San Francisco

Stunning Vistas: viewing San Francisco through a lens

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While a good photographer can take an amazing photo in almost any location, sometimes the location can make finding the right shot almost easy. San Francisco is one of those places. On almost any street corner in the city there is a vantage or feel that the photographer can capture forever. We love how photogenic San Francisco is, and how easy it was to get great shots around the city. There are certain places that I am drawn back to take pictures – here is a mix of classics and less frequented photo ops around the city:

san francisco twin peaks viewTwin Peaks
Just the drive up to the peak has some great spots, especially considering that it can seem that you are miles away from the city. When you get to the top, you will be amazed at the expanse of this majestic city below you. Coming up here at a couple of different times during your trip is a great idea as the city at night is as magical as it is at dawn.

Most visitors will make it at least through the gate of Chinatown, but stopping with your camera and enjoying the cultural marvel of the place is a must. Shooting here in black and white can capture a crisp flavor of the place and also lets your viewers think about the smells and sounds that are an essential part of this place. Color also works to capture some of the beautiful neon and colored signage, so try a mix of both.

chinatown san franciscoCity by Boat
One place that many people don’t consider is to get some shots of the city from a boat. A good option is to head out on the water with the Red & White Fleet San Francisco Bay. They offer a number of different options to get different angles on the skyline and also the Golden Gate Bridge. One of my personal favorites are shots of the wharves, with the city rising in the background.

San Francisco is full of rich old neighborhoods just seeping with great buildings and interesting characters for subjects. Haight-Ashbury just tends to have a few more of both of these than the others. While still known as the birthplace of the free love movement of the 1960s, The Haight is still home to the cutting edge of west coast youth culture. The side streets of the neighborhoods have steep streets and beautiful old Victorian homes. You will want to have a spare battery on hand here.

Haight & Ashbury San FranciscoGolden Gate Park
This enormous city park was created in the same vein as Central Park in New York, though there is a definite west coast vibe here. The western border of the park ends at the ocean and pretty much anywhere between there and the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood on the eastern end are endless photo opportunities. One of the more stunning areas is Stow Lake which surrounds Strawberry Hill. There beautiful vistas from the top of the hill.

There are endless other places to find in the city and the best way is to just get out and start walking around. Within a few days, you will certainly have found a few favorite places of your own.

Golden Gate Bridge from BeachWhat are your favorite places to take photos in San Francisco?

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Have we been here before? San Francisco vs Lisbon

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On the look out for budget holidays, all we wanted was sun, sand and good wi-fi, but even though we ended up in Lisbon on a whim, we quickly discovered we had been there before…kind of.

The more we walked around and got our bearings, we realized that Lisbon has some pretty uncanny similarities with one of our other favorite cities in the world – San Francisco. Lisbon and San Francisco have so much in common, in fact, that it goes beyond the geography and infrastructure and extends to transportation, culture and lifestyle.

lisbon san francisco trams & bridges
Left: San Francisco; Right: Lisbon

Between a bay and the ocean

When we think of the ‘west coast’, California is what first pops into our minds, but Portugal rightfully markets itself as Europe’s West Coast and the images of sun, sand and beach inspired by that idea are spot on. Lisbon is primarily located on the Tagus River just as it empties into the Atlantic Ocean, which means the city is surrounded by so much water, it boasts long stretches of waterfront property and miles of sandy beaches just beyond the city limits.

view over lisbon and 25 de abril bridge
View over Lisbon and the 25 de Abril Bridge

Similarly, the San Francisco peninsula sits between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean on the U.S. West Coast. The city’s Ocean Beach is comparable to Lisbon’s Costa Caparica, which are both known for big waves and key surf spots. San Francisco, too, has miles of waterfront and beaches – although not quite the same relaxed beach culture as Lisbon.

san francisco bay view
San Francisco Bay View

Built upon seven hills

Lisbon and San Francisco are both built atop exactly seven steep hills and because both of us prefer to tour as pedestrians putting miles of pavement behind us on foot, we can attest to the quad-burning workout in both cities. Climbing those hills is worth it, however, as the seven peaks of Lisbon and San Francisco both offer incredible views out over the city and and the ocean.

lisbon hill & san francisco hill
Left: Lisbon; Right: San Francisco

Our favorite hill view in San Francisco was from the Telegraph Hill, and in Lisbon, we loved the views from the Colina de São Vicente, the hill on which the Alfama neighborhood is located.

Historic cable cars & street cars

When people think of San Francisco, a vision of the old-time yellow cable cars most certainly come to mind – and it turns out that Lisbon also has cable cars, and they are yellow. To get even more specific, both San Francisco and Lisbon have cable cars and street cars, all of which began to run in the early 19th century.  Cable cars can climb the hills, while street cars run best on flat terrain. In Lisbon, there are five working trams, called eléctricos (schedule here), which were imported from the U.S and originally called ‘americanos‘. While in Lisbon, these bright yellow electricos are still fully-integrated as a major part of the mass transit system, San Francisco now runs only two operating cable car lines (the oldest manually operated cable car system in the world) and one street car line which runs from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Castro.

lisbon san francisco street cars & trams
Top Left, Bottom Right: Lisbon Streetcar & Tram, Bottom Left, Top Right: San Fran Tram & Streetcar

A bright orange suspension bridge

Early on into our Lisbon residence we walked down to the shore and, upon looking to our right, spotted a bridge so out of place, we did a double take. Is that the Golden Gate Bridge in Lisbon? Although it is called the Ponte de 25 Abril, this Lisbon suspension bridge – the longest of its type in Europe – looks almost identical to San Francisco’s iconic symbol. The two bridges are even close in size, as well, with the Golden Gate Bridge spanning 2,737m in length and the Ponte de 25 Abril reaching 2,277m across the Tagus River. The twin city feeling deepens here, as the  Lisbon version was actually designed by the San Francisco architect who designed San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge has held the record for the tallest suspension towers as well as the longest suspension span for decades, and the Ponte de 25 Abril, which held the record for the longest suspension span in Continental Europe for years, still holds the record for the deepest bridge foundations.

golden gate bridge san francisco & lisbons 25 abril bridge
Top left, Bottom Right : Lisbon, Top Right, Bottom Left: San Francisco

A history of severe earthquakes

Both cities have been leveled by severe earthquakes. Lisbon was hit by several severe earthquakes throughout the centuries, but the worst one hit in 1755 and destroyed 85% of the city. Over 150 years later, in 1906, San Francisco was hit with its hardest earthquake almost completely destroying the city and leaving over 400,000 people homeless.

The Climate – minus the summer months

They say that Lisbon and San Francisco share a similar climate and when we arrived in early June, the weather was chilly and cloudy, like a typical San Fran June day. However, as the days and weeks moved on, Lisbon revealed itself to be a hot and sunny Iberian beach spot more similar to southern Spain than San Francisco. The summers are night and day, but  the winters in both cities are said to be similarly moist and chilly.

lisbon and san francisco
Left: Lisbon; Right: San Francisco

World Class Wine

This might seem obvious, but too important to forget. San Francisco is the gateway to the wine region of Napa Valley for an afternoon wine-tasting of the ultimate relaxing boozy weekend, and Portgual is not only known for its sweet Port wine from Porto, but also its delicious Vinho Verde, or ‘green wine’, which is really more like a very crisp, refreshing bottle of white. At $8 in restaurants and even less in stores, Portugal is a wine-lover and bargain-hunter’s dream when it comes to wine.

Coffee Shop Culture

Both Lisbon and San Francisco have a thriving coffee culture scene, but they truly are worlds apart.  Lisbon, like the rest of Portugal, is full of smaller coffee shops called ‘Pastelerias’, where locals dip in for a cheap 55 cent espresso and a sugary, creamy pastry all throughout the day. There are a couple of Starbucks locations downtown, but the Lisbonians head to their local pasteleria for a pick-me-up caffeine jolt, and spend ten or twenty minutes chatting away to the other regulars. San Francisco, and its neighboring Silicon Valley are both home to a well-developed cafe culture that couldn’t be more different to Lisbon. Here, locals frequent Starbucks or Peet’s Coffee and Tea, open their Macbooks and stick in their headphones for a day of location-independent teleworking.

West Coast Street Art

San Francisco, and especially its Mission District, are well known for its unique murals and street art graffiti. During our time in San Fran we spotted a fresh Banksy in fact! The world’s most creative street artists leave their mark here on the West Coast of the U.S., but not any people realize the incredible street art scene happening over on Europe’s West Coast! For street art junkies like ourselves, Lisbon boasts colorful social commentary across many of its buildings and public spaces. Take a stroll through the Bairro Alto, practically a public art museum with incredible graffiti.

street art lisbon & san francisco
Top left, Bottom Right: Lisbon, Top Right, Bottom Left: San Francisco

Have you been to both cities? Did you also feel such a resemblance? Did we miss any other similarities between the two cities? We’d love for you to let us know about anything we missed in the comments below!

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Views from above: San Francisco

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Being built on various hills, San Francisco has a number of viewpoints for magnificent vistas of the city and the bay. Here are our Top 5 views:

Telegraph Hill – Coit Tower

Coit Tower, which sits atop Telegraph Hill, offers both fabulous views from the top in addition to some fantastic murals inside. Even without entering the tower, the views from the 284 foot-high Telegraph Hill stretch over much of San Francisco. You can walk there easily from Fisherman’s Wharf or Chinatown and overlook the entire San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz and the Financial District.

Coit Tower is open daily from 10am to 5pm, $4.50

Treasure Island

The vista point on Treasure Island offers the best views of mainland San Francisco’s financial district and the Bay Bridge. The small island in the San Francisco Bay (which is only accessible by car) is best visited at sunset or at night when the Bay Bridge and twinkling lights of the skyscrapers are at their most stunning.

Twin Peaks

A name more familiar to some as a television cult classic, the San Francisco area of Twin Peaks lays south west of the city centre and has the second highest altitude (910 ft / 280 m) in all of San Francisco (Mount Davidson being the highest). Twin Peaks might also be the most famous view point of the city by the bay. In good weather you have all of San Francisco spread in front of you including the entire bay. In addition to its views, it also is home to a lot of wildlife such as raccoons, butterflies, hawks and skunks.

Bernal Heights Park

The viewpoint from Bernal Height Park is nowhere near as famous and only half the height (433 ft/132 m) of the Twin Peaks vista, but the views are equally as beautiful, especially of the Financial District, the Bay and both the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge. Well off the beaten tourist path, Bernal Heights park is the perfect spot to sneak off too for a quiet picnic.
Buena Vista Park

With a name like Buena Vista, you can be sure the view is likely to be good. Just a short walk from Haight & Ashbury, Buena Vista Park is one of the highest hills in the city (569 ft /173 m) and once you conquer the steep climb to the top, you will be rewarded by the splendid views over the city.  Though the hill is very popular with dog owners and dog walkers, during the week, it is possible to enjoy the views from the top with few people around you. Not only recommended for the views, sprawl out on the lawn at the top with a good book or set up a romantic picnic for two.

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San Francisco’s largest Don’t Miss attraction – Golden Gate Park

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You have walked the Golden Gate Bridge, been to Chinatown, gone to the Mission District and Haight & Ashbury, hung out the side of a Cable Car, seen Fisherman’s Wharf, enjoyed the views from Coit Tower, looked at the Painted Ladies, visited Alcatraz AND still have some time left? Why not spend the day at Golden Gate Park and escape the flocks of tourists? The park apparently has over 1 million trees, there are 10 lakes, waterfalls, and even a herd of bisons! Golden Gate Park has just about as much to do within it as the rest of San Fran’s tourist attractions combined.

