Where was Vertigo filmed?
San Francisco, California
In what has been pretty much universally hailed as the legendary director, Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest work, Vertigo is a film that is full of suspense, gritty twists and turns, betrayal and mystery - exactly what we’ve come to expect from the master of the thriller genre.
Casting called for James ‘Jimmy’ Stewart as John 'Scottie' Ferguson, a retired San Francisco police officer, who left the force due to an incident that left him with a crippling fear of heights and the titular condition of vertigo. Interestingly enough, the movie was filmed using a dolly zoom, to give us an insight into the condition, and setting a new standard for unusual filming in the movie business.
The film follows Scottie as he is hired by an old friend, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) who believes something is going on with his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), in fact, he believes that she is possessed. Gavin instructs Scottie to trail her as she goes about her business and as he does so, he becomes more and more obsessed with her.
After he follows her and starts to see an obsession with a woman named Carlotta Valdes, Scottie discovered that Carlotta is Madeleine’s great-grandmother who died by suicide after her husband left her and took their child. All signs point to the fact that Carlotta is possessing Madeleine. This is made more apparent when Madeleine suddenly throws herself into the San Francisco Bay, only to be rescued by Scottie who is waiting nearby.
The day after, the pair spend the day together as Madeleine attempts to thank Scottie for saving her life. They head out of the city and soon romantic feelings emerge, leading to a kiss. This happiness is short lived as the next day, Madeleine tells Scottie of a nightmare she had, which Scottie realizes was at Mission San Juan Bautista. After confessing their love for each other, Madeleine suddenly runs up the tower. Scottie, stopped in his tracks by his fear of heights, cannot follow her, and she jumps off the tower to her death.
That should be that, right? Not with Hitchcock. After Scottie spends some time in a sanatorium for his clinical depression, he emerges to find a woman named Judy who reminds him of Madeleine but doesn’t exactly look like her.
What follows is a third act that’s full of twists, turns, and mayhem that only Alfred Hitchcock could’ve pulled off, and Vertigo truly keeps you guessing until the last minute.
Primarily, Vertigo was shot on location across San Francisco. Many of the locations in the film were shot in their real-life counterparts, mostly due to iconic backdrops, such as the Golden Gate bridge.
There are a few hidden Easter Egg-style location notes that fans over the years have noted and read into - sometimes a little more than necessary. One such extra is the fact that Scottie’s apartment is on Lombard Street, which is known for being a steep and windy street in San Francisco and one of the top tourist attractions in the city. It’s definitely not the place you’d want to be if you struggled with vertigo!
In the scenes that were shot out of the city, the Vertigo production team opted to go to the Big Basin Redwood Forest and Cypress Point, not a million miles from Muir Woods where the scene was based in the film.
By keeping production solely in San Francisco and the surrounding area, it enabled the crew to shoot the on location scenes in just 16 days, before filming the interior scenes in a studio over the course of just two months. Impressive when you consider how many San Franciscan landmarks can be seen throughout the film!
Saving Madeleine from the bay scene in Vertigo
Fort Point, in Presidio
The first turning point of the film comes when Madeleine throws herself into the San Francisco Bay. Seemingly possessed by Carlotta who had a penchant for suicide, she tries to end it all. However, Scottie is watching close by and jumps in and tries to save her.
As he brings her back to his car and tries to bring her round, he shouts “Madeleine? Madeleine!” and she slowly opens her eyes back up to look up at her savior.
This scene was filmed near Fort Point, in Presidio, which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco. This is a civil war fortress that is now open for tours and sits just below the Golden Gate Bridge.
You can park up in one of the many car parks that surround this super popular viewpoint, or take the number 28 bus and walk through the Golden Gate recreation area.
Scottie and Madeleine visit Muir Woods scene in Vertigo
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
After Scottie saves Madeleine from drowning herself in the bay, they spend the day together and get out of the city. It’s here that they begin to talk about Carlotta and the possession that Madeleine is going through - especially the dark thoughts that she keeps on having to try and override.
Scottie: “What are you thinking about?”
Madeleine: “Of all the people who were born and died while the trees went on living.”
Scottie: “Their true name is Sequoia sempervirens—always green, ever living.”
Madeleine: “I don’t like it . . . knowing I have to die.”
This deep conversation is set at Muir Woods to the north of San Francisco, but in actuality, it was filmed in California’s oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Located south of the city off Highway 1, Big Basin is home to some of the oldest and tallest redwoods in the world and is a paradise for outdoor pursuits including hiking, mountain biking and camping.
