In this post I’m sharing the 10 best locations for your engagement photos in SF. The places on this list are San Francisco spots that are amazing for wedding or engagement photos. What makes spots for couples photos any different from general cool photo spots? Well, for one thing, they each have a wide variety of areas to shoot in, making for diverse imagery.
Secondly, they are not crowded for the most part, lending themselves well to engagement or wedding photos. Think: less waiting around for others to finish up their shoots, fewer people in the background of your shots!
My 10 best spots in San Francisco for your engagement session will give you lots of ideas, whether you’re into nature or urban, beach or architectural, classic or hipster, iconic SF or relaxed and everyday. Sure there’s the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts but I’ll also let you in on hidden beaches, secret gardens and the prettiest neighborhoods!
In this detailed post, I’ve included plenty of hidden San Francisco gems as well as the well-known spots. Enjoy!
One important note: Are you here because you’re getting married at San Francisco City Hall? If so, hang tight, be sure to check out my special list (you won’t see this anywhere else) – spots that are conveniently located specifically for SF City Hall couples!
Sound good? OK, let’s go!
View all on map:
Golden Gate Bridge – 5 best spots
Crissy Field is a former airfield that is set in 130 acres that is now an urban national park. It has a well-used fisherman’s wharf called torpedo wharf with fabulous views of the bridge. It also has beautiful palm trees, a beach, a view of the Palace of Fine Arts and the city skyline. There are also great architectural features to work with such as various huts, houses, jetties, and the pretty Warming Hut cafe. Crissy Field gets my vote for best all-rounder.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Warming Hut Bookstore & Cafe, Marine Drive, San Francisco, CA
Fort Point National Historic Site
Fort Point is a masonry seacoast fortification located right under the Golden Gate Bridge. A Civil War-era brick fort, its unique perspective of the Golden Gate Bridge has to be seen to be believed. It’s really a spot for those couples who want something a little different for their engagement photos! Expect lots of dramatic lines, wind and being dwarfed by this epic structure! Note: Fort Point has very limited opening hours. Check before you go!
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Fort Point National Historic Site, San Francisco, CA 94129
This quiet beach stretches a mile below the rugged cliffs on the Presidio’s western shoreline. There’s golden sand, a spacious and wide beach, and close proximity to the parking lot. It’s also one of the warmer and less windswept beaches – well, as San Francisco beaches go. Note: the northern end is clothing-optional!
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Battery Chamberlain Road, San Francisco, CA 94129
To access the beach requires a hike of about half a mile down, and 400 feet of elevation change. Park at the Langdon Court parking and start at the northern end of the Batteries to Bluffs trail. The beach is a rocky one and when the tide’s coming in it can be hard to find footing. It’s a wild a rugged beach. The secluded location means there aren’t usually too many people that make it all the way down. It’s one of the lesser-known Golden Gate beach spots!
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Langdon Court Parking, Langdon Ct, San Francisco, CA 94129
Golden Gate Overlook
The Golden Gate Overlook which is located close to one of the military batteries (see the section further down) offers more than the disused building with its concrete walls and roofs to climb on. There are also pretty trees, coastal views and amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge from a perfect distance away! Prominent in the photos but not overpowering. And it’s so close to the Langdon Court parking lot with no hike required.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Langdon Court Parking, Langdon Ct, San Francisco, CA 94129
And one more bonus spot for Golden Gate Bridge couples’ photos:
San Francisco Marina Yacht Harbor
I put the yacht harbor on this list not just because of the harbor itself which is so pretty but because there are diverse areas great for pictures, with cool concrete walls, trees, and paths with pretty houses. It is located very close to the Palace of Fine Arts (5 mins walk). A hop, skip and a jump from the harbor is this awesome platform area where you take epic photos with the Golden Gate Bridge behind the subjects.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): San Francisco Marina Yacht Harbor, Scott St, San Francisco, CA 94123
Golden Gate Park – 5 best spots
This dreamy spot has an old-world, English feel that oozes charm and class. It’s stunning all the year-round, particularly in the spring when the blossoms are doing their thing and framing this picturesque path. The Shakespeare Garden is tucked away, so a lot of people don’t even know it’s here. One main feature is this beautiful tree, which is perfectly backlit early in the morning.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Shakespeare Garden, 335 Martin Luther King Jr Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118
Botanical Gardens – Succulent Garden, Redwood Grove, Moon Viewing Garden
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is a world unto itself! There are endless areas you can explore. For efficiency, I recommend having some places in mind. If you’re not sure, you can ask your photographer to pre-scout or recommend areas that will work. This place is seriously huge and it’s easy to get lost or sidetracked. My favorites, above, are within fairly close walking distance of each other and offer maximum variety. The famous magnolias, which bloom from February to May, are so pretty.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): San Francisco Botanical Garden, 1199 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122
Conservatory of Flowers
Built in 1879 the Conservatory has tropical flowers, foliage and plants from around the world. Outside the structure, there’s a lot of land with pretty trees to play around on. No permits are required for groups of 4 people or fewer. Not only is the dreamy light like a giant softbox (read: incredibly flattering!), but there are beautiful architectural features everywhere you look plants that frame subjects beautifully. Play in nearby Peacock Meadow after doing some exterior shots!
