Best Photo Locations in San Francisco (with map)

by | Jun 19, 2020 | Photo Locations, San Francisco

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With its magnificent landmarks, rolling hills and vibrant neighborhoods there are some amazing photo locations in San Francisco. From the incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge to the beautiful piers along the Embarcadero to the lively Castro district there is a fantastic variety of places to photograph in San Francisco. We know the city well from our West Coast days and have returned many times since, each time discovering more and more awesome San Francisco photo locations. For those of you planning a San Francisco trip we’ve put together our list of the best photo locations in San Francisco as a guide for your visit.

Photo Locations San Francisco

San Francisco

 

Map of the Best San Francisco Photo Locations

The below map includes our favorite San Francisco photo locations for easy reference.

 

How to Use This Google Map: Click on the grey star at the top of the map and this map will be added to your Google Maps account. You can then view it on your phone or computer in Google Maps by clicking on the menu button, going to “Your Places” and selecting this map. We use these maps all the time as you can set out your itinerary ahead of time and quickly reference the saved maps.

 

The San Francisco haze and fog!

Anyone who has spent time in San Francisco will be well acquainted with the haze that descends over the city on an almost daily basis. This means that good photography conditions can be hard to come by in San Francisco, even on sunny days.

Due to this we highly recommend keeping your San Francisco plans flexible! The weather conditions do change quickly in San Francisco so be prepared to change your plans during the day if the fog lifts. It also pays to be patient at the various photo locations around the city, especially when photographing the Golden Gate Bridge which can be glorious one moment and barely visible the next!

Golden Gate Bridge peeking through the fog

 

Where to Stay in San Francisco

With so much selection it’s difficult to narrow down where exactly to stay in San Francisco. We spent a lot of time researching where to stay in the city and narrowed it down to two areas – Union Square and Fisherman’s’ Warf. Both areas offer the best base for exploring the city. We prefer Union Square as it has better links with the city trams and buses and offers a greater selection of reasonably priced hotels.

  • The Palace Hotel – based in downtown San Francisco close to Union Square. We had an incredible stay at this luxury hotel. The highlights were the beautiful atrium where breakfast is served and the rooftop pool. We can’t recommend The Palace Hotel highly enough – check prices now!
  • Hotel Nikko San Francisco – located just off Union Square Hotel Nikko is a great option for a stay in San Francisco. With breakfast included, an on-site pool, friendly staff and a great restaurant, this is a great option – check prices now!
  • Argonaut Hotel – this boutique hotel is one of the best hotel options in Fisherman’s Wharf. The Argonaut features stunning views of the bay including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. If you’re looking for a great place to stay in Fisherman’s Wharf make sure to check it out – check prices now!

Click here for the best San Francisco Hotel Prices

 

 

1 | Coit Tower and Pioneer Park

Best time to photograph: Sunset

The observation deck of Coit Tower, perched atop Telegraph Hill, is the perfect spot to capture some scenic views over the city. Its location near the waterfront means there are incredible views across the entire city and bay, including Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was one of our favorite photo locations in San Francisco and offers some of the best 360-degree views of the city..

Best Photo Locations in San Francisco

Coit Tower

 

How to get to Coit Tower

There are several ways to get to Coit Tower: drive/uber, bus or walk.

  • Walk: we’ve walked up via Greenwich/ Filbert Street for sunset. It is a pretty steep walk but the views of the city get better with each step. At the top of Filbert and Greenwich streets, there are small stairs that lead up to the base area of Coit Tower.
  • Drive: There is a car park with limited spaces at the tower, however, as it’s so busy we recommend skipping the car.
  • Bus: Muni #39 operates between Coit Tower and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Best Photo Locations in San Francisco Tip: Access to Coit Tower closes around 30-45 minutes before the actual closing time. If you miss the entrance time make sure to check out Pioneer Park beside the tower. The park offers fantastic views and is a great place to catch the sunset.

 

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset from Coit Tower

Photo Locations San Francisco

The view of Alcatraz from Coit Tower 

 

 

2 | Pier 7

Best time to photograph: At sunrise as the morning light strikes the financial district

With its wooden boardwalk, romantic lanterns and incredible symmetry Pier 7 should be high on your list of San Francisco photo locations. The view of the city from the end of Pier 7 perfectly frames the iconic Transamerica Pyramid Building in the financial district and, if you turn around, there is a great shot of Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. Despite being located only two piers down from the popular San Francisco Ferry Farmers Market, Pier 7 is often free from crowds.

Best Photo Locations in San Francisco Tip: If you’re using a tripod, remember that the pier is made of wood so the ground wobbles as people walk past. It’s often possible to time your shots to avoid people walking close to you.

Photo Locations San Francisco

The lanterns on Pier 7 perfectly frame the Transamerica Pyramid

 

 

3  | Museum of Ice Cream

Best time to photograph: We recommend the first tour of the day when crowds are lower.

