There are SO many locations for your San Francisco engagement shoot, that’s for sure! Have you considered Marshall’s Beach (also known as Marshall Beach?) This windswept rocky San Francisco beach with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge is not only beautiful but very underutilized.
Especially in the time of social distancing, it’s worth going to San Francisco locations that afford you the opportunity to keep your distance and carve out some time to yourselves. Yeah, beach shoots in San Francisco are also wonderful for introverts, when you don’t want to feel like everyone’s watching you.
In this article I’m going to give you some detailed info if you are thinking of choosing Marshall’s Beach as a location for your wedding or engagement photos! (and if you are, be sure to check out more about my services as your wedding photographer!)
What does Marshall’s Beach have to offer for wedding & engagement shoots?
Marshall’s Beach is a pretty wild and rugged place. The dramatic views of the Golden Gate Bridge are stunning. The terrain is unusual, with large, somewhat smooth, dark rocks when the tide is in.
There is apparently a narrow strip of sandy beach if you visit early in the day. For sunset shoots at the times I’ve been there, expect rocky terrain with a mixture of large, smooth rocks and some spikier ones.
The light is stunning and every single day there’s something a little different going on. Karl the fog often makes an appearance, too. But far from being a problem, fog make for some epic photos – think ethereal, other-worldly and mysterious (as well as iconic San Francisco!)
Fair warning: Marshall’s Beach is a little more of a challenge than many of the other beaches because the hike is rather strenuous (for me at least). You’ll be rewarded when you do make it down, but save some of your energy for that hike back up to the parking lot. Yikes.
Tips for your Marshalls Beach photo shoot
Where to park: Langdon Court Parking, Langdon Court, San Francisco, CA
How to find Marshall’s Beach: From the parking lot, head towards the disused concrete structure which is known as Battery Godfrey. You’ll see a sign for the ‘Battery to Bluffs trail’, which is marked by a fallen tree. Take that trail! The parking lot is very close to the trailhead, just a few yards.
Side note: This is the same parking lot as you’d use for Battery Godfrey which is super close. You can incorporate both Battery Godfrey and Marshall’s Beach into your shoot, just make sure to allow enough time. More on that later. Curious about what Battery Godfrey looks like? Check out these photos below!
Another awesome place you must stop is this one below – it’s also just steps away from the Langdon Court Parking lot. This location is the Golden Gate Overlook and you can navigate to it by clicking that link.
Is there anything to know or avoid about Marshall’s Beach?
- The area is quiet and you will not have to struggle for the best spot once you arrive on the beach. That said, there are sometimes photography crews of amateur photography enthusiasts gathered on the beach as it’s absolutely great at sunset with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
- Best times to go would be weeknights, as any gatherings such as photography meetups would be more likely to take place over the weekend.
- No dogs are permitted on Marshall’s Beach.
- There are no restrooms and the area has no visitor’s center or any other amenities – it’s completely undeveloped, leaving you free to enjoy nature.
- Bring water!
- Wear good hiking shoes. Even if you want to be photographed in more glamorous shoes, I would suggest bringing these in a separate bag and changing into them once safely on the beach. Even on the beach however, avoid heels at all costs.
- It’s a clothing-optional beach but I have never seen naturists there personally.
- Allow enough time to hike down and get yourself back up before the sun sets.
What is the hike like down to Marshall’s Beach?
To access the beach requires a hike of about half a mile down, and 400 feet of elevation change. The descent is steep but very well maintained with wooden steps that have been placed into the landscape. You’ll want to start at the northern end of the Batteries to Bluffs trail which is signposted.
You will find it flat to begin with, with large stairs and level dirt paths. Then the descent starts. The stairs are easy for most able-bodied people, so you barely notice your huge elevation loss as you wind down towards the beach with several switchbacks and forks.
Speaking of which, it’s easy to get derailed and take a wrong turn by mistake when the trail splits. Though it’s an easy enough descent down, make sure you remain on the correct trail! I’ve actually made this mistake before – never again!
How long does it take to get down to Marshall’s Beach?
Honestly, the hike down does not take very long because of the steps. I would say to allow half an hour to 45 minutes to descend. Sure, you can do it faster than that, but for engagement or wedding photography you need to allow longer.
Why? Firstly, you’ll want to stop for photos on the way down. This is part of the fun! There are many cute little areas to stop at, that your photographer will guide you to.
Once you get down to the beach, there is really not that much variety and it is a small beach once the tide has started to come in. So take full advantage of the epic scenery on that hike down.
Secondly, even if you have your good hiking shoes on, chances are you will be dressed in your spiffy wedding or engagement attire. That could mean a suit, a dress or something that isn’t the best for moving around freely.
To avoid getting into a sweaty mess situation, I advise taking your time to descend and soak it all up. If you are red, sticky and puffed out unfortunately there is no way of making it look otherwise in the photos.
How long does it take to hike up from Marshall’s Beach to the parking lot?
The real, ahem, struggle is walking back up to the parking lot. Retrace your steps once you are done on the beach so you don’t take the wrong path now that the signs will not be facing you. Head back up carefully, allowing at least 45 minutes at the bare minimum. It would be better to allow an hour.
There may be more photos you want to take coming back up as the light will be even prettier by this time! And if you are not the fittest you will need to take pitstops on the way. I personally found it very difficult hiking back up from the beach level.
Carrying all my camera gear and my case for the equipment, it was extremely strenuous. I had to stop frequently, catch my breath and drink water. By the end, I was dripping with sweat which was not a pretty sight for anyone.
So, make sure you’re factoring in enough time to get back up to street level without having to hike in the dark!
Further reading and information about Marshall’s Beach
San Francisco engagement photography
If San Francisco is your jam, but you’re not sold on Marshall’s Beach, I have a guide to my fave engagement locations to help spark ideas Check it out here: