In search of... Hitchcock in San Francisco

Two of the master's famous dramas unfold on this city's streets. Ian McCurrach reveals the main locations

Many famous movies have used San Francisco as a backdrop, but did Hitchcock shoot any there? You bet. Namely those two classics, Vertigo and The Birds. And it's not to difficult to find your way around town in the footsteps of the characters.

Many famous movies have used San Francisco as a backdrop, but did Hitchcock shoot any there? You bet. Namely those two classics, Vertigo and The Birds. And it's not to difficult to find your way around town in the footsteps of the characters.

Vertigo, that's the one with James Stewart and Kim Novak, right?

Yep. Stewart plays Scottie, a former San Francisco policeman who suffers from vertigo - a dizzying sensation brought on by his acrophobia.

Acrophobia? That's fear of spiders isn't it? Where do they come in?

No, no, no. You are thinking of arachnophobia. Acrophobia is fear of heights, hence Vertigo, duh! Stewart is hired by a shipping magnate millionaire to follow his wife, Madeleine, played by the icy blonde Kim Novak, whom he fears is going to wind up dead.

So where do the locations come in and where can I find them?

At the start of the film, Scottie says that he is so overcome by vertigo that he cannot even ride the lift to the "Top of the Mark" - meaning to the bar at the top of the Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental Hotel up on Nob Hill. Although Scottie does not ride the lift to the 19th floor, you definitely should, as the views of the bays and bridges are unsurpassed. Forget the drab 1970s décor. Order a cocktail as the sun begins to slip into the Pacific and be inspired by the panorama panning out beneath you.

Where to next?

As you leave the Mark Hopkins, look out for the Brocklebank building, which is next door to the Fairmont Hotel at 950 Mason Street. This is where the scene was shot that establishes Scottie's mission to follow Madeleine. Scottie sits patiently waiting in his car outside what appears to be an elegant apartment building, watching and waiting for the enigmatic Madeleine to drive off in her Jaguar. Vertigo visitors are not encouraged but while in the area it is worth checking out the nearby Cable Car museum on Mason Street, which houses a collection of cable cars and the amazing motors that drive the cables.

So, getting back to Madeleine, where does she head for?

The mysterious Madeleine makes for Mission Dolores, 3321 16th Street, where she lays a bunch of flowers on the tombstone of her ancestor, Carlotta Valdez. The Mission district is sheltered from San Francisco's clammy fogs and is often the warmest neighbourhood in what is a frequently chilly city. Today the city's oldest district is a hotbed of culture and is still favoured by Latinos who came here when the mission was founded in 1776. Look out for the famous murals and sample the fabulous fare at the Mexican eateries. Wander round the mission cemetery, which is filled with flowers and among whose graves are those of the city's first mayor and California's first governor. But don't waste time looking for Carlotta's gravestone. It was a prop, removed after filming.

I guess we play Scottie and keep following Madeleine, right?

You got it. Head for the California Palace of the Legion of Honour, where Madeleine goes to look at a picture of Carlotta hanging in one of the galleries. Kim Novak did her mysterious woman act in Gallery Six but it's worth spending half a day here as the gallery is the prettiest in the city, surrounded by cypresses and pines, with the Pacific and the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop. Be impressed by the fine Neo-Classical façade and be inspired by the vast permanent collection of mainly European paintings and excellent travelling exhibitions.

Didn't Madeleine pretend to commit suicide by throwing herself into the bay?

That's right. Your next stop should be Fort Point on Marine Drive, directly underneath the toll plaza for the Golden Gate Bridge, in the Presidio, a former military base. It was here that Madeleine jumped from the fort pier into the Pacific, only to be saved by superhero Stewart. The four-storey brick fort, which dates from the 1850s, was built to protect the city from attack by sea, and along with its 126 cannons, today houses several military exhibitions. This is a great place to get back to nature within the city as the Presidio boasts more than three miles of beaches, some 11 miles of hiking trails and around 14 miles of bicycle routes.

Where did Scottie live?

Funny you should ask, because after saving Madeleine from drowning he takes her home to his Russian Hill pad on Lombard Street. His apartment is still there on the 900 block but the main reason for coming here is to see what has been dubbed the "the crookedest street in the world". Between Hyde and Leavenworth Street, the 27 per cent gradient is the steepest in the city and packs in an incredible nine hairpin bends. Visitors queue up for the thrill of driving down it so go early or late to avoid the rush.

Madeleine and Scottie get out of the city, right?

They take a half-hour ride north to Muir Woods, the magnificent redwood forest which is on the other side of Golden Gate Bridge. Some of the redwoods here are more than 800 years old. There are plenty of hiking trails to follow, and abundant wildlife, such as deer and chipmunks, to observe.

Hmm, talking of wildlife, what's happened to The Birds?

We're getting to that bit now. Hitchcock cunningly combined the rolling hills and stunning shoreline of Bodega Bay with the inland hamlet of Bodega, making them seem only yards apart instead of miles. The schoolhouse is still standing in Bodega where Tippi Hedren and co holed up to escape the clutches of the crows, but it is now a private residence. These days Bodega Bay is a sleepy resort featuring some upmarket spa hotels and good restaurants. Keep your eyes peeled though for any menacing-looking feathered friends.

Okay, I'm hooked on Hitch. How do I get there?

British Airways (0845-733 377; www.ba.com) offers return flights from Heathrow to San Francisco from £358. If you want to hole up at one of the finest hotels in the city, check into Ian Schrager's The Clift Hotel (00 1 415 775 4700; www.ianshragerhotels.com), which offers rooms from £122 per night, based on two sharing. America Direct (0870-889 0827: www.americadirect.co.uk) offers seven nights' b&b at the Hotel Bijou from £499 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Heathrow with United Airlines. A seven-night room-only break at the three-star Renoir Hotel costs from £449 per person from Bon Voyage (0800-316 0194; www.bon-voyage.co.uk). Flights from Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic are included. Holiday Autos (0870-400 0010; www.holidayautos.co.uk) offers one week's car hire in San Francisco from £132, including online discount, insurances and taxes. Further information: California Tourism (0906-0577 0032, premium rate line; www.visitcalifornia.com).

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