San Francisco is a beautiful city filled with iconic sights so there is no shortage of pretty backdrops for your Instagram feed.
Between its hills, forests, and coastal vistas, San Francisco has some of the best views and photo ops in the country. From the bay to the sea, from the top of Twin Peaks and Bernal Hill, from Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies, this city is ripe with a variety of spots for you to get your ‘Gram on.
Lands End Coastal Trail
Lands End is a promontory that offers stunning views of the Golden Gate bridge as well as a walk called the Coastal Trail that winds and twists along the rugged cliffs of the San Francisco bay. The trail’s shade speckled rambling hike offers not just great photos, but also a nice change of pace from spending time amongst the city’s buildings. San Francisco’s weather might not be ideal for laying on the beach, but it’s essentially perfect for hiking and this is one of the best places in the city to do that.
Bernal Heights Hill
Bernal Heights Hill has a widely-known secret. If you look at it you’ll see a greenish-brown, somewhat stumpy-looking hill that rises rather unenthusiastically above the houses of the surrounding neighborhood. But, if you look at pictures taken from Bernal Heights Hill you’ll be dazzled by 360-degree panoramic views of what is effectively the entire city and its greatest natural landmarks.
As the gateway to the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco’s 1,500-acre Presidio national park offers incredible views and an ideal spot to photograph both the bridge and the sprawling vistas which surround it. The Presidio also abuts Baker Beach, a stretch of sand which lies below the park’s western cliffs. If you’re looking for alternative angles at which to shoot the Golden Gate Bridge, Baker Beach is an ideal location.
In 1938 John Muir wrote, “Most people are on the world, not in it—have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them—undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.” It’s hard not to feel connected to the world though as you walk the shaded paths of Muir Woods and find yourself stunned by the towering majesty of the redwood forests. It is, simply, extraordinary, a place that will live within you years after you’ve left, and somewhere you should make the time to visit.
No, this isn’t that Twin Peaks, but don’t let that fact turn you off. San Francisco’s Twin Peaks–the second-highest points in the area–are in basically the geographical center of the city and offer sweeping 180-degree views of the Bay Area, making them a great place to take photos. And, while you can’t get a damn fine cup of coffee at these Twin Peaks, it’s almost guaranteed to be less weird, which is probably a better fit for a vacation.
Despite its proximity to downtown San Francisco, the largely-residential Treasure Island is a spot that’s generally off the radar of both visitors and residents alike. If you’re looking to take gorgeous skyline photos of San Francisco though a visit to this island is a must. This is particularly for night photographers, as the island offers incredible views of the lit-up skyline.
Surrounded by a mélange of department stores and upscale boutiques, Union Square may not seem at first glance like a particularly photoworthy or even picturesque destination. The towering pillar of Dewey Monument, topped triumphantly by Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, is a legitimately beautiful sculpture though, and the cable cars that rumble past make for great photos. Union Square is also so centrally located that you’re almost guaranteed to run across it during your wandering, and it would be a shame not to take a moment to relax on its steps or at a shaded patio table and watch the city flow by.
Located at a high point on the south-facing Marin Headlands, Hawk Hill lies opposite the city and offers views of the Golden Gate Bridge as it enters San Francisco. True to its name, it’s also a great spot for nature watching. Hawk Hill is the site of the autumnal raptor migration, and is also a habitat for the Mission Blue Butterfly. If you’re a history buff you may also be drawn to visit Battery 129, a defunct military site located near Hawk Hill that dates back to World War II.
The Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is a curious spot. Built just over 100 years ago to celebrate the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, its exterior Greco-Roman architecture is gorgeous, yet decidedly out of place when compared to other sites in the city. This is even more pronounced when you see the warehouse-like interior which seems better suited for a shady nightclub or a movie studio. Because of its large size, and beautiful grounds, it’s a popular site for weddings and events and also a great (if kind of unusual) place to take photographs.
The Painted Ladies
Anyone who’s seen the opening to the TV show Full House will recognize the “Painted Ladies,” a row of seven gorgeous and colorful houses which sit just off of Alamo Square. These beautifully built and maintained homes are an iconic photography spot for tourists and lie on a stretch of road known (appropriately) as “Postcard Row.” While the exterior shots from Full House weren’t actually of any of these houses, they’re still instantly recognizable to anybody who watched television in the 1990s.