Suggestions for trip to San Francisco in February

Discussion in 'Travel' started by sprouty, Jan 13, 2009.

  1. Headed to SF the third week in February (staying in the North Beach area) was wondering if anyone had any recommendations for places/areas to visit. The funkier and more out of the way the better. Photo, beer, food, any thoughts will be appreciated.
  2. The student cafe at the SF Art Institute (Chestnut street I believe)... great coffee, food is okay, no admission restrictions (or there weren't last time I was there). And a view over the veranda that will beat almost any in the area... it overlooks Alcatraz and the bay. I can almost guarantee you'll want to shoot some pics from there.
    The old fort (Fort Point) located beneath the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge is a nice photo shoot spot. Likewise, a drive across the bridge to Ft. Baker... if you stroll down to the marina portion of the fort, you'll have a great view of the city, the GG Bridge, and Fort Point.
    Treasure Island (exit in the middle of the Bay Bridge) has some great sweeping city vistas across the water also.
    Enjoy. San Francisco is a great walking city. Driving, not so much, simply because parking is such a pain.
  3. Thanks Thomas. No intention to drive, you miss too much in most cities that way. I'll definitely check out your recommendations.
  4. Being in North Beach you'll be in easy walking distance to the Marina, Chinatown, Embarcadero, Coit Tower. Chinatown is great. Definitely check it out. SF MOMA and Yerba Buena Gardens are also an easy walk. Good galleries in the building at 49 Geary St, close to Union Square. Walk around the Presidio and Golden Gate Park. There are great restaurants all over town, in all neighborhoods. Spruce, Boulevard, Fish & Farm, One Mission, Zuni Cafe are all very good, if a bit pricey. Great views of the entire city from the bar on top of the Grand Hyatt @ 345 Stockton St, one block off of Union Square. SF is a great city, just walk, explore and have fun.
  5. Excellent, thanks.
  6. Buy the book, PhotoSecrets San Francisco and Northern California by Benjamin Franklin. It is the best photo guide book you will find and it provides great coverage, including maps and sample shots for areas all around and inside the city. At $16.95 it is far and away the best value in photo or guide books I have ever found.I have been shooting around SF for 30 years and I found the book invaluable in finding new vantage points for me and for my clients.
    The most important piece of gear for San Francisco is a good pair of walking shoes. You can cover much more ground on foot - parking is a royal pain, and mass transit in SF is better than 95% of American cities. Easy to walk from China Town to the waterfront and along the Embarcadero. Pier 7 is one special place that is great for photography during the last hour of daylight, as are shots of the city from Treasure Island.
    SF is also a great place for night photography and with today's DSLR's a tripod is seldom needed, just a warm jacket.
  7. Can anyone comment on the photography at Alcatraz? Are tripods, lights and stands allowed? They restrict bag size, but do they require you to stay in a group in the cell block or can you wander and setup staying in one place for awhile? How's the lighting? Hows the view of the city/gg bridge at sunset? Looks like you can stay on the island as long as you want. Any things I or the original poster should know? OP was looking for funky- this should have some fabulous backgrounds for portraits. Is there enough ambient inside to shoot hand held? Any features I should definitely shoot? Would love to capture the setting sun under the bridge but havent done a compass/map check yet to see if it lines up with the island.
  8. Thanks Bruce, I look into the book, I should have plenty of time to order it.
    As for Alcatraz, I know several people on the Street & Doc forum have shot there and I'm sure there is info on line, I just haven't looked yet.
  9. Sp, I am headed there Sunday, will let you know. I have the book but it doesnt comment on my questions. Great book. Another if you are touring the coast is Steakley's Photographers guide to the California Coast. A hint, if you can get to Yosemite, you are in the right time frame for the Firefall. it doesnt happen every year, but its a pretty spectacular light phenomenon, the sun is only in the right place around the middle of february a couple of weeks. there must be no clouds on the horizon, there must be enough snow up top to melt to form horsetail falls and it must be warm enough for the snow to melt. If you are in the right spot, the falls turns cherry red as the sun sets. You can call the ansel adams gallery in yosemite to see if it is or is expected to happen. Galen Rowells 1973 shot made it famous.
  10. Just checked out the Rowells image, that would be incredible to see. Thanks again for the recommendations everyone.
  11. ted_marcus|1

