Looking for the best San Francisco photo spots? You’re in luck — I’ve compiled all my favorite places to take pictures in San Francisco! And no surprise, there’s a whole lot of ‘em! More than 50, actually! Grab your camera, a friend (or trusty tripod), and hit the city!
Believe me when I say there’s no shortage of amazing photo spots in San Francisco. Every time I walk around the city, I’m continuously finding new instagrammable places in San Francisco (good thing I’ve got lots of space on my phone for photos!). I swear, the entire city is one big instagram feed waiting to happen!
The city is eclectic and moody and exhilarating all at once — anything and everything goes here! Some people say SF is grimy and dirty — and where some parts are (just like any big city), you just have to know where to look and what neighborhoods to check out! There’s lots of beauty, I promise!
While my condo isn’t directly in the heart of the city itself, I live about 20 minutes south so make it to SF almost every week! I consider myself a local at this point, although I still see the city through bright eyed tourist eyes when I haven’t been to a particular neighborhood in a while! I’ve had so much fun photographing my backyard as of late and love exploring!
I’ve broken down this list of San Francisco photo spots by category, since there’s just too many to randomly list! On this list of best photography spots in San Francisco, we’ve got landmarks and icons, murals and colorful art pieces, secret photo spots in SF, instagrammable cafes and restaurants, seasonal places to take pictures in San Francisco, and even some of my favorites right outside the city!
Visiting SF soon?! Check out my other San Francisco blog posts!
- The Perfect 3 Day San Francisco Itinerary (Written by a Local)
- 50+ Hidden Gems in San Francisco
- The Ultimate San Francisco Neighborhood Guide
- Battery Spencer (My Favorite Golden Gate Bridge Viewpoint)
- Where to Eat in San Francisco
- 50+ Best Desserts in San Francisco (Yum!)
- Where to Watch the Sunset in San Francisco
- All My Favorite Secret Mosaic Steps in SF
Top Tips for Photographing San Francisco
- Be mindful of the weather and microclimates. Summer is chilly and don’t expect any epic sunsets from May to July! The fog typically rolls in by mid-afternoon, although it’s fun to chase Karl (yes, we even named our fog). With this being said, it’s usually cloudy by the bridge so plan accordingly! However, overcast, foggy skies greatly reduce the shadows on murals and other pieces, so shoot there! August through October bring much better weather and is my favorite time to explore (and photograph) the city.
- Regardless of the time of year, I always keep a light jacket or sweater in my bag — and I suggest you do the same! You never know when you’ll need it! Like I said, microclimates are a real thing here, even within the city itself!
- Be careful with any expensive equipment (that goes for your camera, phone, tripod, etc). There’s a decent amount of petty crime in certain areas of the city (especially touristy spots), and theft is unfortunately pretty uncommon. On that note, NEVER leave anything (at all) inside your car — break-ins happen more than anyone realizes. Use your gut like you would any big city. If you are using a tripod, make sure to keep a close eye on it at all times and never get too far.
- Beware of wind. It may knock over your tripod if it’s not super sturdy. Best to come along with a friend or IG boyfriend if you can. Or just ask someone to take a photo for you — although it might not come out exactly how you want it. I like shooting with friends or my husband (I bribe him with desserts in SF before or afterwards).
- Have fun! Taking photos in SF should be a good time! I recommend plotting the San Francisco photo spots you really wanna see on a map and grouping them by neighborhood. There’s too many to see and photograph in just a few days in the city, so pick your favorites!
So let’s get to it — all my favorite places to take pictures in San Francisco coming right up!
SF Icons and Landmarks
Golden Gate Bridge
You can’t come all the way to SF without visiting the Golden Gate Bridge — it’s just not possible! And thankfully, there’s so many epic photo spots in San Francisco that feature this crimson cutie! While there’s honestly tons of spots, some of my favorites include the Welcome Center, Crissy Field, East Beach, along the Batteries to Bluffs trail, and Golden Gate Overlook (where you can photograph the bridge framed between two eucalyptus trees — there’s actually two different spots).
There’s really no bad photo of the bridge — just know that the city gets exceptionally foggy in the summer. That SF instagram photo you had in mind might not come out exactly as you thought! Visit midday if you’re hoping to actually see it (there’s perpetual fog in the morning which usually burns off around noon and then makes it appearance again by late afternoon).
If you can swing it, visit during golden hour (shortly after sunrise or right before sunset) for the softest pastels and when the red hues of the bridge will really shine. I’ve got a whole post on the best spots to see the Golden Gate Bridge (which are all instagrammable places in San Francisco of course), so check that out!
Palace of Fine Arts
Stunning columns. The impressive rotunda. Immaculate grounds. And swans in the lagoon. Does this scream out photoshoot or what?! You may even feel like you’re in Europe for a hot second or two. It really reminds me of Athens and Rome quite a bit (ok, maybe just a little bit)!
Definitely walk around the entire perimeter for different perspectives and angles! I like taking photos under the rotunda (swirl that skirt!), on the grassy lawn out in front, and with those grand green doors! Whenever I visit, there’s at least a few photoshoots going on — weddings, engagements, graduations, etc.
Note that it’s usually pretty busy here (can you blame all the people?), but if you come in the early morning you may have the whole palace to yourself (well, almost!). Golden hour is of course absolutely stunning, with the dome getting filled with light.
Everyone thinks of Lombard Street the second they think of SF — meaning you can’t miss a photo here! The light blue house with all the bouganvilla out front is my absolute favorite — and by far one of the most instagrammable places in San Francisco. Taking photos at the bottom of the street is fun too, since you can actually see all the curves!