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Conservatory of Flowers,100 John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118
Stow Lake / Strawberry Hill
Stow Lake is a man-made lake that dates back to 1893. In the middle of the lake is the Strawberry Hill, accessed via Stow Lake Bridge. There’s a Chinese pagoda, a waterfall and lots of waterfowl, plus lots of trees that flank the lake. Prices currently start at around $25/hour to rent a romantic rowboat from the Stow Lake Boathouse. A great choice for an unhurried shoot as you’ll need to allow time to rent the boat, set up the shot and explore the area. Strawberry Hill is a hike up.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Stow Lake Boathouse, 50 Stow Lake Dr E, San Francisco, CA 94118
De Young / California Academy of Sciences / Japanese Tea Garden
These three areas are very close by. The Cal Academy has some concrete walls and soft foliage fronds that make for dreamy photos. The De Young has an edgy copper exterior and a row of palm trees. There’s a bandstand/ stage area in between the two monuments. There’s no need to enter either the De Young or the Cal Academy – the outsides are all we want for photos. The Tea Garden does require a small entrance fee, discounted for residents of San Francisco.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118
There are lots of wild nature areas dotted around San Francisco! My top pick for foresty vibes is the Presidio. A mature forest of pine, cypress, eucalyptus and other non-native trees covers the higher areas of the Presidio. Just drive along Lincoln Blvd and there’ll be lots of pretty places to pull over and take pics depending on the light. Ask your photographer about their favorite, tucked-away spots!
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): WWII Memorial parking lot, San Francisco, CA 94129
Lover’s Lane at the Presidio
Lover’s Lane is actually a 0.6-mile trail that connects the Presidio Gate to the Main Post. Internationally renowned land artist Andy Goldsworthy’s installation Wood Line is probably what you want! Nestled in the eucalyptus grove is this graceful, sinuous sculpture that’s over 1,200 feet in length and will, one day, be reclaimed by the woods once again. A unique and beautiful intersection of art and nature that is also eerily romantic.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line, Presidio Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94129
Lands End Trail
The most-traveled trail in Lands End is the Coastal Trail. Lands End Trail also contains the ruins of the Sutro Baths – more on that below. There are also trees, a fabulous beach which takes some time to hike down to, a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, a labyrinth and lots of steps, succulents and coastal views. Definitely worth spending some time here to get take advantage of the diverse areas. The fog that rolls in makes for beautifully atmospheric and characteristically San Francisco photos.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Lands End Lookout Visitor Center, 680 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
There are plenty of other things this beach has going for it if you look past the cold, fog and wind! There’s a blank canvas feel that makes for gorgeous photos where you’ll stand out. You won’t find many other people here due to the weather. There are beautiful rocks, pretty houses, lovely flora and a good dose of urban street art. This beach is often surprising and always gorgeous at sunset – it can be colorful and warm or intensely moody and dramatic. A personal favorite.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Great Hwy Parking, Great Hwy, San Francisco, CA 94121
Located in the Lands End area, this is an absolutely iconic and totally unique spot that’s also one of the most popular locations on this list. The current site is the ruins of the 1894 indoor baths that proved not to be commercially viable, so have been left exposed to the elements until the ocean eventually reclaims them. One of the most popular areas on this list, expect to wait your turn for photos as you dodge the many other engaged couples and families taking photos.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Lands End Main Parking Lot, Merrie Way, San Francisco, CA 94121
China Beach is in a tiny cove tucked between Lands End and Baker Beach in the Sea Cliff neighborhood of San Francisco. The beach can be fairly warm due to its sheltered position. The Golden Gate Bridge is pretty far into the distance so it is recommended more as a nice beach location with pretty sand and stunning, unique rocks. Because of its neighborhood location it’s isn’t very well-known… yet! Access is via a steep staircase from the parking area.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Seacliff San Francisco, 340 Sea Cliff Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
Corona Heights Park
Corona Heights Park is a craggy outcropping featuring beautiful red rocks, yes in San Francisco! It affords beautiful views over the City and is very windy and can get cold. The hike is mild considering the elevation and your Uber will drop you off super close to the picture location. The City views are magical, but there’s also a really wild feel depending which way you’re looking! The Sutro tower is visible for some cool perspectives in that direction.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Roosevelt Way & Museum Way, San Francisco, CA 94117
Bernal Heights Park
Bernal Heights boasts panoramic views and views of the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown, the San Bruno Mountains, and the hills of the East Bay. Also, it’s often sunny here, or at least not foggy! There are a lot of hiking trails here and even a rock labyrinth! A cool feature for engagement/ wedding shoots is the swing which makes for cute pictures. There’s some work currently taking place until early 2020, so make sure the area you’d like isn’t ruined by construction.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Bernal Heights Park Parking Lot, 3450 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94110
A beautiful urban neighborhood dog-friendly park, this spot is surrounded by the cutest colorful Victorian houses – plenty of photo opportunities. The park is small, measuring three city blocks in length by one city block long, but does have the advantage of being very quiet and with fun urban backdrops. The park is in the Bernal Heights neighborhood and could be combined with Bernal Heights park.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Precita Park, Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA
Alta Plaza Park
This is a steep, hillside urban park – but there are steps so no major hike required! At the top of the tiered staircase you’ll find beautiful views that will look like you’re on top of the world. Trees and benches crown the summit. This isn’t a well-known park and is, in my opinion, something of a hidden gem in the Pacific Heights neighborhood! May be combined with the Lyon Street steps nearby, allowing 15 minutes for walking time.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Steiner Street & Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
I recently did an engagement shoot in Pacific Heights myself – check it out below!
