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The Many Beautiful Locations of Northern California
The living is easy for Steve Corvine when bride Debra feeds him homemade ice cream on Mendocino's Lilith Lake. photo: D. Blair
Welcome to CineSource's Survey of Northern California's vast and varied landscape with an eye on the alternate or little known. For more information, contact
. And thanks to Monica Peck for her contribution to this article.
The queen of the diamond-studded Bay Area, San Francisco itself features gleaming modernity, postcard beaches, Central America scenes, romantic bridges, hipster hangouts, and Victorian architecture (see
San Francisco Film Commission
). Still, Oakland and Marin have numerous locales of interest.
Moreover, within a few hours drive, there are towering redwoods, craggy mountains, cowboy dives, nudist hot springs and picturesque small towns–including the only rural Chinatown in the Western Hemisphere (
, 30 miles south of Sacramento). In others words, welcome to one of the most diverse shooting regions in the world, virtually any set or setting an image maker could imagine.
For indies with an eye for wilder locations, producers trying to grab some fresh B-roll, or overworked media professionals just trying to get out of town, while also scouting some sweet spots for later use, we at CineSource thought it was time to put our money where our mouth is about Northern California's extreme beauty.
We already all know the Golden Gate Bridge or Mark Hopkins Hotel but how about the better view of the former from the far east end of Baker Beach or the latter from the steps of Grace Cathedral at dawn? From Big Sur to Berkeley, through the Central Valley to Marin, Mendocino, Monterey and Mount Shasta, here are some sizzling hot spots for you to discover, shoot and enjoy.
Model Lily Goshen vamps it up in a photo shoot for Empress Aromas on a hill in Big Sur. photo: D. Blair
One of the most scenic spots in America, if not the world, Big Sur certainly is a slice of paradise. Right on the highway – literally – you can get scenics by the score, and a few minutes hiking into the forest reveals transcendental beauty. Add in million-dollar abodes cantilevered off the cliffs and mythical spiritual centers like the Esalen Institute or Tassajara Zen Monastery, and you have a little-used location cornucopia.
Contrary to myth, Big Sur is film-friendly. If a permit is obtained, the police will orange-cone your grip truck and, if properly introduced, locals are happy to help out, although there is a moratorium on shooting on Highway One from Memorial to Labor Day (June 1 to Sept 1, approx).
The classic Big Sur shot is Highway One at Bigsby Bridge, 20 miles south of Monterey. Jack Kerouac slept beneath this elegant span when he decided he didn’t like Big Sur, even though morning shots can be astoundingly beautiful, whether full sun or mysterious with the fog rolling in (especially lovely from Kerouac’s perspective under the bridge).
Big Sur sunsets are generally amazing, due to the Humboldt geothermal effect (cool Pacific meets hot Central Valley). Often layers of fog and clouds create interesting visuals even in winter – shoot facing south for the most spectacular results. In the summer, when Highway One is fogged in and visibility can be as low as ten feet, just head up the hillside and you will find the sun boiling above a fluffy blanket of clouds stretching as if to China. You’ll sometimes find rainbows bursting off backlit fog as it evaporates.
For a good shot, try the Big Creek Bridge fifteen miles south of Nepenthe, the Big Sur fixture that offers up a relaxed gourmet meal. For a quicker bite, try The Deli on the long hill next to the Post Office, about ten miles north.
Big Sur is full of incredible scenes other then the famous Bixby Bridge; shown here the sloping fields of Partington Ridge. photo: D. Blair
Admittedly pricey, the Esalen Institute provides stellar seaside shooting and hipster culture – but don’t miss the tubs of healing waters (open to the public after midnight). For more relaxed local culture, drop by the Henry Miller Library during an afternoon event or stop in at Nepenthe during the full moon.
For forest hippies (a fascinating doc topic, since that subculture is still alive and well) contact your location scout, check under either the Lime Kiln or Mill Creek Bridge, or hike ten beautiful miles into the Big Sur Canyon backcountry to the lovely-but-lukewarm Sykes Hot Springs.