Just remember, Lombard is a huge street, and only a small bit is the iconic windy section. Head to the intersection of Lombard and Hyde, and you’ll get right to the top. You can even see the squiggles on Google Maps! And get this: it’s actually not the curviest street in SF, despite what everyone thinks. You’ll find that over on Vermont Street.
A few other things to note:
- People actually live here. Those immaculate houses on the walk down are people’s homes. Please be respectful. This means absolutely no trash left behind, keeping your noise level down, and no venturing onto private property.
- There’s sidewalks/stairs on either side of the street — use them! Be sure to walk down those, not the street; cars are coming down! And if you’re driving, just remember, it’s a one-way street (driving down the curves, not up!).
Up for a hike with some of the prettiest views?! Lands End is by far my favorite urban hike in the entire city! You don’t need to walk the entire 3 miles roundtrip (okay, so it’s really not that bad), but the further you walk, the more you’ll see.
There’s Golden California poppies, bluffs overlooking the beach, and even views of the Golden Gate Bridge! Some of the best photo spots in San Francisco are here on this trail, especially if you wanna add some nature to your feed.
Japanese Tea Garden
Whether you’re craving some hot tea or just wanna say hello to the koi fish, transport yourself to Japan within Golden Gate Park! There’s a bunch of pagodas resembling the real stuff in Japan, all nestled between lush gardens and manicured horticulture. It’s not huge, but so well maintained you really feel the traditional Japanese culture here.
Expect wooden Buddha statues, a Shinto Shrine, porcelain lanterns, and glistening ponds with stones to walk on. Come in the spring (for cherry blossoms!) or fall (for colorful fall foliage) to take your SF instagram photos to the next level! If you wanna shoot the red pagodas you’ll need a wide angle lens — they’re pretty tall!
An absolute icon to the city — these historic Victorian houses are one of the most photographed attractions in all of SF! So of course this makes it on my list of the best photography spots in San Francisco. Obviously!
If you wanna take a photo with the full row of all 7 Victorian houses, head to Alamo Square! The park directly overlooks them, so pack a picnic and sit on the grass. You can even see the skyline of the city from here, as long as you go on a clear day of course!
Looking for the Full House house?! You’ll be surprised to learn that’s not right over here! The actual Victorian with the red door used in the show is over at 1709 Broderick Street, about a 20-minute walk or so from Alamo Square.
Twin Peaks is easily one of the best views in all of San Francisco, making it one of the most instagrammable spots in SF of course!
My favorite time of day to go? At sunset, as long as there’s no fog limiting the view (although this happens more often than you’d think). You can see every iconic bridge, building, and even the bay from up here. It’s one of the only 360 degree views in the city! Psst — Bring a jacket, as it’s usually pretty windy up here.
Note that the Twin Peaks area has unfortunately gotten a bad rep over the years, and is frequented by some not-so-wonderful people come nightfall. Be sure to keep your cameras in sight (might not be the best idea to set up a tripod or self-timer iphone here) and stay with your friends. It’s beautiful and shouldn’t be missed, just something to know in advance.
The hanging red lanterns are one of the most iconic features in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and such a pretty location to shoot at. You’ll find them over here on Grant Ave.
Be careful taking photos though — you’ll wanna stand right in the middle of the street, so be on the lookout for cars of course! There’s a small alleyway (where the Fortune Cookie Factory is located) which has some hanging lanterns as well, although I like the larger ones on Grant Ave. Although more difficult to shoot at, they’re much more picturesque in my opinion!
And while you’re over here in Chinatown, make sure to grab a Chinese Mai Tai at LiPo Cocktail Lounge, buy a few bags of fortune cookies at Fortune Cookie Factory, and try to snag a coveted egg tart from Golden Gate Bakery (if they’re open of course; their hours are super limited).
This ain’t your regular government building — It’s absolutely breathtaking! Go inside and admire the architecture. Tons of locals even take wedding photos here. It’s that spectacular. We’ve been to my husband’s holiday work parties here a few times (a benefit of the tech industry!), and I still cannot get over how glam and glamorous it is!
The exterior of the building lights up throughout the year for different events, like red and green for Christmas and rainbow for Pride month.
Look around, SF’s got some of the most fascinating architecture. There’s the elaborate gingerbread trim of the Queen Anne Victorians (like The Painted Ladies), steeply pitched roofs and pointed arches of the Gothic Revival, European influences of the Rousseau “Storybook” Homes, and modern lines and stylized decoration of the Art Deco.
No matter what neighborhood you hang out in, you’ll be sure to find some of SF’s best photo spots. Everytime I walk around I find more houses to photograph! Some have intricate details while others are just super colorful and fun! That’s the beauty of it — they’re all so different!
Just remember, these are people’s homes — be courteous and stay off private property when taking photos.
Hawk Hill and Battery Spencer
Looking for the absolute best views of the famed Golden Gate Bridge from afar? Head on over the bridge to Marin County! Here you’ll find two of my favorite photo spots in San Francisco — Hawk Hill and Battery Spencer! You know those famous opening credits of Full House? Yup — those were shot from Battery Spencer!
As I mentioned, you’ll need to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to get to these instagrammable places in San Francisco, but trust me — they’re well worth it! I wouldn’t have you heading out of the city if they weren’t absolutely spectacular (promise). Photographers love it — it’s got that perfect postcard view you’ll be swooning over as soon as you see it! Plus the San Francisco skyline and the Bay Bridge in the distance.
Head to Battery Spencer for a super-close view (it looks larger-than-life from here!), or a bit further (but just as beautiful) view from nearby Hawk Hill. I LOVE coming here for sunset; the views are insane, just bring a warm jacket — it’s usually super windy and chilly over here! And bring a friend unless you’ve got a super sturdy tripod.
