After some heated debate, here’s our list of the best photo spot in San Francisco:
- Down under the Golden Gate Bridge
- Bird’s eye view from Twin Peaks
- Historic Palace of Fine Arts
- View from Land’s End
- “Crookedest street” from the base of Lombard
- Queen Wilhelmina’s Tulip Garden
- Any of the Hearts of San Francisco
- “Painted Ladies” Victorians
- City skyline from Dolores Park
- Mosaic Tiled Steps
- Cupid’s Span for lovers
- Pristine Ocean Beach
This is why and how you can get the shot.
1. Down under the Golden Gate Bridge
Of course, you must get this classic photo of San Francisco’s most famous landmark. The Golden Gate Bridge dominates the city’s landscape but finding the ‘best’ photo spot can be a challenge even for locals who know the city. We suggest heading “down under” to Baker Beach for an unusual perspective of the bridge.
Getting the shot: From Baker Beach the Golden Gate looms above so the entire structure is in the shot and framing your group in the foreground. From the Presidio, take the small road to Baker Beach off Lincoln Boulevard. Early mornings that avoid the glare of the setting sun are the best light for this shot of the bridge.
Other great shots of the Golden Gate Bridge can be had on Extranomical Tours’ Guided San Francisco City Tour.
2. Bird’s-eye view from Twin Peaks
From 1,000 feet (282 meters) above the Pacific and at the geographical center of San Francisco, Twin Peaks offers stunning 360-degree views that include the Golden Gate Bridge; Treasure Island and Alcatraz floating in the bay; Sausalito to the north; and the Peninsula neighborhoods to the south.
Getting the shot: Getting the best photo from Twin Peaks is all about timing. During most seasons, San Francisco’s fog can blot out the views below. Time your visit during winter when blue skies are forecast. If you can, avoid driving to Twin Peaks on weekends or holidays when other photographers will be clogging up the narrow roads and parking lots. You can take the 37 Corbett Muni bus to the base of the peak, then hike to the top. Ride sharing apps are good alternative.
Another way to get to Twin Peaks is on Extranomical Tours’ Guided San Francisco City Tour.
3. Historic Palace of Fine Arts
It wouldn’t be right to visit San Francisco without bringing home a great photo of the Palace of Fine Arts! This faux-Greek structure has impressed visitors since its unveiling as the centerpiece of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition of 1915. Anytime of year, you will have the company of brides and grooms getting the perfect shot for their wedding album.
Getting the shot: There are several good approaches to capturing this historic landmark. Positioning yourself facing the Palace from across the lagoon will capture the breathtaking scale and architecture of this structure. If you want to capture more interesting shadows cast by the relief carvings, arrive early in the morning. Looking for something more unique, head under the dome and look up.
Tip: Extranomical Tours’ Guided San Francisco City Tour let’s you step out and grab the perfect Palace photo.
4. The view from Land’s End
There are many awesome coastal views from the Land’s End parking lot located at the end of Geary Blvd as it runs into the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. You can get great photos of the Cliff House, Sutro Baths ruins, and, of course, sunsets into the Pacific Ocean. The Land’s End Labyrinth is one of the best photo spots in San Francisco. Get your Zen on!
Getting the shot: Getting to Land’s End is simple. Take Geary Blvd. away from downtown until it literally ends at the coast. If you are taking public transportation, the #38R Geary express bus will drop you at 48th St, near to the parking lot. Check the weather before you go since this location is susceptible to fog. Come early, the west facing coastline can cause glare in the afternoon.
Visit Land’s End on Extranomical Tours’ Guided San Francisco City Tour.
5. The “Crookedest Street” from the base of Lombard
Everyone loves the charm of Lombard—aka the crookedest street in the world. Cars cue up on weekends and holidays to snap pictures of the eight hairpin turns that guide drivers down this steep residential street. The colorful gardens that groom this 27-degree incline make this a beautiful and unique photo spot.
Getting the shot: We suggest you leave your car and stand below Lombard Street, at the corner of Leavenworth and Lombard. If you would like the photo full of cars descending Lombard, plan to arrive at mid-day on a weekend. Want something more serene? Get there early before the crowds and when the morning sun illuminates the street’s bountiful gardens.
6. Queen Wilhelmina’s Tulip Garden
This little photographic gem is located at the west end of Golden Gate Park. From spring to early summer, ridiculous numbers of red, yellow, and purple tulips in full bloom combined with the majestic Dutch (North) Windmill make this one of the best spots to snap a photo in San Francisco.
Getting the shot: The tulip garden is located on John F. Kennedy Drive, near the Great Highway. Driving to the garden in your own vehicle or using a ride-sharing app takes 15-20 minutes from the center of San Francisco. If using public transportation, take the Line 5 bus via McAllister St & Van Ness Ave. Plan your visit during March to May to get the most vibrant colors from the tulips.
7. Any of the Hearts of San Francisco
At latest count, 131 far-larger-than-life Hearts add color and a message of human kindness to San Francisco’s streets, public buildings and alleys. Inspired by the classic Tony Bennett song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, the Hearts of San Francisco have raised millions of dollars for the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation. San Francisco artists are invited to paint their very own Heart for display in the city. Each year, Hearts are auctioned off with proceeds going directly to the hospital foundation.
Getting the shot: First, find “your” heart. The easiest to locate are at the four corners of Union Square. Others can be found at City Hall, Pier 39, San Francisco General Hospital, and Oracle Park. Make a game of it—photograph 10 hearts in under an hour!
8. Painted Ladies Victorians
Nothing says “I was in San Francisco” like the gingerbread-y details of these turn-of-the-(last)-century homes. These charming Edwardian, Italianate, Stick, and Queen Anne homes were fashionable during the building boom that followed the California gold rush and again after the 1906 earthquake and fire. The most famous of these Victorian gems are the “Painted Ladies” and the “Four Seasons Houses”.
Getting the shot: The “Painted Ladies” are located on Steiner Street across from Alamo Square. It is difficult to make a stop on Steiner, so we suggest parking your vehicle (or using a ride-sharing app) to get to Alamo Square and take your photograph from the grassy hillside on the eastern edge of the park in the late afternoon sun.
9. City Skyline from Dolores Park
Most shots of the San Francisco skyline are taken from across the bay. Dolores Park set up a far more unique picture of the city’s impressive skyscrapers. Think of it as a shot from San Francisco’s back door. The best photo spot is from Church and 20th Streets.
Getting the shot: Early morning or late afternoon sun puts this spot in the best light. You won’t mind lingering here. It’s a great place to enjoy a cup of coffee, a picnic, meditation and just people watching.
Recommendation: Grab photos of Dolores Park after taking Extranomical Tours’ Mission District Art and Food Walking Tour.
10. Mosaic Tiled Steps
San Francisco is famous for its hills, for sure. But hidden on those hillsides are less famous but equally impressive staircases, some with intricately designed tile. The most photogenic is the 16th Avenue Steps in the Golden Gate Heights neighborhood. The 163 mosaic-tile steps depict the world from the ocean at the bottom, climbing all the way up to the sun, detailing animals, fish, and shells along the way.
Getting the shot: Look for the base of the staircase at the intersection of Moraga Street and 16th Avenue, below Grandview Park. The steps face west and are at their most colorful in the afternoon when the sun is overhead, and fog has a chance to burn off. And here’s a bonus—if you get to this photo spot in the late afternoon, you can capture an incredible Pacific Ocean sunset!
11. Cupid’s Span for Lovers
Cupid’s Span, by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, on the Embarcadero is an often-photographed piece of outdoor art that easily makes our San Francisco “best photo spots” list. We recommend saving this one until dusk or nightime when the Bay Bridge lights behind the love seeking arrow makes for a sentimental shot.
Getting the shot: Plan you shot for when the goes down in the City and you can capture the lights on the Bay Bridge which can only be seen on the San Francisco side.
12. Pristine Ocean Beach
Picture a 3.5-mile stretch of white beach without photo-bombing tourists or buildings. Isolated Ocean Beach, located adjacent to Golden Gate Park is great for hikers, dog walkers, surfers, and kite flyers. Admire the views from the safety of the beach since the water is frigid, and the currents, notoriously hazardous.
Getting the shot: Ocean Beach is on the western-most coast of San Francisco, near to the Richmond District and the Sunset District. The most photo-friendly weather occurs in the fall and early spring when the fog and cold winds are less of an issue.
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.