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The Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County, as viewed from a parking lot near Fort Point on the San Francisco side, c. 1950s. (Credit: William Rauum Photo Archive)

Travel

A portrait of San Francisco: Explore a photographic history of the city

@TomTaylorFO

In his seminal masterpiece On The Road, Jack Kerouac writes: “It seemed like a matter of minutes when we began rolling in the foothills before Oakland and suddenly reached a height and saw stretched out ahead of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness of the late afternoon of time.”

The city is a space fit for his frantic eulogising prose. In this end of land city, America seems to put on its final fanfare. Its history and story seem palpable. Though the fog sweeps torches and trench coats like the noir detective novels of old, the bars of the Bay Area still bask in liberation, and the Golden Gate Bridge remains the unmovable numen presiding over everything.

This sense of grand magnitude, is perhaps why it has prised so much beautiful prose. John Steinbeck offered up the following love letter: “The afternoon sun painted her white and gold—rising on her hills like a noble city in a happy dream. A city on hills has it over flat-land places. New York makes its own hills with craning buildings, but this gold and white acropolis rising wave on wave against the blue of the Pacific sky was a stunning thing, a painted thing like a picture of a medieval Italian city which can never have existed.”

On The Road: Follow in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac’s American road trip

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There is a sense of nostalgia to San Francisco whether you’ve been there before or not. It’s the rose-tinted eyes of romanticism that brings reminiscence to the fore and the contentment of its comforts that allows you to revel in it. Thus, it forever seems fitting to delve into its own past and pry beyond the curtain of the cobbled acropolis. That is exactly what the beauteous Taschen publication, San Francisco: Portrait of a City, provides.

“Starting with an early picture of a gang of badass gold prospectors who put this beautiful Northern California city on the map,” the Taschen listing explains, “this ambitious and immersive photographic history of San Francisco takes a winding tour through the city from the mid–nineteenth century to the present day.”

You can explore a brief snapshot of that historical journey below with images that capture swinging 1960s bands like Big Brother & The Holding Company, quirky cult acts like The Residents playing around with iconic backdrops, and a simple sense of cafe culture history.

All these images are from Taschen’s San Francisco: Portrait of a City. You can find out more and grab a copy of your own by clicking here.

San Francisco: Portrait of a City:

The Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County, as viewed from a parking lot near Fort Point on the San Francisco side, c. 1950s. (Credit: William Rauum Photo Archive)
Passengers crowding one of the cable cars that ran to Washington and Jackson streets in Pacific Heights. The cars were taken much more often by commuters than tourists in the mid-20th century, 1947. (Credit: Max Yavno © Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona Foundation)
Nighttime at Seal Rock Drive at Lands End, a few blocks above the Sutro Baths and the actual Seal Rocks in the ocean near the Cliff House. In a city famed for its fog, this area is one of its foggiest, 1953. Fred Lyon (Credit: Courtesy Of Peter Fetterman Gallery.)
Credit: Photo by Bob Willoughby / Redferns via Getty
Onlookers at Mayor George Moscone’s funeral, held at St. Mary’s Cathedral near Geary and Gough streets. Moscone along with Supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated in City Hall by a disgruntled former member of the SF Board of Supervisors, 1978. (Credit: Michael Jang)
The Residents, one of the quirkiest acts in the history of recorded music, pose by the Golden Gate Bridge. Crafting all manner of disturbing and dissonant blends of avant-garde sounds, the San Francisco band members are unknown, 1978. (Credit: Homer Flynn)
Couple at the Coffee Gallery. On Grant Avenue just a couple blocks up the road from City Lights bookstore, it hosted readings by major local poets like Bob Kaufman and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. In the early ’60s a then-unknown Janis Joplin performed there, 1960. (Credit: 2021 Imogen Cunningham Trust)
(Credit: Taschen)

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