Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach © 2014 Claudia Ward
No matter where we were on our New Year's visit to San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge seemed ever present. Peter and I had both been to San Francisco a number of times over the years but never together and never with such a fervent desire to photograph the Golden Gate bridge. We've taken the easy tourist shots but had never sought out the distinctly beautiful vantage points in the Marin Headlands, the middle of San Francisco Bay, at Fort Point, or west of the bridge, on Baker Beach. We've admired the images of photographers who have shot from these locations and now wanted to see what we could come away with if we found these places too.
Golden Gate Silhouette © 2013 Claudia Ward
Our first glimpse of this magnificent bridge was from the ferry that shuttled us across San Francisco Bay to and from Sausalito. We were heading there for lunch, so the sun was high in the sky bathing everything in its bright white light. The result was the bridge stood out against a bright white-washed sky in subtle gray relief, impressing us with it's span from shore to shore.
San Francisco and the Golden Gate from the Marin Headlands
© 2013 Claudia Ward
My younger sister, who was traveling with us, had never visited San Francisco and I so wanted her to leave with great shots of this city and its bridge, so I beseached our cousin, who lives nearby, to drive us over the bridge to the Marin Headlands for sunset ... and he agreed. High up in those hills, we found a ridge to shoot from that had the sun setting to our right, and the city coming to life in lights beyond the bridge at our feet. We were thrilled with our New Year's Eve perspective of San Francisco and would probably have begged to stay longer if it weren't for the tugging of our dinner reservation and the late show of Beach, Blanket, Babylon!
So far, we'd shot the bridge from the water and from the Marin Headlands at twilight, and we all were quite happy, and then it happened ... a snow storm in the northeast cancelled our flight back to New York for another two days. I was thrilled and hoped we'd be able to photograph the bridge from some of the southern vantage points I'd researched. Fighting this winter's "bug", Peter rose to the occasion and agreed to hire a car and driver to drive us to the locations we wanted to reach south of the bridge - then we knew we'd get there and back, and our gear would be safe in the car. We had no idea at the time how truly wise this decision would prove to be.
Our driver, Angelo, was wonderful. He understood exactly what we wanted to do and even made sure we saw one or two of his favorite but lesser known vantage points around the city.
Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point San Francisco
© 2014 Claudia Ward
Our first stop: Fort Point at the southeast corner of the bridge just inside San Francisco Bay. Here you stand beneath the bridge and get an incredible perspective on how mammoth this structure truly is and, in the right light, how orange it can look. I would love to return to this location one day when the fog is rolling in from the ocean enveloping the Marin hills and the bridge, only to reveal themselves a while later. I would stay a very long time to experience that.
Golden Gate Bridge and Baker Beach San Francisco
Next and last stop: Baker Beach, west of the bridge, just outside the bay, facing the Marin Headlands and Sausalito. I was so hoping this was the location that had become my favorite among the images I'd studied before traveling west. The moment Angelo parked, I knew this was it and I couldn't contain my excitement. I lept from the car, knowing I still had to dash to get in position and set up in time for sunset. I charged down the dirt path just above the chain link fence that divided it from the beach below, heading for the opening in the fence ahead. Little but the light and the bridge crossed my mind, although I did look over my shoulder briefly from time to time to be sure Peter was on his way too.
Sunset & Bridge Worshipers at Baker Beach © 2014 Claudia Ward
For the next hour (or two?), we both were having the very best of times. Sunset at Baker Beach is really quite an event. It does happen to be a nudist beach, so you may very well come across one or more "naturalists" enjoying the views as well. We did - a very proud middle aged man who made quite a silhouette in a number of our pictures.
Besides the random "naturalist", young and old congregate at Baker Beach to watch the sun set in the west, to dance along the shore as the sun descends in the sky, to contemplate tomorrow, and to climb the rocks to watch the bridge come to life at night and to photograph it from this marvelous angle.
Wanting desperately to stay as long as we could, we prudently decided not to climb the rocks to get to the best vantage point. We'd watch young people who knew where they were going having a hard time keeping their footing on the way up in daylight, we didn't think that was the place for us after dark, so we happily stayed on the beach where we could see the bridge's magnificent reflection on the beach. We lingered and lingered, taking all of the shots we'd dreamed of and more.
The nudist dressed and left, the dancers locked arms and exited stage left, and the group of enthusiastic sun worshipers rose from their perch in the rocks and gingerly made their way back to the beach and then beyond. Finally, we decided it was time to head back to Angelo and the car.
The return trip seemed simple enough in my mind. Follow the beach, until you see a make-shift stairway in the sand. Climb the stairs, walk through the opening in the fence and follow the dirt path to the parking lot. Well we found a staircase in the sand, climbed it to an opening in a fence and then found a dirt path. It was so dark now, I had to use the flashlight on my cell phone to see where we were stepping and I pointed its brightest light behind me, between the two of us, so we could both see fairly well in the widespread beam of its light. We stopped briefly to rearrange our gear and were about to proceed when the flashlight revealed a dark hole in the ground, directly to our left - in fact, a deep, dark, concrete bunker. Neither of us had noticed this on the way in which now made us second guess whether we'd followed the right path at all.
At this very point I saw the light of another cell phone flashlight coming along the path behind us. As its owner approached with deliberate strides, we could see it was a "surfer-dude" with earphones in, listening to music or the Dali Lama or who knows what. I just knew I had to interrupt. He kindly said that the parking lot was near the small white building that was well lit ahead and then he immediately disappeared in to the dark. Gingerly, we moved toward the little white building, noticing yet another unfenced concrete bunker to our left. We truly had no idea where we were, or whether the surfer-dude had given us good directions or not, and my cell phone was nearly out of battery which would mean neither phone nor light soon. Then we saw a light approaching in the distance, one much brighter than the surfer-dude's cell phone. Nervously I called out "Angelo?" and then I heard his "Yes". We were so relieved. Angelo thought it was a little too dark even for crazy photographers trying to get their last good shots, so he took his torch from the trunk and came looking for us.
The ride back to the hotel was one of warmth and comfort. Happy to be safe and in one piece, not several at the bottom of a bunker, and happy to have seen that sunset and the bridge in its finest. Is there a moral to this story? Perhaps several. Be smart and be prepared - we all were scouts .... you know the drill (just follow it!).
Sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge from the Top of the Mark
© 2014 Claudia Ward
So here's a slide show celebrating our time photographing this glorious bridge (below). Oh I forgot one. On our very last evening in San Francisco, high atop Nob Hill, we had cocktails at the top of the Mark (the Mark Hopkins Hotel) where we could see all of San Francisco at our feet but between the landmark hotels and apartment buildings, down at the mouth of the bay, there was that beautiful bridge - once again decked out in sunset's colors, bidding us au revoir.
Photos and Slide Show © 2014 Claudia Danforth Ward
Music: "Mountain Greenery (from "Small Town Crooks") by Lester Lanin & His Orchestra