Ultimate Instagram Guide to San Francisco-37 Amazing Photo Locations


San Francisco will always be one of our favorite cities as it was our first vacation as a married couple.  While it has changed a lot since then, it is still known for its progressive culture, cool summers, blanketing fog, steep rolling hills, interesting architecture and famous landmarks.

After reading through our list of the most Instagram-worthy photo locations in San Francisco, share with us some of your experiences at these locations, which one you want to visit most, or some special location we overlooked over in our Facebook group.

If you like this article, be sure to check out some of our other Instragram guides and if you want some gear to make your travel or photography that much better, check out our Recommended Gear.

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the one-mile-wide (1.6 km) strait connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  The Golden Gate Bridge is certainly the most recognized symbols of San Francisco and California. The bridge is considered one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

When the bridge first opened in 1937, it was both the longest and the tallest suspension bridge in the world, with a main span of 4,200 feet (1,280 m) and a total height of 746 feet (227 m).

As you would expect, you can see the crowds that gather around this location in the image below from Heather Bosco, who managed to stand out from the crowd and still make an interesting composition.

Luckily, there are so many places to capture the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.  In the image below, Shreya Zoonie captures the bridge’s majesty with nobody in her frame.

Yet another view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Mark Uybalian.  As you will see from some other locations below, there are so many views of the Golden Gate Bridge around San Francisco.  We say capture has as many as you can.

One more shot of the Golden Gate Bridge to show that you don’t even need to capture the whole bridge to make a fantastic shot.  Just look at the beautiful picture below from Fernanda Querioz.

Mission District

The Mission District, or just “the Mission,” is located in east-central San Francisco. It is bounded on the east by U.S. Route 101, by Cesar Chavez Street on the South and separated from the Castro by Sanchez Street.

The part of the neighborhood from Valencia Street to Sanchez Street, north of 20th Street, is known as “Mission Dolores.” The area south of 20th Street towards 22nd Street, and between Valencia and Dolores Streets is  known as Liberty Hill.

Surprisingly, the Mission is often warmer and sunnier than the rest of San Francisco.  The Mission’s location insulates it from the fog and wind that hits the rest of the city. 

The Mission includes four recognized sub-districts. The northeastern quadrant is known as a center for high tech startups, bars and restaurants. The northwest quadrant along Dolores Street is famous for Victorian mansions and Dolores Park.  The other two sub-districts are commercial zones, known as the Valencia corridor (Valencia St, from about 15th to 22nd) and the 24th Street corridor known as Calle 24. These commercial districts are popular for their restaurants, bars, galleries and street life.

You can see some of the vibrant colors and street life in the great image below from Kaylie Gopp.

Union Square

Union Square is a 2.6-acre (1.1 ha) public square bounded by Geary, Powell, Post and Stockton Streets in downtown San Francisco.  Union Square is a popular area for department stores, upscale boutiques, gift shops, art galleries, and beauty salons.

Union Square also offers some great and unique photo opportunities.  In the image below Karina Lee poses with the iconic mural heart located in Union Square.

The Square itself is also great for photographic opportunities.  The image below from Barry B show off the public gathering space, trees, surrounding buildings and billboards.

Ghiradelli Square

Ghirardelli Square is a public square loaded with shops, restaurants and a 5-star hotel.  It is located in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.  Part of it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 as Pioneer Woolen Mills and D. Ghirardelli Company.

The iconic Ghiradelli sign above the square is shown in the image below from Tracy Middlebrook.

De Young Museum

The M. H. de Young Memorial Museum is known by locals as the de Young.  It is a fine arts museum located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.   One of the most popular pieces in the museum was captured below by Elisa Borretti.

You can see more of the piece in the image below from Anya Patt.  It definitely makes a fun backdrop for a portrait.

Surprisingly, the de Young also offers a pretty sweet view as well.  Be sure to get a shot in front of the glass wall, like in the below image of Yvonne Huang taken by Silvano Zheng.

Haight Street

Haight Street is the main street in San Francisco’s famous Haight-Ashbury district.  The area is known for being the origin of the hippie counterculture movement.  It may have changed over time, but it still celebrates counterculture and makes a great photo spot.

In the image below, Peyton Elliot shows off the famous Haight-Ashbury intersection.

Castro Theatre

The Castro Theatre, located at 429 Castro Street, is a popular movie theater steeped in history.  In 1976, it became San Francisco Historic Landmark #100. Castro Theatre was built in 1922 with a Spanish Colonial Baroque façade that pays homage to the basilica of Mission Dolores, which is located nearby.

The Castro Theatre, with its 1,400 seats, has become a popular location for film festivals and other major events, such as the San Francisco International Film Festival, Frameline: the SF International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Noir City: The Film Noir Festival, the SF International Asian American Film Festival, the SF International South Asian Film Festival, Berlin and Beyond: German Film Festival, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, SF Indiefest, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Midnites For Maniacs, and the Shock It To Me! Classic Horror Film Festival.

If you go to the Castro District, addressed below, at all, it is a must to get a shot in front of the Castro Theatre, much like the one below from Nadia Ramos.

