Remember those awful fires that were ravaging California in November of 2018? If you don’t, this article should jog your memory.
Anyway, it was 24 hours before my flight to SFO was set to depart, and the latest intel was that San Francisco was still shrouded in thick, oppressive smoke as the wildfires raged on. My plan was to meet a friend in San Francisco, and then drive inland to a town called Grass Valley, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. I had never been there before, but a quick Google search showed me that it was only going to be an hour away from Paradise, that town that was completely razed by the wildfires. I’d love to tell you that all this didn’t make me a little nervous… but that would be a lie. San Francisco was just a way-point in this trip, so I figured that if things took a turn for the worst, we could just drive in a different direction.
It seemed certain that San Francisco would still be covered in smoke, but I decided to pack my camera anyway. This turned out to be an AWESOME decision, because when I arrived, it was apparently the first clear day in weeks. There was still a tint of smoke in the air, but some degree of fog is typical in the Bay Area, so it didn’t look much different aside from people still wearing face-masks.
I touched down in SFO, jumped in my friend’s car (shout-out to Buddy!), and within 30 minutes the two of us had our toes in the sand, looking out towards the Pacific Ocean, with the Sunset District of San Francisco behind us. I snapped a few pictures here.
Oh man, I LOVE San Francisco. It’s far and away my favorite American city. In fact, the Bay Area in general is amazing. If you’ve never been, you need to put it on your list. There is just SO much happening here. If you manage to get bored in the Bay, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’re probably just a boring person. I’m still connecting the dots on how many iconic Californian things are within an hour or two of San Francisco.
Oakland, Sausalito, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Napa Valley, Silicon Valley, Palo Alto—it’s all right there. 😍
Widen your radius a bit more, and you’ve got Monterrey, Sacramento, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and TONS of incredible natural beauty throughout the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
It’s a little overwhelming, but in this article, we’re going to think small, and break off a little piece of San Francisco to digest. Today we’re going to be exploring the Richmond District.
The Richmond District
Inner Richmond + Central Richmond + Outer Richmond + Lake Street
First off, what I’m defining as “Richmond” here is actually made up of 4 smaller districts: Inner, Central, and Outer Richmond… and a little area to the north called Lake Street. This neighborhood (or group of neighborhoods) is essentially a big grid system, which, despite occupying an extremely urban area of San Francisco, is surrounded on almost all sides by nature.
The neighborhood’s southern boundary runs along Golden Gate Park, which is a much more substantial plot of land than you might think. Golden Gate Park is 1,017 acres in total, and 20% larger than New York’s Central Park. It’s big enough and long enough that it has its own set of interior roads that actually accommodate some of this massive city’s traffic as it passes through the area. Major roads are even forced to cut through it at various points, BUT EVEN SO, it still manages to feel like a patch of wilderness at certain points. Sitting directly adjacent to the full length of this park, Richmond’s southern border is guarded by a seemingly endless row of giant trees.
To the north, there is Lincoln Park (containing the iconic Lands End Lookout), as well as Presidio, which is the forested area on the tip of San Francisco that serves as the green buffer zone around the Golden Gate Bridge. These parks combined constitute another 1,580 acres of green space, and have endless paths and trails that wind through them, many yielding some spectacular views of the Pacific and the Golden Gate Bridge. There are a few other (smaller) Districts like Sea Cliff tucked up above Richmond, but they aren’t nearly as substantial.
And to the west, Richmond is bordered by the Pacific Ocean. Just across the beat-up road ironically known as “Great Highway,” there is a small drop off that will land you on the same beach you saw pictures of earlier. During the day there are people surfing. At night there are fire pits. And off in the distance, misty, green mountains rise up out of the ocean on the north side of the bay. Here’s how it all fits together on the map…
Today’s Richmond is mostly a peaceful, family neighborhood, but it’s cultural roots are not quite so uneventful. If you know anything about San Francisco and/or the Bay at large, then you probably know that this is basically ground zero for Asian-American culture. This city has been the entry point for many generations of Asian immigrants now, the communities that have been established here as a result continue to grow. San Francisco’s Chinatown is a world unto itself, and in the future I’d love to do an article about it, but Richmond is probably the next best thing. Clement Street is a small commercial district that has such a heavy concentration of Asian establishments that it is sometimes referred to the second Chinatown.
The photographs I’m about to show you were taken over the course of a single walk, right around sunset. During this walk, I was not nearly as concerned with documenting multi-cultural identity of this neighborhood, as I was with simply capturing that intoxicating SF aura. That night was pretty perfect. Here are a few of my favorite shots…
At a certain age, something flips in you, and suddenly you become very interested in buying real estate. One of my favorite ice-breaker questions is “If you were super rich, and you were going to buy 3 homes in different places around the world, where would they be?” I spend a lot of time thinking about this, but nobody else tends to be as interested in that question as me. Anyway, walking around Richmond got my gears turning. I’ve been settled on San Fran being one of my 3 cities for a long time now, but I didn’t know enough about the city to make an educated choice about where I would want to be within it. But on this trip I realized—maybe it would be Richmond! It’s not as edgy as the Mission District, it’s not as fratty as the Marina District, it’s not nearly as loud as a lot of what you’ll find towards the other side of the peninsula (home to the Financial District, the Embarcadero, etc.), it’s not as unaffordable as neighborhoods like Russian Hill… the list goes on. This neighborhood really seems like it’s sitting in a sweet spot. It’s diverse, it’s chill, it feels like somewhere that you could just live.
Anyway, what really got me thinking about this was seeing how unique all of the homes through this area are. They are all have so much character! I immediately started taking pictures of as many of these home’s faces as I could. I took a lot of these shots, but it’s still just a drop in the bucket. There’s a lot of walking to be done in this neighborhood! Would NOT hate owning one of these one day.
During this trip to San Francisco, we stayed in an Airbnb way out in Outer Richmond, not too far from the beach. We started our walk in late afternoon, and by the time we walked all the way out of that neighborhood, the light was fading fast. Here are a few gorgeous shots I took near the University of San Francisco. These first two look back down over Richmond.
I just love it here.
The next morning, we woke up to rain and fog. The fog over the city was so thick and white that you could barely see a few blocks in any direction. It would have made for some interesting shots if it wasn’t for the rain. The rain was fluctuating between a hefty drizzle and literal walls of tiny water droplets gusting in from the ocean. We tried to take a walk anyway, but were quickly so wet that it looked like we had jumped into a pool in our clothes. So that was kind of a bummer, but recall what this city had looked like 12 hours prior to my arrival. California needed this rain. Badly. I could feel the city breathing a collective sigh of relief as the last remnants of that thick smoke that had been terrorizing the city was washed away once and for all.
In a little Asian-owned coffee shop on the south side of Sea Cliff, we wrung out our clothes and took refuge from the torrent of water blowing around outside. Soon we would run back to our Airbnb, but we needed a break from the elements first. I chuckled as a man in line behind us exclaimed to his friend, “I mean, we need the rain, but damn.”
After the rains blew away, we made the jump over to the Mission District. That’s coming next, but for now, here’s a classic piece of San Francisco lore. It’s a bit dated now, but I still love this song.