Escaping to nature can mean different things for different people, and for some, it can be an escape to another time. So how can classic films connect us with nature?
San Francisco’s streets have a long and prestigious history in the movie business and some of its most iconic moments are just a walk in the park. On your next hike, try turning back the clock and experiencing the Bay Area through the lens of film noir.
Here are some of Bay Nature’s top, film noir inspired hikes.
Trail: Lafayette Park
Lois Frazer (played by Jane Wyatt) is a wealthy San Francisco socialite with a fraying marriage, and when she discovers a revolver hidden in her husband’s closet, she suspects that he plans to kill her. Matters soon go awry when she accidentally shoots her husband and asks her lover, Lt. Ed Cullen (Lee J. Cobb), to help her cover it up. Lois and Ed meet in picturesque Lafayette Park to discuss the case as the plot thickens!
One of several small parks that dot the developed landscape, Lafayette Park is an easily accessible, well-maintained area for visitors of all ages. From the shaded hilltop, large swathes of the city can be seen through the trees and buildings.
Film: Sudden Fear (1952)
Trail: Muir Woods National Monument
Joan Crawford plays Myra, a San Francisco playwright, in this film noir. When she’s swept off her feet by Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), an actor she rejected for the lead role in her next play, she decides to showcase some of what the Bay Area has to offer. To that end, she brought him to Muir Woods to walk in the shadows of giants.
Want to escape city life with your own loved one (hopefully without the murderous plots)? Muir Woods is the place to go! Cathedral grove, part of the main visitor area, can become busy with tourists, but trails like the Ocean View trail snake into the hills and offer great vistas of the Pacific. If you consider yourself a passionate hiker, why not take on part of the famed Ridge Trail, which cuts through Muir Woods.
Film: The Sniper (1952)
Trail: Buena Vista Park
Some films just make audiences laugh or cry, but director Edward Dmytryk’s classic thriller also makes them think. Abused as a child, Eddie Miller (Arthur Frazer) takes his high-powered rifle on a serial shooting spree across San Francisco. It takes psychologist Dr. James Kent (Richard Kiley) to get inside Miller’s mind and bring him to justice, but not before he takes the lives of several victims, including a woman in Buena Vista Park.
The first established park in San Francisco, this gem in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood provides visitors with stunning views. Great for morning runs, afternoon picnics, and evening walks.
Film: The Lineup (1958)
Trail: Crissy Field
Based on the television series of the same name, what’s not to love about this thrilling crime drama? Do you like psychopathic murderers? Check. A heroin smuggling operation? Yessir. Crissy Field? Absolutely! When a body is found floating in the bay, Lt. Ben Guthrie (Warner Anderson) heads to Crissy Field’s pier to examine it, recognizing the man from his police lineup.
Crissy Field has become a prime destination in San Francisco, balancing beauty and accessibility for urbanites. Go for a walk along the port and water’s edge at night if you want it all to yourself!
Film: Portrait in Black (1960)
Sheila Cabot (Lana Turner) falls in love with Dr. Rivera (Anthony Quinn), and together they cover up her cruel husband’s murder. When an anonymous letter surfaces pointing the finger at Sheila, the two lovers elect to meet up and plan their next move in none other than the Japanese Tea Garden.
The Tea Garden is small and sees quite a bit of foot-traffic, but this charming relic from the World’s Fair in 1894 spectacularly blends exotic architecture with stunning garden and water features. Stop by to meander the walkways and snap some photos, but be sure to head out on the Golden Gate Gardens Loop. The setting is certainly a change from the Tea Garden, but the experience is more in line with the ambiance of the movie scene: calm, quiet, and perfect for some romantic intrigue.
Film: The Birds (1963)
Trail: Bodega Bay
On a trip to Bodega Bay, at that time even more remote than it’s considered today, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is aggressively attacked by a bird while on the bay. Attacks and even deaths escalate as it becomes clear that a malicious intelligence directs the birds. For a modern movie-goer, the concept of animals having such a hive-mind isn’t a novel one (8-Legged Freaks anybody?), but this movie helped put it, and Bodega Bay, on the map!
While many of the film’s shooting locations on the bay took place at the wharf in the town-proper, it may take a bit of adventure to experience the solitude that makes Bodega a unique destination as well as a chilling setting for some feathered freak attacks. For that and more, hiking out onto the Bodega Head Trail is the perfect stand-in.
Film: Dirty Harry (1971)
Trail: Mount Davidson
For Scorpio, a sadistic gunman loose in San Francisco, the Cross at Mount Davidson was the ideal place to collect a ransom. Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood), nicknamed for his gritty attitude and style, brings a sack of money to the Cross in exchange for the location of a kidnapped girl. The catch? She’s been buried alive, and time is running out for her! If you want to see the site for yourself, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: do you feel lucky?
Mount Davidson is well known for being the highest natural point in San Francisco, sporting romantic views of the city. Take one of the paths leading up to the Cross- a monolith of concrete that features prominently in Dirty Harry.
Jackson Mauze is a Bay Nature editorial intern.
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Habitats: Freshwater, Bay, Marine | Recreation | Wildlife: Birds, Mammals, Fish