Although fairly small in size, San Francisco is one of the most photogenic cities in the United States. With such a variety of diverse neighborhoods, this city has something for every type of photographer. Whether you prefer sweeping vistas of the cityscape, urban photography on the gritty streets or natural landscape shots, SF has ya covered. But the sheer amount of potential photo ops make finding the best San Francisco photo spots somewhat difficult.
Best Places to Photograph the Golden Gate Bridge
If you try to run around and capture every part of the city in one go, you’ll be exhausted. That’s why we recommend you stick to one neighborhood at a time. Once you’ve chosen your ‘hood of choice’, you can start to do your research and find unique and exciting locations to photograph.
Use blogs, Instagram and local forums to find all the best locations, as you compile your list of places to photograph. When you arrive at the location it will help you save time and allow you to have shot ideas already formulating.
Whenever we’re planning a photo day, we always make a list beforehand of places that look interesting in that area. This has saved us so much time in finding beautiful San Francisco photo spots.
This sort of planning was exactly what led us to discovering photo spots in one of the city’s prettiest neighborhoods: the Presidio. The Presidio is located on the city’s northernmost side, where the Golden Gate Bridge connects to SF. It’s a beautiful neighborhood full of pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees that enclose trails leading up to some of the most beautiful views you’ll find in the city. The Presidio was actually a former US military fort and you can still find artillery batteries hidden in the neighborhood that were used in World War II.
Finally, you have the magnificent coastline. All of these gems make the Presidio an amazing San Francisco neighborhood for photography. That’s why we chose to make it the meeting point for our SF photowalk. We had a beautiful day walking around the neighborhood. Here were our favorite Presidio photo spots, including advice on how to shoot at each one.
San Francisco Photo Spot 1: Baker Beach
When you pull up to Baker Beach, you’ll know why this is a favorite with locals and tourists alike. This stunning beach has a beautiful view of the gorgeous houses of Sea Cliff on one side and an epic view of the Golden Gate Bridge on the other. The sand is relatively soft and the water is clean (but super chilly!), making it a lovely spot to relax for the afternoon if Karl the Fog hasn’t rolled in. This is a beautiful beach to photograph, whether it’s a long shot of all the families with their umbrellas posted up on the sand or the white sailboats contrasted against the deep blue water, you’ll definitely find a beautiful shot here.
Word of warning: The section of the beach closest to the rocks is a nudist beach. You’ll find your fair share of naked men there enjoying the sun’s rays to the fullest. That end of the beach also has the best views so you’ll find a mix of clothed and non-clothed people. Feel free to express yourself as you wish, but be respectful when taking photos in this section.
The rocks on the end of the beach make a beautiful viewpoint for taking photos of the bridge, but it can be a super busy area of tourists waiting for their turn to take a selfie with the famous backdrop. We recommend waiting to take your bridge photos at a different spot, which we’ll reveal shortly.
SF Photo Spot 2: Tree Clearing Near Trail
From Baker Beach you’ll walk up the trail toward Battery to Bluffs trail. On your way up, there will be an area of land to your left where you can veer off the trail. We normally don’t condone going off trail, but there is no sensitive habitat here, only dirt. From here you’ll be able to see the top of bridge peeking over the green hills.
This may not be one of the “normal” San Francisco photo spots, but it’s good to try something different. Taking photos of iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge can be difficult because so many people take the same photos from the same location and angle. If you want to stand out, you really need to find a different perspective to bring to the shot.
We love the view of the bridge from this spot because you rarely see a photo where this famous site is partially hidden. If you walk all the way down the path to the dirt landing you’ll see a group of trees that provide a beautiful frame for the bridge and green hills. This is definitely a spot people walk right past.
SF Photo Spot 3: Top of the Sand Ladder
If you continue up the path you’ll see another turn off to your left with a sign that says “Land of Abundance” with information on the local plant and wildlife. This is the top of the infamous Baker Beach Sand Ladder, a steep walkway that comes up from Baker Beach. As you admire the view from up here, you’ll notice people huffing and puffing up the Sand Ladder completely out of breath at the top. Our photowalk attendees were very grateful we didn’t take them up the ladder.
Not only is the view of the ocean and coastline stunning from up here, but the walkway leading down makes for an interesting shot. We shoot a lot of portrait photography and always keep an eye out for interesting features that can frame a person. This walkway may not be perfectly symmetrical but it provides for a natural focal point in a photograph. Jules took photos using continuous burst mode of me walking down the path. This allowed for me to walk naturally instead of taking a single shot of myself taking a posed step down.
SF Photo Spot 4: Battery Crosby
With a little bit of research we were able to find Batteries to Bluffs, a beautiful trail that winds up and down the bluffs with stunning views of the water. To get there, go back on the main path that follows Lincoln Boulevard you’ll keep walking until you see a sign for the Batteries to Bluffs trail on your left. Walk down and you’ll make it to Battery Crosby. This battery was built in 1900 to protect underwater minefields near the Golden Gate. Now, its an abandoned battery but its still a really interesting relic of the time.
It may seem like a visual eyesore compared to the natural beauty of the coast, but it can be fun to challenge yourself to bring out the beauty in “ugly” landscapes. This is the closest you’ll get to urban exploration photography on this walk so you may as well try your hand on shooting the building’s unique architecture. There really is a unique beauty in the overgrown grass carpeting the concrete steps. Recently someone spray painted “Life is beautiful!!” on the side of the battery just under the view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It may be vandalism, but it makes for a pretty awesome photo.
SF Photo Spot 5: Marshall Beach
If you continue walking up the trail to the left of Battery Crosby you’ll walk along the top of the battery and out to the trail leading down the water. This is where you’ll find the best views of the Golden Gate bridge and, in our opinion, one of the best San Francisco photo spots. This trail is part of Batteries to Bluffs and it can get a bit busy, especially on the weekends. But if you have patience you’ll be able to get a perfect shot of the bridge and the stunning coast below. Continue down to the trail and you’ll find a big rock just off the trail where you can take really nice portrait shots. As always, be careful where you walk/stand! Always make sure you’re in a safe, stable place before taking photos. A travel photo is not worth risking an injury or your life!
We ended our photowalk here because you’re not going to find any Presidio photo spots better than this. It’s a truly gorgeous view of the Golden Gate bridge and on a sunny day you can see how it stretches across the bay into Marin. An iconic sight in one of the country’s most photogenic cities!
If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, let us know if you’re interested in an upcoming photo walks in the city!