You can easily check off both of these SF photo spots in one go — the drive between them on Conzelman Road is less than 10 minutes, or you can make the short 30 minute walk over — there’s views the entire way!
Of course try and visit on a clear, sunny day! Although the fog does make an appearance more often than not (which does make for some epic photos if you can see the fog rolling through under the bridge)!
There’s lots of fun photo spots at the California Academy of Sciences, known as the CalAcademy by locals. I sadly haven’t been for a number of years, but love this shot of my friends and I against the aquarium walls after silent disco yoga during Nightlife (an after-hours adults-only party at the museum on Thursdays)!
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s touristy and all (it’s kinda like the Times Square of San Francisco), but Fisherman’s Wharf does have a few great photo spots in SF.
You can’t miss a cheesy selfie with the sea lions on Pier 39 (you’ll probably hear them and smell them before you see them!), and I always love taking photos of the carousel. It’s just so iconic and colorful and cheery and puts a big fat smile on my face whenever I see it. Fisherman’s Wharf is like one big carnival, and it’s all kinds of fun as long as you don’t mind some crowds. Just don’t stay there all day, wink wink.
Conservatory of Flowers
The Conservatory of Flowers is one of the best places to get some SF instagram photos on a gloomy, overcast/foggy day — because you’re inside! The greenery is so lush; you completely forget you’re within the actual city! In the spring there’s dozens and dozens of flowers right outside; absolutely perfect for picnics!
Make sure to snap a photo behind the large circle cutout — it’s too iconic of a photo not to and definitely one of the best Instagram spots in San Francisco! Don’t leave without taking some pictures outside as well — the historical (and beautiful) Victorian-style greenhouse with hundreds of windows is just so cool and unique!
Fort Point National Historic Site
Wanna stand literally underneath the Golden Gate Bridge?! You can over here at Fort Point!
This is the closest you’ll be able to get to the bridge (well, besides walking on it of course), and the photo ops are spectacular (especially because you get the perspective of being underneath it!)! The actual fort is only open Friday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm, but if you’re visiting on a weekday, you can still get some great shots near the bridge. I can’t believe it took me so long to check this place out!
I loved shooting the symmetry of the brick arches, as well as directly under the bridge from the top floor (but boy was it windy — my tripod definitely didn’t stand a chance!). And if you’re lucky, there might be a line of classic cars ready for their photo op in the parking lot.
Legion of Honor
There’s 4,000 years of ancient and European art here! But you don’t even need to pay for admission to get great shots! Play around with angles of the white marble columns, up on the grassy hill with the city in the far distance (try and spot the Golden Gate Bridge!), and the fountain right out front. There’s even a mini version of the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris.
A ferris wheel right in the middle of Golden Gate Park — with picture perfect views of the city no less. It’s one of the newest places to take pictures in San Francisco, since it just opened a few years ago!
Have your photographer take the photo from one end of the cabin to get as much of the scene as possible. You’ll 1000% want a wide angle lens; try out the .5x zoom on your iPhone! And if you’re here at night, SkyStar lights up and puts on a show! A great date night activity (and you can trick your bf/husband/partner into taking some rad IG photos for you).
The Bay Bridge
No one ever thinks twice about the Bay Bridge, connecting SF to Oakland and the East Bay — one of my favorite day trips from San Francisco. It’s often overlooked by it’s shiny sister the Golden Gate Bridge, but it’s actually pretty remarkable! Especially at night to see “The Bay Lights”, the world’s largest light art installation designed by Leo Villareal. (Early morning has stunning colors as well, but I do love my sleep!)
Why’s it so spectacular? It’s when the Bay Bridge sparkles — and it’s oh so beautiful (just imagine a dazzling display of 25,000 individually programmed white LED lights, covering an impressive span of 1.8 miles).
It was originally installed as a temporary two-year installation, but was made permanent in February 2016! Yas! “The Bay Lights” are illuminated every evening from dusk to dawn, so you can easily grab a photo at this San Francisco instagram spot. You’ll either need a tripod or night mode on your iPhone for the best results. 🙂
Murals and Other Colorful Art Pieces
Greetings from San Francisco Mural
Finally!!!! SF recently got it’s own Greetings from San Francisco vintage postcard mural, like so many other big cities do. And it’s a beauty — completed and painted by the talented Maxfield Bala. You’ll find the mural in Umbrella Alley in Fisherman’s Wharf, in the alleyway of the San Francisco Electric Tour Company (segway, anyone?!).
The mural has all those iconic SF spots you’d expect it to — like the Golden Gate Bridge (obviously), Palace of Fine Arts, Lombard Street, and even some golden California poppies. There’s even a stand to put your phone on, making it one of the best San Francisco photo spots in the entire city!
Just for the record, the alleyway is located behind a locked gate, so you’ll only be able to access it during normal operating hours. But those seem to change every so often, so double check it’s open before heading there if you’re not already in the area! And better yet, it’s absolutely free! Besides the fun postcard mural, you’ll also find a whole slew of fun photo spots in SF — including all those below (in Umbrella Alley)!
If you’re already taking pictures with the Greetings from SF Mural, don’t put your camera away just yet! Umbrella Alley is full of photo spots in San Francisco — there’s the Fisherman’s Wharf crabby Fnnch honey bear, a psychedelic butterfly, a gorgeous decoupage of pink and red and white hearts, umbrellas and balloons hanging from the ceiling, a gorgeous Kate Tova heart, and a whole bunch more.
Easily one of the most instagrammable places in San Francisco considering there’s about 10 photo spots within 100 feet of each other! Again, just confirm the opening hours before making the trek over.
Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley
Here’s a two-for-one for ya! Two alleyways with the most colorful murals around! You just cannot visit the Mission District without stumbling upon its colorful, mural-filled alleyways. Every single surface is painted (sides of houses, fences, garage doors, etc). While these two alleys are roughly a 25 minute walk away from each other, they’re both worthy to check out — promise!
The murals here are not just intricate works of art – the pieces have meaning, teaching about gentrification, modern politics, and the immigrant experience in SF. They’re thought-provoking, heart-breaking, and downright touching.
Don’t miss the Women’s Building nearby, completely covered by the MaestraPeace mural, and the Santana Mural on 19th. And once you get hungry, go grab a burrito from either El Farolito or La Taqueria – two local favorites down the block from each other.
Ghirardelli Rainbow Steps
A fun and quick photo spot in SF, you just gotta know where to look! The Ghirardelli Rainbow Steps are part of a bigger project imagined by local artist Leah Rosenberg, titled 18 Colors For Ghirardelli Square. The point of this multicolored installation? For people to observe and connect to the world around them.
And besides the rainbow steps, look around the square for even more color — there’s hand-painted murals, banners, benches, and signs. There’s also another staircase with fun pops of color on the railings, but I love the one with the actual steps painted the most!
Kate Tova Hearts
Her iconic hearts have been popping up all over the city, and I smile every time I see them. They’re super colorful and those brushstrokes have so much texture. I especially love the piece she did on gold leaf — what a feat I’m sure that was! Kate uses so much sparkle (like gems, 3d roses, glitter, and even strands of beads) and puts so much thought behind her pieces.
During the crazy lockdowns, her pieces really put some color back into the empty city. Follow her on IG — she’s such a talented artist and kind human being. Hoping to meet her someday!
You’re in the Golden State — how can you not take a photo with the California Mural?! Just look at that typography — swoon! I hardly ever venture over to Fisherman’s Wharf, because quite honestly, it’s touristy AF and it’s always swarming with a million people.
But of course, I just couldn’t resist this piece! You’ll find the California mural on Pier 39 on the backside of Mulberry and Grand, so hop on over for a few minutes after Umbrella Alley to take a quick pic! Definitely one of the most colorful photo spots in San Francisco.
There’s an annoying beam blocking the piece, so you gotta be creative with angles. You’ll definitely need a wide angle lens (although an iPhone works just fine).
Lincoln Park Steps
If you’re spending the day hiking in Lands End (suuuuch pretty views here!), swing by the Lincoln Park Steps! If you haven’t noticed, I have a thing for mosaic steps, and these are some of the widest ones in the entire city!
The community raised money to replace the old, broken steps that were covered in debris and graffiti a few years ago. And what do we have now? An intricate pattern design and benches to relax on!
Avoid visiting during the harsh mid-afternoon sun. It’ll be difficult to capture the stunning colors with all the shadows on the designs. Better yet, go when it’s overcast or foggy!
SF’s got quite a few mosaic stairways, and they’re easily some of the most instagrammable places in San Francisco. The tile work is just impeccable and adds such wanted color to the city! Like the Lincoln Park steps, most of the mosaic steps around the city were designed by artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher. Talented doesn’t even begin to describe them.
Some of my favorites include:
- 16th Ave Tiled Steps: These are by far the most popular of all the mosaic staircases in San Francisco, and for good reason! Look closely — the tiles represent a landscape starting at the bottom of the ocean all the way to the sun in the sky! I recommend walking all the way up (great for those thighs!) to Grand View Park for some of the best views of the city! Try to come mid-day midweek for less crowds. You’ll probably need to be patient to get a shot without any tourists walking up/down the steps.
- Hidden Garden Steps: I kinda love this mosaic pattern a bit more (shh!), as there’s blooming flowers, cute butterflies, and even a salamander extending up the steps. It’s only a few minutes away from the tiled steps on 16th Ave and typically way less crowded, so definitely hit up this SF Instagram spot as well!
The city is FULL of colorful houses, but you’ll find one standing out more than the rest. And that’s because it’s got every single color of the rainbow on its exterior (from shades of red at the bottom to purples at the top)! You can say that San Francisco really wears its Pride on its sleeve. The house is an iconic piece of SF history and a landmark home; it’s even got its own listing on Google Maps!
You’ll find this rainbow Victorian home on a quiet neighborhood street at 521 Clipper in the Castro/Noe Valley area.
Fnnch is kinda like an artistic icon in the city, so obviously his fun pieces are by far some of the best San Francisco instagram spots! Here’s some of my favorites and where to find them:
- Fallen Cone at Loving Cup: You gotta get some ice cream (or homemade rice pudding) as a prop, right? (2201 Union)
- Flamingo Love: When the other flamingo mural got vandalized and then painted over I was devastated! I was so happy to find this one instead! (701 3rd Ave)
- Walking Balloon Dog: Definitely more a cheesy tourist photo than a true San Francisco instagram spot, but it’s so fun I didn’t wanna leave it off the list!
- Giant Lips: There’s a few of these sprinkled throughout the city, including in the Marina (right near The Dorian) and in North Beach at 700 Columbus Ave. There’s also giant rainbow lips in the Castro! You may find tables and chairs in front, but it still makes for a fun photo spot in SF regardless! (641 Green St)
- California Bear: One of Fnnch’s newest murals! This took my friend Katie and I FOREVER to find — true story, but we finally figured out exactly where it’s located! (1250 California Street)
- Shake Shack Trio: Okay, so this one’s actually on the Peninsula in San Mateo (at the Hillsdale Mall), but it’s so cute I wanted to share! (165 E Sailer Drive)
Looking to grab a whole bunch of San Francisco photo spots in one go? You NEED to check out the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It’s such an eclectic museum housing 7 floors of work, including pieces by Frida Khalo, Andy Warhol, and Georgia O’Keefe. There’s even the largest living wall in all of the USA over here.
