Eight Perspectives on San Francisco
Local photographers share their visions of the world's most beautiful city.
Growing up in one of the world's most beautiful cities is a strange thing. You can't help but become a bit blase when a sight like the Golden Gate Bridge is best known as just another place you get stuck in traffic.
I guess that explains why, when Budget Travel readers voted San Francisco, my hometown, the most beautiful city in the world, I went through a range of emotions: surprise (it beat Paris!), curiosity (how could it beat Paris?), and, finally, begrudging acceptance (it beat Paris—I guess I get it).
Yet as I sat back and thought about our poll—and the fact that readers voted overwhelmingly domestic in most categories—it occurred to me that it's human nature to overlook what's closest to us. And sometimes it takes other folks to snap some sense into you. When I was a kid, I didn't walk the curvy part of Lombard each morning, climb the street so steep it has stairs, or catch a cable car to get to orchestra practice. In fact, I really only thought about San Francisco's most beautiful spots when I had occasion to play guide, during those weekends when cousins or friends came to town and I'd happily embark on my tour of the city's greatest hits.
We'd start at Twin Peaks, where we'd get a panoramic perspective I considered equal to, if not better than, what you'd take in at Coit Tower. We'd careen down the steepest street in the city, 22nd between Church and Vicksburg, which, according to the Willdorf family, was just as steep as the legendary 1100 block of Filbert (and also much more convenient to our house). We'd then set off for a cup of coffee in the Mission. Swinging past the Embarcadero, through the Civic Center, via Market Street, we'd dutifully check out the cable car turnaround at Powell. And by sunset, I'd make sure we'd found our way to Ocean Beach to watch the surfers ride the waves.
For all the friends and family I took on this tour, I never had a disappointed customer. More to the point, I loved giving it. There was something gratifying about seeing my town with fresh eyes, tapping back into my own sense of wonder. And I liked to think that, as a local, I was able to share something more nuanced than a garden-variety guidebook hit list (Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman's Wharf, etc.).
What's most special about San Francisco is often what you don't find published anywhere else—the surprises over the next hill, and the ones known only to the folks who live there. We thought it would be nice to craft a tour of just those spots, from the perspective of the people who know San Francisco's beauty best: seven local photographers. For them, seeing the city in unique ways is a profession, and this collection of their favorite places helps capture San Francisco's many sides. It's the farthest thing from your standard-issue tour, and that's precisely why I'll be incorporating it into mine—the next chance I get.
HOW I SEE IT
Seven local photographers share their visions of the world's most beautiful city
"In San Francisco, you come across spots that are so beautiful and unlikely you're surprised that they exist. I snapped this shot at Louis', a 73-year-old diner on the cliffs in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The building is so close to the edge that you're afraid it could tumble into the water. People come more for the scenery than for the food, so it makes sense to stick to something simple, like a burger. You expect a place with a view this stunning to be cutesy and overrun. But Louis' has somehow remained perfectly preserved." Louis' Restaurant, 902 Point Lobos Ave., 415/387-6330, burger $8.
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"I've always thought of San Francisco as a free-spirited place where people come to find themselves. The women here were in a band called Rad Cloud. I was shooting pictures for their MySpace page. During a break, we scrambled to the top of Bernal Hill. I like the spontaneity in their interaction, but I'm also drawn to the setting and the light as it plays off the hills." The trailhead to Bernal Hill is located at Ripley and Folsom Sts. It's about a 15-minute hike to the top.
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"The Golden Gate Bridge has to be one of the most photographed landmarks in the world, but the design is so stunning it never looks cliche. I shot this from Cavallo Point, a hotel on a former military base in Marin County. The vastness of the sky and the absence of urban congestion show the kind of open spaces that surround the city. And then you've got the bridge. It's not the centerpiece of the picture, but it pokes its head up as it does from so many points around San Francisco. One glimpse of it, and you have no doubt as to where you are." Cavallo Point, 601 Murray Cir., Sausalito, cavallopoint.com, doubles from $265, hiking-trail access free.
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