Twin Peaks looks out over the city and has 360 views. To get the best views, be prepared for a hike to get to the top. This is a flavor of what can be seen from the bottom of the peak. At almost 1,000 feet, the views are stunning but the winds are fierce. Allow time to hike to the top and be prepared to be flexible and creative to get photos free of tourists. Very close to the triple-pronged Sutro Tower antenna which is considered a San Francisco landmark.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Twin Peaks, 501 Twin Peaks Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94114
Mission Dolores Park
Encompassing nearly 16 acres, Mission Dolores Park is one of San Francisco’s most popular destinations, the vibrant heart of its equally vibrant, culturally diverse neighborhood. Walking up the hill allows sweeping views over the City. It’s easy to carve out your own private area in this sometimes-crowded but very large park. The back of the park overlooks the cute MUNI trains and pastel Victorians which can make for some fun photos!
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Children’s Day School – Middle School, 601 Dolores St, San Francisco, CA 94110
In fact, the whole Mission District is a favorite of mine for engagement / wedding photos. So much so I just had to bring out a guide dedicated to the best spots – and how to find them!
San Francisco has unique and beautiful piers. Probably the best known is Pier 7! It has beautiful framing with the Transamerica Pyramid directly in the background in the middle of the photo. The lanterns are also very pretty. Sunset is when you’ll get this beautiful glowing light. Also check out the other piers – Pier 39 has a very different feel.
What to put into Google Maps: Pier 7, San Francisco, CA
Stylish & formal location ideas
Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace is one of the most iconic and stunning San Francisco landmarks there is. Built for a 1915 exhibition and rebuilt since then, it’s one of the city’s most photographed monuments. It’s free to enter and open air. Classic setting for a chic shoot amid awe-inspiring architecture. The one thing is, it’s very crowded so will require some patience to get photos free of people. The good news is there are plenty of areas around the main dome, including stone columns, a pretty green door a lagoon and nature spots.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): The Palace Of Fine Arts, Lyon Street, San Francisco, CA
Legion of Honor
This art museum is set in the most stunning grounds with high-key (light-toned) pillars and work beautifully for an elegant, refined feel. The building dates back to 1802 and has major old-world charm with a fine art sense of style and decorum. No fee or permit is required to use the outdoor areas. If you love architecture, symmetry and that palace-like feel this is the spot for you! A formal dress works well here, so I’d plump for a ballgown if you want to feel at home with the regal surroundings.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
San Francisco City Hall
This iconic seat of local government is one of the most stunning buildings in the US. With a dome made out of real gold that’s 42 feet taller than the United States Capitol, everything about this Beaux-Arts building is designed to impress. The interior features incredibly ornate stone carving and pink-hued Tennessee marble. The inside space is more than 500,000 square feet, and it’s open to the public without a fee, Monday – Friday. Photographing weddings here is one of my specialties!
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): San Francisco City Hall, Doctor Carlton B Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA
Getting married at San Francisco City Hall? I have a separate post that covers those photo spots.