While I enjoyed all of the collections, I loved all the pieces with the neon lights (most notably Dan Flavin’s grid!) and Robert Indiana’s Love Sculpture (in the outdoor courtyard).
Be on the lookout for special exhibitions — when we visited we saw Nam June Paik’s collection (so interesting and fun!) and walked through the rainbow bridge at Contemporary Optics (it was super trippy!).
Rainbow Crosswalks (Castro)
There’s so much pride over here in the Castro, and you definitely won’t miss the colorful crosswalks walking around town! There’s 4 of them painted in pinstripe rainbows at 18th & Castro honoring LGBTQ+ activism & civil rights. Snap a quick pic while walking — shouldn’t all crosswalks be this fun?
Lisa Frank Technicolor House
Mansion goals? Am I right?! This house (which you’ll find on 24th and San Jose in the Mission District) is exactly what I picture when I think of Lisa Frank — pinks, purples, and lime greens. It kinda looks like candy! It’s hard not to instantly smile when you pass it!
Rainbow Garage Doors
More color, what can I say?! The Castro’s got lots of it! And whoa — this piece of art is hard to walk past without snapping a few pics. While it’s pretty eye-catchy, it’s got a lot of meaning behind it. April Berger was commissioned to paint this mural in honor of Gilbert Baker, who designed the Gay Pride Flag and actually used to live there once upon a time.
More recently, Dennis Peron lived there; a LGBT Activist and the ‘Father of Medical Marijuana’. Such an iconic piece of the Castro.
This is one of the least well-known photo spots in San Francisco, and I even had a difficult time finding it myself at first! Find it at 3737 17th Street (between Church and Sanchez).
Secret Photo Spots in SF
Most people just walk on by, making it one of the most secret photo spots in San Francisco! Walk to the end of the pier, turn around, and BAM — there’s a perfect shot of the Transamerica Pyramid and the city!
The vintage style street lights make for great perspective and symmetry shots, so try to get your subject right between the lights. It’s especially beautiful during sunset with all the colors (if you’re lucky enough to catch a sunset of course).
You caught me — I haven’t actually made it here myself just yet (it’s part of the deYoung Museum and I didn’t even know about this secret photo spot in San Francisco before writing this list of hidden gems in the city). BUT I will definitely be visiting next time I’m at the deYoung!
What is it exactly? A permanent piece in the deYoung’s Osher Sculpture Garden and a hidden spot to view the sky (or stars!) through the oculus hole at the top. There’s LED lighting which changes based on the weather — sounds pretty cool to me and easily one of the most most unique places to take pictures in San Francisco.
Gino & Carlo Alley
There’s such fun Italy vibes over here with the green, red, and white! Wear something neutral so you don’t clash with the colors. I love to grab a pepperoni slice from Golden Boy (literally right next door) and sit in the alley to eat it. Or you can dine at Gino & Carlo itself, an unpretentious Italian sports pub.
Just remember — this SF photo spot is a road so cars do come by, so watch out while you’re shooting and eating! Be careful and don’t block traffic. (North Beach)
Cupid’s Span and the Embarcadero
I was walking along the Embarcadero one early morning a few years ago (when my husband was running the SF Marathon), and I came across Cupid’s Span. Back then I had NEVER seen it before, and I didn’t realize just how cool it was until just recently. I mean, it’s a giant bow and arrow sculpture right in Rincon Park adding some color to the cityscape.
There’s great views of the Bay Bridge from one side, with the buildings towards the other. Stand on the green lawn for the best photos! The Ferry Building’s right there, so grab a scoop of secret breakfast from Humphry Slocombe, my favorite!
California Street View
Here’s something a bit different than our usual SF views — an actual cityscape! And why’s it got that spectacular view? Because it’s on one of the hilliest parts of the city (gotta put in that leg work!).
From here you’ll see Chinatown pagodas, downtown skyscrapers, and even a photogenic red Muni stripe! And the Bay Bridge actually peeks out right between the buildings — look closely! Walk up the street to get to a higher vantage point (the section between Grant and Stockton — right near The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco — is extra photogenic, and where I took that photo).
Baker Beach and/or Marshall’s Beach
A golden sandy beach with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background?! Yes! Absolutely stunning, and making it one of the most instagrammable places in San Francisco, easily! Psst: The bridge is closer to Marshall’s Beach, but you’ll need to walk down an ungodly number of steps (and then of course back up).
But do remember they’re both nude beaches (Baker Beach as you get closer to the rocks and well, Marshall’s Beach is always just a free for all), so choose your angles carefully!
Hamon Observation Tower at the deYoung Museum
If you’re hanging out at Golden Gate Park, don’t miss the FREE panoramic 360° views of downtown San Francisco from the Hamon Observation Tower! Open to everyone, even if you don’t have a ticket to the art museum (just follow the signs upstairs from the entrance). You can see Golden Gate Park, the Richmond District, the Pacific ocean, and more for miles and miles.
Best to come on a sunny day so you can actually see the views (although watching the fog roll in is super SF haha). And plus, the unique copper facade of the building is gorgeous, so may as well snap a quick photo over there as well!
One quick look at the Grace Cathedral in Nob Hill and you’ll see why it’s one of the best photo spots in San Francisco. There’s ornate stained glass windows and tall spires and intricate mosaics and even a pair of large labyrinths — it’s inspired by a medieval cathedral after all! The doors are even copied from a baptistery in Florence, Italy!
