Looking for a San Francisco engagement photography location that TRULY has it all? Easily accessible, wide-ranging terrain and backdrops, combining beaches, unique architecture, flora & fauna together with epic views of the Golden Gate Bridge? Then Crissy Field is for you!
It even made my 10 best photography locations in San Francisco!
In this article, I’ll show you how to get the best out of your shoot so you don’t miss a thing, and maximize your time. Whichever photographer you choose for your wedding or engagement session, I’ve kept things practical and useful for everyone!
I’m stoked to bring you some helpful information and inspiration for your engagement session at Crissy Field, San Francisco.
Without further ado, let’s dive into what makes Crissy Field the best location for your San Francisco engagement photos.
What are the main features of Crissy Field?
Crissy Field is a former airfield that is set in 130 acres that is now an urban national park nestled at the northern edge of the Presidio.
It has a well-used fisherman’s pier 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. Crissy Field is known by locals for its easy hiking, welcoming beaches, picnic areas, and wild open spaces.
The site offers beaches, picnic tables, tidal marsh overlooks, and renowned windsurfing. It is located on the central, Northern edge of San Francisco and offers stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge – fog permitting!
4 reasons why Crissy Field is perfect for your engagement session
1. Its versatility and sheer wide-ranging features
This is my top location in San Francisco for engagement photos, because it offers so much in a small, walkable area. Sure, it has the bridge which in itself is a reason to go see it. But it also has a sandy beach, well-kept paths, lush areas of green grass (the old airfield itself!) flanked by mature plants, and the charming, rustic fisherman’s pier.
As if that weren’t enough, there are also super pretty old buildings dotted around. They make really beautiful backdrops when you can infuse some architectural elements!). Many of them are former USCG Fort Point Life Boat Station buildings and are really charming.
The Warming Hut Cafe is a must – I absolutely love taking couples to the front of this cream-colored building with the iconic ‘National Parks’ sign on it! The building dates back to 1909 building and was once an Army supply shed.
Once you’re down on the beach past the pretty little jetty with the hut at the end, you have an epic view of the whole of San Francisco!
Due to its proximity, the Palace of Fine Arts has pride of place within this particular cityscape, so it’s quite a beautiful and unique vantage point.
And don’t forget the palm trees! Anytime I have the opportunity to incorporate California’s iconic palm trees into my photos, I take it : )
And why does it matter that you get so much contained in a small area? Well, there typically is never quite enough time for your wedding or engagement shoot. Being in one area with a lot to play with really maximizes that time fully.
Staying in one location allows us to reach a kind of peak creative flow – the benefit of which will be seen in the photos. When traveling to different location, we’re not only losing time with the driving itself but also to ‘resetting’ ourselves as we get back into the zone.
2. Proximity to other beautiful spots
OK, having just sold you on the importance of staying in one location, the fact remains that Crissy Field is perfectly placed for many other iconic locations.
For example, it’s just a few short minutes’ drive from these places (that will give you a totally different feel for your photos!): Palace of Fine Arts, Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line (aka Lovers’ Lane), the Lyon Street Steps, the Yacht Harbor, Fort Point National Historic Site (the base of the Golden Gate Bridge), and basically anywhere in the Marina District and the Presidio!
My engagement shoots last up to 1.5 hours, so there’s usually time for a second location! To get the most out of it, I recommend the locations not being more than 20 minutes away, including driving, walking and outfit-changing time.
3. Easy to park and not super crowded!
When you’re having your engagement photos at Crissy Field, I recommend parking and starting your shoot at the Warming Hut. There’s a pretty large parking lot right there, and I’ve only seen it full on one rare occasion. Oh, and parking at Crissy Field is free!
I also recommend parking there because it’s located pretty close to the restrooms which are in a separate building on the far side of the Warming Hut. If you’re planning an outfit change, this setup makes it pretty easy to head back to your car, grab your clothes and then head to the restroom if you need the privacy.
Crissy Field is a large location, and people tend to be pretty spread out. There is no one main area that everyone wants to congregate at. This makes it a sensible choice given social distancing, and also just way more comfortable if you are more the shy or introverted type that hates being the center of attention!
Other locations such as the Sutro Baths, while beautiful, involve us waiting our turn and then skilfully dodging other groups that are all vying for this one main photo spot (that happens to be on a tiny ledge surrounded on both sides by water!) Here at Crissy Field, you’ll find nothing of the sort.
