Unique Vantage Points in San Francisco

Discussion in 'Travel' started by michaelsmiller, Mar 11, 2010.

  1. I am looking for some unique vantage points or great spots to shoot various landmarks in San Francisco.
    I really want high and low angles of the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Lombard Street, Trolley cars, Haight-Ashbury, Ghiradelli Square. I am hoping to find some non-traditional spots and views that not everyone uses(i.e. non-touristy spots)
    Any help with places you've shot from, directions or streets to travel on, etc. would be greatly appreciated as I am going for the first time in about 10 years. Thank you so much for your help!
  2. For the GG bridge - five suggestions.
    1. Drive north across the bridge, and take the first exit into the rest area. Vantage point is slightly below the bridge, but there are some distractions in the foreground.
    2. Continue north to the first exit, then keep right and circle back under the bridge onto Conzelman Road. After passing under the bridge, look for the Battery Spencer parking area on the left. Walk through the fortification to find the vantage above the northern end of the bridge. This is the closest point that you can get and there are essentially no distracting elements.
    3. Continue on Conzelman Road to the next parking area. This is another clean vantage point that is a bit further away from the bridge.
    4. In San Francisco, use your GPS to navigate to Baker Beach. This is on the south side of the Golden Gate and gives you a nice perspective beneath the bridge. This is especially effective on foggy days.
    5. Also in San Francisco, find Fort Point. There is one nice vantage point where the entrance road approaches the parking area. Another is to go into the Fort and climb to the upper deck - which is immediately beneath the southern end of the bridge.
  3. The Golden Gate bridge has got to be one of the most photographed landmarks in the country. Good luck finding ANY vantage point that you won't see done better in the postcards at the gift shop on the north end of the bridge. Also, good luck finding any vantage point that isn't full of other photographers at any given moment.
    Here's a vantage point that you rarely see, just because it requires about a 400 yard hike uphill, and most people won't carry their cameras more than 10 yards away from pavement. This is the peak of Slacker hill. Go to the intersection of Conzelman and McCullough, then downhill on McCullough until you see a trailhead for the coastal trail (fire road) on the right (east) side of the road. Park on the gravel pullout opposite the trailhead. Hike uphill to the top, bearing right at any intersections.
    I'm not saying this viewpoint is that much better than the more obvious viewpoints along Conzelman road, but at least it's slightly less overdone on the postcards. And it does let you see more of the north approach of the bridge, along with the bridge itself. If you like, you can get different perspectives by taking a hike down the social trail that you see on the ridgetop in the foreground.
  4. The viewpoints already given for the bridge are all good (Baker Beach is my favorite, and good for including the Marin Headlands in the photo with good weather). Also, check out the Presido (on city maps), especially if there's low fog - the bridge projecting up out of the fog is iconic.
    If you have transportation (i.e., a car), Alcatraz and the city look good from the east side of the bay - get to the water's edge in the Berkeley yacht harbor. Alcatraz with the Golden Gate behind it, panoramic possibilities of the Bay Bridge, the city, Alcatraz - all of it. From the north, Tiburon offers a view of Alcatraz with the city in the background.
  5. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    You're looking at some of the most photographed spots in the world, there really isn't anything unique. What's interesting is how many tourists ignore all the really interesting places that have never been photographed and aren't on postcards. Everything you mention can be bought on a postcard.
    Try some of the neighborhoods that aren't destinations. Potrero Hill, the south side of China Basin, the Richmond, Cole Valley, the Presidio, even parts of Visitation Valley. And there are some spectacular vantage points for the city from locations that nobody seems to know about. When the light is right, one of the best spots for a broad city shot is the vista turnout on Portola heading down towards Market from the Diamond Heights intersection. I don't think a tourist has ever been there but it's one of the best views of the city from anywhere.
    If you do want a somewhat different view of the bridge, hire a boat and go out in the Bay. Most people don't get that view, or if they do, they're trying to keep their sailboat somewhat upright.
  6. Jeff is right. When I'm away from my home turf for a short duration, I have to make the best use of it. I would not attempt to get "unique" shots of the "must see" spots crowded with tourists. Instead, I would make a quick circuit of these, and then wander off to the unbeaten paths. If I should come across places that really interest me or have potentials, I would return there several times. More often than not, I get my most prized shots that way.
    In SF, taking the 49 miles driving tour is a good way to get a quick view of everything. Then you can decide where to return for a more leisurely stroll. Twin Peaks, the murals, kendo practice on a beach at the break of dawn, senior chess players in Chinatown, etc. They all bring back fond memories.