You can walk all the way up to the doors or take photos from afar — there’s no bad photo spots here.
Garden Court Lounge at the Palace Hotel
OMG the glass ceiling. It’s decked out with the most gorgeous chandeliers I’ve ever seen — elegant and upscale and absolutely lavish! I’d love to stay the night sometime (the indoor pool is calling my name), but I’ll settle with some afternoon tea or a champagne brunch in the lounge.
You can walk into the lounge and take pics (it’s easily one of the most gorgeous spaces in the entire city), but you’ll need a room key to access the floors and other amenities.
It’s super unassuming and right on the street in the heart of the Tenderloin (not the best place to wander around). But from the outside it looks like you’ve stepped right into a riad in Marrakech (a place I’m dying to go)! That architecture simply is stunning!
Note that you may (ok, more like probably) find some “interesting” characters hanging out on the steps (the theatres not in the best neighborhood), so you’ll have to come back later. Every time I pass it I can’t get my shot! It’ll probably be one of the most difficult San Francisco photo spots to capture, but that just means you’ll really appreciate your images!
Wood Line at Lovers Lane
Promise me you won’t miss the one-of-a-kind Andy Goldsworthy art installation “Wood Line” hidden away within a lush eucalyptus forest (yes, we have those in San Francisco!). The unique zig-zags of the fallen tree trunks make for one of the best places to take pictures in San Francisco, so bring along your camera of course.
Since eucalyptus trees are evergreen, you can take photos at Lovers’ Lane year-round. The light is absolutely gorgeous in the early morning hours or around sunset, but due to the tree cover here, there’s no bad time to shoot.
It used to be one of the best hidden gems in SF, but it’s definitely gotten more popular lately — there’s usually at least one professional photoshoot going on! So many weddings and engagement shoots! Go on a weekday to have more luck with crowds.
Grab your bf/gf/significant other/bff, and go for a romantic wander. I love doing this with my husband and little Kona!
Lands End Labyrinth
I’m sure you’ve seen this SF photo spot all over instagram — it’s one of the best photography spots in San Francisco. Follow the winding pathway of the Lands End Trail and go down the stairs towards Mile Rock Beach, and you’ll find the Land Ends Labyrinth hiding away on a cosy cliff corner. Thank you to artist Eduardo Aguilera for creating this beautiful labyrinth (in 2004!) for us all to enjoy!
Make sure to have a friend take photos from a higher vantage-point so you can get the full labyrinth design in your shots! The labyrinth is one of the more popular photo spots in San Francisco, so you’ll need to wait your turn if you wanna get that perfect shot without anyone else in it. It’s usually pretty busy so you’ll have to be extra patient (or remove people from your photo later).
Unfortunately the labyrinth’s been vandalized a few times over the years and it has been completely removed once or twice, most recently in April 2021. It’s always been rebuilt, so fingers crossed it’s there when you visit (although I’d double check beforehand by doing some Google magic)!
Lyon Street Steps in Presidio
Locals certainly know about these steps (and actually use them for exercise), but I never see visitors over here! With over 300 steps, this hefty climb is a strenuous workout that’ll leave your legs aching and heart racing. And plenty of people use them to workout — so be courteous and let them pass you!
But exercise aside, we’re here because they’re one of the best photo spots in San Francisco! Since you probably don’t wanna get all sweaty before your photos (I don’t blame you), park at the top and get the views without doing all the hard work (just start on Broadway instead). You’ll see the most marvelous city views — including the Palace of Fine Arts, the blue water, and even Marin and Tiburon on a clear day!
Don’t miss the golden SF heart on the way up or down — it’s such a beauty (and a favorite for pictures)! One of the most instagrammable places in San Francisco by far!
History lovers will love this secret San Francisco photo spot! The Sutro Baths were originally built in 1896, and were a privately-owned, salt-water swimming pool complex with 7 pools! But the entire structure was ruined in a fire, so now it’s “open” for visitors to explore the remnants.
Want some epic photos? Come here for sunset (still on my SF bucket list — I can’t seem to make it there at night).
Sentinel Building and Transamerica Pyramid
Did you know SF has its own epic flatiron building? That’s the Sentinel Building you see, known for its distinctive shape and stunning copper cladding — which has actually turned green over the years, haha.
If you want that epic SF Instagram shot, your photographer will have to follow you in the middle of the street as you cross the crosswalk — be extra careful! I did it for a friend once but was too lazy to get my own picture, whoops! I totally should have.
You can also take pictures right in front of the Sentinel Building if you don’t wanna repeatedly run into the street, but the views and angles aren’t as good. See the difference in the photos?
Instagrammable Cafes and Restaurants in San Francisco
Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters
They’ve got the cutest gold pineapple wallpaper and some awesome house-roasted blends. It’s small and quaint and I love the decor!
Le Marais Bakery
A fan favorite, with pastries to match. A delightful family-owned bakery that serves up tantalizing French treats and artisan pastries, all made with local and organic ingredients. The handmade croissants are some of the fluffiest and buttery-ist ones I’ve ever tasted, and I do love my croissants!
The bakery is so cute and kinda feels like you’re in Paris for a hot second. I’m a sucker for their cute branding, minimalist interior, and beautiful Bonjour tile work at the entrance! Plus, it’s bright and airy which is always a plus for photography!
Once known for their flamingo mural (that’s sadly painted over), this Cuban hotspot is wellll worth a visit. You’ll find San Francisco instagram spots both inside AND outside this cute little restaurant! Inside, look down – the spot boasts beautiful floor tiles (perfect for your feed) and the most stunning pastel teal touches (plus leafy green plants behind the counter!). There’s even metallic bananas in the restroom.