If you want to bring an element of fun and color pop to your San Francisco photography then check out fantastic Museum of Ice Cream. Sweet treats and colorful photos opportunities pop up on every turn and it is also a lot of fun wandering through the interactive museum.

Tickets are $38 per person and need to be booked in advance. There is a set number of tickets per day so make sure to book ahead of time. The tour through the exhibits is partially guided but guests are able to make their way through the museum at their own pace after the initial introductions.

Best Photo Locations in San Francisco Tip: try to book tickets for the Museum of Ice Cream for first group entry in the morning and arrive early. This way you will have fewer people to contend with when taking photos at the exhibits and the giant sprinkle pool might even be empty!

Photo Locations San Francisco

Museum of Ice Cream

 

 

4 | Pier 39 & Alcatraz  

Most visitors to San Francisco make a stop at Pier 39 with its carnival like attractions, souvenir shopping and aquarium. The best thing about Pier 39 is the huge population of sea lions who have made their home on the docks to the west of the pier

There are lots of photo opportunities on the Pier, with some of our personal favorites being the sea lions, the mind boggling Magowan Infinite Mirror Maze and the views of the bay from the end of the pier.Pier 39 is also home to some of the best views of Alcatraz as it is relatively close to the rocky island. The view here of the bay and Alcatraz during sunset are spectacular.

Photo Locations San Francisco

The sea lions at Pier 39

Best Photo Locations in San Francisco tip:  If you don’t have a tripod or its too busy to set one up then it is possible to use the railing on the pier to rest your camera. It works relatively for long exposure shots of the bay, like the one above which I took during after the sun had set.

Photo Locations San Francisco

A long exposure of Alcatraz using the railing as a makeshift tripod!

 

 

5 | The Painted Ladies

Also known as the Seven Sisters and Postcard Row, the Painted Ladies are a colorful collection of 7 Victorian and Edwardian houses. Together, they are one of the most famous images of San Francisco and one of the most photographed locations in the city. Located in the lovely Alamo Square neighborhood, the view from Alamo Square park has become synonymous with San Francisco. The houses shot to fame in the 1990s when they appeared in the intro to the Full House television show. On any given day you’re sure to find crowds of tourists taking photos of the Painted Ladies.

The Painted Ladies are located at 710–720 Steiner Street.

Best Photo Locations in San Francisco Tip: You may have to get creative when photographing the painted ladies due to both the crowds and the San Francisco fog potentially obscuring the city backdrop. We had both to contend with when we visited. To overcome the crowds walk a little up the hill and get low to capture a clean shot of the houses.

Photo Locations San Francisco

The Painted Ladies

 

San Francisco Cable Cars

Invented in San Francisco, cable cars are synonymous with the city and it is home to the worlds last manually operated cable cars.

The Powell/Hyde Street and Powell/Mason Street lines offer the best . Both of these lines pick-up at Powell and Market close to Union Square and travel to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Photo Locations San Francisco

The Powell/Mason line car on the turntable

Best photo locations in San Francisco tip: There are two types of cable cars in use in San Francisco: the maroon California Street Cable Car line has open ended seating at each end of the cable car while the Powell Street lines use smaller cars, some of which are modeled on the earlier cable cars which graced the city streets.

Photo Locations San Francisco

The Powell Street line cable cars

 

There are several locations that offer great photo opportunities:

 

6 | California Street between Powell and Stockton

Here you’ll get a great angle of the Powell Hyde line cable cars as they come up California Street. If you’re patient and wait for both the tram and the pedestrian lights you have time to walk to the middle of California Street to get a great shot directly down the hill of the approaching trams.

Photo Locations San Francisco

California Street

San Francisco Photo Location tip: It’s quite a hike up the hill of California Street if you’re walking so it might be easier to get the cable car to the top and walk back to Powell Street

Photo Locations San Francisco

California Street

 

7 | Hyde and Lombard Street

Another great location is at the top of the crooked Lombard Street. From here, you can get a great shot of the Powell/Hyde line trams with Alcatraz Island in the background.

Best San Francisco Photo Locations Tip: It can get really busy at the top of Lombard Street on busy days so be careful about stepping onto the road/ cable car lines as the cable cars do not stop!

Photo Locations San Francisco

The view of Alcatraz from Hyde and Lombard Street

 

 

8 | F Line Historic Streetcar

The retro F Line Historic Streetcar runs from Fisherman’s Wharf to Castro and the vintage style streetcars make for great photos.

One of the safest locations to snap the streetcars is along The Embarcadero. If you time it right you can cross at a pedestrian crossing right in front of a carriage for a close-up shot.