Though its name sounds otherwise, it is not located by the Golden Gate Bridge (although you’ll find two huge parks there too: the Golden Gate Recreation Area on both sides of the bridge and the Presidio just South of the bridge). Instead, Golden Gate Park stretches for 47 blocks from Stanyan Street to the Pacific Ocean, bordered by Lincoln Way in the south and Fulton St in the north – both top-notch addresses if you are looking to rent condos in San Fran. The park is more than 3 miles long and half a mile wide, which makes it even bigger than New York’s Central Park and its 4.12 km2 (1.589 sq mi) makes it one of the largest urban parks on the planet. You can easily spend an entire day just exploring the broad parkways and the variety of activities the park offers.

So what’s there to do? Not only joggers will enjoy the countless paths and meadows of the park, there’s something for anybody who likes to be active: on Stow Lake you can rent paddle and row boats, it’s the perfect place for a bicycle tour (bikes and even segways can be rented), there are great paths for inline skating, the park has a polo field which can be used for football or other sports and there is even a golf course.

Flower lovers will admire the Botanical Garden (free!), the Conservatory of Flowers, the Rose Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden; art lovers get their fix at the De Young Museum of Art and the California Academy of Sciences is one of the world’s largest natural history museums. Every Sunday between May and October, the Spreckels Temple of Music offers free concerts at 1pm.

In order to see as much of the park as possible, we took a long jog  through it and still only managed to see a fraction of the park.  Our favorite part of the jog was through the Botanical Garden which even has Redwoods! We also caught an awesome spontaneous bongo-drum jam while having a post-run picnic in the park.If you want to enjoy some good food with a view, there are two restaurants with view over Ocean Beach: Cliff House Restaurant & The Beach Chalet.

Tip: The Observation Deck in the De Yong Museum offers fantastic views of the park and the bay and is free of charge.

How to get there:

Take the Muni (light railway) line N-Judah from Powell and Market and get off at Irving Street & 9th Ave.

On the weekends, there are also inter-park shuttles. If you have a car, there are various parking options throughout the park.

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San Francisco on a shoestring

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San Francisco was one of our favorite cities during the American leg of our travels. The city is filled with life; it could take a lifetime to discover all of its secrets. It could also take a big budget if you’re not careful. However, with a bit of planning, exploring the streets of San Fran doesn’t need to eat through your budget. Here are the Globetrottergirls’ tips on getting the most out of San Francisco on a shoestring budget.

1. Take a free tour

San Francisco offers some great walking tours with its voluntary guides (tips are welcome, of course) which have some incredible knowledge of their hometown which they are more than happy to share with you. If you choose a tour in one of the less-known neighborhoods you are likely to find out much more about San Francisco than any guidebook can offer. Tours run daily, schedules can be found here.


2. Walk the Golden Gate Bridge

Walking the Golden Gate Bridge reveals how collosal this grand piece of architecture really is. Looking 245 feet / 75 m down into the water or 500 feet / 152 m up to the top of the huge pillars will show you how tall the bridge actually is. And when you crossed the 1.7 miles long bridge you can enjoy the views of San Francisco from a big vista point before walking another 1.7 miles back.


3. Take a street car instead of a cable car

The trademark San Francisco cable car is a fun ride. Once. But the cable cars don’t get you where you need to go, plus the tram offers excellent views for much better value for money. Rather than spending $6 on a ride in a cable car, for $2, a ride on the F Line gives you a tour from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Castro. The ticket is valid for 90 minutes in case you want to take a closer look at something you see on the way.


4. Free museums

San Francisco has a number of museums that are free of charge, such as the Cable Car Museum, the San Francisco Fire Department Museum or the Museum ItaloAmericano.

Many other San Francisco museums have a free or half-price day every month, such as the De Jong Museum, San Francisco MOMA (half-price Thursday evenings 6:00 p.m. – 8:45 p.m, $9.00) and the Yerba Buena Center of the Arts (all 1st Tuesday of the month), the Exploratorium (1st Wednesday of the month), California Academy of the Sciences (3rd Wednesday of the month) and the Asian Art Museum (1st Sunday of the month or $5.00 after 5:00p.m. on Thursdays).

A detailed list on all San Francisco museum deals can be found here.

