Photography San Francisco/California Street Photography

A Street Photography Exploration of San Francisco via the 30 Stockton Bus

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Over the last couple of months, I’ve been enjoying getting more out of San Francisco’s Muni for my work on street photography. I’m enjoying hopping on various Muni buses/streetcars/Metros and taking off in different directions to explore different neighborhoods without the worries to parking, etc.

By the way, there’s a great iPhone app called Pocket MUNI which makes this exploration on San Francisco’s Muni so much easier – displaying route maps, real-time location of Muni’s vehicles, etc. It’s a must have for this kind of Muni-based street touring in San Francisco. And, if you’re using Caltrain to get to San Francisco, be sure to also check out CaltrainMe – it’s ideal for checking schedules without fumbling through the timetables themselves.

So far, I’ve explored the J Church streetcar line from the Embarcadero Station on Market St. – finding it almost a Disneyland “E” ticket ride and it rides up hills by Delores Park and rounds curves on its way out to the Balboa Park station – where it connects with BART if you want to take a fast return trip back into the City. The Muni’s car barn is located there at Balboa Park – but there’s nothing for the public to see – it’s pretty tightly locked down.

From the Caltrain Station, the 10 Townsend bus will take you into the Financial District, past the Transamerica Pyramid and then head west out Jackson St. in Pacific Heights. The 47 Van Ness bus heads over to Van Ness, past San Francisco’s Civic Center and ends up on North Point near Ghirardelli Square and Fishermans’ Wharf. But read on for my new discovery – the 30 Stockton!

Recently I took Caltrain up to San Francisco from Menlo Park for a day of solo street photography. On the train, I decided to try exploring on the 30 Stockton bus from the San Francisco Caltrain station at Fourth and Townsend. The bus stop for the 30 is actually about a 1/2 block up Townsend St from 4th – it’s a bit tricky to find at first. It’s the start of the line – so drivers are taking a break there – when I arrived there were two buses with drivers taking a brief break before heading out. Here’s a PDF of the 30 Stockton route map.

The 30 heads up Townsend, turns left at Third St., crosses Market St., the onto Kearny for a couple blocks until it turns left onto Sutter St. to jog up to actually join its namesake Stockton Street. It heads through the Stockton Tunnel and, out the other side, into the busiest part of Chinatown! It then continues into North Beach, bears left onto Columbus Avenue, passes Washington Square Park and then makes a turn west at North Point – before heading through the Marina and out to Broderick St. a block or two from the Palace of Fine Arts.

That’s a pretty remarkable crosstown route that navigates through some great neighborhoods for San Francisco street photography. If you have a couple of hours, you might only stop at one or two of these neighborhoods. If you have more time, you could almost make a day of it.

Here are some ideas:

  • 3rd St and Market area – A classic San Francisco scene for street photography – this area includes a rooftop opportunity at 1 Kearny. Market Street is always churning – and the angle of the streets here can provide some nice long shadows during the wintertime if the sun is cooperating.
  • Kearny Street – the east side of Kearny is remarkable for several blocks as it has no parking on that side. In the spring/summer, the light will shine on that side providing some great shooting from the west side of the street. In the winter, the light isn’t quite as helpful – but this is still a remarkable couple of blocks. It’s busiest at lunchtime – go then if you can.
  • Bank of America Building Plaza – as you follow Kearny further north – after where the 30 Stockton turns on Sutter, you’ll find the plaza of the Bank of America building as it fronts California Street. This is a beautiful place – especially over toward the east side. A combination of people and powerful architecture can be found here.
  • Chinatown – the blocks in Chinatown along Stockton are often very crowded with people. Lots of produce markets, poultry shops with ducks hanging in the windows, etc. This is the real working neighborhood of Chinatown along Stockton – with relatively few of the touristy souvenir shops that are found along Grant Avenue.
  • North Beach – the park at Washington Square, the Church of St. Peter and Paul, and the residential blocks east of the Square are great areas to explore. Generally less crowded in terms of people and more architectural subjects here – including the alleyways. Be sure to look up in this neighborhood and not just at street level. The cafes along Columbus along with the Italian deli’s also make interesting places to people watch.
  • Cable Car turnaround at Taylor and Bay St. – I got off the 30 at the corner of Columbus and Chestnut/Taylor Streets. Walking two blocks north on Taylor takes you to the cable car turnaround at Bay St. This line isn’t always running – but, when it is, it’s much less crowded than the other cable car turnaround near Ghirardelli Square.
  • Fisherman’s Wharf – it’s a a short walk up Taylor to Jefferson St. where a quick left takes you to the boat lagoon at Fisherman’s Wharf. Lots of touristy stuff here – but some authentic shots of seafood can be found in the cookers along the sidewalks in this area.
  • Hyde Street Pier – walking further down Jefferson takes you to the Hyde Street Pier – a National Park property with some great nautical scenes. If you’re a senior like me (defined as 62 or above) be sure to get you lifetime pass good for all US National Parks. It costs $10 – one of the best bargains around. I use it for Yosemite, etc. – any US National Park.
  • Rejoin the 30 at Hyde and and Beach – the 30 bus runs along North Point – on the other side of Ghirardelli Square. If you’ve got the energy to walk up the hill, you can hop back on and continue westbound through the Marina. Depending on your timing, you may not need to pay again – using either a transfer or Clipper Card within 90 minutes of first payment is at no additional charge.
  • Palace of Fine Arts – stay on the 30 through the Marina area to Broderick Street and get off either at Bay or North Point. Walk 1 block west and you’ll come upon the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts. The architecture is wonderful and there’s usually a lot of interesting people watching here as well.
  • Return to Caltrain Station – to catch the return route of the 30 bus, you’ll need to walk to Divisadero and Chestnut St. Divisadero is one block east of Broderick (where you got off earlier) – so from the Palace of Fine Arts walk two blocks east and then 2-3 blocks south to Chestnut. Not a lot of people in this area – but lots of interesting architecture, so keep you eyes open and periodically look above street level for interesting angles, opportunities, etc.

In summary, the 30 Stockton can be a great way to see lots of wonderful San Francisco neighborhoods as it criss-crosses the City. It’s a new discovery for me – one I suspect I’ll be going back to regularly. A reminder – these are public transit lines – and you’ll “meet all kinds”. Just enjoy yourself, keep smiling – it’s all part of the San Francisco experience!

If you go, I’d love to hear your stories about exploring San Francisco on the 30 Stockton – please share by posting a comment below!

2 replies on “A Street Photography Exploration of San Francisco via the 30 Stockton Bus”

Thank you for this incredibly useful article about street photography in San Francisco. I was in San Francisco in October. I wish I could’ve stayed for two weeks there was so much to see and photograph. I will use your articles information to help me when I return next year.
I also enjoyed looking at your Flickr photo stream. We have superb black-and-white street photos.


I must apologize for my typos. I am using dictation and I should have proofread better. I meant to say: You have many superb black-and-white Street photos.

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