Photo Locations San Francisco

 

9 | Lombard Street

With its 8 hairpin turns and distinctive red brick paving Lombard Street is one of San Francisco’s most famous streets. Lombard Street is one of the most challenging locations to shoot as it is incredibly busy and getting the best angle means you’d need to step into the street.

It’s also possible to see Lombard Street from Coit Tower, however, you’ll need a clear day and a long lens to capture it properly.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Lombard Street

Best San Francisco Photo Locations Tip: one of the easiest ways to get to Lombard Street is on the Hyde/Powell tram line which has a stop near the top of the hill.

An aerial view of Lombard Street

 

 

10 | Corona Heights Park

Although it’s located a little off the regular tourist trail, we loved the views from Corona Heights Park. The park itself is located in a residential neighborhood and it has a stunning panoramic view of downtown San Francisco.

There is a pathway up the hill in the middle of the park that leads up to the rocky viewing area. It gets windy up here even on a clear day. Make sure to bring an extra layer if you plan to spend some time at this location, especially at sunset when the temperature can drop quickly.

The park wasn’t very busy when we visited with only a few dog walkers and the occasional tourist. While Corona Heights Park doesn’t have the epic views of Twin Peaks or the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, it is an awesome alternative with less crowds.

Photo Locations San Francisco

The view from Corona Heights Park

 

 

11 | Twin Peaks

Best time to photograph: Sunset on a clear day

Twin Peaks has one of our favorite views in the city and is one of the best photo locations in San Francisco. Located at one of the highest points in the city, Twin Peaks is a large park with beautiful hiking trails and incredible panoramic views. On a clear day  it’s possible to see pretty much all of San Francisco from the viewpoints, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, all of central San Francisco and the entire bay.

Photo Locations San Francisco

A panorama from Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks is around 30 minutes-drive from Union Square with the last few miles of the drive up a winding access road to the viewing point known as Christmas Tree Point. Although there is limited parking available at the viewpoint, most visitors don’t spend very long. We visited on a clear afternoon and only had to wait around 10 minutes for a spot.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge from Twin Peaks

 

Best San Francisco Photo Locations Tip: It’s only worth making the trip to Twin Peaks if it is a clear day in San Francisco. If there is bad fog or haze the views will likely be very poor.

Photo Locations San Francisco

The views are stunning from Twin Peaks

 

 

Golden Gate Bridge

A trip to San Francisco is not complete without photographing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. There are many great views of the Golden Gate Bridge – we’ve narrowed this list down to our absolute favorites but you can check out our guide to the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge for more details on all the locations we’ve visited.

 

12 | Battery Spencer

One of the most recognizable views of the Golden Gate Bridge is from a lookout point known as Battery Spencer. Battery Spencer is located on the Marin headlands and is most easily reached by car as part of a looped drive.

The view from Battery Spencer is breathtaking and on a clear day, you can see the entire city: from Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge and across to Bakers Beach west of the bridge.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer

 

The viewpoint is a short walk across the exposed hill-top from the small car park at Battery Spencer. Do take care as it can be a hot spot for car break-ins.

Best San Francisco Photo Locations Tip: The only challenge of photographing the Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer is the chain link fence which prevents visitors from going to close to the edge. The fence is too high to reach over (its around 7 feet high) so you’ll need to find a spot where you can shoot through the fence. It’s worth taking your time to find a good spot before taking out your tripod.

 

Photo Locations San Francisco

The chain link fence at Battery Spencer

 

 

13 | Baker Beach

Best time to photograph: Sunset as the golden hour light hits the Golden Gate Bridge

Baker Beach is a long stretch of sandy beach located to the south-west of the Golden Gate Bridge. From here you can capture the waves of the bay crashing on the beach against the beautiful backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge.

We found the best angle of the Golden Gate was along the breaking water around 2/3rds of the way along the beach from the car park towards the rocks on the headland.

The beach is a popular spot for people to take a stroll and take in the views so you can expect people walking along the shoreline.

Best San Francisco Photo Locations Tip:  Even on foggy days it pays to be patient with the view of the Golden Gate from Bakers Beach. Just before we visited a large bank of fog rolled in and obscured the bridge view almost entirely. Despite this, we found a composition and waited. The fog tends to come and go quickly and we didn’t have to wait long to get a clear shot of the bridge

Photo Locations San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

 

14 | Marshall’s Beach

If you’re planning to make the trip to Baker Beach we highly recommend taking the extra time to also visit Marshall’s Beach. Accessed via a 1-mile hike from the Golden Gate Overlook car park on the south side of the bridge, Marshall’s Beach is a smaller stretch of sandy beach located closer to the Golden Gate. The closer vantage point allows for better angles of the Marin Headlands in the background.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge from Marshall’s Beach

 

 

15 | Golden Gate Bridge View Vista Point

The Vista Point on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge offers one of the best panoramic shots in San Francisco. From here you can capture an epic panorama of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge View Vista Point

