Best Places to Take Photos in San Francisco
Are you traveling to San Francisco soon and looking for the best places to capture some great photos? Are you looking for some interesting places there to explore with the camera? Do you love bridges, churches, marinas, architecture and funky spots too? If so, read on because San Francisco has it all!
I have traveled to San Francisco on business several times, and always bring the camera because this town is just such a rich photographic environment. It seems like at every turn there is something new and interesting to photograph. It is a beautiful, wonderful, exciting and photogenic city! I always look forward to my trips there (but hey, who doesn’t?). I don’t claim to be an expert on San Fran, just a big fan of the city and taking shots of the city, so this list (like my Austin list) will surely change over time as I get more familiar with additional parts of this great city. In other words, this list is not exhaustive, it is just a summary of what I have discovered and photographed during my time there. There is just so much there to shoot that there is no way to get it all on a list. A lot of these are going to be obvious, like The Golden Gate Bridge, but hopefully some of these will be lesser-known or perhaps inspire you to get a different view of the city than where you may be staying. Feel free to leave additional ideas in the comments below! So, here it goes, in no particular order...and hope you like these spots.....
Oh, and don't forget that on my blog you can sort by category, so if you want to see just San Francisco shots, you can find them here:
1.) The Golden Gate Bridge
Ok, this one is obvious so I wanted to go ahead and get it out of the way. Well, it is the best known landmark as well as an iconic symbol of the city, so you pretty much have to shoot it, right? There are a lot of great spots to shoot it from though, including on the bridge. I also recommend going to Fort Point and shooting it from there. Plus they have these cool old rusty chains hanging around which can add some zest to your image. After that, take the trail which leads up to the bridge as there are some interesting vantage points along the way! Being such a big thing, you can see it from various points in the city so keep that camera handy!
2.) The Ferry Building
The Ferry Building is a beautiful structure and the hotel I stay at in SF is really close, so I always wander over here with the camera after hours. There is a pier off to the side from which you can get a great view of the building, which I recommend doing at night since they light up a big red neon sign on top which says “Port of San Francisco”. How cool is that? The other thing I recommend is that you get inside and take a look around. The ground floor is a Farmer’s Market and has several restaurants and stores too. It’s fun to walk around and check these things out. During business hours, you can also get up to the second floor for a grand view down to the market below, or to just take some shots of the cool architecture!
3.) The Bay Bridge
This bridge frequently gets forgotten in all the hub-bub about #1 above, but it is a fabulous bridge and you can get some wonderful shots from a few different spots. I think it holds its own against the Golden Gate Bridge, which is tough to do. The first spot I recommend is along The Embarcadero - just look for those cool pilings poking out of the water, and line it up and shoot! Dusk/twilight/blue hour are great times, since the lights on the bridge are a-twinkling! Another good spot is from the pier that sticks out on the left side of The Ferry Building (as you are facing it). If you walk far enough out on that pier you get a nice unobstructed view of the Bay Bridge. This is the same spot from where you can get a great shot of the Ferry Building in #2 above.
Chinatown is fun, interesting and unique. I haven’t spent enough time there but really enjoy it when I do get there. It’s just so interesting. Walk around, go into the shops, poke your head into alleys, and just explore. Oh, and bring the camera. It’s a cool place.
5.) Along The Embarcadero
The Embarcadero is home to many San Francisco landmarks, including some on this list. But you can also get great shots just walking along it, whether it be cable cars passing, random stuff out on the water, or empty, deserted wharfs just waiting to be explored...
6.) Grace Cathedral
What can I say about Grace Cathedral? It is beautiful. It is amazing. It is fabulous. I could go on for a while. The outside reminds me of Notre Dame in Paris somewhat, which is obviously awesome, and the interior is cavernous and wonderful. My first attempt to shoot the interior was thwarted when I arrived on a Sunday morning, and it was crowded. Hello Jim, people go to church on Sunday mornings! So, I came back mid-week and had ample opportunity to photograph it. Plan to stay a while.
7.) Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina
This entire area is a bit touristy for my taste, but even places like that are fun to explore. There are tons of shops, restaurants and other stuff, an aquarium, boat rides over to Alcatraz and there’s even a nice marina there too. For me though the big attraction is all the sea lions that are lounging on Pier 39, which is sort of next door. There are bunches of them and they lounge around without a care in the world. It’s just another one of those cool things about this town.
8.) Palace of Fine Arts
This place is wonderful and the architecture is stunning. It is a popular place for tourists and of course wedding photographers. There is that wonderful lagoon situated right next to it so you can get some awesome reflections in the water.
9.) Grandview Restaurant, atop the Grand Hyatt Hotel
This hotel sits not far from Union Square and has some cool modern architecture, but for me the big draw is their Grandview Restaurant at the top. The thing is though that you can’t really just walk in and start shooting the wonderful view out of San Fran. Perhaps if you stay in the hotel you could arrange something, but I was just passing through and didn’t even know what I was getting into. I arrived and blue hour was just around the corner, so I was trying to hurry because I wanted the light to be just right. Of course, since this is a restaurant and bar, it was rather busy at that time of day. I came off the elevator, saw the view and got excited, but immediately realized that was going to be tricky. I then spotted a little alcove off to the side of the hostess stand, so I popped over there while I tried to figure out how to set up a tripod in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Luckily, the alcove has nice big windows, as well as sharing in some of that wonderful view - so, bam! I set it up and fired off some shots before anyone really even took notice of me.
10.) Ghirardelli Square
Who doesn’t like a little chocolate? I know I enjoy it. There are some great shots you can get in this area, including one of Ghirardelli Square lit up at night. I need to go back and get that one. But you also have a nice view of the bay from here, and if course the Ghirardelli sign is pretty famous, so be sure and check that out!
So that's it for now! As I visit more spots and get more photos to share, I will update this list. Please leave any suggestions or comments below, and thanks for stopping by!