A Walk through Time in San Francisco’s Presidio’s Main Post

Presidio Brick House Porch

Presidio Brick House Porch

Unravel the history of San Francisco’s Presidio and take great photos on a self-guided walking tour of the Main Post, the heart of the Presidio.

The former Spanish / Mexican / US military site is part of the National Park Service and in public hands since 1994. With over 200 years of military history, the park offers a unique combination of attractions for history buffs and photographers.

The stylish 19th century houses, lavish porches, and beautifully maintained gardens make this area of the park attractive to photographers. Most of the buildings serve as residences and offices and are thus off limits to exploration, but there is still much to see on the short walking tour.
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Santa Barbara Presidio

Carriage at the Presidio

Santa Barbara’s Presidio hides in plain sight in Downtown Santa Barbara. Occupying parts of two typical city blocks, the red roofed buildings fit well into the overall city architecture making them nearly invisible at first glance.

The Presidio was the fourth and last fortress that the Spanish built in California. Not much is left of the original 1782 buildings. The reconstructed buildings are home to a few interesting artifacts and a fountain in the backyard that remains of the original building.

The Presidio is definitely not a main attraction for photographers, but it is worth a quick stop. It is a fantastic place to learn about California’s early settlement history.
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Stearns Wharf – Santa Barbara

Beach from Pier

The quaint coastal town of Santa Barbara with its palm lined beaches and mountain vistas is also known as the American Riviera. Stearns Wharf, California’s oldest working wharf,  is a favorite tourist destination. Strolling over the water and feeling the wharf shudder under the power of the waves crashing against its pillars, taking a breath of fresh sea air while gawking at the busy fishing boats and surfers or hunting down a souvenir and and a tasty snack are among the many things you can do here to kill time.

To photographers the wharf is a superb platform and subject. From the pier you have sweeping views of Santa Barbara, you can see seals and albatross compete for fish, you can observe the surfers, and on good days even witness a whale blow in the distance. The wooden colorful stores, tourist crowds, and pillars of the pier are also worthwhile subjects.
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Santa Barbara Superior Court

Santa Barbara Mountains

Santa Barbara’s nestles between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Coast. The Spanish architecture and clean, palm dotted neighborhoods, and the superb location create a relaxed holiday atmosphere unparalleled anywhere else. When city planners chose to rebuild Santa Barbara in this clean villa like image, they built America’s most beautiful courthouse as the crown jewel of city architecture.

Santa Barbara’s Superior Court occupies an entire block in downtown. The building complex features a tall clock tower, a garden, murals, a fountain, ornaments, tiles, and other architectural highlights. Of all the features, the views of Santa Barbara from the “El Mirador” clock tower are the most remarkable.

No other building in downtown is higher, making this the best spot to photograph overviews of the city. Amazingly, I have never encountered crowds on the tower during my previous visits, but tourist traffic has increased over the years.

Do not miss the chance to visit the courthouse and enjoy the view from the eighty-five feet tall tower.
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How to photograph Pismo Beach

Pismo SB Pier

Legendary California sunsets, spectacular nature, and a diverse beach community define Pismo Beach, a family friendly community located on the Central Coast of California. Once known as the Clam Capital of the World, Pismo Beach preserves the spirit of the golden days, when daydreamers and thrill seekers met to surf the impressive waves and relax at the beach or in their hippie vans.

You can still encounter this rare breed of aging super hippies who stubbornly refuse to grow up. While observing them pass through life with a remarkable ease, I sometimes wish I could peel off my hard working skin and join them in their endless summer.

I enjoy sitting on the pier and romanticizing the bum lifestyle, but when the sun sets, it is time for me to wake up and work my camera to capture the beauty of Pismo Beach.
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Golden Gate Park: Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill, Botanical Garden

Stow Lake Footbridge

Stow Lake Footbridge

Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill and the San Francisco Botanical Garden (Strybing Arboretum) are photogenic attractions inside the giant Golden Gate Park. Stow Lake surrounds Strawberry Hill, creating a picturesque artificial island. Strawberry Hill is also the highest point in Golden Gate Park, presenting good views of San Francisco. The Botanical Gardens lie next to Stow Lake, making a combined visit practical. Nearby you can also find the Japanese Tea Garden, the parks most famous attraction.
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How to photograph Newport Beach

Balboa Island Yachts

Motor yachts, sailboats, and villas define the public face of Newport Beach, North America’s richest city. Wealth is all that matters here. The servants, slipping through the backdoors, must have abandoned their American Dream a long time ago. Bronze tanned beach boys, conceited women with salon styled dogs, and aging playboys on large yachts compete for each other’s admiration. The exuberant display of wealth has gotten out of control in Newport Beach.

Newport beach is located around a natural harbor, shielded by a peninsula. The geography makes it the ideal location for the largest yacht harbor in North America. Islands within the bay are all residential neighborhoods. Balboa Island, the largest and most hospitable island, is pleasant to discover on foot. Accommodations and food choices are less appealing to casual travelers on a budget though.

Offering a greater diversity of food, an excellent beach with white sand and clear water, and several other attractions, Balboa Peninsula is more fun and less formal. Children’s entertainment, bay cruises, and the ferry to Avalon are also located here.

Newport Beach is unique with its idiosyncratic residents who wish to be seen while shielding themselves from sight. Beneath its surface, Newport Beach offers a unique beauty that is difficult to find elsewhere.
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San Diego Old Town

Old Town Cliche Trinity

The site of the first European settlement in California, San Diego Old Town, is a place rich in history. The bustling state park, where history mixes with entertainment, is one of San Diego’s most famous and easiest accessible tourist traps. The park offers a romanticized glimpse back in time, through a pair of kitschy commercial goggles. Nonetheless, the amusement park style historic core is a nice diversion from the modern glitter of San Diego.

If you manage to look past the candy and novelty stores, you will still be able to gain glimpses of the harsh life of those early settlers. The tiny jail, original courthouse, and several museums preserve the history of California’s birthplace. The colorful shops at the Fiesta del Reyes Plaza, the Mexican dancers, and the Old Town Market complement the experience with the rich Mexican heritage of California.

This mix makes photography in Old Town worthwhile, but also challenging. The only certainty is that you will enjoy your time here.
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Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

McWay Cove, McWay Falls overlook trail

One of California’s most iconic and most photographed locations is McWay Falls, part of the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Less than ten years ago, I was alone on the overlook trail. Today, tourists step on each other’s toes.

It is no surprise. The serene beauty of this place will blow you away. A secret cove, a waterfall that plunges into the ocean, and turquoise waters seem to stem from the imagination of a painter, yet the unspoiled nature of this park is real. The solitude is all but gone these days, but you can still capture the essence of this place, thanks to the non-existent access to the beach below.

Understandably, most people come to see McWay Cove and leave in a rush to see even more of Big Sur’s beautiful coastline. However, if you have time, you should consider the canyon hike opposite to the overlook trail that leads you through a coastal forest to yet another waterfall. Not nearly as spectacular, the refreshing hike offers a pleasant diversion from the day’s driving and from the crowds.

Do not miss California’s most spectacular beach cove!
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How to photograph Cambria

Bench Fiscalini Ranch

The upscale town of Cambria and its small tranquil fishing village neighbor, Cayucos, have retained most of their small town charm. Remaining independent from the influence of retail chains, restaurants, and the real estate development boom, these idyllic towns are perfect summer gateways. Located along the Pacific Coast, far enough from the bustling Southern California cities, Cambria is a perfect vacation destination, if you can afford the lodging.

Even if lodging is too expensive for your budget, a visit to both cities, a stroll along main street, a photography session in one of the many parks, and a short stop at the pier does not cost anything, leaving enough to sample the fine food in Cambria. The romantic old town area, hiking and wildlife viewing choices, and numerous quiet places make Cambria such a desirable place to visit and to photograph.
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