Another unique shot from here is the view directly along the roadway on the Golden Gate Bridge. The best place for this shot is on the far right side of the viewing area where you can look directly down through the Golden Gate bridge deck.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Another great angle from Golden Gate Bridge View Vista Point

If you want the reverse angle on this shot you can get it at the Vista Point on the south-west of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Best San Francisco Photo Locations Tip: Parking is very difficult here at a busy time but if you’re patient you’ll get a spot.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge View Vista Point

 

 16 | Crissy Field

Best time to photograph: Sunrise offers some of the best opportunities at Crissy Field

Crissy Field is large open park area to the south-east of the Golden Gate Bridge and offers stunning views of the bridge and bay. Crissy Field is part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area and has large open areas of grass. There is also stretch of narrow sandy/rocky beach which offers great compositions of the bay and bridge.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field

 

 

17 | Chinatown

Chinatown offers some great street photography opportunities in the city. Our favorite time to explore Chinatown is during the morning produce markets that happen on the blocks around Stockton just south of Broadway.

As the area is so busy it pays to find a secure spot (think back against a wall) as there is a lot of activity with trucks and people moving about. Most of the action will simply play out in front of you instead of having to go look for it!

Don’t forget to stop at the incredible Dragon Gate entrance to Chinatown at Bush Street and Grant Avenue  – it’s one of the most photographed locations in Chinatown!

Best San Francisco Photo Locations Tip:  Try to avoid trying to photograph in Chinatown during the busy tourist hours (we found this around late morning to mid-afternoon) as the sidewalks can get jammed with people.

Photo Locations San Francisco

China Town

 

 

18 | The Castro District

With its rainbow flags and sidewalks, the Castro District is one of the most unique areas of San Francisco. One of our favorite buildings in the Castro district is The Castro Theater, one of the most popular San Francisco movie theaters.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Castro Theater

 

 

19 | Sutro Baths

Best time to photograph: Sunset when you can capture the sunset reflecting in the water.

The Sutro Baths was once a popular saltwater swimming pool, in fact it was the largest in the world, until it burned down in the 1960s. Today its ruins are part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area and one of the more unique photo locations in San Francisco.

A short walk down the hill from the Land End parking lot takes you to the baths. Some water remains in the baths which can make for great reflection photos when the weather is good. Unfortunately, when we visited it was slightly overcast, however in the right conditions you could capture some epic shots here.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Sutro Baths

 

 

20 | Land’s End Lookout

After visiting Sutro Baths it is worth taking the time to hike through some of the trails at Lands End that start from the parking lot. Lands End has so many stunning views and the views along the trail from the parking lot are spectacular.

One of the best photo locations is at the Land’s End Labyrinth. Created by San Francisco artist Eduardo Aguiler, the Land’s End Labyrinth is an art installation on a rocky outcrop located off the Land End Trail. While it’s not officially endorsed by the park, there is an unmaintained trail to the labyrinth. The view, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, is spectacular and makes it one of the best photo locations in San Francisco.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Land’s End Labyrinth

 

 

21 | Palace of the Fine Arts

The Palace of the Fine Arts is one of the most beautiful and recognizable buildings in San Francisco. Originally constructed to house art as part of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, today the building is used as an event venue.

Best San Francisco Photo Locations Tip: One of the best photo spots is from the grassy in front of the small lagoon at the back of the building.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Palace of the Fine Arts

 

 

22 | 16th Avenue Tiled Steps

Although a little tricky to get to we recommend taking a detour on the way back from Land’s End to these beautiful tiled steps. The steps were tiled as part of a neighborhood project and now draws visitors due to their colorful uniqueness.

As it’s not on the tourist route the steps are relatively quiet so you should have no problem getting a photo with the steps empty

Best San Francisco photo locations tip: Despite being in a residential neighborhood the area around the bottom of the steps can often be a car break-in hot spot so make sure you leave nothing important in your car if you are driving.

Photo Locations San Francisco

16th Avenue Tiled Steps

 

 

23 | Japanese Tea Garden

The Japanese Tea Garden, located in the Golden Gate Park, was the first Japanese Garden established in the US. They were built in 1894. Not only is it one of the most relaxing places in San Francisco but the Japanese Tea Garden is packed with beautiful photo opportunities.

One of the best photo locations in the Japanese Tea Gardens is the Tea House itself which overlooks a small pond.

Best San Francisco Photo Locations Tip: Our best tip for photographing the Japanese Garden is to allow lots of time to wander and explore every corner of the space. While there are the famous shots of the central pagoda and the tea house, there are lesser-known areas such as the Zen garden and the original drum bridge that was built for the 1894 World’s Fair.

Photo Locations San Francisco

Japanese Tea Garden

 

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