And we’re back for Part 2!
If you missed Part 1, you can get yourself caught up HERE. Again, congrats to Mario & Mary for tying the knot, shoot-out to Buddy & Erica for showing me around, and HUGE thanks to Knox for putting me up. Y’all are good people. <3
And so the saga continues of my much-anticipated trip to San Francisco. I was tired, but this city was so compelling to me that I found the energy to walk all over it. With a couch in the Marina District as my home base, I walked (and Uber'd) all over town, from Russian Hill to the Mission District. San Francisco unfolded before me like a unending yuppie playground. It was diverse, beautiful, and hilly.
“Hilly” actually diminishes it. Walking around San Francisco feels more like hiking than walking half the time, and nowhere is that more true, than Lombard Street.
If you haven't heard of this place, you'll definitely recognize a picture of it. Lombard Street is actually a decently long street. However, there is a particular stretch of it that goes over a hill that is so incredibly steep, the urban planners were forced make it double back on itself like some precarious mountain pass. However, fitting something like this into a densely populated urban space was not going to be easy. Here's a arial shot, presumably taken with a drone, from a photographer named Toby Harriman to show you what these urban planners came up with...
Pretty nuts, right?
The idea for this street was first conceived of by a local property owner named Carl Henry. This idea came to fruition in 1922, and it's been a tourist attraction ever since. Today, this street is perpetually awash with tourists from all over the world. Traffic is backed up for blocks at the top of the street, as cars wait to drive down this one-way nightmare of a road block. There are multiple police officers stationed at both the top and bottom of the street to direct traffic and look out for idiot photographers like me.
This photo on the right is really awesome, most notably because it shows you the big picture. When you're actually walking down this stretch of Lombard Street, you're sort of forced to imagine what the bird's eye view of it would be. It's hard to see the full picture from the ground.
Lombard Street is known as the "most crooked street in the world." This hill has a natural 27% grade, which is far too steep for most vehicles. Even pedestrians struggle to make it up and down this obstacle course. When you're at the top, you have the definite sense of being at the top of something high up. Looking out, you'll see the diverse topography of the city and rooftops stretching out before you...
And here are few shots I took of the actual street. I love the shot of the Asian cop directing traffic at the bottom of the street, with all the cars double back and forth, inching their way down to him. It wasn't the best light, and I sort of had to shoot this "on the go" because I kept almost getting hit by cars, but whatever. I'll take it.
Coit Tower is an odd landmark sitting at a highpoint of a neighborhood called Telegraph Hill. It was built and named for a wealthy socialite, Lillian Coit, who passed away at the conclusion of the Roaring 20s. She was an eccentric character in the history of San Francisco, and when she died, she bequeathed 1/3rd of her estate to the city for purposes of "beautification." That should give you a solid window into this lady's personality.
Coit Tower looks a bit weird and industrial, always sticking up like a sore thumb off in the distance, but I had a feeling that the view from the top was going to be pretty awesome, so I hiked over. Walking throuh Telegraph Hill, I was in awesome of some of the houses I was seeing. I fantasized about living in them as trudged up the steep streets towards my destination. Eventually I reached the small lawn at the base of the tower...
Admission to the Coit Tower costs $8 for an adult. You have to wait in a small line, which wraps around the base of the tower, to get in the elevator to the top. Once you're at the top, the view is actually pretty awesome! I shivered in the wind as I waited for space to open up at the windows. Then I took the following pictures...
I left the Coit Tower a bit disappointed that I hadn't been able to be up there at nightfall. I was sure that the view would have been spectacular, but I had to keep moving. I didn't have endless time here, but I did make a point of tracking down a shot of dusk from that observation deck. It did NOT disappoint. However, I was feeling increasingly disappointed that I didn't have more time to explore and do this city justice. I was feeling a sense of longing to be a part of this world... but I'm not going to let myself get misty-eyed about it until the end of this article. Keep it together Peter!
+ The Autumn Moon Festival
I sort of stumbled onto San Francisco's Chinatown by accident, and I'm glad I did. SF's Chinatown is the largest Chinese community outside of China.
Can we just take a second to acknowledge the gravity of that?
Close to 1.5 BILLION people are Chinese (of the world's total 7 billion), and when they move away, more of them choose to come to San Francisco than anywhere else on the planet. That means that San Francisco's Chinatown is not some novelty. It's a very real community! It's an important, living, breathing, vibrant part of San Francisco, that retains its own culture, customs, languages, and social structure. You probably already know that the Bay Area as a whole has a sizable population of Asian-Americans—well now you know where ground zero is! This place was "officially founded" in 1848 and has been an integral part of Asian immigration to North America ever since.
