An Entertaining & Informative Vintage Automobile Internet Magazine

Seen on the Streets and Byways of San Francisco

We are back in San Francisco again today with automotive images taken in five different decades with something of interest for everyone. The lead image shows a 1956 or later image of California Street with the Bay Bridge in the background. The five-mile long thoroughfare begins in the Financial District next to the Embarcadero and travels all the way to Lincoln Park on the western side of the City.

You can view the earlier parts of As Seen on the Streets and Byways of San Francisco here. The photographs are courtesy of a private collector via OpenSFHistory.


  • A circa 1934 view of the Great Highway which first opened in June of 1929, Ocean Beach is on the right and Playland-at-the-Beach, an amusement park on the left. The road begins on the Northwestern side of the City at the Cliff House and heads in a southerly direction to Lake Merced Park.  


  • Ben Harper and W.S. Allen set out from San Francisco on a six day and nine hour cross country journey to New York City. The Coast Tire Special was based on a circa 1913 Hudson chassis. Learn more this car and the run here in an earlier post.


  • And finally a circa 1905 Renault with side mounted radiators and  rear-entrance tonneau coachwork that is similar in appearance to the Type AK 12.9 liter four cylinder racing car.

21 responses to “Seen on the Streets and Byways of San Francisco

  1. The open rear wheels of the 1954 large Buicks was a stunning new feature that set a trend for years. No more four full fenders hiding all four wheels. Once again Buick was a styling leader.

  2. Lead photo: The Cadillac’s front wheels are turned in the wrong direction when parking on a hill. They should be turned into the curb. That makes it impossible to roll downhill.

    • Russell —
      As someone who does a lot of parking on hills here in Seattle and Tacoma, I think the Cadillac is okay. If the car starts to roll, the right front tire will roll into the curb and stop it quicker than if the wheels were turned into the curb; the wheels need to be turned into the curb when the car is pointed downhill.
      On a different but related note, an elderly friend who long ago drove a Model T in Tacoma revealed an interesting trick. The brakes on Ts were woefully inadequate for the grades around here, so when heading downhill and approaching a stop he would step on the brake and the reverse pedal, which put a little extra wear on the transmission bands but saved his life.

      • Wheels are correct to prevent rolling for the direction the car is facing. This is the way I’d have them if it was my car. Should be the other way if the car was parked facing down hill.

      • I agree, the wheels turned into the curb like that are how I was taught in the ’50’s & ’60’s. The idea being the front wheel would catch the curb and prevent it from moving as Richard said.

  3. The last photo might have been taken pre-earthquake.
    The two windmills at the western edge of Golden Gate Park between Fulton St and Lincoln Way are visible in the second photo. The decorative Playland structures on the left have been replaced with drab condos.
    First photo was taken facing east on California St between Powell and Stockton.

  4. The Buick might be a Century. It’s hard to count the portholes, it could be three or four. The Specials didn’t have wheel cutouts as I recall.

  5. 6 DAYS???!!! Holy Cow (and they probably ran into a lot of them on the way), how could they do that with the roads and vehicles of the time. I have been on partial continental runs (to Texas) on Route 66, which I am sure was immeasurably better than roads in the early 1900’s. Puts the Cannonball to shame!

  6. A stab at the old cars in the 1934 picture. At the front left corner is a 1931 Dodge (Eight?) and parked beside it a 1927 Chevrolet and beside that is a 1934 ‘big series’ Buick.

    Front and centre is a late production 1928 Buick (has the 1929 style front bumper) and beside it a 1929 Chevrolet. Behind them might be a 1934 Nash. Behind the Nash is a circa 1925/26 Big Six Studebaker and to its right is a 1932 Pontiac.

    The Renault in the last pic could be a four cylinder Type N from 1903 or 4.

    • Mark, After doing quite a bit of research I thought it was an earlier car but found a period photo of one of this model in the Horseless Age and I believe it is a larger 30 h.p. car based on a chassis similar to that of the early racing car. Note the longer length, different body and the larger steering wheel this car has.

  7. IF you want to appear in court and appeal your failure to TURN IN FOR facing DOWN and TURN OUT FOR facing UP ticket , PLAN on Increasing the SCOFFLAW FUND (Funded by scoff-laws!) On the brighter side — Plan on going down the (CORKSCREW – LIKE) : Lombard Street of descending switchbacks !!! Finish off with: Di Tomaso’s Neapolitan Ristorante on Kearney Street near Broadway!!! OR : Motor down to: ” The Cliff House” Hokey. Good food & service, — the last Time I was there!!!

  8. The Great Highway has several lanes but not a single stripe to mark them. Seems common in most photos of multi-lane highways of this era. The cars just seem to be flowing along. Imagine that on today’s Interstates.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *