- Contemplating the Lands End Labyrinth from above Mile Rock Beach
There are many awesome coastal views from Lands End parking lot at the end of Geary Blvd as it runs into the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy…the Cliff House, Sutro Baths ruins, and, of course, fabulous sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. Our favorite is the Lands End Labyrinth. Get your Zen on!
Getting the shot: From the Lands End parking lot, take the Coastal Trail approximately 3/4 of a mile in the direction of Mile Rock Beach. As you approach Mile Rock there are several good points to capture the serene atmosphere of the Labyrinth.
- City panorama from the top of Coit Tower
Not only a famous City landmark, the perch at the top of Coit Tower is one of the highest points in San Francisco (because it sits atop Telegraph Hill). From the top of the tower, there are terrific 360-degree views of the City and the Golden Gate Bridge spanning the strait that opens to the Pacific Ocean.
Getting the shot: For the ultimate pic, your first choice is to take the shot looking up at Coit Tower from vantage points in North Beach or along the Embarcadero waterfront near Pier 23. We think the most memorable shot is to make the climb up the 500+ stairs to the entry of the tower. Once inside, buy a ticket for the old-style gated elevator ($8 adult) that can take you to the platform at the top of the tower. Snap away in all directions!
- Majestic San Francisco day or night from Treasure Island
This is not an obvious framing of the City, but Treasure Island situated in the middle of San Francisco Bay, is a perfect spot to capture the amazing San Francisco skyline and broad-shouldered Bay Bridge. Be patient, and you can get cargo ships and the local ferry in the background.
Getting the shot: Get to Treasure Island by car (“Treasure Island/Yerba Buena Island” from Interstate 80) or bus (Muni 25). Arrive here during the day for great shots of the city and the waterfront, or you can wait until sundown to capture the buildings illuminated against the night sky.
- Bird’s eye view of everything from Twin Peaks
In all the US, there are few more photo-worthy backgrounds than Twin Peaks. Located in the approximate geographical center of San Francisco with an elevation of about 925 ft (282 m), Twin Peaks offers a stunning 360-degree view of the City. From here, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, standing like a silent sentry across the Strait of San Francisco; Sausalito to the north; Treasure Island, Oakland, and Alameda to the east; The Peninsula to the south; the Bay on one side, the Pacific Ocean on the other, and everything in between.
Getting the shot: The challenge with Twin Peaks is the conditions. Being so high, makes it susceptible to fog and low-hanging clouds that can blot out the views below. You may have to play it by ear and go when blue skies are forecast (January to March is the best season). Get there by car or take the 37 Corbett Muni bus close to the base of the peak and then hike up to the top.
- High above Golden Gate Park from the de Young Museum Observation Deck
The de Young museum proudly occupies the center of Golden Gate Park in the city’s western region. Besides being one of the premier museums in San Francisco, the art complex houses a towering vantage point for pictures. So if you’re wondering what to do in Golden Gate Park, this could be just the thing.
Getting the shot: There is much public transportation to Golden Gate Park and the de Young. Look for signs to the Hamon Observation Tower (admission is free!). Once you get up to the top, you’ll be amazed by the panoramic view of Golden Gate Park and the rest of the city.
- The “crookedest street” from the base of Lombard
Everyone loves the charm of Lombard Street San Francisco—aka the crookedest street in the world (some say that title should go to Wall Street!). There is no commercial traffic allowed on the famous stretch of Lombard so you’ll need to walk up to a good vantage point—away from the crowds—to snap your memory.
Getting the shot: We suggest taking the pic from below Lombard Street, at the corner of Leavenworth and Lombard. Get there early when the morning sun illuminates the street’s bountiful gardens and before the crowds.
- Dragon’s Gate to China Town
San Francisco’s Chinatown is an original. With its history dating back to the mid-19th century, this little patch of land has a fascinating history and one of the first pagoda-style buildings in the U.S. Nothing says Chinatown more than its entry: the Dragon’s Gate.
Getting the shot: Dragon’s Gate stands at the intersection of Bush St. and Grant Ave. You may get the best shot standing closer to Union Square and using your zoom. Better arrive early if you’d like a shot with fewer pedestrians in the crowded urban spot.
- Palace of Fine Arts
- The Golden Gate Bridge from “down under” at Fort Baker
Getting the shot: You can reach Fort Baker by exiting Highway 101 at Alexander Ave. Head all the way down to the small beach for the best shot of the bridge. Early mornings or early evenings are the best light for this framing of the bridge (evening sunsets can cause glare). Great for group shots.
- Lingering for a Bay view from Sausalito
Don’t know what to do in Sausalito? The seaside community of Sausalito is enchanting and is a great place for photos. It even smells great. The view from Sausalito give you a choice of backgrounds, Angel Island, Tiburon harbor, Alcatraz Island and an expansive shot of San Francisco’s skyline. Leave plenty of time for pics and to stay and chill!
Getting the shot: Sausalito can be easily reached by car as you exit the north span of the Golden Gate bridge or by ferry from either Pier 1 or 41 from the city. Afternoons are best since the settling sun cast a wonderful light on the houseboats and islands.
Get to some of these spots and more on one of our San Francisco tours.
Gary Lillian is an advisor to Extranomical Tours which has led more than 10,000 guided tours in Northern California in the last 10 years. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, holds a master’s degree from Kellog Graduate School of Management, and is a recognized subject matter expert in marketing and customer experience engineering.