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San Francisco

Once you arrive in San Francisco, it doesn’t take long to appreciate why those songwriters (along with so many other people) left their hearts in the City by the Bay. I detail some of the reasons in five travel photo essays.

As a Los Angeles native, I found the differences from Southern California particularly fascinating. After the 1849 California gold rush, San Francisco quickly became a major cosmopolitan city. So it retains a 19th century European ambiance, enhanced with the “City Beautiful” aesthetic fashionable among urban planners in 1906, when the city was extensively rebuilt after a devastating earthquake. Even with all the development since then, San Francisco clearly respects and celebrates its colorful history.

Geographically constrained at the tip of a narrow peninsula, San Francisco packs its cornucopia of attractions into a compact, human-scaled space that’s meant for exploration on foot. An extensive network of buses, streetcars, light rail, and cable cars means that locals and visitors alike can conveniently get within a short walk from anywhere they need to go in the city. (Steep hills can sometimes make that short walk far longer than it looks on the map! But the view often compensates for aching calves.) Streets originally designed for horses and buggies accommodate the automobile rather uneasily, making a car more of a liability than an asset for a visitor. Choose accommodations near a major bus line and you’ll be all set.

Like San Francisco, Los Angeles combines numerous man-made and natural attractions in a beautiful setting of ocean and mountains. But since Southern California was largely agricultural until well into the twentieth century, urban Los Angeles was shaped by and for motor vehicles. The Pacific Electric Railway first made suburban development possible. Then the automobile swept away that once-extensive mass transit system, encouraging sprawl over an area larger than some states or countries and creating a “car culture” of mobility and transience. Exploring the diverse attractions of Los Angeles unavoidably involves lengthy drives on the nation’s most congested freeways.

The contrast between these two great cities is an exciting attraction in itself. If you’re a first-time visitor to California, I would definitely recommend taking the time to visit them both— unless you’re going alone. San Francisco is a great solo travel destination; but a “soloist” in Los Angeles probably won’t enjoy spending so much time alone in a car, too often going nowhere.

My pictures show San Francisco in (literally) a very atypical light. The city is famous for its fog, but there’s none of it here. I visited in the spring and autumn, when the unusual pleasant sunny weather is most likely. Summer is the peak season for fog as well as for tourists.

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Or click on “larger version” to see a larger version of a sample picture.

Golden Gate Bridge and Cable Cars: Iconic Symbols of San Francisco.

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Some San Francisco Sights: Alamo Square, City Hall, the Transamerica Pyramid, Coit Tower, and “crooked” Lombard Street.

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All’s Fair in San Francisco: The Palace of Fine Arts and Golden Gate Park.

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Waterfront: Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero.

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Alcatraz: Once a notorious prison, now a national park.

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