Best San Francisco Bay Area Photography Locations

Last Updated October, 2023

The San Francisco Bay Area is filled with such unsurmountable beauty, I am delightedly in shock and awe when I discover a new location I haven’t yet discovered or explored. Far from knowing all the beautiful landscapes this area has to offer, I have decided to compile a list of some of my favorite locations for photography in the Bay Area. This list is not exhaustive and I plan to expand it in the future. However, it’s a great starting point for determining the style and potential location of your photo session. I encourage my clients to  reach out if they have another location in mind or if there is a specific style or feeling of a particular image that they are drawn to. This list is simply a starting point to help further narrow down your preferred location choice.

I have divided the locations into sections that include:

  • San Francisco
  • South of San Francisco
  • North Bay
  • Beyond (Compilation of far north, East Bay, or far south)
  • Dream Locations I have not yet worked at! (Therefore, no image examples)

I hope you find this compilation helpful. Let me know what location is your favorite in the comments below or somewhere I still need to check out! 🙂 Enjoy scrolling through the best San Francisco Bay Area Photography Locations!

San Francisco

Marshall’s Beach – Quite possibly my favorite photo location in San Francisco, this beach offers the most epic view of the Golden Gate Bridge (in my opinion) at sunset. It also sees less foot traffic because it requires about a 15 minute hike down to get there. The hike is gorgeous and well worth it! Some of my favorite images from family sessions come from the trail itself. Once on the beach, you’ll have an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge, rocks to scramble and explore, and if the tide is low enough you’ll even find some sea anemones. When a family chooses this location, I always pick a Plan B because if the tide is high at the time of your session, the beach is essentially non-existent. I always check the tide ahead of time and notify my clients if this is the case. Baker Beach is a great alternative because it is the next beach down the coast and offers similar views of the GGB. However, I wouldn’t recommend it as a Plan B on weekend afternoons as it will be very busy. You can find additional images from a family session at Marshall’s Beach here.

Baker Beach – This location will have a similar view of Golden Gate Bridge as Marshall’s Beach since it’s just slightly farther down the coast. I love this location because the beach is located right next to some historical batteries so I like to do a small loop through the batteries before heading down to the water. It allows for more variety in your images and can be a fun spot to explore for children. I don’t recommend this location for weekends at sunset as it will be extremely busy. Another thing you should note is that the northern half of the beach is nude. I have heard of old nudists who like to hang out there but have personally never ran into one myself. 🙂

Golden Gate Beach – Located on the East side of the Golden Gate Bridge, this beach sees fewer visitors than the adorned Crissy Field Beach. Keep in mind that dogs need to be on leash for part of the year for species protection, but they are still welcome to join us at the session! You can hike past the beach for closer views of the bridge and a slightly alternative setting. This location is perfect for families that don’t want to hike far (or at all) because you can just hang out on the beach and collect treasures or build sand castles. There is also a small parking fee for this location.

Presidio Batteries and Trails – This is a fun spot for the kids because it includes lots of step and ladder climbing over the historic batteries. I typically start on the West side of the bridge near the Golden Gate Overlook, and will walk a small loop along the batteries and through some coastal windswept cypress. If families are feeling adventurous and are willing to walk a bit, there’s an epic trail about a half mile away that begins at Rob Hill Campground. The trail winds through tall eucalyptus trees that are covered in vines. When the fog rolls  in, it’s absolutely breathtaking! Alternatively, that could be the starting location for a photo session. I haven’t yet photographed a family in that spot. Could you be the first? You can find additional images from a family session at the Presidio Batteries and Trails here.

Fort Point, San Francisco – I finally had the joy of photographing a family at Fort Point and am so stoked to include it in this list! Located on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge quite literally underneath the bridge, this historic landmark is an epic location for a family adventure session. It’s kind of like a giant playground for children to run around and explore, and a photographer’s paradise because of the leading lines, unique framing opportunities, and dramatic light. It’s open Thursday – Monday from 10am to 5pm (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays) but because of it’s unique architecture and location, it’s a great spot at almost any time of day.

Fun family photos at Fort Point San Francisco
Playful family photos at Fort Point in San Francisco, CA
Family photos at Fort Point San Francisco

Sutro Baths, San Francisco – These incredibly neat historical ruins lie in the Lands End area just north of Ocean Beach. With stunning lookouts, a small tunnel, beautiful cypress, and small beach during low tide, this location offers a myriad of creative backdrops and framing for a photo session. Because this location is a popular destination for locals and tourists, I do not offer weekend evening sessions here as it is far too busy and therefore more dangerous to hold a photo session.