*free / 50% discount*

5. A stroll across Chinatown & Financial District

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the biggest in all of North America, and it is the oldest. Enter through the Dragon’s Gate on Grant Street and explore the countless Chinese stores where you can get anything from Chinese teapots and silk dresses to cheesy souvenirs. The restaurants have authentic Chinese cuisine and often offer special deals on their menus. Stockton Street is less swamped with tourists, but gives you a glimpse of how the Chinese live, including markets. At Portsmouth Square you can watch older Chinese men play chess when the weather is warm.

Turning into any of the streets that lay right off Grant Street (Clay Street, Sacramento Street, Washington Street) will bring you right into the Financial District with its modern architecture and skyscrapers. Adjacent to the bay, the walk through the Financial District will bring you to the Embarcadero and the ferry station by the Bay Bridge.


6. Haight & Ashbury

The neighborhood which is famous for its hippie culture in the 60’s still has some nostalgia of its roots, such as Amoeba Music or the first Ben & Jerry’s, and is still a good place to shop in independent clothes and vintage stores for less money than in the usual chain stores around Union Square. The coffee shops and restaurants are cheaper than eating out in the city centre, plus much more condusive to hippie-watching (and nowadays punks, too).


7. The Castro

The Castro, mainly known for its large queer population, has become a place well worth visiting not only for gays and lesbians. Many individual shops and cafes line the streets and walking up the steep streets to the more bohemian Noe Valley will reward with superb views over San Francisco.


8. Mission District

Often overlooked by San Francisco’s visitors, the Mission District is the oldest part of San Francisco and home to its Latin American population. Here you’ll find endless authentic Latin American restaurants, taquerias and burrito joints where you are served excellent food for very little money. The Mission District is practically an outdoor art museum, with its famous murals and street art which covers buildings and alleys all over the area, so make sure to explore to the right and left of Mission Street. If you are really interested in murals, it might be a good idea to take a tour which will show you even the best hidden pieces.

*$15.00 for lunch for 2 people / mural tours $10.00*

9. Golden Gate Park & Ocean Beach

Golden Gate Park stretches over more than 40 blocks in San Francisco’s West until the Pacific Ocean and is larger than Central Park in New York. It’s much more than just a park – apart from riding a bike (there are several bike rental stations in the park) or walking, you can row on Stow Lake, listen to live music jam sessions, or visit the botanical garden or one of the museums.

Ocean Beach borders Golden Gate Park on the West side and is San Francisco’s largest sand shore. It is a great spot to watch the surfers and enjoy the views of the Pacific Ocean’ huge waves.


10. Lombard Street

Lombard Street is famously known as the ‘crookedest street’, although apparently it is not even San Francisco’s crookedest street, but watching the cars going around its steep curves (eight switchbacks on a 40-degree slope) is priceless entertainment for no money. The street is technically just like any other, which means driving down it yourself (if you have a car) won’t cost you a penny, either.


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Hotel Tip of the Week: Hotel Diva | San Francisco

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Being on the road 365 days a year means we stay in countless hotels. For all the disappointing digs there are as many accommodation gems around the world. We review one hotel every week, each of which we feel comfortable recommending after staying at the hotel ourselves. This week’s recommendation is a perfect San Fran hotel for any GlobetrotterGirl!

Should there be any problem finding Hotel Diva on Geary Street located just off San Francisco’s Union Square, just look up. The seductive custom window shades show black and white silhouettes of curvaceous females in corsets or fishnets. Still can’t find it? Look down. Diva has a ‘walk of fame’ on the sidewalk in front of the hotel complete with signatures, hand and foot impressions of the hotel’s celebrity guests.

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Street Art in San Francisco

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The Globetrottergirls are huge fans of street and urban art. We love its raw grit, city themes, fleeting nature and the sport of spotting new works by street art all-stars.

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Take a ride on a cable car – San Francisco

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Sure, the cable cars in San Francisco are loaded with tourists. The ratio of tourists to San Franciscans is easily 10 to 1. Who cares, we say! We loved it, and would recommend riding on a historic San Francisco Cable Car to everyone.

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