Sometimes You Just Need To Wing It
I had the opportunity to spend some time up in San Francisco over Memorial Day weekend. I didn't have enough time to hit all the spots on my list, but I got to the important places, and learned a lot in the process. I learned that you can never plan too much, and at the same time, some things you simply cannot plan for at all.
When I landed in San Francisco late Saturday afternoon, my intent was to catch a Lyft down to the Batteries to Bluffs trail to catch the sunset at Marshall's Beach. Since I am not a local, I did not know there was going to be a Peta protest circling the block my hotel was on. I had very little time to make it to the beach before sunset and my Lyft ride was stuck behind the protest. I didn't plan on this happening, but I did plan alternative options. Armed with a healthy dose of frustration, I dug out the shot list note on my iPhone to see what other evening spots I could quickly get to by foot. This is where planning in advance is helpful, because when plans fail, you will have planned for alternative options. Basically what I discovered is, sometimes it's better to plan out multiple options and just wing it when you arrive. There will always be environmental factors you can't account for in advance.
The next spot on my list was Pier 14. It was the closest place to where I was without having to risk missing the sunset altogether. I had been wanting to get a blue hour cityscape from the end of this pier for several years now, so arriving a few minutes late wouldn't make or break anything. I finally arrived, began to set up my gear, and waited for the blue hour to set in. It was getting to be the perfect time in the evening to shoot with the sky transforming to a beautiful shade of dark blue and the lights on the buildings coming on. That's when the next problem occurred. Apparently Pier 14 closes at sun down, which doesn't seem to be published anywhere on the internet. I was greeted by a very kind security guard who gave me 5 more minutes to pack everything up before escorting me off the pier. What a bummer! That's two strikes in one evening.
The next option on my list was to shoot blue hour cityscapes at the end of Pier 7. It wasn't my first option because I've shot from this location before and wanted to hit up new spots first. However, I knew if I didn't run as fast as I could down to Pier 7, I'd miss the rest of the blue hour and the whole evening would have been wasted. I made it right on time and captured a pretty awesome panorama of the city before the deep blue sky turned to black.
Once I was satisfied with what I captured, I packed up my gear and was on my way. I walked a mile down to the Hard Rock Cafe at Pier 39, grabbed some dinner, and then conceded to my hotel room for a measly 4 hours of sleep before waking back up to catch the sunrise at Fort Point. This would be a good example of plans going perfectly for once. My alarm went off when it was supposed to, I actually heard it go off and woke up, some crazy Lyft driver was actually up at this horrible hour of the morning to drive me there, and I made it on time. It was amazing. As much as I hate waking up super early in the morning, watching the sun rise can be one of the most peaceful things you can ever experience. The roads are empty, most people are still asleep, it's much quieter out, and there's very little to distract you from simply enjoying the moment you're in.
Considering how I missed my first opportunity to get to Marshall's Beach, I was coming up on the second and last sunset of my trip and needed to make it down there one way or another. I guess I was feeling a little adventurous this time around because I decided to give the bus a try. The ride would cost me $2.75 instead of $25 and would take me an hour to get to drop off point at Baker Beach, instead of a half hour to get to the trail head (which puts you closer to Marshall's).
I'm actually glad I took the bus to Baker Beach instead. I discovered a hiking trail that links Baker Beach to the Batteries to Bluffs trail, and provides a very scenic view of the Golden Gate Bridge along the way. I was tempted to stop my journey at Baker Beach and skip Marshall's Beach altogether, but it was far too crowded there for me to want to deal with. If you're considering shooting at either beach, Marshall's Beach is worth the extra hike to get to. There were maybe 3 people down there and no one was in anyone's way. Marshall's Beach is also more scenic and puts you closer to the Golden Gate Bridge, so it's a win no matter how you look at it. Your legs might disagree on the hike back up though.
All in all, watching the sunset from Marshall's Beach was the highlight of my entire trip. I was smack dab in the middle of a big metropolitan city, enjoying all of the energy from everything going on, and yet I was completely isolated from society at the same time. As the tide came in, I kicked off my shoes, rolled up my pants, and dug my toes in the sand while the cool ocean water rushed past my feet. I had been looking forward to that moment since before I left home.