Creative maternity photos at Sutro Baths in San Francisco.
Couples engagement photos at Sutro Baths in San Francisco.
Creative couples engagement photos at Sutro Baths in San Francisco.

Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park – Located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, Stow Lake is a wonderful adventure location for families. There are walking trails galore, gnarly tree trunks to climb, a waterfall, pavilion, and a super cool cobblestone bridge. I like to hike part way around the lake before crossing a bridge and then traverse to the top of Strawberry Hill. It is super walkable for kiddos and really embodies the look and feel of Golden Gate Park. I prefer this location in the morning because it sees fewer visitors. I do not recommend this location for a weekend afternoon. You can find additional images from a family session at that location here.

Fort Funston – This location is great if you’re looking for cliff-side ocean views with rolling sand dunes and coast line flora. You can spend your time walking on the bluffs above, or choose to hike down to the water. The beach is long and expansive, similar to Ocean beach, but with coastal bluffs as the backdrop. You can find additional images from a family session at that location here.

Fort Mason – While I’ve held many mini sessions at this location, I have yet to hold a full session here! This spot is near and dear to my heart because I frequently run through it on my running routes. I’ve seen some of the most epic sunsets I can remember at the end of the piers and to this day I still find myself saying, “Wow, I live here” when going on an afternoon walk. I love the red and beige color tones, hard shadows, and leading lines. I had so much fun holding my mini sessions at this location and can’t imagine how much fun a full session would be!

South of San Francisco

Gray Whale Cove (Half Moon Bay) – Located off Hwy 1 in Half Moon Bay, Gray Whale Cove is another one of my personal favorite beach locations. The cove is surrounded by coastal cliffs that protect it from the wind and offer a beautiful, clean backdrop. I find it to be a little warmer than other beaches for that reason. This location is great for sunrise or sunset, though I would not recommend it for a weekend evening as the beach will be crowded. You can find additional images from a family session at that location here.

Rockaway Beach (Pacifica) – This is a phenomenal location that provides both trail/mountain backdrops with beach backdrops. If you park in the North parking lot, there’s some open space with a few trails right next to the lot. There are beautiful tall grasses that you can explore and walk through and you don’t have to walk very far from your vehicle. After grabbing some photos on the trail, I typically head over to the beach just before the sun goes down. If you choose this location, definitely dress to get a little bit wet and sandy! This is a great location if you’re hoping to include a few different backdrops while not having to walk very far from your vehicle. You can find additional images from a family session at that location here.

North Bay

Rodeo Beach, North Bay – If you’re willing to travel to the North Bay, Rodeo Beach is a phenomenal location. It’s big and makes working around crowds much easier. This location provides both ocean backdrops and mountainous backdrops. There is also a hiking trail that takes you up over the bluffs with expansive views of the coastline. Alternatively, you can take a jaunt down the beach in the opposite direction and scramble up the sides of the bluffs yourselves. This is great for children who are a little bit older (elementary +).  This is my favorite beach in the North Bay.  You can view additional images from family sessions at this location here or here.

Ring Mountain (North Bay) – I feel like this location is a hidden gem and underutilized by other photographers. It has sweeping views of the bay, grassy rolling hills, super neat rock formations, and wildflowers in the spring and summer. If time permits, we can even head down to the water and catch a few images on a small beach just across the street. You can view additional images from this location here or here.

Sorich Park (North Bay) – A super central and woodsy park in San Anselmo. It has sweeping views, though the bay is pretty far in the distance. The park is full of eucalyptus trees that make it a great location for almost any time of day and is easily walkable. This location is very popular for families with little ones that don’t want to walk very far or request a mid-day session. You can view additional images from a family session at this location here.

Roy’s Redwoods Preserve (North Bay) – A little redwood grove gem hidden in the North Bay, this location offers redwoods and open fields. It’s super easily accessible from the road. You don’t need to walk far to be within the redwoods or open field. I recommend having the session an hour or two after sunrise or 2.5 hours before sunset as the redwoods get dark much quicker. You can view examples of my work from this location at the very end of this blog post. Note: You have to scroll to the very bottom! (But if you love the images that come first, we could always head up to Point Reyes… *hint hint

Black Sands Beach (North Bay) – This is another North Bay beach that sees fewer visitors because it requires a steep hike, maybe 10-15 minutes or so, down to the water. The views are spectacular and there are some neat rocks and an old tree that lines the coast. Keep in mind one half of the beach is nude. 🙂

Battery Rathbone McIndoe (Marin Headlands) – This location, in my personal opinion, has some of the best coastal views in the bay. Off Conzelman Road just past the Black Sands Beach pullout, this historical battery site is ideal for couples and maternity sessions. While it offers stunning backdrops, I do not recommend this location for families with little ones or those with a rambunctious dog as there are many steep cliff faces. When driving to this location, do not use google maps! It will route you to a different parking area and have you hike to the site. Instead, map your route to Black Sands Beach and continue on Conzelman Road until you see the battery on your left. Make sure to park right away because if you drive past the battery, you cannot turn around as it is a one-way road.