Edgy & industrial location ideas
San Francisco’s military batteries have a rich history but now they are disused and work beautifully for couples’ photos. The coastal defenses now offer unique photo opportunities with the gray concrete ensuring that subjects really stand out, and give you a modern, edgy feel. You can stand out against the sky here. Also, find a nook in the battery ruins and cuddle up against the cold Pacific wind.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Langdon Court Parking, Langdon Ct, San Francisco, CA 94129
The Dogpatch has some photo areas by the water that are industrial, edgy & ‘derelicte’. Formerly a shipbuilding hub dating back to the 1800s, this dockside area retains an industrial vibe with large warehouses, many of which have been updated into residential lofts, art galleries and indie shops. While I haven’t ever scouted this area myself, I’d be delighted to scout it to give some specific area ideas for anyone that’s looking to shoot there.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): 511-401 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94107
The Mission District is known for its street art such as a couple of its most famous, constantly changing murals on Clarion Alley near 16th St and Balmy Alley near 24th. It’s a Mexican neighborhood with roots that go very deep. It has a very cosmopolitan, urban flavor, some even say it’s chaotic, gritty and grimy. It’s not one of San Francisco’s posh neighborhoods, but it’s arguably the most colorful. Beautiful Victorians are plentiful. You’re bound to find a character or two on your shoot here. It’s also where you’ll find me!
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Clarion Alley Street Art, 90 Clarion Alley, San Francisco, CA 94110
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Balmy Alley, Balmy Street, San Francisco, CA
Russian Hill / Nob Hill
These two adjacent neighborhoods have fantastic city views and very steep main streets where you can take photos showcasing both San Francisco landmarks and street vibes. Some other favorite spots in these areas are Lombard Street’s twists and turns, Ina Coolbrith Park and the view down Columbus where you can see the Transamerica Pyramid framed perfectly. Due to how steep it is, there are some dramatic photos to be had!
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Lombard Street, Lombard Street, San Francisco, CA 94133
A new favorite area of mine! Flanked by the Golden Gate Park to the south and the Presidio to the north, this area is a residential one with a lively commercial center. Clement and Geary are lined with cute shops and neighborhood curiosities. If hanging out in cafes is your vibe, consider the Inner Richmond! There are also some stunning residential streets with the old Victorians. I’d love to photograph you and your boo walking down the street like celebrities!
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Wing Lee Bakery, 503 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118
Another fun, posh neighborhood with major style vibes! As well as the cute neighborhood with lots of doorways, storefronts and tree-lined streets for pictures, there’s also the open space further up Bernal Hill. There are views of whole city as well as the famous Sutro tower. Check out Cortland Avenue for its restaurants, bakeries, a fish and butchery shop, and other local boutiques. If you just want to choose somewhere without overthinking it, that feels like a San Francisco street Bernal Heights is it!
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Martha & Bros. Coffee Co, 745 Cortland Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110
The neighborhood is known for having been the birthplace of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s. Today it is known for its purveyors of new-age paraphernalia as well as assorted boutiques & bookstores. It still has that modern American counterculture vibe but is a lot more polished and upscale these days. Keep an eye out for colorful walls, displays, storefronts and murals that catch your eye! They’d be perfect for engagement photos.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Indigo Vintage Coopertive, 1649 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117
Deemed the wealthiest neighborhood in the entire United States, Pacific Heights has panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, the Palace of Fine Arts, Alcatraz, and the Presidio. The Lyon Street Steps are a perfect choice for understated elegance that subtly whispers class. You have to take in some of the beautiful houses too, homes to tech billionaires. If there’s time, take a stroll to Alta Plaza Park for incredible city views at a very underutilized and elegant location.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Lyon Street Steps, 2990-2996 Lyon St & Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94115
The Castro remains one of the most prominent symbols of LGBTQ+ activism and events in the world. The gay village is a must for those who want rainbows galore and meaningful spots in the fight for gay rights. There is an awe-inspiring amount of color and vibrancy here. Everything from the rainbow crosswalk to the huge Pride flag, and Hot Cookie to the Castro Theatre. There are also stores with naughty names to keep you entertained. There’s also a Muni terminus with the cutest little streetcars here.
What to put into Google Maps (click link to open in Maps): Gilbert Baker Memorial Rainbow Flag, San Francisco, CA 94114
Lifestyle spots might be you just you doing your own thing. Ideas include:
– Toasting at your favorite bar
– Playing board games or arcade games at a games cafe
– Eating ice cream!
– Lounging on the sofa at home or having a pillow fight!
I would just recommend getting permission from the owner or manager of the establishment prior to the shoot date. I’ve never had a place refuse a polite request made in advance, either by the couple or myself. Usually there is no fee.
If you just turn up without first asking, it’s seen as rude and places will refuse you – I’ve seen it!
This couple below celebrated their engagement by hanging out in their home, doing the normal things they enjoy together! They arranged flowers, cooked, made the bed and read a book snuggled in bed.
Thank you for reading! Ready to talk about your engagement photography?
Hope you found my top 10 favorite San Francisco engagement and wedding photo locations helpful! My couples tend to be a little quirkier, perhaps alternative, practical or just plain rebellious! Less crazy elegant ballgowns at the Legion of Honor and more dancing in the street in your favorite jumpsuit. Less pomp, more punk as I like to say.
The final thing to say is your location is a complement to who you are, the backdrop, if you will. Don’t overthink the location. You’re the subjects who will SHINE.
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