It’s all very spread out and I’ve never seen an area be busy or congested!
3. Largely flat terrain
Another great thing about Crissy Field (and why it’s so popular for cyclists) is the flat terrain.
For those with mobility issues including people who use wheelchairs, Crissy Field is totally doable! Sure, we would skip the beaches but the paths including the Bay Trail are hard-packed and the terrain is level.
It’s also a fantastic option for people like me who are not at peak physical fitness. I tend to get out of breath easily – and heaven knows, lugging my photography equipment and case up and down steep hills and cliffs is something I no longer *exactly* relish.
So, I definitely recommend Crissy Field for anyone who wants to make life easy on themselves! Let’s skip the photos where you’re red and sweaty from a steep hike. I can’t Photoshop that (lol!)!
Recommended route for engagement photos at Crissy Field
I recommend parking at the Warming Hut Bookstore & Cafe, 983 Marine Drive, San Francisco CA 94129.
From the Warming Hut starting point, I have this suggested route which I usually take my couples on, and recommend for wedding & engagement photography:
As with all photoshoots, this can be customized as per the couple’s requests. For example, it doesn’t utilize a ton of the green areas, it’s mostly following the shoreline. If you want more greenery, you can utilize the picnic area like in the photos below.
Basically, the more you step away from the beach, the more you’ll see mature trees and grassy areas.
It’s really down to personal preference, but I do recommend checking in with your photographer to find out their professional advice, taking into account the time of day of your shoot.
There’s really diverse scenery at Crissy Field (more so than any other all-in-one San Francisco location I can think of!) so it’s nice to be able to utilize the full range of backdrops, time permitting!
What’s the best time of day for photos at Crissy Field?
The best time of day for your engagement shoot is to finish up right around sunset. You can find the sunset time by typing into Google, ‘sunset time on [your date] in San Francisco’.
One thing to bear in mind when determining the actual time the sun disappears over the horizon, is that it will be earlier if you are at all inland. The sunset time is only at sea level, and will appear earlier if you are surrounded by mountains, trees or buildings.
As Crissy Field is right at sea level with no cover, you can be reasonably sure that the sun will set at the official time.
This doesn’t take into account however, that sometimes there is fog at this location! Fog can completely obscure the bridge. I have seen photos from my couple’s scouting trip in which you could not even see the bridge from Torpedo Wharf.
Luckily, there is so much else that’s beautiful there, it isn’t the end of the world if there is fog. If anything, the fog gives a beautiful, mysterious and ethereal feel. Contrary to popular belief, it will not ‘ruin your photos’!
And if you’re dead set on the bridge, I’d recommend a 5-minute car ride to Fort Point where you are directly underneath the bridge – within touching distance – and even with heavy fog it is visible.
Here is what Crissy Field looks like on an October day with very harsh sun, at the time of day when the sun is directly overhead.
As you can see, the shadows are pronounced and there is extremely harsh contrast where the shadows fall. It was also too bright for the couple to remove their sunglasses.
Though this isn’t the time of day I would recommend for the best photos, sometimes it’s necessary if it’s your wedding day and you have a particular time booked for the ceremony.
In which case, we will work with what we have! These images have a bit of a ‘snapshotty’ feel, without the photographer being able to direct to optimize for the light, which is basically how I create the trademark style I’m known for.
A big part of this is to utilize locations that are in the shade, in order to get flattering light and quality photos that you deserve. But sure, if you’re at Crissy Field, we have to get some photos with the Golden Gate Bridge!
Photos from Crissy Field engagements and weddings
Looking for info on Crissy Field Beach?
If you’re interested in Crissy Field Beach (located east of the areas we’re discussing in this article), I have a separate article on that location, linked below!
Crissy Beach is actually perfect for intimate weddings, because it’s private and doesn’t get a lot of foot-traffic. I’ve the full lowdown on booking, planning and more photos!
Here’s a quick peek at what that looks like:
Ready to do your engagement or wedding photos at Crissy Field?
If so, give me a shout! I adore engagement sessions and wedding photos at the beautiful Crissy Field and can’t wait to share my wealth of knowledge and secret spots that I couldn’t possibly give away in this article 😉 the best is saved for my amazing clients!
Whether you’re planning your engagement, anniversary session, wedding or elopement, Crissy Field is a fabulous choice for portrait photography.