Epic couples photos at Battery Rathbone McIndoe in the Marin Headlands.
Fun and playful couples photos at Battery Rathbone McIndoe in the Marin Headlands.

Bolinas Bay Vista, Mount Tamalpais – Mount Tam has so many epic locations to offer but this spot is definitely my go-to. Located on West Ridgecrest Boulevard, this scenic lookout sits high above Stinson Beach. The weather can be a bit unpredictable up on the mountain; I’ve worked at this location in full sun and dense fog (see below) but both still produce epic imagery! For couples and maternity sessions, this location can be paired with Stinson Beach if you want a variety of backdrops for your images. I recommend this location for sunset sessions as West Ridgecrest Blvd is closed overnight and you cannot access the location at sunrise certain times of year.

Colorful couples engagement photos at sunset on Mount Tamalpais.
Creative and moody couples engagement photos on foggy Mount Tamalpais.


Cypress Tunnel (Inverness) and/or White Barn (Pt. Reyes Station) – I like to offer a combined location option if we’re heading this far north. You can begin at the iconic Cypress Tunnel for the first half of your session and then head to the White Barn in Point Reyes Station (you can spot it just southwest of 6th street if you view the Google maps link in satellite view). I would not recommend the Cypress Tunnel on a weekend as it gets far too busy and you’ll end up having a lot of people in the background of your images. I really love the White Barn in Pt. Reyes Station and you could easily have your full session at that location. Alternatively, you could combine the White Barn with walking around downtown Point Reyes. It’s an adorable little downtown with tons of charm! You can view a blog post at these locations here.

Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park (East Bay) – Located in the East Bay, this is a phenomenal redwood location. This location is great for nearly any time of day, making it a perfect location for families who can’t quite swing the sunrise/sunset times with their kiddos. The forest is thick and expansive. Kids can run and explore plus dogs are always welcome! You can view additional images from a family session at this location here.

Sunol Regional Wilderness (East Bay) – This location is a bit farther of a drive but well worth it. It has a small creek you can explore with a wooden walking bridge across. Kids can easily play in the water if they want. After crossing the bridge there are trails for miles so you can walk as far as you’d like! There’s an open field surrounded by oaks and other green foliage. It’s also easy to get a lot of variety within a very short distance if you have super little ones and crowds aren’t an issue here.

Dream Locations

Ocean Beach (San Francisco) – Such an epic beach located on the West side of San Francisco. There’s a span of blocks near the edge of the Outer Sunset where the sand dunes are particularly beautiful and filled with dune grass. A photo session at this location would have more minimalist vibes – think expansive sky and beach, neutral-colored sand dunes with a touch of beautiful, cool-green dune grass. I actually have a session scheduled for Ocean Beach later this October (2023) and am super excited to update this blog again with sample photos from this location!

DeYoung Museum Skyspace & Surrounding Areas (San Francisco) – This location is really quite beautiful and is popular among many SF family photographers. The outdoor exhibit has free entry and the Three Gems Skyspace created by James Turrell is quite extraordinary. Grant Machamer, a staff writer for The Secret San Francisco eloquently writes that it “feels like a mix between a secret garden, labyrinth, and futuristic meditation chamber.” (Could not have described it better myself!)

Between the free outdoor exhibit, surrounding musical concourse and ferris wheel, this location has a myriad of fun backdrops and places to explore.

Hawk Hill (Marin Headlands) – You’ll get epic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and bay from this vista point. In fact, you’ll have epic views the entire 360°! If you want to make the most of this location, you’ll have to do a bit of exploring and walking around. While it is a hilly area, I wouldn’t consider it particularly strenuous. There will likely be other people and tourists in the area so I wouldn’t highly recommend it on a weekday evening. Aim for a weekday or morning session!

Marin Hills (North Bay) – There are many locations in Marin that could be deemed “Marin Hills.” I have personally scouted several locations where I’d be thrilled to work. Please reach out to me directly for the specific locations I recommend if you are interested in golden rolling hills, tall grass (this can vary at different times of the year), spatters of oak trees, and beautiful vistas.

That officially wraps up my top recommendations for photography locations around the Bay Area. I hope you enjoyed this compilation of the best San Francisco Bay Area photography locations! Let me know if you have a favorite location (or recommendation) in the comments below.

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September 30, 2022

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