By Lee Foster
I am releasing here the content in my new travel app titled “SF Travel & Photo Guide” in ten alphabetical “clusters.” Each cluster will have 12 sections of the total 120 in the app.
The app is available for $3.99 from the Apple and Google app stores. The quickest way to see it is with a Search for the exact title “SF Travel & Photo Guide.” That’s SF rather than San Francisco.
Links from the publisher to the app stores can be circuitous. The links are Apple (the Apple iTunes App Store) and Google (the Google Play Android App Store).
The app has been announced on my website. I have also answered some questions about the app on my website. The app works on smart phones and tablet devices, but not on laptops or desktops.
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 release 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 does, all subjects as grouped in an area (such as Embarcadero) or in the themes/subjects (such as Culture/Museums). After the 120 subjects are released, I will add the Outline that works seamlessly in the app and can be manually figured out on a website presentation.
Eventually the app will likely be published also as an ebook and a printed book, but that will take a little time.
The formal name of the app is San Francisco Travel & Photo Guide: The 100 Top Travel Experiences in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, the Search that locates the app is the shorter title “SF Travel & Photo Guide.”
So, here is the first release:
San Francisco A-Z: Cluster 1
(120 subjects, 10 clusters, this is cluster 1, subjects 1-12, Academy of Sciences to Area: Golden Gate Bridge/Presidio)
Academy of Sciences
The white albino alligator at the California Academy of Sciences
The sod roof on the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is a symbol of the institution’s message: We need to develop more sustainable practices.
One such environmental practice: Collect the rainfall where it falls, rather than rely on a costly system of runoff, reservoirs, and transport systems to get water to people. Hence, the sod roof with its vigorous plant growth.
Diverse exhibits inside will delight visitors of all ages.
Your Best Shot: You can make effective photos of the new sod roof and the entire Academy building from the tower of the nearby de Young Museum, which lies across a treed expanse called the Music Concourse. Once inside the Academy of Sciences, you can make a selfie with a live white alligator in the background.
Admission is free to the de Young tower to get an elevated perspective on the Academy of Sciences.
Within the Academy of Sciences, concentrate on its tropical rain forest exhibit, among others such as the aquarium and the planetarium. This natural history museum is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Etched into the floor is one of Charles Darwin’s sobering observations–that survival of any species is dependent on something more than intelligence or strength. Survival depends on the ability of an organism to adapt successfully to changing circumstances.
If You Go:
Area: Golden Gate Park
Address: 55 Music Concourse Dr., San Francisco, CA 94118
Price: Admission charge, moderate
Alamo Square Victorians
View of Victorians and Downtown from Alamo Square
Arguably the best-loved view of San Francisco’s Victorian houses is from a small park called Alamo Square, located in the Western Addition.
Your Best Shot: The iconic photo or view of the Victorians works well after 2 p.m. when the westward-advancing sun falls on the Victorians to the east of the park. It’s easy to get yourself in the photo from Alamo Square if you desire.
Not only is there a row of colorful Victorians, sometimes affectionately called “Painted Ladies,” but the modern city skyline looms in the background.
The setting juxtaposes the old and the new, best of both.
From Alamo Square you can venture out in the neighborhood to view adjacent Victorians. The Haas-Lilienthal House is your best source for further Victorian information and tours (see separate entry Victorian Architecture Self Tour).
If You Go:
Area: Civic Center
Address: Hayes and Steiner Sts, San Francisco, CA 94117
Alcatraz Prison Island
Alcatraz Island, the former prison, in San Francisco Bay
Whether seen from the edge of Pier 39 or from a tour boat parading around the Bay, Alcatraz is an intriguing aspect of the San Francisco landscape.
The famous and draconian prison island can also be viewed close-up with a National Park Service tour, which leaves from Pier 33 and includes a guided walk through the cell blocks.