World-class surfing beaches, with phenomenal rock formations and spatial grandeur also abound. Try Sand Dollar Beach (about fifty miles south of Monterey) with its phenomenal coastal views – shoot north in the early morning for dramatic light – or right on Pfeiffer Beach, with its high-rebounding waves and famous hole-in-the-rock ocean view.
Spooky stuff, like the Jamesburg Astrophysics Disk in the Carmel Valley, creates one of the many futurist landscapes of N. Cal; another is the wind farms of Altamont Pass. photo: D. Blair
For a more unusual tunnel shot (suitable for a mystery or romance), try Partington Point, although a more surreal setting is found at the moonscape on Lighthouse Flats (north of Molera Beach), the tilting fields on Partington Ridge, or the massive redwoods at Pfeiffer State Park. Cure your hunger pangs at Ventana’s Hotel Restaurant, which offers spectacular views amid fantastic architecture designed by resident savant/architect Mickey Muennig.
Any of his organic structures would make an excellent backdrop for a wealthyfamily contemplating murder or a remake of The Fountainhead. For locations notes email
The lovely town of Monterey offers a variety of settings, from the sophisticated beach houses of Carmel to hang gliders north at Seaside or the futuristic sci-fi feeling of the James Bird Astrophysics Dish. Down on Monterey's famous waterfront, you can wander the world-famous Monterey Aquarium or Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, then seek out a tasty meal.
Your best bet will be any of the Thai restaurants just off the main drag, which is also a good rule of thumb for all of California. If the town is too small for Thai, look for the local Mexican catering to local Mexicans (and often indicated by the round, yellow plastic sign). For details on shooting in Monterey, call Karen Nordstrand at the
Monterey Film Office
, 831.646.0910, or
Although Lake Anza and the hills are lovely, Berkeley’s fame comes more from its human fauna than scenic flora. The typical student is easy to catch anywhere on Telegraph Avenue. Stake out a table at the Café Strada at 2490 Bancroft across from the Pacific Film Archive (PFA), then head into the theater, modeled after Paris’s Cinematheque, for that section of Berlin Alexanderplatz you’ve been meaning to catch up on. (All shows start at 7pm (See
University of California Berkeley's trademark Campanile Tower is hecka more beguiling at sunset from the neighboring women's dorm roof. photo: H. Johnson
For that obligatory shot of the specimen known as ‘the Berkeley Radical,’ try People’s Park at Bowditch and Dwight Way. For another side of Berkeley culture, look for the street musicians who often play around the Shattuck BART Station. Grab wonderful shots of locals in front of La Peña Art Center on Shattuck Avenue – among its colorful murals, you’ll find good food.
For more upscale California cuisine, grab a to-go lunch from Gregoire’s, at Rose and Shattuck or the taste the top of that field go up the block to
, where owner Alice Waters may let you film since she's a friend of Les Blank and Werner Herzog.
For a quintessential Berkeley night, try a Saturday on Telegraph Avenue, the municipal parade of tie-dyes, henna, hemp, and hippie. Or get out of the congestion and walk to the Bulb, on the shore behind the Golden Gate Fields Race Track, a reclaimed city dump that now sports public art and a ‘free library,’ as well as fabulous views of the city across the Bay. Shoot some magic in the blue hour in front of ‘The Castle.’ Or head up Strawberry Canyon for great views of the Berkeley campus, at the top of which you’ll find Tilden Park and its historic steam train.
Filming at the University has its price – but if you have the budget, don’t miss iconic shots from the Campanile Bell tower. Its 200-foot-high platform provides spectacular views of the Lawrence Livermore Hall of Science, the Berkeley Rose Garden, bucolic rolling lawns, and eye-popping sights beyond. For more information about filming on the Berkeley campus, call Barbara Hillman at the
Berkeley Film Office
This 'Idaho by the Bay' was sent in by intrepid location scout
. photo: J. Baldwin
Those turning their noses up at the Central Valley will miss out on subtle visual textures that can only happen when actually shooting on location. Opportunities abound to weave ideological and political imagery into your project with the simple wave of a camera, from the windswept vistas of windmills spinning air into electrical gold, to the almond orchards bordering Highway 5, to authentic small-town street scenes. Magic hour in the Central Valley reveals gorgeous varieties of subtle pinks and blues in the atmosphere, sure to please even the most cynical DP.