    ted_marcus|1 Ted R. Marcus

    Bob, I visited Alcatraz in October. They provide earphones for an audio tour, but you're otherwise free to wander around wherever you want (other than areas that are clearly marked off limits). You can return on any ferry departure. I didn't bring a tripod or lights, but shot hand-held with an image-stabilized lens, mostly at ISO 400.
    I had very atypical weather during my trip to San Francisco. It was clear and sunny the whole time, without a cloud in the sky. I went to Alcatraz in the late afternoon, when everything was bathed in golden light that made an ugly and frightening place strangely beautiful. Look for small details, shapes, patterns, and unexpected bits of bright color.
    I'll second the recommendation of Andrew Hudson's PhotoSecrets guide. It includes a "top ten" list of sights, with information about the best time and location to photograph them. I had only one week in San Francisco, and building my itinerary around Hudson's "top ten" made the most of my time.
  12. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Can anyone comment on the photography at Alcatraz?​
    It can be great if you take great photos.
    Are tripods, lights and stands allowed?​
    I've taken tripods without problems.
    They restrict bag size, but do they require you to stay in a group in the cell block or can you wander and setup staying in one place for awhile?​
    It's not a group thing. You take the boat over and go where you want.
    How's the lighting?​
    Depends on the day and the time of day.
    Hows the view of the city/gg bridge at sunset?​
    The best time to go is on the first boat, not the last. The problem is the accumulation of tourists as the day goes on. If you only want to photograph the city and bridge, maybe it's fine at sunset, but I always take the first boat to shoot inside wihtout the crowd.
    Here's a GG Bridge shot from the back side of the island at dawn. The very cool light is obvious.

    Golden Gate Bridge, Copyright 2005 Jeff Spirer
  13. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    My favorite neighborhood for shooting is the Mission. It does require a certain amount of awareness of what is going on, there are gangs and parts of it are pretty rough. But the street life is terrific, and the setting, very urban, makes for great photos. The largest collection of street murals in the world is in the Mission. And the food is great, from fairly upscale restaurants to the taquerias and sandwich places.
  14. Very nice Jeff. We're planning on Alcatraz and it seemed to make sense to do the first boat. Thanks for the heads-up on the Mission District.
    I've been to quite a few places in Western/Eastern Europe at some pretty late hours, it definitely pays to keep your wits about you.
  15. Thanks, Jeff, I was able to contact the ferry company. Lights and tripods are ok. I was interested in the older cell block lighting, appears to face northeast and looks like the exterior wall is all windows with cells on opposite inner wall. Looks like an old Cagney movie set. I'll try the first boat. My prime concern was not being herded along with a tour group and not having time to set up the shot or wait till it was tourist free. Great bridge shot.
  16. It's probably in the photo secrets book mentioned previously but be sure not to miss the Filbert Steps on the north side of Telegraph Hill, a couple of blocks below Coit Tower (very close to North Beach.) I somewhat remember many decadent parties there in the early '80s when a good friend lived there ;-)
  17. Not sure what you like to photograph ... but the Cable Car turntable at Powell and Market streets is always fun ... besides the cable cars which are always nice to shoot there are the people waiting in line and piling on the cars, there are street performers and trinket vendors ... just East of the turntable is a busy shoeshine stand that's good (they require a $1.00 donation if you take pictures) and just West along Market street is a group of chess players that are fun to shoot.
    If you continue West from the turntable on Market past the chess players, you'll run into a street market near the Civic Center, nice cultural shots ... and if you're into architecture, the recently refurbished City Hall with real gold gilting on the dome, Opera House, and Court Houses are just beyond the market.
    If you go North on Powell from the turntable about 3 blocks you'll run into Union Square which always has some nice shooting opportunities ... architecture, people, and events ... and on the NW corner ... if you're there on a decent day, Smiley will be there in front of Saks, dressed in one of his way-cool outfits singing "If you're smiling ... " ... he loves having his picture taken and even appeared in a Will Smith movie ... ask him about it ... he'll require a donation too.
    Just North of Union Square on Grant St. is the entrance to China Town with an ornate Chinese entryway and shop fronts that are good also.
    There are also quite a few good night time shots around Union Square ... two of my favorites are the sign outside John's Grill (Ellis St. .just South of Union Square .. Dashiell Hammet's [and Sam Spade's] hangout ... and the fountain near the N.E corner of the square outside the Hyatt Regency. Another good night shot is down on the Embarcadero shooting back at the City with the buildings outlined in lights.
    My favorite hangout in the Union Square area is Lefty O'Doul's ... it's on Geary St. just off Union Square ... it's a Hof Brau ... lunch for $5.00, dinner for $6.95 ... and a piano bar at night from 9 to 1 ... eclectic crowd, cheap drinks, and Rhea the bar maid who is a classic. I've spent several incredible nights there ... love that place. If Lefty's is slow, try Biscuits and Blues, one block up on Geary ... funky southern syle dinners (good and inexpensive) and a really fun, low-key blues gig every night (there is a cover charge but unless it's an unusual night, it's very reasonable.)
    For breakfast near Union Square try Sears Fine Foods ... a SF tradition on Powell Street just 1/2 block North of the Square ... famous for their Swedish Pancakes (I've eaten there 20 times and never tried them.)
    If you want some more ideas that may be closer to where you're staying in the City or for different types of shooting ... feel free to email me ... it is a GREAT place to photograph.
  18. Wow, thanks for the tips Jim. I'll be adding your suggestions to the pretty decent list I have now (thanks to all of you). Just in case anyone might be curious:,-122.272682&spn=0.207603,0.44632&z=12