About The Autumn Moon Festival
The Autumn Moon Festival, also called the Mid-Autumn Festival, is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar year. The traditions involved in this festival date back as far as 1600 B.C.E., so nobody's quite sure of the details of its inception. In contemporary culture, this celebration functions, more or less, as the Chinese version of Thanksgiving. It's a time for families to gather, to pray together, and to give thanks.
It was sheer hapinstance that my arrival in San Francisco coincided with the beginning of China's Autumn Moon Festival. I wish I could tell you that I was enough in-the-know that I had planned on doing this, but when I first saw this happening off in the distance, I wasn't sure what it was. All I knew was that there was some sort of festival happening, and that I was going to investigate. I worked my way through San Francisco's narrow streets, drawn by the noise of the crowd and the smell of moonpies.
On ground level, this festival was absolute chaos, but unceasingly interesting. I loved seeing this alternate take on life in San Francisco. There was a lot going on, but the thing that sticks out to me most was a State Senate sign for a rising politician named Jane Kim. I never see Asian-Americans running for office, and I had never even thought about it until that moment! It's good to see our government becoming more diverse (even if we do have a racist Cheezit for President). Anyway, this festival is actually celebrated both by China and Vietnam, so I having some hardcore nostalgia for my time living in Hanoi. Check it out...
It took me a long time to walk through all of this. I couldn't put my camera down! All around me foreign languages, smells, and music swirled through the air. However, when I finally did emerge on the other side, a troop of teenagers (with a few token adults) was getting ready to perform together as a Chinese Dragon... so I pretty much had to stay for that. I ended up standing around for about 30 minutes before it finally started, but when it did, it was worth it!
P.S. San Francisco's Chinatown has been the site of some significant violence from the Triads. If you're bored, these gang wars make for some interesting Googling.
SF From Above
During my time SF (am I a cool kid if I call it "SF"?), one of my goals was to find a solid rooftop from which to shoot the sunset. I had been very happy with the results of my sunset shoots in Cinque Terre and Toronto, so I was hoping to add San Francisco to that list. After some Googling and asking around, I decided that the bar on the roof of the Financial District's Courtyard Marriott seemed like a good way to accomplish this.
Here's a lil' taste of what I came up with... I really like these shots! But I had a few other nights in SF to work with, so I'm going to finish with something a bit more scenic.
So those last photos were cool, but I was still on the hunt for a great San Francisco sunset. In a city so big, and so full of tall buildings and scenic hills, I was at a loss for where to begin my search. After a poll of Uber drivers, bar tenders, and baristas, and other strangers that I interacted with during my first few days in San Francisco, the results were tallied, and a location was selected: Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks is basically just a giant hill. It's got a radio tower at the top and a little parking lot so people can leave their cars and enjoy the view. However, I didn't have much of a concept of where I was going when I hopped into my Uber and recited the name "Twin Peaks" to the driver. Like, how far away could it be? Not far, I assumed.
Long story short, it turned out to be pretty damn far away, but it was not nearly as far as it was cold. Guys, it was COLD up there. I was not prepared. The two friends that had arrived at the top of the hill with me lasted about 10 minutes before ditching me up there, but I stayed. I had a mission, and I gritted and shivered my way through nearly 2 hours up there. I bonded with other photographers about how cold it was during that time... but they were wearing coats. Anyway, here are the fruits of my labor. I'm told that this view was unusually clear for San Francisco. Regardless, this might not be my finest work, but you get the idea.
As things got darker, I was disappointed to find that San Francisco became increasingly difficult to capture. The problem was that the light from the main artery (pictured above) was dominating the rest of the city. I was surprised that downtown was not better-lit, but I would come to find out that this is a conscious, collective decision to conserve energy and actually turn off lights. I felt a little convicted to have assumed San Franciscans would just carelessly leave their lights on like the rest of us idiots. Way to go SF!
Anyway, here are some other shots I took up there...
From there, my shaking hands clumsily ordered yet another Uber. I dove into the warmth of the car and sped off down the hill, off to the Tipsy Pig! (you should check that place out, they have outdoor seating and heat lamps)
Learn from my mistakes people: San Francisco is cold. Dress accordingly.
That's it folks!
That's a wrap for San Francisco. But I'll be back. Hell, maybe I'll even MOVE here one day. This place may have just beat out New York City for my favorite city in America!