Your Best Shot: While a portrait of the profile of the island is compelling, there’s nothing quite like strolling through the cell blocks and making a photo or video of how the incorrigibles lived. If you put yourself in the image, you may have your most captivating portrait ever.
Although best known for its infamous Federal Prison period from 1934 to 1963, with Al Capone as the most famous resident, Alcatraz also has a long history.
The island was in military use in the Civil War.
When abandoned after the prison period, it was briefly occupied by a contingent of American Indians in the late 1960s.
In 1972 Alcatraz passed into National Park Service control, where it is destined to remain. The Park Service offers every visitor an informative group tour with a ranger.
Then there is time to wander around on your own before catching a desired boat back to San Francisco.
If You Go:
Area: On the Bay
Address: Pier 33, Embarcadero, for boat ride
Price: Transportation and park entrance charges, moderate
View of Golden Gate Bridge from Angel Island
Angel Island in San Francisco Bay presents a multi-faceted adventure for the traveler.
Board the Blue & Gold ferry at Pier 39 in San Francisco or the ferry at Tiburon for the short ride over to Angel Island.
You disembark at Ayala Cove, a good spot for a picnic and a view of the handsome park service headquarters. Then make the 5-mile walk or tram ride around the perimeter road to see the sights.
Your Best Shot: From the perimeter road you can make interesting photos of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline, with or without you in the image. Poignant photos of human resilience can be made at the Immigration Station (see comments below).
One of the first stops is Camp Reynolds, a glimpse at 19th-century American military operations. See the parade grounds and the handsome officer houses.
Continue on the perimeter road to savor the fabulous views possible of the Golden Gate and of the San Francisco skyline.
If you are a backpack camper, you can stay out overnight at choice elevated camp sites on the hills to enjoy these views at dusk and dawn.
You can also hike to the top of Mt. Livermore, in the center of the island, and survey the 360-degree scene.
On the east side of the island is the restored Immigration Station, an introduction to how immigrants, mainly from Asia, came to San Francisco. For the new arrivals Angel Island was a kind of “Ellis Island West,” though the welcome was not warm.
The greeting in 1910-1940 was not congenial because of the pervasive discrimination against Chinese. Desperate poems of those who feared they might be deported back to China are recorded on the walls. Today this Immigration Station has been totally restored as a major museum to this element of the American immigration story.
If You Go:
Area: On the Bay
Website: http://www.angelisland.com and http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1309
Address: Angel Island, San Francisco Bay
Phone: For ferry service from San Francisco 415-705-8200, from Tiburon 415-435-2131; Immigration Station information 415-348-9200
Price: Ferry price includes park admission charge, moderate
The Running Elvises in the annual Bay to Breakers run
San Francisco is a vital city with a year-around calendar of celebrations for locals and visitors.
Your Best Shot: An engaging photo of the various parade participants can be a memorable image. Putting yourself in the scene can alert friends to your festive sympathies.
Some of the biggest events get their own listing in this travel guide presentation. Consider the following:
Chinese New Year and Parade in late January-mid February is one of the most robust celebrations of Chinese culture in the U.S.
Carnaval Parade in late-May showcases the entire Caribbean, Mexican, and Central/South American cultural contribution to San Francisco.
Bay to Breakers Run in May is a walk/run parade of thousands who proceed from the bayside heart of the city to the surf and beach just beyond Golden Gate Park.
Gay Pride Parade is the yearly LGBT celebration held the last Sunday in June. The huge turnout demonstrates why San Francisco is well known both as a welcoming milieu and as an advocacy force in the national political consciousness.
Christmas Holidays are especially festive in San Francisco, from Thanksgiving through the New Year, with three main locations: Union Square, the Hyatt Ice Rink at Market/Embarcadero, and Pier 39.
The local tourism authority, San Francisco Travel, presents a calendar on its website well worth perusing for the time of your visit. See http://www.sftravel.com/ and Search Annual Festivals.
Ano Nuevo Elephant Seals
Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo on the San Mateo Coast
Ano Nuevo State Park is a 1,500-acre nature reserve along the San Mateo Coast, 43 miles south of San Francisco. It is open all year.
But winter here is special. Then you can see giant elephant seals haul themselves out of the ocean and position themselves on the beach. Elephant seals are a species that barely escaped extinction, but now their numbers grow comfortably abundant. Call ahead to arrange a reservation, which is required,
Your Best Shot: The huge elephant seals present themselves as a remarkable nature photo subject. Be careful not to get too close for a photo of you and the seals. They can lunge quickly and bite or crush anything in their path.
Ano Nuevo State Park ranges from Franklin Point south to New Years Creek Road. The turnoff to the parking area on CA Highway 1 is clearly marked.
Paths and trails lead to the beach, which offers good fishing for halibut, croaker, and perch. The easily accessible beach at the mouth of New Years Creek, a short walk from the parking lot, is a good sunning and picnic area at low tide.
The shoreline at Ano Nuevo includes sandy beaches, dunes, rocky areas, and bluffs. Get a map in the interpretive center, located in the old Dickerman Barn, where there are informative displays on nature and the human use of the area.
Ano Nuevo is a particularly good area to see shorebirds, upland birds, and hawks. You can also explore Indian middens and the legacy of the Steele Brothers dairy empire, which started here in the 1850s.
If You Go:
Area: South to San Mateo Coast/Bayside
Address: 1 New Years Creek Rd, Pescadero, CA 94060
Price: Entrance charge, moderate
Areas of San Francisco to Explore!
Turing the Cable Car around at the foot of Powell Street
San Francisco is a fairly compact city (7 x 7 square miles) with a dense number of extremely interesting places to explore.
This travel guide presentation will help you use your time wisely. Chances are you will also want to get some photos of the places you see and of yourself enjoying the scene.
If you have no idea where to start, you should use my “Lee’s Top 10 SF Experiences.” See the listings for them. These 10 blockbuster places please many travelers every day. You can’t go wrong experiencing them.
Besides the Top 10 you will be able to find many special San Francisco subjects. Maybe a friend has said, “Be sure to see the sea lions that hang out at Pier 39.” You will be able to find them under Pier 39 Sea Lions in the “SF A to Z” list. The list contains 120 subjects.
Another useful way to explore San Francisco is to ask yourself, “Hey, Lee, I’m at Fisherman’s Wharf. What should I see here?” I have divided the city into areas. For example, the Pier 39 Sea Lions are in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. This travel guide will tell you what else is of interest in that area and others.
No technology equals an app to guide you in such an area situation, working from the digital map. No printed book, ebook, or website can locate you contextually to show what’s around you. App technology can do this easily. Other forms of this travel guide presentation (coming later) may also be of interest to you.
My 10 areas of SF, with several subsections for each area, are:
Embarcadero: All along the San Francisco waterfront, starting at the Ferry Building, then moving west or east.
Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39: A perennial favorite, here visitors find everything from Dungeness crab dining to the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39.
Downtown: This is the heart of The City, including Union Square and the great Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).
Chinatown/North Beach: There’s lots to explore in the Asian/Italian neighborhood, and all easily walkable.
Civic Center: Site of City Hall, the Asian Art Museum, a Farmers Market, the landmark energy-efficient Federal Building, and more.
Golden Gate Bridge/Presidio: The bridge—one of America’s most recognized symbols—is a must-see stop, with perhaps a stroll at nearby Crissy Field.
Northern/Western Waterfront: This area offers dining with an ocean view at the Cliff House and a walk in the headlands, which are maintained by the National Park Service.
Golden Gate Park: San Francisco’s great greenscape contains the landmark de Young Museum and the nearby Academy of Sciences, which celebrate art and nature globally.
Mission/Castro: Here the Hispanic heritage of San Francisco began and continues, and the LGBT community found its gravitas when camera store owner Harvey Milk became a City Supervisor.
Besides the areas, you will find these relevant thematic subdivisions:
You may also want to venture beyond San Francisco and experience the best nearby subjects in:
North to Marin County
East to Oakland/Berkeley
South to San Mateo Coast/Bayside
Area: Chinatown/North Beach
Lanterns in Chinatown along Grant Avenue
Chinatown (one of the largest outside Asia) and North Beach (the old Italian neighborhood) are two famous ethnic enclaves in central San Francisco that co-exist in close proximity. Both are best explored on foot.
Chinatown has much to offer. See the sections on Chinatown Walking Tour, Chinatown Food, and Chinese New Year.
Both Chinatown and North Beach have many hidden discoveries awaiting you. For example, Chinatown has herb shops where the time-honored art of herbal medicinal healing takes place.
Your Best Shot: Be respectful in Chinese herb shops. The owners don’t mind you there, but they don’t like to be seen as tourism curiosities. Please don’t interfere with transactions, as patrons come in and get the ground-up herbs to be made into a tea for their ailments. If you are unobtrusive, quick photos are OK.
Superior Trading Company, 837 Washington St, and Great China Herb Company, 857 Washington St, are two prominent herbalists.
North Beach is also a multi-faceted area. See the write-ups on North Beach Coffee Houses, North Beach Culture, and North Beach Washington Square.
There’s a lot of Italian San Francisco heritage and lore to enjoy here. Like Chinatown, much of it is hidden until you learn about it.
For example, you could order veal scaloppine at a restaurant that presents itself as “America’s oldest Italian restaurant.” That would be Fior d’Italia, dating back to 1886 (2237 Mason St, http://www.fior.com).
Area: Civic Center
City Hall in Civic Center Plaza
Civic Center is a governmental and cultural area immediately southwest of Downtown off Market St. Here you will find ornate City Hall and the Asian Art Museum (see their listings).
Civic Center has its own BART and underground MUNI Station and has many subjects of interest when you emerge, such as City Hall and the Asian Art Museum.
Your Best Shot: The serendipity of human life that greets you here can be your photo subject. Architectural monuments, such as the War Memorial Opera House, are an objective subject.
On Wednesdays there is a large Farmers Market, which is surpassed only by the immense Saturday Farmers Market at the Ferry Building.
Some of the high cultural entities funded by the San Francisco elite are located here, such as the War Memorial Opera House. Completed in 1932, this Beaux-Arts structure by the noted architect Arthur Brown, Jr., has somewhat severe Roman Doric columns, felt to be appropriate for the building’s theme: honoring those who served in World War I. In 1945 the newly formed United Nations had its first conference here, and the UN Charter was signed next door in the Herbst Theatre.
The handsome major library for San Francisco exists here, at 100 Larkin St, and is worth a peek inside for the design excellence of its spacious interior.
Another architectural delight is the recent Federal Building at 7th and Mission Sts. This Federal Building is said to be one of the “greenest” new government buildings in the U.S. You can take the elevator to its rooftop view.
North and west of the Civic Center is the gritty Tenderloin area, a world of SRO (meaning single room occupancy) hotels. The Tenderloin has its own museum now at 398 Eddy St.
Civic Center is the major urban gathering place in San Francisco. When there is a big citywide celebration, such as the annual Gay Pride Parade, or a substantial political protest, such as the Womens March of 2017, everyone converges at City Hall.
Sculpture on pedestal high above Union Square
Downtown San Francisco offers a concentration of enticements for the visitor, starting with Union Square.
All the entities mentioned below have their own write-ups in this presentation.
Union Square is often considered the heart of the city. This luxurious square is a place to pause and rest on the outdoor chairs, perhaps with a latte. A pageant of San Franciscans may walk by. Street entertainers provide diversion. Several major department stores, such as Saks and Macy’s, line the square. Art galleries and specialty shops populate the nearby streets going east and west.