  7. Thank you for the helpful suggestions, it helps me out alot. To the resposnes from Richard and Jeff, I understand that SF is one of the most photographed cities in the world, most specifically these big landmarks but I have never photographed them so it is important that I see them and photograph them and then I will move on to the fun, unique, non common place objects within the city limits. I do have access to a car but this is only a 3 day trip at the end of an assignment so I want to hit all the major things first and then find the hidden treasures.
    While I understand that unique vantage points on historic landmarks are very rare, there are always spots that are photographed quite a bit less than the main ones, and that is what I am looking for. I just want places that have great foreground detail and then use the big landmarks as my background subjects. The quirkier, lighter, and different the better for me. I am just looking to make some great compositions on my own time, not follow anyone else or replicate what they have done, or try to make money on these photos. I am sure the postcards are iconic, but I'm only concerned with adding another great piece of Americana into my portfolio of images that I will have forever.
    Thanks again for all the positive suggestions, ideas, and places to see. I am excited to see this city after a 10 year hiatus. God Bless!
  8. By the way, Conzelman Road and others in the Marin Headlands, the location of the posted bridge photo, will be closed for construction work starting April 1.
  9. Richard C, that's a great shot!!
    Anyone traveling to SF should check out the book Photo Secrets San Francisco by Andrew Hudson.
  10. The Plaza of the Lawrence Hall of Science...
  11. Steve---Thanks for posting this update about the upcoming construction. That is really a big bummer since that is the area everyone says is the best vantage point for GG bridge shots. I guess I will have to figure out another way to get the shots I want.
    Any suggestions or alternate routes I can take to get to the same spot and avoid this construction or is this the only road available to this spot?
  12. One way to avoid the crowd of photogs at the locations suggested is to go after dark. The bridge really shines at night.
  13. If you have the money, a great way in a short time, you can get great views of Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge, and Downtown by taking a Helicopter Tour. I little expensive but some great shoots of the land marks.
  14. Twin Peaks is another great spot for views of the city, Golden Gate and the bay. Sunset is a great time to shoot IF it's not foggy. Big IF. Broken clouds are ok, they will provide natural spot light on the city.
  15. Conzelman road/Marin headlands is nice, if there isn't any construction. Baker Beach is a great place to take pics of the bridge, especially in the afternoon/sunset. BTW, Alcatraz is a *great* location to look at the bay bridge since it's out in the Bay looking straight at it. They had a prisoner exercise yard that stares straight at the bridge. If the weather is nice, the SF Marina (north side of SF) has a park where people may be flying kites. The backdrop is the GG bridge, so sometimes you might be able to put together a nice composure.
    A good place to photo SF itself and the Bay Bridge is from Treasure Island. BTW, I recommend you visit Pier 1/the Ferry Building (at the end of Market St, North end) rather than Ghiradelli Square. Ghiradelli is kind of touristy, and the locals rarely go there except for maybe ice cream. Ferry Building actually represents the local region rather well... pulling from the wine country, etc.
    I like the CA street cable car better than the Powell ST one (and my goodness, the California street one is easier to catch). North Beach is sort of the bohemian area, good cafes, nightlife, and such. The Mission District is grittier, (perhaps slight safety worries). Castro area is also fun... good food, etc. North Beach, looking down Columbus, also has the benefit of having a nice view of the Transamerica Pyramid. You can also catch a cab/bus to get up to Coit Tower, which has a fantastic view of the bay and the city during the day.
    Some quiet streets with boutique shops: Union Street Shopping Area (between Gough and Steiner), Filmore St Shopping Area (between Washington and Bush), and the Hayes Valley Area. They're more quiet streets with boutique shops and restaurants that are laid back, if you want to escape the frenetic/touristy areas.
  16. I wish I knew the names for things you guys are tossing around... none of those names correspond to the names for sites I knew when stationed there except Ft. Point. From the outer walls of Ft. Point, you are right underneath the GG Bridge, so it can give you a less commonly seen viewpoint. Same goes for the marina sited on the other side of the bridge at Ft. Baker (not sure if this is covered in the road closure already discussed). I used to be quartered at Ft. Baker, and enjoyed watching the morning fog lift from there.
    Someone mentioned Baker Beach... there are bunkers at the clifftops above the beach, and those offer some views, but there are also much older (Civil War era) bunkers on the bay side overlooking the bridge and Crissy Field. Were I shooting, I'd likely try to do it from a boat almost underneath... although I don't think I'd recommend a kayak, as the current can be very swift. If you do go down onto the beach, do not ever turn your back to the Pacific Ocean... rogue waves can be a nasty, cold surprise. A friend of mine got knocked down there and surprised that way while shooting with her back to the water.
  17. Don't linger in the GGNRA (e.g. on Conzelman Road) too long after darkness falls. The Park System starts towing unattended cars about 30-45 minutes after sunset. I've seen it happen.

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