California Dreamin’

Sometimes a weekend away is the perfect remedy for the Chicago winter blues. Just the thought of spending a few days far from the icky grey skies that plague our winters can do wonders for the traveler’s psyche. And so we were both looking forward to boarding a plane for a quick jaunt to San Francisco where Matt would be attending a work conference the following week. Over the past three years, we have traveled to this area of Northern California in October and February for this very reason, and, with Matt’s brother living in the city, it has become a fantastic opportunity to spend time with him while also exploring this beautiful corner of our country.

For the past five trips, we have enjoyed some of California’s top attractions: hiking in Yosemite, snowshoeing in Tahoe, camping on the coast at Big Sur, marveling at redwood giants in Muir Woods and taking in the magnificent ocean views on the trails of the Point Reyes National Seashore. It doesn’t quite seem fair that all of these natural wonders should be concentrated within only a few hours-drive of San Francisco. Chicago is a great city, but we would be in the car for days to get to somewhere half as impressive. As nature enthusiasts, we often question our choice of hometown and can’t help but plan a move every time we visit amazing cities like San Francisco that offer the best of both worlds. Unfortunately it seems that we are all talk and no action, so we have no big moves in the works. Nonetheless, imagining new lives in nature-friendly locales is a fun diversion, and we keep dreaming…

To make California even more alluring, we arrived to a weekend of phenomenal weather. While 65 and sunny isn’t unheard of in February, it certainly isn’t the norm, and we couldn’t resist the chance to get outdoors and make the most of it. We headed up to Sonoma with Matt’s brother Steve and good friend Thom, where we were rented bikes for the day to explore the many nearby wineries. Armed with a map of our route and the recommendations of the friendly bike shop clerk, we pedaled along Sonoma’s backroads to sample the varietals for which the area is world-famous.



Each winery offers a slightly different scene, and our favorite was the utterly unpretentious Homewood Wineries. Our sommelier happily explained the history and philosophy of the small vineyard while pouring tasty samples for us in the small garden. While not the prettiest property, the individualized attention and laid back attitude created an overall atmosphere that far surpassed the vineyard’s busier and pricier neighbors. If we had to do it all over again, we would have spent the whole day there.



As mentioned before, our previous trips to San Francisco have all been excursions out of town, so we decided to use this final trip as an opportunity to see more of the city. We took a pleasant stroll around the Italian neighborhood of North Beach and its bustling neighbor Chinatown. Next we made our way up to Coit Tower for a beautiful panoramic view of the city and the bay, and we checked out the Embarcadero after dark to get some photos of the skyline at night.



San Francisco has so much to offer, but we found ourselves being drawn over and over again to the Golden Gate Bridge. There are many different locations in the city where you can get a great vantage point for photographing this impressive landmark. We tried our hand at several at various times of the day–dawn, late afternoon and post dusk. While we are not sure which one is our favorite, one thing we are certain of is that we could use a lot more time in San Francisco to explore the myriad of photographic opportunities available there.

Post-dusk shot taken from the Sausalito side of the bridge
Late afternoon shot along the access road to Fort Point
Late afternoon shot along the trails above Baker Beach
Late afternoon shot along the trails above Baker Beach
Sunrise shot with Fort Point visible in foreground
Sunrise shot with Fort Point visible in foreground
Sunrise shot on the walking trail between Fort Point and the bridge
Sunrise shot on the walking trail between Fort Point and the bridge
A placard on the bridge itself
Other photographers catching the morning light
Other photographers catching an unusual sunrise over the city

Which is your favorite view of the bridge?

12 thoughts on “California Dreamin’

  1. The Bridge shot third from the bottom is my favorite. The saturation of colors and contrast against the gray, moddled clouds is stunning. It looks a lot like a vintage post card I have of the same exact shot of one of my favorite, magical cities!

  2. Vertical Baker Beach but in my mind the best view is coming in from the Headlands. Of course, that may be influenced by our approach into SF after spending three weeks on bikes coming from Portland.

    1. That would definitely be the best way to view the bridge–I’m jealous! We wanted to get to the Headlands for some light trail photos of the cars coming over the bridge at night, but we ran out of time. Looks like we need to plan another trip!

  3. Funny, as I was scrolling through your photos, I was thinking that I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite! I love the post-dusk shot and the two late-afternoon shots. Also, the one of the walkway with benches at night. How was biking around with a buzz? ; ) Sounds like your trip was a great weekend escape!

    1. You’re too kind, Melissa–thank you! The buzz made me brave enough to take that picture of Matt while I was riding my bike, but I managed not to fall off in the process. The rental company warned us not to drink more than we could handle, and they charge a whopping $50 fee for everyone in your group if they have to come pick you up, so that was pretty good motivation to keep things tame!

  4. I love the night shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. The way the light reflects off the water below is stunning. It’s a gorgeous shot of the quintessential San Francisco landmark. Nice job!

    1. Thank you, Andy. We appreciate your opinion and encouragement. We have not done too much night photography, and it was cool to see how the camera captured the light. We can’t wait to get out and try some more!

  5. Alison, I had to come and peek at your blog and found this post and love it! I was born in and now live within 2 hr drive of SF {I know, probably doesn’t seem fair…. } and just adore the city. I don’t get there often enough, and it’s hard to leave when I do. Your post is beautiful and your photos are gorgeous! Hope you get back to the city sometime soon!

    1. Thanks so much, Bonnie. We just love California and are sad that Matt’s work trips to San Francisco are finished for the time being. Even so, I bet we won’t be able to stay away for long. You are indeed lucky to call CA home. We appreciate you following our blog!

    1. Thanks, Violet! We had a lot of fun shooting the bridge on that trip. There are so many different ways to compose photographs of that landmark. We hope we are able to get back sometime soon and try for some more.

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