And outside? A gorgeous flower mural.
Besides the numerous photo spots here, the food is to die for. I always order a plate, but I’ve heard their Cubanos are outta this world as well. And don’t miss out on a moonbar (ice cream dipped in chocolate).
Home Coffee Roasters
What can go wrong when you’ve got a rainbow latte in your hand?! It’s just screaming for a photo!
There’s also a sea-salted caramel latte, lavender latte, cookie monster latte, and even a nutella latte. I’ve heard the toast is great too! Psst — the shop on Clement is the cutest.
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
Believe the hype, this place is gooood. Come early for a cruffin — what they’re known for! They do sell out, so come early (but I promise everything is delicious here).
But this is a list of the best place to take photos in SF, and Mr. Holme’s got it with that neon “I got baked in San Francisco” sign. It’s easily one of the best San Francisco instagram spots, so be sure to take a photo with it!
Son and Garden
Flowery walls. Wisteria hanging from the ceiling. Cotton candy drinks. And scrumptious ube pancakes. What more can you want? This new spot (the sister restaurant of Farmhouse Thai — another of our favorite restaurants in SF) is super buzzy and trendy — definitely one of the most instagrammable places in San Francisco; perfect for your IG feed!
We’ll be coming back for their high tea next time! The ultimate spot for brunch! Psst — there’s another location in Menlo Park if you’re in that area!
That glass ceiling on the top floor of Neiman Marcus (where you’ll find The Rotunda) is everything and then some! We recently came here for afternoon tea and loved it — I couldn’t stop gushing about the popovers (they’re outta this world).
The lighting can be kinda difficult since no matter where you stand your subject will have backlight behind them from the ceiling, but editing helps a lot! Get rid of those nasty shadows and increase the brightness!
Seasonal Photo Spots in SF
SF Botanical Garden Magnolias
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is in my opinion one of the most peaceful spots in all of the city. While it’s wonderful all year round, I especially LOVE visiting when the magnolias are in full bloom (early to mid February). It’s such a sight to see the bright pink blooms against a clear blue sky.
You don’t even have to get a ticket if you really don’t want — there’s usually a few magnolia trees blooming right outside the entrance! But really though, go on in!
Tom and Jerry’s house
Visiting SF during the Christmas holiday season? You NEED to go check out Tom and Jerry’s house for yourself. Located in The Castro at 3650 21st Street, it’s like Father Christmas threw up all over the house! There’s no fancy decorations and you won’t find a theme here — it’s chaotic and tacky and all kinds of amazing. Kinda like that ugly sweater you wore last year. ?
You’ll find tons of stuffed animals, a huge decked out 65-foot tree, mini theme park rides made out of K’nex, and even a toy train running on tracks. Pure magic any time of day with an obscene amount of holiday spirit! Christmas overflows from every window, door, and face of the house! Absolutely insane!
Tom unfortunately passed away in October 2020 after battling cancer, and there’s been talks of 2020 possibly being the last season of decorations. Fingers crossed the tradition continues!
Over in the Marina (okay, technically Cow Hollow), you’ll find one of my favorite photo spots in San Francisco — the bougainvillea house! Lush purpley-pink flowers are practically engulfing the entire house! Psst — for the full effect, you’ll wanna go when the bougainvillea is actually in bloom!
Come in summer for the prettiest blooms (they usually start blooming in May/June and last until September or so)! It’s literally covered from top to bottom in the prettiest pink flowers — any floral lovers dream! Find it on Baker and Lyon in Cow Hollow. The house next door is really pretty to shoot at too, with its own branches of bougainvillea!
Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden at the Dutch Windmill
Visiting San Francisco in early Spring? You NEED to make your way to the Dutch Windmill! I mean, you can visit any time of year, but I love it most when the tulips are in full bloom.
Hundreds, if not thousands of delicate tulips take over the surrounding area and fill it with vivid color – it’s a sight that will leave you searching for tickets to Amsterdam’s Tulip Festival! The area does get pretty crowded, so work those angles (shoot from down below) to help get some photobombers outta the shot.
Castro Christmas House
Have a thing for Christmas decorations? You NEED to check out this house. It’s decked out in thousands of string lights, pretty red bows (tied absolutely perfectly), wreaths covered in ornaments, giant candy canes, tinsel, and so much more. It’s literally dripping with Christmas cheer. There’s even a little bench in front to take photos on!
Wear some red to make your photos pop! I recommend visiting at dusk so you can see the twinkly lights on, but can still see all the little details (which makes this house oh so special). We visited once during the day and then again at night — I loved it that much!
Obviously this house is only decorated during Christmas time, so if you’re visiting SF in December, be sure to stop by! Found on 68 Castro Street.
Looking for one of the most romantic things to do in Golden Gate Park? Look no further than Shakespeare’s Garden, one of my favorite hidden photo spots in SF! It’s even a popular place to get married in San Francisco!
What’s so special about Shakespeare Garden anyways? The flowers and plants are all mentioned in his plays and poems! There’s more than 200 flowers and plants over here, including poppies, mandrakes, daisies, violets, roses, and lilies. I recommend visiting in the spring and summer to see the plants in bloom, with trees and flowers lining the walkway.
Purple Wisteria House
Imagine a delicate fence literally dripping in whimsical purple wisteria. You’ll feel like you’re in a romantic English garden, not San Francisco! Wisteria typically blooms in April/May, so you’ll need to time your visit to coincide with the flowers! I haven’t made it there just yet, but it’s on my list for next spring!
