5 Best Photo Opportunities in San Francisco

Photo Opportunities San Francisco

Lee Van Grack

After living in San Francisco in the late 1980s and visiting whenever I can, I have come to love the city's vibrancy and abundance of perfect photo opportunities. San Francisco is a racial melting pot, a mix of Victorian buildings and modern skyscrapers, and a hilly treasure trove of photogenic landscapes. You can't take a bad picture of San Francisco.


The classical Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District is a haven for romantic inspiration. Constructed in 1915, it has endured earthquakes and restorations, proving that it is long lasting – much like a good relationship. I take time to enjoy the hands-on science exhibits inside the Exploratorium museum, but I also make sure to spend time by the lagoon and gaze at the enormous building and its decorative details, including winged Roman and Greek figures that reflect on the water. I wish my first kiss was at a place a fraction as romantic as this palatial site.

The best times to shoot are in the morning or at dusk when the sunlight makes the golden-hued rotunda and surrounding columns seem to glow. For a great, scenic San Francisco photograph, stand on the grassy knoll with the adjacent lagoon, spouting water fountain, and palace in front of you. It's definitely one of most romantic photo opportunities San Francisco has to offer.

The Palace of Fine Arts
3601 Lyon St.
San Francisco, California 94123
(415) 567-6642


Lombard Street is a curvy lane that makes for one of the best quirky photo ops in San Francisco. Cars parade down this red brick, one-way avenue between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, maneuvering eight tight curves on a 27-degree slope. Along the sides of the most crooked street in the world are pedestrian sidewalk steps, sculpted green shrubs, colorful red flowerbeds and beautiful homes. Bell-ringing cable cars running past on Hyde only add to the picturesque location.

Morning is a good time to take photos before the street becomes a mesh of cars. You'll want to capture the street's many switchbacks, so stand at the bottom and photograph up the hill. Be careful while standing in place for a photo as it's a busy place.

I walked the steep steps once long ago, but now mostly drive down the block when I'm showing it to friends visiting the city. It makes me giddy and I'm never tired of it, although I always wonder if the folks living there rue the day they arrived on this famous street.

1095 Lombard St.
San Francisco, California 94133

Fun Family

Chinatown is a colorful, interesting and distinctive place, perfect for some of the best family photo ops. A good idea is to purchase authentic clothing and other Chinese accoutrements that spill onto the streets from neighborhood shops around Grant Avenue. Have fun picking out red satin cherry blossom dresses, silk scarves, painted parasols and pastel paper lanterns.

At the intersection of Grant and Bush, assemble your colorfully costumed family in front of the ornate Dragon Gate with the green roof and the red dragon on top. Angle the camera from the ground up in order to capture the detail of the rooftop against the sky and to block out automobiles and pedestrians on the street. That way, you can fool the folks back home and let everyone think you're in China. Afterward, go enjoy a dim sum lunch or hunt for the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory along the avenues.

Dragon Gate
Bush St. and Grant Ave.
San Francisco, California 94108

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
6 Ross Alley
San Francisco, California 94108
(415) 781-3956
Open Mon-Sun, 8AM-8PM


Don't miss the opportunity to visit the Golden Gate Bridge vista point where you can overlook the dynamic skyline of San Francisco. The photo opportunities abound here, with iconic buildings perching on staggering hilltops like students on bleachers for a class picture. The Transamerica Pyramid Building, the Coit Tower, the Ferry Building's clock tower and the towers of Saints Peter and Paul Church create distinctive silhouettes against the sky, while the Palace of Fine Arts rotunda peeks out like a baby in the cradle of lush trees on the right. All that fits in one panoramic view. Most cities are not nearly as pretty and certainly not as compact.

It may be a cliché photo that is snapped thousands of times a day, but make yours unique by capturing the scene during the winter holidays. At dusk, you can see the Embarcadero Center Building completely outlined with white lights, but watch out for the infamous fog. It can be a challenge, but even then opportunities unfold. See if you can take an eerie photo with a full moon pierced by the Pyramid Building.

Northeast side vista point
Golden Gate Bridge
Located on U.S. Highway 101
San Francisco, California
(415) 455-2000


The huge Golden Gate Bridge is an icon and one of the modern Wonders of the World. I've talked about the city view from the bridge, but the massive structure itself is gorgeous. I love to look up at it whenever I cross the bridge and see how the vibrant orange color contrasts against the blue sky. There are several places to get the best photo of this San Francisco beauty.

One spot is the Fort Point overlook, where the seawater splashes up against the sea wall. You can get the entire bridge in the frame, but be aware of the surf when posing for a picture. One day, my young daughter and I discovered just how cold the water is when the waves crashed over our heads.

If you follow the paved road along the water's edge past the Marina Green, you'll be below the south base of the bridge. It's less crowded and a great place to take photos of the sailboats and ships going under the bridge. And when the fog rolls in, it's like a lovely tablecloth beneath looming Golden Gate candlesticks in a land of giants.

Southeast side vista point
Golden Gate Bridge
Located on U.S. Highway 101
San Francisco, California
(415) 455-2000

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