Trip dates: 8/14–8/19
Locations: Sacramento; San Francisco; Yosemite National Park
Our latest photo trip took us to sunny California — our first trip to the state! For reasons I won’t go into here, my wife and I found ourselves with an opportunity to spend 3 days in San Francisco, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
About a week before our trip was to take place, we started booking and researching things to do in San Francisco. Of course, there were two must-dos: The Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Sadly, we learned that you need to book tours of Alcatraz several weeks in advance, especially during the summer months; everything was sold out for the time we would be there. We could take a boat ride around the island, but not actually travel to the island, which was a bummer. We have another California trip planned for the future though, so we figured we’ll plan farther in advance next time, and go to Alcatraz when we’re back in San Francisco during that trip.
So with one of our big bucket list items off the table, I turned to another: Yosemite. The national park is roughly 4 hours east of San Francisco, and a place that’s been on my bucket list for a long time. Considering our future California trip wouldn’t even closely approach the park, I saw it as an opportunity to see it while we were there this time. It would mean losing an entire day in San Francisco, as it’s a full day-trip, but I felt it was worth it. I would turn out to be both right, and wrong. More on that later.
Our trip in California actually started in Sacramento, where the weather was incredibly hot, with a high of 107 the day we were there. There wasn’t really much to take photos of, so we didn’t bother. We rented a car and drove from Sacramento to San Francisco, approaching from the north, and through the Robin Williams tunnel, where we got our first magnificent view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We followed the signs for the scenic overlooks and made our way along the circuitous roads until we found a place to park, taking in the bridge. The weather was bright and sunny, and there was little fog around the bridge. The air was very hazy though, so the city in the distance was difficult to see. I did my best to capture the bridge from some different viewpoints, and was (mostly) successful.
One of the viewpoints we wanted to reach was a location called Kirby Cove. One of our dogs is named Kirby, so it felt serendipitous. There was a gravel switchback road that led down to the cove, and the beach located there. We found the road, and drove down, taking it very nervously slow. When we reached the bottom, we parked, and made our way to the beach, where we found a few people exploring, and got our photos.
Upon leaving Kirby Cove and reaching the top where we entered, we were encountered by a locked gate. We were trapped! There was another car ahead of us also stuck behind this now-locked gate, and neither of us could leave. There was no other way out, and no way to turn around. Fortunately, the girls in the car ahead of us had called the park Rangers, who stated they would send someone out to unlock the gate. We made calls as well, and were told the same (apparently, the gate is supposed to be closed, except for those who have permits to enter Kirby Cove.) After about an hour and twenty minutes of waiting, a Ranger finally came and unlocked the gate, and we were able to leave. By this point, though, we were frustrated, hungry, and needed to use a restroom, so we abandoned plans to see the bridge from the other side. Instead, with the afternoon growing later, and plenty more we needed to do before returning our rental car, we headed for Twin Peaks (not the restaurant, but an actual location in San Francisco.)
Twin Peaks is one of the highest points in San Francisco, and provides a 360-degree view of the city, and the surrounding area. I would say countryside, but it’s all developed, so there really isn’t any countryside here. It’s also incredibly windy, so much so that I had trouble standing still enough to even take a photo from the top — I thought the wind was going to push me over!
We capped off the day with dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on Pier 39, right on the water. From our table, we could see most of the bay, including Alcatraz. We caught some of the sunset, and I got a few pictures with my cellphone (I’d left my camera back in the hotel).
The next morning, we were up super-early, in order to catch our tour bus at 6am. We rode for a couple hours, then made a stop for snacks, before continuing the drive to Yosemite. I slept for more of the first half of the trip, but then watched the landscape changing as we approached the Sierra Nevada mountains. There were some interesting sights, but trying to capture them from inside a moving vehicle was difficult. As a result, I got very few shots until we got to Yosemite Valley itself. But what a view!
We had a little bit of time in the valley itself, where I hiked up to the base of Yosemite Falls, and got a few pictures. I didn’t stay long, however, as it was packed with people, and I couldn’t get much closer to the falls itself, without risking injury.
Fortunately, our tour took us to a couple other locations, where we were able to see El Capitan and then an overview of the valley, but from the valley floor itself. There were a lot of things we didn’t have time to see or explore, and Yosemite is one of those places that needs multiple DAYS, let alone hours to experience properly.
Once we left Yosemite, it was a long ride back to San Francisco, and to our hotel by 10pm. I left my phone on the bus, and was already formulating plans the next day to buy a new one, but fortunately, the bus driver answered my phone when we called it, and sent it back to us in an Uber — saved the day!
Our final full day in San Francisco had a few items on our list to see, so we got started relatively early. We headed for Pier 39 to see the sea lions and got a great photo of Alcatraz, being closer to it than any other point. We took an Uber up to Lombard street, which is billed as the ‘crookedest’ street in the world. Crowds were heavy there, and there wasn’t really a good angle to capture the winding turns from ground level, so we moved on. We made our way to Ghirardelli Square, and had a snack at the chocolate shop.
From there, we took another Uber to see the Painted Ladies, the row of pastel houses made famous by the TV show Full House. They looked pretty much exactly like we expected them to, so it was pretty neat to see them in person. We also saw some… colorful San Francisco natives.
By this point, the weather had warmed up considerably, and we were quite warm. We elected to return to our hotel to change clothes, and into something cooler. This would be a mistake later in the day, however.
We then headed for the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building, one of the items on my list that looked incredible from the images I’d seen. In reality, it wasn’t really all that spectacular. It’s full of incredibly niche shops with overpriced goods, and was overcrowded, so we didn’t spend long there. Growing hungry, we decided to lunch in Chinatown, which was a few blocks away, so we hiked on up. We passed by the TransAmerica Pyramid building, so had to stop and take a few pictures there.
After lunch, a quick stop at the Fortune Cookie Factory (where the fortune cookie was first invented), before another Uber to the Golden Gate Bridge Overlook. I had some specific photos in mind, and wanted to get setup at a precise location to get the shot I wanted. Unfortunately, the weather had begun to change, and so while we were wearing shorts, cold, heavy winds were blowing in, highlighting our poor choice to change into cooler clothes. We took shelter against the wind for a few minutes, hoping the light would improve for my shots on the bridge. Ultimately, I got what I could, and gave up, so we could move to warmer locales (or so we thought.)
With the Golden Gate Bridge pictures obtained, we headed for the Palace of Fine Arts. This was an incredibly ornate structure, of massive proportion, that I was excited to see. The grounds were spectacular, and when we arrived, the weather was sufficiently nice to let us get a few good photos. We were an hour or more from sunset though, and I was hoping to setup across the water and get some long exposures with the lights on the structure, but that pesky cold wind showed up again, nearly freezing us out. Again, we gave up, and left. We went back to the hotel, changed back into warmer clothes, then ventured out on foot to cap off the night — and our trip. We headed for Fisherman’s Wharf, and visited the Musee Mecanique, which is a collection of vintage coin-operated machines. Some of them were arcade games, while others were elaborate mechanical ‘things’ of varying age. It was an interesting place, and definitely worth seeing.
We had dinner at Boudin, which is a San Francisco staple, famous for its sourdough bread offerings, including loaves in the shape of alligators, teddy bears, and countless other things. The food was really good, too. Finally, it was back to the hotel to pack up and get ready to head home the following day.
In the end, it was a rapid trip, filled with its ups-and-downs, and not a very satisfying photography trip, considering most of the shots I wanted I ultimately didn’t get. Still, it was fun, and I enjoyed myself, and would gladly return to the City by the Bay — wiser next time, hopefully.