All the IGers keep this spot super hush hush — for what reason, I have NO idea. Shouldn’t everyone be enjoying these blooms?! BUT now you know this gorgeous purple house is located at the cross section of Mariposa Street and Connecticut Street (in Potrero Hill).
Instagrammable Places near San Francisco
Yes, I know this is a list of the best photo spots in San Francisco, but I couldn’t not include some of my favorites nearby!
If you’re visiting SF for a few days and wanna get outta the hustle and bustle, consider a day trip! There’s so much to explore in the Bay Area — it’s wild how much there is!
Craving a bit of nature? Head on over to Muir Woods in Mill Valley, a bit north of the city. Here you’ll find some of the tallest redwoods near San Francisco, and some easy trails to walk. Muir Woods is popular for a reason — it’s absolutely stunning! Those trees are really something else!
Try coming midweek in the morning for less crowds. Weekends are always crazy hectic, meaning you may have a difficult time getting that perfect crowdless IG shot. There’s tons of different angles to shoot from — if it’s crowded have your photographer shoot slightly upwards to eliminate the people. And look out for the light beams shining through the trees. Absolutely magical.
Right near Muir Woods you’ll find Sausalito; it’s one of my favorite spots in Northern California! I swear you’ll feel like you’re in the Mediterranean for the day! There’s a whole slew of photo spots in Sausalito — I mean the entire area is gorgeous and overlooks the San Francisco Bay!
A few of my favorite photo spots include:
- a nautical flag mural made out of tiny tiles — find it at the Bank of America building and shoot later in the day as the morning sun casts nasty shadows
- The white cabins at the dock locks (across the street from the Casa Madrona hotel)
- on the walkway with the houses cascading up the hillside behind you — I swear it looks like something straight out of Positano!
- with any and all bougainvillea you can find — it’s all over in the summer
- a cone at Lapperts with it’s tropical leaf wallpaper
There’s also houseboat communities to check out, viewpoints, and clam chowder! One of my favorite day trips from San Francisco!
Half Moon Bay
Another spot super close to San Francisco, although there’s usually tons of traffic to get here on the weekends (so come midweek if you can)! Psst — this is NorCal we’re talking about; you probably won’t get actual beach weather. Plan to wear (or at least bring along) a cozy sweater!
Here’s a few of my fave photo spots in HMB:
- The wild mustard fields in February are perfect for a pop of yellow on your IG feed. Read this to find out how to visit them legally!
- The pink super bloom at Montara, which happens in May. And no, the trail leading here from the beach is NOT on private property which people keep alluding to.
- While you’re at it, grab a lobster roll over at Sam’s. We love walking on the trail right outside.
- Missed the mustard and super bloom at Montara? Don’t fret — check out the sunflower field in September! I’ve got a whole post on the Half Moon Bay sunflower fields with everything you need to know!
I don’t know what took us so long to venture over to Treasure Island, but it’s got the best views of the city! We took photos on the rocks overlooking the skyline and Bay Bridge, and loved walking the pathway around the island. You can also hit up Mersea for alfresco dining — it’s a super fun spot to come with friends for a few drinks!
Got more time? There’s also wine tasting, kayaking, and stand-up paddling over here too! Such a fun mini “day trip” from the city for a few hours — you really don’t even feel like you’re in San Francisco anymore!
Cross that famed Golden Gate Bridge and you’ve got viewpoints for days! Go check out the Point Bonita Lighthouse (so many fun photo spots over here), Rodeo Beach (the sand is made outta tiny pebbles!), Kirby Cove (still on my SF bucket list!), and tons of batteries and missile sites. The picture below was taken at one of the numerous batteries lining Conzelman Road.
If you venture a bit north, you’ll also find the Muir Beach Overlook, which we love (but can get extremely windy and extremely crowded — parking is HARD). Come midweek for the best chance of getting that perfect SF IG spot all for yourself.
San Jose is ALWAYS forgotten, considering it’s not as popular as nearby San Francisco. We’ve been checking out this area more, and of course I found a bunch of fun photo spots already!
There’s Santana Row (tons of trendy eateries here!), San Pedro Square (we love Three Sisters bar and Voyager Craft Coffee), and in summer there’s the Municipal Rose Garden (perfect for flowy skirts and picnics). Of course there’s tons of murals and street art everywhere!
Everyone ALSO always forgets about the Peninsula, the towns and cities directly below San Francisco proper. But there’s honestly so much to see here! I won’t go into tons of detail (we’d be here all day), but I’ll share some of my fave photo spots over here!
- Pulgas Water Temple (Woodside): A gorgeous reflecting pool with a Beaux arts monument?! Yes, please! Come during the summer months when the lavender is in full bloom — it’s absolutely breathtaking and smells oh so delicious (just watch out for the bees)! There’s only 30 minute parking but the main area’s pretty small so you can definitely get your shots in during that time. I’ve seen full on photo shoots here, from wedding parties to graduations to IGers in the wild (myself included, haha). The perfect spot for a picnic, although you’ll have to eat fast and it does get quite hot out here.
- Ettan (Palo Alto): That epic blue door everyone takes pictures at is right here! And honestly? The whole restaurant is blue and white heaven. Come for the intricate blue door and swoon worthy decor, stay for the exquisite Cal-Indian fusion cuisine!
- Mori Point (Pacifica): I’ve been to Mori Point more times than I can count! And it’s completely different each and every time depending on the weather. Come in late spring/early summer for wildflowers.
- La Vie Nail Bar (Burlingame): A super cute nail studio right in the heart of downtown Burlingame in Burlingame Ave. I’ve never actually gotten my nails done here, but the photo opps inside and outside are worthy of a short stroll! The florals and pink bike just make my heart swoon!
Looking for more California content? Explore my other California guides here!
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