For information on filming in the Central Valley, call the
Sacramento Film Commission
, 916.808.7777, or email
Justin soaks it up at a rustic hot springs, one of over two hundred in California, this one at Big Bend. photo: D. Blair
Don’t be shocked but California has over 300 hot springs, according to "California Hot Springs" available at your nearest camping supply store. Some are funky little holes in the ground, while others like Orr, Harbin or Esalen are luxurious hipster spas and perfect places for your flick’s denouement wrap party. There are also a number of wilderness sites with some really lovely configurations of steaming water, rocks, and landscapes, which would be perfect for shooting if you want the perfect symbol for California: nature as one big hot tub.
Admittedly, getting use of these hot springs when there are no soakers to object to a film shoot might be difficult – try arriving at dawn and setting up in the parking lot to either give patrons the option of signing waivers to be in the film or provide a small stipend for them to go home.
These hot springs are lovely:
* Big Bend, forty miles northeast of Redding, has three lovely handmade pools beside an idyllic stream with Mount Shasta in the distance;
* Bridgeport, on the east flank of Yosemite, has Traventine – a little too close to town but possessing some nice mud formations;
* Buckeye, 15 miles west from Bridgeport into the woods has a nice creek and mud cave;
* Mammoth, further south on 395, has many springs including Hot Creek, Shepherd, and others;
* Geronimo, 40 miles northeast of Bakersfield, has nice little mosaic work on a couple of pools right alongside the often-raging Kern River.
This 'alt' view of the universally iconic Golden Gate Bridge is at sunset from Angel Island, where you also get a monster view of San Francisco. photo: D. Blair
Catch a sunrise in the Marin Headlands, when the dew slips off the sage plants, infusing the air with essential oils – a rarely discussed odorific benefit of being behind the camera. Wend your way north by taking the Sausalito exit from Highway 101 to the former hippie hideaway of Sausalito. Stop for morning coffee at Caffé Trieste along jasmine-lined Bridgeway Avenue, then shoot across the water at the San Francisco skyline (or fog). Wonderful Hopper-esque effects of light have made this a popular spot for painters.
Then take your coffee up Sir Francis Drake to Highway 1 and on up onto glorious Mount Tam. There’s parking at the Bootjack Trailhead, which winds through woods and flowering meadows to a profound 360-degree vista at the top. Shooting between 3 and 4 o’clock will increase your chances of catching swift cloud formations and fog, building with dramatic shifting light – although the sunset can sometimes be a disappointment, if the hills become socked in. The local park rangers lock up at sundown anyway, so it’s best to be back at your vehicle by then.
As a sweet consolation to the early closing of park lands, Highway 1 offers literally hundreds of great spots for shooting west across the Pacific. The road leads through Stinson Beach, with a little-known hot springs that is only accessible once a month at neap tide. The rest of the time, look out for a beach full of surfers, swimmers, kids, and dogs. The obligatory coolers of cheap beer and tasteless tropical-themed swim wear also abound.
Small Town America Never Looked This Good! Ffamous for hiding its town sign, Bolinas is quintessential California and at its cutest at its annual July 4th parade, replete with Brazilian Carnival dancers and a tug of war. photo: D. Blair
Continue on Highway 1 past the Bolinas lagoon bird refuge, for glimpses of delicate cranes and herons, as well as various other native bird species. Take the first unmarked left to head into Bolinas. Locals are frank – they don’t want you to stop here, so they’ve removed the ‘City Limits’ sign. But we trust you not to use your cell phone when inside this artist-oasis. (We’re not kidding!) Wild-caught grilled salmon is available most afternoons at the Coast café, with plenty of people watching in the outdoor patio. Follow the brass frog footprints to wash the sand off in the restroom before dining.
After you repas, walk – don’t drive – to the beautiful beaches in Bolinas. Turn north and sheer cliffs and soft sand offer panoramic seascape shots with surfers, tide pools, and seals. July 4th is celebrated here in true all-American Nor-Cal splendor with music, costumes, and not a small amount of body glitter and a post-parade picnic and rope pull on the beach facing their neighbors, the more middleclass Stintson Beach right across the lagoon mouth. Also a mellow but scenic surf spot.
Sun & Fog: A common meteorological effect at Stinson Beach, the more toney side of the lagoon with some good sea food spots. photo: D. Blair
Drive another twenty minutes and you’re at Point Reyes. Lush forests and lovely rocky outcroppings mean that only sure-footed hikers get the money shots here. A low-key pit-stop at Priscilla’s Pizzeria & Café on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard will rejuvenate your crew, without too much pocketbook damage.
Head east on Point Reyes/Petaluma Road to hook up with Highway 101. Before leaving Marin, be sure to drive through San Rafael. Check out what’s playing at the California Film Institute’s Rafael Theater at 1118 Fourth Street. If you’ve got mouths to feed, stop in at Toast at 31 Sunnyside Avenue off East Blithedale Boulevard in Mill Valley, where you might rub elbows with any of the local filmmakers who wander in and out of Marin’s coffee boites. Even George Lucas has been seen dining here. For more info:
Marin Film Office
Mendocino is following its neighbor in the south into wine production, as was explained by vitner Xavier. photo: D. Blair
Take Highway 101 north to Mendocino. The Highway 128 West exit at Cloverdale will lead you deep into rolling hills among wineries, apple orchards, and redwoods headed towards Boonville and the heart of Mendo's Emerald Triangle (of marijuana growers, also includes Humboldt and Trinity counties). Getting sidetracked by tasting rooms may be tempting, but push on towards Fort Bragg and Highway 1, if you can. Stop in town for a microbrew at The North Coast Brewing Company, 455 North Main Street. The fish and chips is great, too.
Then head on up north to dramatic rock outcroppings and a wilder coastline. Shooting at sundown off the Mendocino cliffs on extremely clear evenings can even provide a mystical glimpse of ‘the green flash’ as the sun dips below the horizon.
Push north on Usal Road, avoiding the eastern turn of Highway One, and you’ll find truly spectacular black sand beaches, unpaved roads, and plenty of hiking in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. For help on filming locations in Mendocino, contact Debra De Graw at the Mendocino County Film office, 707.961.6302.
Moonrise in Yosemite. photo: D. Blair
The grand mountains of California, the Sierras, are easily accessible due east about three hours from San Francisco. Go past Sacramento and bear right on Route 52 and you will be there in a jiffy. Placerville, your first port of call as Route 50 rises into the mountains, was once called Hangtown and it still has the hanging tree (where men died for a thimbleful of gold dust) and a few period buildings. Mostly, Placerville is where you stock up before you head into the hills full of dozens of lovely locations.
In actuality, there are many small art enclaves in the Sierras, and you might find some interesting views at any of them – stop and ask the locals. Right along Highway 50 there dozens of interesting houses and little bridges as well as old lodges – and the owners might be overjoyed for you to pay a nominal shoot fee to use their facilities (as long as you don’t ask in peak season). For fabulous and easily-accessible views, head for the summit of Highway 50 and take the turnoff for Echo Lake. There you can take a launch across the lake (about $8), where you will find lovely scenery of mountains and cabins. Or you can hike in about 3 miles to the aptly named Desolation Wilderness – almost entirely above the tree line – for better views.
Sean Rush plays a game of frisbee at Midland Harbor Park, before the same ship loading cranes that inspired George Lucas's AT-ATs in 'The Empire Strikes Back.' photo: D. Blair
In the star-studded galaxy of the Bay, Oakland can seem a little under-stated, but this is its very strength. An unpretentious working-class town, Oakland enjoys tremendous diversity and artistic opportunities, as well as a active harbor. (Stop in Oakland to pick up your crew and extras.) Although downtown Oakland can be eerily empty during the midday, this makes for ideal urban B-roll. Grab some iconic shots around the 14th Street BART Station, an easy ride from San Francisco.
Don’t miss De Lauer’s Super Newsstand at 13th Street and Broadway, and walk one block west to the modern City Center for shots of outdoor sculpture, the City of Oakland seal set into the plaza’s paving, and the Tribune Building. Head one block east to the Radio Bar for a drink with owner Alfredo, a scriptwriting refugee from Hollywood. Head over two more blocks for a bite to eat at former Mayor Jerry Brown’s favorite restaurant, Le Cheval, at Clay and 10th Streets, 510.763.8957.
Shoot the downtown skyline from across the 980 Freeway at sunset, or at dawn from across Lake Merritt (where you can rent a gondola and fake Venice). Oakland’s Chinatown is not as extensive as San Francisco’s, but there are some authentic elders in its rows of shops, as well as hipster kids at the tapioca bubble teashops.
For shots from the waterfront, try Harbor Park at the western end of 7th Street where you’ll find flocks of ducks, dynamic views of The City, and the ship loaders that were the inspiration for Lucas’ AT-ATs in "The Empire Strikes Back." On your way out, you pass
, an excellent place to plug into Oakland’s notorious alternative art scene – you find everything from Burning Man fire artists to historic blacksmithing. For pioneer-style loft life in general, see
or call at 510-433-0506.
For hard-hitting Oakland reality, try DeFremery Park – where the Black Panthers used to gather. Authentic Oakland quirkiness can be had at the Pretty Lady Cafe on Peralta Avenue. East Oakland’s 14th Avenue offers great Central American fare. Also try Fruitvale Avenue’s many silver taqueria trucks. Pick any one – they’re all serving authentic local recipes. Take the avenue down a few blocks, across a bridge and into the city of Alameda, where old wooden storefronts invoke small town America. For classic greasy spoon, try the Waffle House on Park Street, or eat New Delhi-style at the fabulous India Palace, at 737 Buena Vista.
For more information about filming on location in Oakland, contact Janet Austin at the Oakland Film Office, 510-238-4734.
With a traditional Chinese funeral occurring in the distance, the town of Locke near Sacramento is a location manager's dream. photo T. Myers
Sacramento is not that shootable, unless you want to some California government scenes, but the surrounding Gold Country and Delta have some lovely locations. Most notable among the latter is Locke which was built in 1915 and remains virtually unchanged, a perfect setting for a Western or an "Eastern," for that matter
Much of all the above mentioned landscape is also available in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or Presidio, but above all, it is a beautiful boutique city, with all its ethnicities and dramatic architecture and lovely setting on display. Woody Guthrie’s ‘Garden of Eden’ is truly San Francisco, queen in the diamond-studded crown of the Bay Area with environmental beauty as well as earthly and civilized delights.
From Gus Van Sant’s 'Milk,' shot in 2008, to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece 'Vertigo,' the Steve McQueen vehicle, literally, 'Bullit,' (1968), San Francisco has earned its reputation as perhaps the most dramatic city in America for shooting a film. Many of the City’s charms are readily apparent: a variety of landscapes and architecture, combined with a tremendous diversity of cultures – all set within a very small area (46.7†square miles, or just under 7 miles by 7 miles).
Welcome to San Francisco from Bernal Hill. photo M. Peck
Many hills offer great views, but our absolute favorite lookout is Bernal Hill. Skip the touristy gestalt of Twin Peaks, unless that’s what you’re going for. Bernal’s understated beauty boasts grand vistas in all directions. High winds in the afternoon (4 to 7 pm) accompany dramatic fog and singular lighting. Hawks hover overhead, hunting the many gophers whose burrows dot the hillside. Keep an eye out for the coyote – a local mascot who also makes her home in this urban refuge.
South of Market
Daytime shooting South of Market offers both wonderful alley graffiti and spectacular community art projects, as well as wide tree-lined streets that often have little traffic after business hours or on weekend mornings. Shoot south during the magic hour for dramatic architectural effects, as lintels and rooftops pop with gold and pink.