    Also, I did order the photo secrets book, I happened to find it at a local store used for $4, and it should be here any day.
    And I ran across this site:
  19. Hmm, not sure if the map link will work, the new funky html conversion thing and my limited skills don't make a winning combo.
    BTW, yes the list does have quite a few bars on it...
  20. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    The map link does work, if you are the "susy" it says created it.
    I notice El Rio as one of the first bars on the list. Great choice. I would venture to say that nobody goes there that isn't local, or has local friends, so you may be the first. Come by on Friday night around 8, I'm usually shoot in the room in back. If you're going to El Rio, stop in at The Knockout across the street afterwards.
    Also, there are some better pizza places, I'd recommend avoiding Ghirardelli Square, and there's a few restaurants that are much better than some that you have. If this really is your map, email me and I will give you some recommendations. Assuming that this is your map.
    And you should have Alcatraz on it.
  21. Cool Jeff, yeah the El Rio was on the list from a mention that you made a while back. I'll see if Friday works.
    As for map, I actually created it while my wife was logged into her Google account so it shows up as Susy.
    Ghirardelli Square is really only on there for my friend's wife, not much time will be spent there, if we go at all. Alcatraz is a definite.
    I'll shoot you an email for some restaurants and pizza (we just grabbed the closest places to the hotel). Thanks.
  22. Although I am a SF native (born here 59 years ago) I had never been to Alcatraz until last weekend. I decided to travel light and only brought my Canon G10. I really wasn't inspired, too many people all over the place (they run 5,000 tourists a day through there, according to one of the rangers). I did find some solitude down in the 1860 vintage basement and took normal, +2 EV and -2 EV shots (handheld) in preparation for doing this as an HDR. I like the way it came out.
    Otherwise, I found Alcatraz to be a profoundly depressing place, and I don't think I will ever return there.
  23. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    too many people all over the place​
    I guess you didn't read my first post. You would have a different experience if you went at the right time.
  24. I read it. I didn't read it before going there though, and I have no intention of going back.
  25. Without any context of how long is your visit, subjects you are interested in, and how you will get around, it is difficult to provide any precise suggestion.

    If you have time, and will be driving, I would suggest spend the first day or two taking the 49 Mile Scenic Drive through the city. You will hit all the spots SF is famous for, and then some. Get a map from the Visitors' Center and follow the signs on the sidewalk along the way. Stop, wander, shoot and eat at your own pace, and return for more if you wish.

    As one Nikon School instructor at SF said, "If you can't find good places to shoot in SF, you can't anywhere."

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