Your Best Shot: An interesting elevated view photo of Union Square is possible from the Cheesecake Factory restaurant on the 8th floor of Macy’s, which faces the square on the south side. Cheesecake Factory has an outdoor dining area and plenty of room for a photo of Union Square below.
Walk down Powell St and across Market to reach the Westfield Centre, another major concentration of shops. The rotunda and the circular staircases leading up to floors are mesmerizing.
The Cable Car turnaround at Powell and Market attracts many visitors who want to ride a Cable Car. This boarding spot is often busy, so it is good to know that you can board a Cable Car anywhere.
The California Street Cable Car, which can be boarded at Market and California, is usually less congested and takes you up to scenic Huntington Park on Nob Hill.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St, is one of the big cultural attractions Downtown.
Architecturally, the Bank of America Building and the Transamerica Pyramid are the signature business structures to admire and photograph.
BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit, is the metro system, which runs underneath Market St and fans out into outlying neighborhoods. The parallel, local rail/bus line, known as the MUNI, can take you to the far reaches of The City if you can master its schedule and routes.
Adjacent to the Powell St BART Station, in Hallidie Plaza, the local tourism office, San Francisco Travel, maintains a store, providing maps and information for visitors.
You can’t go wrong with a focus on a few of these major Downtown SF subjects.
Downtown San Francisco skyline as seen from the early morning ferry to Oakland
San Francisco’s Embarcadero is the San Francisco Bay shoreline, spreading east and west from the Ferry Building at the foot of Market St.
This fascinating water-side area gets its name from the Spanish word for the landing place where you would embark, get on and off, a boat.
The Ferry Building, with its iconic clock tower, hosts numerous shops and restaurants, such as Book Passage, one of the larger bookstores in the Bay Area. The Ferry Building is, of course, where the ferries leave for Marin County and for the East Bay, especially Oakland. On Saturdays, you’ll find one of the most robust Farmers Markets in Northern California flourishing here.
Your Best Shot: Some image, with the iconic Ferry Building tower in the background, will locate your photo exactly. From across the street at Justin Herman Plaza, it is possible to get a good image of yourself and the ferry building, maybe even with historic trolleys or street artists in the selfie.
Walking east from the Ferry Building along the water, there is a public pier that takes you out for a close-up look at the Bay Bridge, a wondrous sight both day and night, when it is lit up in a changing artistic “light arts” performance. Farther along, there are upscale outdoor restaurants with views, such as Waterbar. Eventually, you will reach the San Francisco Giants baseball stadium, AT&T Park.
Walking west from the Ferry Building, the attractions include the Exploratorium science museum (Pier 15), two cruise terminals (Piers 27 and 35), Pier 33 where you catch the boat out to Alcatraz prison island, and the multiple appeals of Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. Pier 39, for example, has its Aquarium of the Bay, which focuses on the Bay fish and wildlife. Fisherman’s Wharf offers its treasure of historic ships at the Hyde Street Pier.
One little-known aspect of the Embarcadero is that there is an interesting SF Bay Trail around and through the piers 1-17 west of the Ferry Building. Most folks will walk along the street, but you can get a more intimate glance at the water and the local businesses from this segment of the Bay Trail between the Ferry Building and the Exploratorium. This trail is called the Shoreline Walk of the Bay Trail.
Watch for signs to the Shoreline Walk Bay Trail at Pier 1, immediately west of the Ferry Building, near Starbucks coffee. More details on this walk can be found at San Francisco Bay Trail (http://www.baytrail.org). Public walk trails are now available for about 330 miles of the 550 miles around the Bay.
Area: Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39
Fishing Boats at Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf and nearby Pier 39 are must-see destinations for a visitor to San Francisco. Their appeals are diverse.
Fisherman’s Wharf was and is the fishing fleet headquarters, where the Dungeness crab and salmon delicacies come into The City from the sea. The Wharf is a bustling dining and shopping area. Boudin’s bakery carries on the sourdough baking traditions of San Francisco.
Your Best Shot: The nostalgic fishing boats at Fisherman’s Wharf are a photogenic subject, with or without you in the frame. Try to capture them on a sunny and calm day without distraction in the background and with their reflections in the water.
Be sure to see the landmark National Park Service-administered Maritime Museum, with historic ships at the Hyde Street Pier and their story told in the interpretive center across the street.
For shoppers, the major Cannery and Ghirardelli complexes house numerous specialty shops. You could pause in the rigors of exploring for an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista, a bar where the beverage was introduced to America. There are plenty of dining options, from seafood restaurants to celebrity-chef operations, such as Gary Danko.
Nearby is Pier 39, a major focus of travel attention. On the short walk over, you pass the Jeremiah O’Brien, a WWII Liberty Ship museum, plus an adjacent historic submarine, the USS Pampanito. Scramble aboard to admire these wartime vessels.
The Blue and Gold Fleet and Red and White fleet tour boats and ferries can take you out on the Bay, as can some of the small fishing boats at Fisherman’s Wharf. Getting out on the Bay with a sailing underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and then a look back at The City skyline before turning around is highly recommended.
Pier 39 has a raft of restaurants and shops, plus street performers, often with ingenious entertainments. Pier 39 attracts visitors who want to see its famous sea lions, which bark away and have their own viewing platform for travelers.
The Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 displays the fish, crustaceans, birds, and mammals that live in the Bay waters. You pass through acrylic tunnels with the creatures swimming all around you, something especially exciting for children. The Aquarium wisely focuses just on the Bay and nearby Northern California natural habitats.
Many of these appealing aspects of Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 have their own write-ups in this presentation of the best things an explorer can enjoy in San Francisco.
Area: Golden Gate Bridge/Presidio
Golden Gate Bridge from Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands
The Golden Gate Bridge and adjacent Presidio form one of the most unusual National Parks in the U.S.
The Golden Gate Bridge environs are all part of the coastal Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). The Presidio, once a substantial military entity, eventually became a public park space and had its status raised to become a National Park in its own right.
One of the ironies of San Francisco regional history is that former military lands now form the basis of several major parks. The military had the earlier authority to acquire any land it wished for national defense. The Presidio was the largest such property, but there were many other smaller ones. The military never fired a shot in anger from all these San Francisco-area lands, though the worry of an invasion from Japan after the Pearl Harbor attack was great.
Your Best Shot: Arguably the most substantial concrete example of the military presence around San Francisco, now recycled into a park, is the Battery Spencer gun emplacement on Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands. “Battery” was the military word for a massive cannon. Battery Spencer is your closest view of the North Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. Standing there on the massive concrete slab, you can imagine how large was the gun positioned to protect this vulnerable Golden Gate water route during WWII. Today, this is an excellent site at which to get an elevated selfie of yourself and the Bridge behind and below you.
Eventually, as modes of warfare changed, the military use of all these lands became obsolete. The “surplus” properties became parks, administered mainly by the National Park Service rather than sold for private development.
The Golden Gate Bridge can be enjoyed at its south end Vista Point, but also from the east at adjacent Crissy Field (once an air base) or from the west at Baker Beach (originally the site of a big gun emplacement). From across the Golden Gate Bridge, the great viewpoint at Battery Spencer is one of three turnouts on Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands (some of the most fortified acres on earth within a year after the Pearl Harbor attack).
The Presidio itself was the Spanish word for “fort” and was a place of military encampment when Mission Dolores, the San Francisco Mission, flourished. During the Civil War, work began on Fort Point, the brick fort at the base of the south tower of the Bridge. The Presidio’s large parade grounds and its many buildings served the military until 1989.
Finally, all the buildings and open space were turned over to the Presidio Trust and the National Park Service. Buildings were recycled into various public uses, such as housing the marvelous Walk Disney Family Museum, which celebrates the entertainer’s life story.
Note from Lee:
Aside from the app, I publish 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.