Some of San Fran's rightfully famous Victorians, these just across from Alamo Park. photo: A. Bolinsky
While wandering the back-alleyways of SoMa, stop in at SF Cinematheque to pick up a schedule of their screenings. Go pay your dues to the 9th Street Independent Film Center at 9th and Mission and catch some of the SF Jewish Film Festival (July 24 - August 11). Don’t forget to head over to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for Cinekink’s Triple X Selects (July 12, 7 pm). (See our Calendar on page 15 for details.)
Take advantage of all the construction sites for some B-roll. South of the ballpark, grab some agoraphilic and expansive shots of parking lots and industrial chaos. Don’t miss shooting the Bay Bridge from the south. Choicest times are at dawn (often with mysterious fog) and magic hour (a stunning light show).
A day of location scouting in the City would be incomplete without catching shots of this ‘Little Italy.’ If you have time, stop in for a beverage at Spec’s, where you might catch a glimpse of a future poet laureate pouring down a pint. Hike up to the San Francisco Art Institute for great rooftop views of Alcatraz and Angel Island. If you’re there on a Friday, see if George Kuchar’s class is screening their latest flick in the auditorium. And don’t forget to throw a coin in the fountain – every little bit of luck helps.
Find a rooftop to shoot urban B-roll in the Mission. If you can, schedule it for dawn or sunset for some dramatic colors that would make Edward Hopper proud. Then walk over to 20th and Valencia where Artist Television Access hosts a night of The New Talkies, as writers perform live re-interpretations of muted popular films (July 12, 7 pm). Of particular note, renowned poet David Larsen will accompany visuals from Logan’s Run. Wander down Valencia to 16th to see what the Roxie is offering audiences this July (Calendar, page 15).
San Francisco's summer is studded with festivals from the Folsom Street Fair early in the season to numerous events, such as shown here, in Golden Gate Park. photo: D. Blair
People-watching at Dolores Park should be a designated career path, especially for some of us regulars. Where else in the world do Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence fundraise in elaborate drag evocative of Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, while soccer moms chase down runaway toddlers wearing the latest Prada? Plus, you can catch a special free outdoor screening of The Breakfast Club on July 26. Arrive early to get a good spot, and dine on the green beforehand – film starts at dusk.
Haight Ashbury/Hippie Hill
‘You may say that I’m a dreamer/but I’m not the only one….’ John Lennon lives on in the spirit of the drummers at Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park. Every weekend you’ll find fire dancers, musicians, and other performers gathered to celebrate life in the moment. Walk south down Haight Street for odd juxtapositions: ex-Hippie Baby Boomers grimacing as their materialistic children lust after sneakers made in Vietnamese sweatshops.
With massive buildings now going up all over downtown, the TransAmerica building seems to have shrunk in size. Though it no longer sits so starkly atop the SF cityscape, the Pyramid is still as visually striking as it was when it was built – a building that can exude modernity, rising above the brownstones of Chinatown and Russian Hill. Shoot it from Broadway and Sutter, where a big open cobblestone intersection is perfect for two cars meeting – or shoot from right next to it as the gigantic braces still shout ‘the future.’
The Taylor and Broadway vista of the Transamerica Building and Bay Bridge is one of the best. And Chinatown is just two blocks away. photo: D. Blair
Palace of Fine Arts
There are excellent views of the Palace of Fine Arts from various high points in the Presidio, but perhaps the best is of the Palace’s dome with Alcatraz behind it. To get this background for your shot, find the lookout just a quarter mile on Arguello Boulevard from the Arguello Gate. You’ll find parking there, and the views – especially in the afternoon – are spectacular.
You may be freezing in the fog, but by golly it’s summer, so get thee to the beaches. Clothing is always optional here in San Francisco, especially near the water. Baker Beach has the most raw flesh on display, and the party atmosphere to support it. For a more contemplative shot, head over to China Beach, located at the end of Lake Street (follow the signs for parking). For the endless horizon shots, Ocean Beach has what you need. Stop in at the Java Beach CafÈ on Judah (at Great Highway) for a friendly bagel or an authentic Irish-oatmeal breakfast. If you long to catch the elusive ‘green flash,’ Fort Funston before sunset is your best bet. Set up on the cliffs with the ice plants, and you might just be in luck if the night is clear enough. In the afternoon, you might also want to shoot around the old windmills – the Dutch Windmill (1902), where Fulton meets the highway, and the Murphy Windmill (1905) near Lincoln Way (which was the world’s largest windmill when it was built and appeared in Charlie Chaplin’s 1915 The Jitney Elopement). Both windmills were built to pump water into Golden Gate Park, though the Murphy no longer has sails.
