SF photographer, you can do so at the below link.

Top professional San Francisco Photographer, Find More San Francisco Photos

Jason Bergado , March 20, 2011; 05:49 A.M.

Beautiful local pictures!

www.jasonbergado.com


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