San Francisco has witnessed some important photographic history over the years. Hardly surprising really, given how photogenic a city it is. So whether you’re just passing through for a few hours, or you’ve got several days to amble about with a camera, here’s a list of some of my favorite San Francisco photography locations.
01 – Golden Gate Bridge
Let’s get the most obvious location out of the way first. Not to be confused with the Bay Bridge (which runs from Embarcadero to Oakland) The Golden Gate Bridge connecting San Francisco with Marin county to the north is of course the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of San Francisco.
But just because it has already been photographed a billion times doesn’t mean you necessarily need to shoot it the same way as everyone else. In fact, sometimes tackling a clichéd subject such as the Golden Gate will push you to greater levels of creativity, looking for ways to come at it from a fresh angle.
On a sunny day, try capturing it with an ocean-going cargo liner, yacht, or small sailing boat passing underneath. Or contrast its majestic forms with the dry scrubby headlands beyond. Or, if the sun refuses to shine, you might be lucky enough to capture a more atmospheric shot, with the top of the bridge disappearing into heavy, sodden clouds.
02 – China Town
China Town is an interesting enough area for photography in its own right. Particularly of the street variety. But what I love more than anything here are the views out to the East Bay that you can glimpse through the gaps between skyscrapers downtown.
There’s something really magical about the juxtaposition of these modernist towers, the choppy waters, sections of the Bay Bridge, and the cranes of Oakland way off over the bay. It’s a view that just seems to encompass everything I dig about this city. One of the less-obvious, but nonetheless highly representative, San Francisco photography locations.
03 – Nob Hill
Another great spot for capturing views looking out into the bay is from higher up on Nob Hill. Follow the streetcar lines down slinky streets towards Fisherman’s Wharf. Or pretend you’re Steve McQueen and shoot down Taylor Street for the classic Bullitt view of the city with Alcatraz in the background. Definitely a shot that works better on a long lens.
04 – Twin Peaks
It’s not news that Twin Peaks offers some of the best views of San Francisco. Again though, forget the stereotypical wide shots of the skyline, and instead pull out a longer focal length lens for some nice foreshortened views of smaller pockets of the cityscape from above.
05 – Marin Headlands
This is undoubtedly one of the most iconic of San Francisco photography locations: head to the heights of the Marin Headlands, over where the The Golden Gate Bridge makes land on the far side of the strait, and you are treated to an incredible view of the bridge itself suspended below, with San Francisco spread out beyond. If you’re really lucky, you might even get to shoot the bridge peeking out of a rolling sea of fog.
06 – Under the Bay Bridge
Nowhere conjures up romantic images of San Francisco’s seafaring past more than the industrial area down on the Embarcadero under the San Francisco-Oakland bridge. Not only is this one of San Francisco’s grittier photography locations, but as a photography enthusiast you’ll want to pay a visit anyway, as the impressive Pier 24 photography museum is situated in an old dockside warehouse right in the shadow of the bridge.
This is a good spot for shooting towering images of the bridge from the quayside. Or, better still, head out to Yerba Buena Island and shoot the bridge looking back at the city with San Francisco’s downtown skyline in the background. Particularly impressive at night when the city is all lit up.
07 – Mission Dolores Park
Another must-do is the view of multicolored Victorian houses with downtown skyscrapers beyond, as seen from the vantage point of the Mission Dolores Park, just above the Mission District. And if the sun is shining, it’s also an ideal spot place to stretch out on the grass and rest your aching legs.
08 – Potrero Hill
It’s near impossible to find San Francisco photography locations that haven’t been done to death. Even more so if you’re still looking to achieve a panoramic skyline views of the city. But head south to Potrero Hill, above the hip and gritty Dogpatch neighborhood, and you’ll likely find that you’ve got the spot to yourself.
This is a great vantage point for producing stunning night photography of San Francisco cityscapes, with the I-280 snaking towards the city in the foreground acting as a visual hook to lure the eye into the scene.
09 – Telegraph Hill
Above touristy Fisherman’s Wharf sits Telegraph Hill. But forego the views of the bay, and instead turn your camera inland, and you’ll be treated with uniquely Frisco vistas of row after row of houses stacked up on top of each other like a 3D game of Tetris. There are some fantastic, steep, rolling street views to be had from around here too.
10 – Ocean Beach
Had enough of the city and its ever-expanding skyline? Head out to Ocean Beach on the Pacific side of town for a slightly different kind of San Francisco photography location. This is a great place to shoot the Marin headlands across the strait, with ships heading out into the ocean, or the fog rolling in over neat rows of houses rising up the sloping outcrop beyond the beach. It’s also a highly popular surf spot, so those looking to shoot people rather than landscapes will likely find plenty to focus their lenses on here too.
If you’re down for a good bit of walking, the Golden Gate Park and de Young Museum make for a great place to stop off on the way to Ocean Beach. Just make sure that you’re not carrying too much gear, as it’s quite a trek.
What are you favorite San Francisco photography locations? Got any tips to share? Add them in the comments below!