James Dalessandro, esteemed Bay Area screenplay writer, director and teacher shows where to get the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge: high up on the headlands at sunset. photo: D. Blair
Golden Gate Bridge
With more than a thousand suicides since opening day (compared to 45 leaps for New York’s George Washington Bridge, also built in the 1930s), the Golden Gate Bridge stands as one of the great romantic icons of not only San Francisco but perhaps of the world. With 95% of those leaps made from the City side, the bridge has apparently come to symbolize a tragic lover’s final farewell. But how and where do we shoot the bridge to express such nuance? We recommend you get right up on the structure, as our publisher Doniphan Blair did for his award-winning short Job (SFIFF, 1991). No permit is needed to shoot in small format. Otherwise you’ll need to shell out about $500 to the Golden Gate Authority, and you could wait up to six months for permit approval. Shoot from below through the slats of the railing for a nice visual that only shows part of the span.
There are three general views which capture the full bridge close enough to be visually imposing, but far enough to see it: from the Marin Headlands, from around Baker Beach in San Francisco, and from Fort Point in the Presidio – though some hiking around the Presidio’s Kobbe Triangle (and down to where Lincoln crosses Washington) will yield a seldom-seen bridge view through the trees.
‘Bucolic’ says the Marin Headlands: you could put your characters on any number of its rolling hills and shoot down on the bridge with the city in the distance, perhaps glistening in the morning light. A couple strolling could suggest the gentler side of the symbol. Baker Beach could do this, too, although if you head to the east and left, scramble over the rocks or climb down from the cliff-top road closer to the bridge, you will find increasingly imposing views and impressive cliffs to frame your subjects. Fort Point allows you to come up right under the bridge or frame further in the distance, as Hitchcock did in Vertigo. On a clear day, you’ll get the Marin Headlands in the background and freighters steaming underneath the span – now displaying a more placid aspect.
For the standard standup shot, with the bridge looming in the background, take the first exit after the bridge (headed north) and set up right in the parking lot – you’ll get a nice long shot of the bridge from one end. Or, you can get a great reveal as you come south on Highway 101 through the tunnel – a view that can be striking when the light and/or fog are right.
Bay Bridge is rather dramatic from right underneath on Harrison; or cross to Treasure Island, and drive all the way down to the ample parking for the view from across the water, especially good at dawn. photo: D. Blair
While the Golden Gate Bridge carries Marin aristocracy and Mendo agriculture to San Francisco, the Bay Bridge is how the East Coast road warrior arrives. Indeed, the reveal emerging from the tunnel through Treasure Island, with all of San Francisco’s downtown suddenly in your face, is incredibly powerful – even more dramatic with the setting sun burning up behind it. There are great shooting spots all over Treasure Island. Shoot from the Embarcadero or back up Spear Street a few blocks, where the bridge towers over an otherwise innocuous scene (especially glinting in the late afternoon light).
For a two-shot of two of the Bay’s great bridges, try shooting from Maritime Park in Oakland, where you can see the Golden Gate beneath the Bay Bridge. This view is fabulous at the magic hour – although you should bring the really long lens to punch it up.
And that just about wraps up our annual Locations Guide. Like most of us, you probably already have a list of favorite spots in the City. If we have missed your favorite spot, or some secret view that could change the way audiences see our home locations, please drop us a line and let our readers know. We’d also love to hear about some of your choicest shooting locations, so please log onto our locations discussion forum,
– while you’re there, be sure to check out what our other readers are saying about their sweet spots.
By the way, please let us know about any amazing locations or interesting experiences you may have encountered wending your way through Northern California. And happy trails!
Posted on Jun 03, 2008 - 12:49 PM