Photographer Chloe Aftel’s roots are firmly planted in California. She was born in Berkeley and went to college at UC Berkeley before getting her MFA at the University of Southern California in self-production. Since then she’s been up and down the West Coast (she splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles) and far beyond, shooting for brands like Levi’s and Gap and recently publishing a collection of portraits of the gender-nonconforming community titled Genderqueer: Outside & In Between. “The thing I’ve always been interested in doing is trying to figure out how to tell a story in a single frame,” Aftel says. “The cinematic approach to photography is interesting to me.”
Aftel lives in Point Richmond, a beautiful coastal area just north of San Francisco, and has a studio in Oakland. “[Richmond] was an industrial boom town, then there was an economic crash,” she says. “It’s an enclave where there’s a lot of beautiful mid-century houses and views of bridges and the bay.” She’s lived there for six years but has watched the Bay Area change around her for many more.
“The Bay Area has changed so much in the last 20 years because of tech,” Aftel says. “A lot of the weirdness and the charm is gone. When I’m back home a large part of what I’m interested in is trying to find those places that are unique and have some more emotional pull to them.”
In her own neighborhood, Aftel likes to take a dip at the Richmond Plunge. “It’s a 1920s pool they just overhauled,” she says. (In fact it was built in 1926.) “It’s saltwater, not chlorine, and it’s a public pool. It’s only $5 to get in.”
Aftel likes to stop by Oakland’s Creative Growth Art Center and see what’s on. “It’s a place that teaches and bolsters mentally and physically [disabled] people who do art,” Aftel says. “The art is in very big museums, and it’s a charming and wonderful place to go and see what people are creating.”
For some fresh blooms to brighten up your space, head to the San Francisco Flower Mart. “If you get there early, there’s a wide array of beautiful and seasonal things,” Aftel says. There’s also Flora Grubb Gardens, a highly curated gardening center Aftel says is an “experience.”
Somewhere Aftel goes almost daily is Berkeley’s Asha Tea House. “Asha really give a shit about their tea,” she says. “It’s high-quality products, plus they do boba which I love. Get the hojicha latte or any of the seasonal fruit teas.”
Aftel eats gluten-free, and Tony’s Pizza Napoletana is her go-to place for a pie. “That place is the jam,” she says. “Order the New Yorker, with tomato, mozzarella, sausage and pepperoni. It feels like bread, but it’s not.” She also loves Vik’s Chaat, an authentic Indian-food spot that’s “100 percent worth the wait in line,” and the Cheese Board Collective. “They do a fabulous pizza, but they also have a giant cheese counter and you can try everything,” Aftel says. “They make their own bread.”
To soothe a sweet tooth, head to Dandelion Chocolate Valencia. “They have very artisanal, highbrow chocolate, scoured from 8,000 different places,” Aftel says. “They have a very nice café and intense hot chocolate and s’mores and cookies and all different kinds of things.”
For unique shopping, check out General Store. “It’s a total hipster store,” Aftel says. “They’ve got lovely curated things and ceramics and shoes and bags.” After, walk a few blocks to Ocean Beach, a duney, expansive beach that’s never too busy.
And on your way back to the East Bay, hit up Gordo Taqueria. “There’s two locations, but the one on Solano Avenue is better,” Aftel says. “It’s a real hole in the wall, but their Mexican food is bangin’.”