As this state park is a bit out of the way, you’re going to have to drive to access it. There are a ton of parking lots and pull ins by the various trailheads, so you have plenty of options for exploration.
Judy changes into Madeleine scene in Vertigo
940 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Following his stint in a sanatorium, Scottie visits Madeleine’s favorite places and meets a red-headed woman named Judy (also played by Kim Novak). As she reminds him of Madeleine, he starts seeing her but wants her to change her physical appearance to look more like the blonde bombshell that Madeleine was.
Judy: “If I let you change me, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me?”
Judy: “Alright then, I’ll do it. I don’t care anymore about me.”
Judy says she’s from Salinas, Kansas, and is staying in the Empire Hotel. In real life, this used to be the York Hotel and subsequently the Hotel Vertigo. Located at 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California, although the Hotel Vertigo signs and banners are still up, it’s listed as being permanently closed. However, it’s entirely possible that someone else will take over the site and restore it to its former hotel glory.
You can find this Vertigo filming location in the Lower Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco and it has a bus stop for the number 2 bus right outside
Scottie takes Judy up the tower scene in Vertigo
Mission San Juan Bautista
In the climax of the film, Scottie discovers that Judy and Gavin were working together to cover up his real wife’s murder. Judy was Gavin’s mistress and pretended to be a possessed version of Madeleine, taking advantage of Scottie’s fear of heights.
Upon discovering this, Scottie forces Judy to go to the tower to explain herself.
Scottie: “He made you over just like I made you over—only better. Not only the clothes and the hair, but the looks and the manners and the words . . . And then what did he do? Did he train you? Did he rehearse you? Did he tell you exactly what to do and what to say?”
However, when they get to the top, tragedy strikes, but on the plus side, at least Scottie conquered his fear of heights.
This scene as well as the original suicide scene were filmed at the real Mission San Juan Bautista on 2nd Street & Mariposa Street, San Juan Bautista, California. When Hitchcock first scouted the location it was perfect, however, when he returned the spire had been destroyed by dry rot and had to be separately filmed on a set and painted in to match the rest of the mission.
As it’s located in San Juan Bautista, it’s quite a way out of the city and is actually down towards Monterey and Salinas. If you’re going for the day, you can drive or catch the intercounty bus which stops in the center of town. From there you can walk to the mission.
Scottie and Madeleine’s first kiss scene in Vertigo
During Scottie and Madeleine’s day trip out of the city, they wander through Muir Woods and come out towards the beach. From there Madeleine runs down to the ocean with freedom. As she returns to the shoreline, she embraces Scottie and says:
“I don’t want to die. There’s someone inside me and she says I must die.”
Not the most romantic line in cinema, but somehow this leads to the pair’s first kiss and reassurance from Scottie that he’ll keep her safe. If only he knew!
This heartwarming and romantic pivotal Vertigo scene was shot at Cypress Point in the town of Pebble Beach, California. Just up the coast from Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pebble Beach is home to dozens of hiking trails, forest walks, and a lot of golf courses.
To get here, you’re going to have to drive, but it’s a beautiful journey down the coast. You can park up at one of the many pull ins and hike down to the beach. Alternatively, bring your clubs and hit the links.
The Carlotta portrait scene in Vertigo
California Palace of the Legion of Honor
Towards the start of the film when Scottie is tailing Madeleine, he follows her into a gallery where she quietly sits and stares at the portrait of a woman who has an uncanny similarity to her.
From afar, Scottie watches, noticing the similarities before asking an uncredited attendant: “That lady sitting in there, who’s the woman in the painting she’s looking at?”, to which he replies “Oh, that’s Carlotta.”
And so begins the historical unraveling of Madeleine’s family tree and the slow decline of Scottie’s mental health.
The gallery that’s used in this particular Vertigo scene is the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, which you can find at 34th Avenue & Clement Street, San Francisco, California. Located in the Outer Richmond area in Lincoln Park, this historic art gallery is home to ancient sculptures and pieces as well as art from Europe. It also has spectacular views across the bay and of the Golden Gate Bridge.
There are plenty of parking lots as well as lots of bus stops for the number 38 route.
So, you don’t get to be near the top of pretty much every best “films of all time” list without being a masterpiece. Hitchcock’s twists and turns, together with a homage to the sights of San Francisco ticks all the boxes for a dream thriller. Vertigo will keep you guessing up until the very last moment, and it’ll stay with you even after the final credits roll. You’ll never think about the medical condition of vertigo the same way ever again.