I go to sleep and wake up to this breathtaking view of San Francisco every day. Let me make myself clear. There is still an ocean between us, but this view is now adorning one of our bedroom walls. I fell in love with this photograph taken by Nadya Zimmerman and she surprised me with sending it to me. It’s a little painful to admit this, but Hitchcock went down and San Francisco viewed from Twin Peaks took its place. But it’s okay, Hitchcock loved San Francisco, too.
Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to ask Nadya to show us more of her San Francisco and walk us through it. Originally from Riga, Nadya has been living in the Bay Area for nine years. I discovered her photography through her beautiful blog, Nadya’s Side of the Road, which is about the lifestyle of living slowly in California and appreciating the beauty, elegance and magnificence of life through travel and photography. Passionate about photography, people, art and culture, Nadya loves discovering the relatively unknown corners of the places she visits and capture them in photographs that tell stories. She is also the founder of The ARTBO magazine, and her short film, Eyeball, was presented at Castro Theater in San Francisco. My kind of person! Her areas of interest, place of living and beautiful photography were bound to make this a very inspiring conversation, but what I probably liked the most about Nadya’s description of her life was her honesty and the reality check of life in San Francisco today. The good, the not so good, and the beauty of it all.
Could you describe San Francisco in three words?
It’s hard to describe San Francisco in three words, but I’ll try… Fog, Brunch, Technology. I know, most people still think about San Francisco as a city of hippie, art and freedom, but it’s less true now. The artist community is being squeezed out by the tech generation of young people in flannel shirts, eyes stuck to the screens of their phones or laptops, who worry about their projects and have no time to live. In the last few years the city has transformed into a playground for the young and wealthy. This is a sad reality of the most beautiful city (now the most expensive city) in the US. The city’s fabled quirks and collections of oddballs are definitely bleeding out from San Francisco. Once the Bohemian capital of the West Coast, ‘Fog City’ is becoming reduced to the very wealthy and the homeless.
Looking at the good side, what do you love the most about living here?
I love a lot about my life in San Francisco. I love people. We have here so many people from so many corners of the world, it’s amazing. The food is great partially due to the variety of people. I love being so close to the ocean. I love the hills of San Francisco and the old, colourful houses. San Francisco reminds me a lot of Europe. I don’t think I would love any other American city as much as I love San Francisco. It feels like home.
What is your one favourite thing to do in San Francisco and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?
I love going to museums in San Francisco. We have a few of them and there are always a lot of new things to see.
While in San Francisco, early mornings are best for: Photography. I am a huge fan of shooting my favourite city at dawn. The city looks truly magical when the first rays of sunlight touch its roofs and empty streets. At those moments I am always thinking about my luck living in this city.
How do you get around in SF?
I don’t drive. So I walk a lot. My sister and I love walking in San Francisco. We always find new charming streets, views, or cafés. This city never stop surprising me and I think people miss out on a lot when they don’t walk all these hills.
What is your favourite spot in the entire city?
Ah, that’s a really hard question. But I am forever in love with the Golden Gate Bridge. When I first came to California, it’s what I saw right away after the airport and I was so blown away by the beauty and size of the bridge, by the surreal views. I knew immediately it was my place.
California Street with a view to Bay Bridge
Describe your kind of perfect day in San Francisco: Well, I would start my morning with a cup of coffee at Rose’s Cafe on Union Street. Then, I would wander the evocative ruins of Sutro Baths and explore the nearby Sutro Heights gardens. I would hope for the morning fog as, believe it or not, from this once upon a time fog hater, I am now in love with fog. Fog is also perfect for my photography. Ocean in fog is simply breathtaking.
The most unexpected thing about the city: There is no summer. Sometimes we get a warm September and October, but, overall, there is no summer and I love it even when I complain about it.
What is the best time to visit San Francisco (best weather, few tourists)?
Best weather is definitely in September and October. In terms of tourists… they never leave. San Francisco is always full of tourists. Always. If you are not afraid of cold winds, April and May are beautiful because of the wild flowers.
Where should one go if they want to feel less like a tourist and more like a local?
Well, we have so few spots, locals are very protective of them and so am I. But I would visit Union Street, Castro, and I would let myself wander around without any map. That’s the best way to end up in some odd and truly San Franciscan spots. Let your heart and the wind in your hair lead you.
And what is one touristy place one must see?
Twin Peaks. Go there early for sunrise. It’s a magical view. Twin Peaks is ideal to see the 360 degree version of San Francisco. The view is so beautiful. Downtown, Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Port, the whole Peninsula is right in front of your eyes. I think Twin Peaks should be the number one destination to visit when you arrive in San Francisco for the first time, well, unless you are afraid to leave your heart in San Francisco or to be carried away by the freezing wind.
Sunrise above San Francisco Bay, Twin Peaks
Favourite moment of the day for taking photos: Sunrise!!! Love that first light of the day.
One thing/spot you never get tired of photographing: The Golden Gate Bridge. It’s the place where my new life started.
Best coffee in town: I am a big fan of Philz Coffee. They are local to San Francisco and a must try. But I also would recommend to visit Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club Cafe. They have not just good coffee, but the most amazing cinnamon toast! The café itself is super tiny, stylish and friendly. It has a little bar inside and a very unusual outdoor seating area. There is a wooden bench under the window and a little section made of a fallen tree. Hippie/hipster looking locals are always sitting on that tree enjoying their coffee and toasts.
Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club Cafe
Favourite place to eat: I have so many, but there’s nothing like heading down to that little café on the corner for breakfast and a morning cup of coffee. You know the one – the one you visit rarely but is always on your mind when you are in the area. Rose’s Cafe is one of those for me. It’s a very charming, cozy, Europeanish little café on a corner on the western end of Union Street. Locals love it.
Favourite bookstore in town: I buy all my books on Amazon… but, still, I read only real paper books.
Most beautiful scenic hike: I love the hike from Muir Beach to Pirate’s Cove. Who doesn’t like little hidden pocket beaches? It’s not an easy hike. What looks to be an innocent curvy little path with breathtaking views of the coast is a very impressive incline. The views are breathtaking!
The hike from Muir Beach to Pirate’s Cove
Best Bay Area beach: Cowell Ranch Beach is easily my favourite beach on the Northern California coast. It’s my secret place, my private getaway. It’s funny, even though we have been living in the Bay Area for the last 9 years or so, we discovered Cowell Beach a couple of years ago during the location scouting for one of the short films directed by my husband. Since then, if it’s a great day to get some sun on the beach, we go to Cowell Beach. We also simply love to have a walk along the cliff. Even on a cloudy day, it’s a scenic walk or bicycle ride. I believe one of the reasons why the Cowell Beach isn’t more popular is that there’s a 1/2 mile walk on a gravel path to the beach across some farmlands. The other reason might be the hidden small parking lot (maybe enough for just 10-15 cars?).
The Cowell Ranch Beach
Best out-of-town escape: I must say, our little house we rented in Sea Ranch lived up to every dream I had of what life in the forest with an ocean view would be like. Honestly, on our first day there, I frequently had a feeling of being deaf, not that I know that feeling, but I imagine it’s how it’s supposed to feel, just not hearing anything. Anything at all. Sometimes I could hear, slightly, a sound of surf or a bird. I did enjoy the way the sun was coming out for a moment in late afternoon before again being blinded by the always creeping fog – my idea of perfect weather.
Best place to watch a movie: Castro Theater. Sometimes they have film festivals or international movies. My short film, Eyeball, was also shown in Castro Theater.
Now you’ve made me curious. Could you tell us more about your short film?
Eyeball (you can watch it here) is all about the difference between human interdependence and ‘virtual’ interdependence. We crave experience, but increasingly we seek that experience through the flat screens which we carry in our pockets, our purses, that surround us in our homes; screens that seem to follow us everywhere we go. Television, laptops, tablets, phones and now eyewear have seduced us into a reality that has nothing to do with the touch of a hand, a whisper in the ear or a simple kiss on the cheek. We want people to realise progress has never been a simple bargain – there are always hidden costs!
Part of my inspiration for Eyeball comes from my favorite books: 1984 and Brave New World. Another part of my inspiration comes from my own experience with the world around me. Every time I go outside I see people on the streets, in the restaurants with their phones, tablets and they are so consumed by them. I always thought it looked kind of ugly. And one day I realised I had started to become one of these people. I was scared of my own willingness to become sucked into something so disconnected with the physical world. So I wrote a script to express my idea of what’s going on right now with humanity and how technology influences us and changes us into something ‘less than.’ It’s actually interesting that with any technological progress we enclose ourselves more deeply into a box, more separated from ourselves and the physical world.
When I was 7 years old I knew so many names of stars and constellations of stars, I knew where to find them in the sky. To look into the night sky and talk with my relatives or friends about what is out there and how infinite the Universe is was a totally normal thing for so many young people. And my imagination was huge! Now this knowledge has been washed from my mind. Today I’ll bet if you ask teenagers when it was the last time they looked into the sky and asked THEMSELVES (not Google) a question about the universe, stars, etc…. their answer would be NEVER.
I hope our film Eyeball will make at least a few people stop, think and come out of their boxes to experience the real world just a bit more.
Don’t remember who said it but… Just as air in the atmosphere of the body, so time is the atmosphere of the mind. Who owns your time, owns your mind. Own your own time and you will know your own mind.
And, finally, I’d like to add about the film that it’s very much San Francisco today.
More travel interviews: Into the World: Ana Hogas and Ionut Florea / Paris in Spring with Georgianna Lane / Interview with Travel Writer Francisca Mattéoli
photos: Nadya Zimmerman