Treasure Island

Treasure Island is one of the best places possible to capture the iconic San Francisco skyline looming above the water.  It is an artificial island in the San Francisco Bay. The island was built in 1936 and 1937 for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.  Because of that, it is now a California Historical Landmark. 

It is a popular sunset location for good reason, as you can see in the image below from photographer Anthony Rodriguez.

In another great image that shows off the skyline from a more telephoto range, the below images comes from Sky Lee, who you can find on Instagram or Facebook.

Sutro Baths

The Sutro Baths is an awesome location where the ruins of a pool abut the ocean, making for a fantastic photographer’s dream.  The Sutro Baths was a large saltwater swimming pool complex, built in 1896, in the Lands End area of San Francisco, located near the Cliff House, Seal Rocks, and Sutro Heights Park.

The Sutro Baths burned down in June 1966 and is now in ruins. The site is in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Sutro Historic District.  Besides the great ruins, the area offers fantastic views, as you can see in the image below from @2wlqja.

Cupid’s Span

Cupid’s Span is an outdoor sculpture located along the Embarcadero.  The 60-foot (18 m) sculpture was done by married artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.  There are some great photo opportunities to be had at Cupid’s Span.  Alex Liubymtseva captured the great image below with the beautiful skyline behind Cupid’s Span.

Lucia Leguizamo shows off another composition that shows a completely different view of Cupid’s Span.  Due to the small hill and nearby landscaping, there really is a lot of fun you can have here messing with different shots.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz, the prison, is located on Alcatraz Island, 1.25 miles from San Francisco in the San Francisco Bay.  The only way to reach the Alcatraz is a 15 minute ferry ride from Pier 33, located between the San Francisco Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf, both of which are on this list.  Unfortunately, Alcatraz Cruises is the only ferry provider to and from the island and they get booked up quickly so make sure you reserve your spot online well in advance of your visit.

Photographer Mandy Roosa captures a great scene at Alcatraz in the image below.

Lindsay and Bianca show off a fun side of Alcatraz in the image below.  As you can see from their image, you can explore a lot of the old prison, including the inside of cells.  You can also see from their headphones that you get a self-guided tour.  We really enjoyed the tour when we went.

Bay bridge

The Bay Bridge is actually a complex of bridges spanning San Francisco Bay, connecting San Francisco and Oakland.  The massive bridge, having one of the longest spans in the U.S., is also very busy as it carries about 260,000 vehicles a day on its two decks.

Be prepared to pay the toll if you are crossing the bridge.  Hopefully, they take credit cards now (someone let us know in the comments!), but we went and didn’t have cash.  They told us they would mail it to us, but what we got mailed was an expensive ticket for not paying the toll!

You can see just how big the Bay Bridge is in the photo below from from Fernanda Queiroz.

You can also see the impressive bridge in the image below from Alexandre Costa.

Oracle park

Oracle Park is the major league baseball park  of the San Francisco Giants.  It is located in the South Beach neighborhood.  The stadium opened in 2000 and has gone through several names.  It was originally named Pacific Bell Park, then SBC Park in 2003, then AT&T Park in 2006, and became Oracle Park in 2019.

The stadium can be reached via San Francisco’s Muni Metro at the 2nd and King Station, which is directly outside the ballpark.

The park is famous for its beautiful view of the San Francisco Bay, a segment of which is named McCovey Cove in honor of former Giants player Willie McCovey.  To get the best shot in Oracle Park, we recommend getting up high and capturing the whole park with the bay in the background, like Elena Partridge  did in the image below.

Ocean beach

Ocean Beach is on the west coast of San Francisco.  It is easy to reach and is near many of the other best photo locations discussed in this article, including the Sutro Baths, which are located at the beach’s northern end. Ocean Beach is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Ocean Beach isn’t always great for swimming as it is often enveloped by fog and cool temperatures, but that doesn’t stop it from being popular with surfers and bonfire parties.

If you manage to avoid the fog and cooler weather, you can capture a great image at the beach, like the one below from Brennan Harris.

Mission Dolores park

Mission Dolores Park  is a popular city park located two blocks south of Mission Dolores at the western edge of the Mission District.  It is bordered by 18th Street on the north, 20th Street on the south, Dolores Street on the east and Church Street on the west.

The most striking feature of the park is its steep sloping grassy area, which offers fantastic views of San Francisco.  The great view is evident in the image below from Madeline Taylor,

and this image from Raul Lopez.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular area on the San Francisco Bay that is loaded with tourist attractions. It runs from Ghirardelli Square east to Pier 35. Fisherman’s Wharf is loaded with great photo locations with its big signs, piers and attractions.

In the image below, Carolina Servin poses on a great bench with some of the classic signs in the background.

Katrina Jennings shared the great image below with the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf sign.  Who doesn’t like a sign with a giant crab?

Jaine Cunha shows off the beautiful marina at Fisherman’s Wharf in the image below.

Twin peaks

The Twin Peaks in San Francisco do not refer to the popular bar, but to two prominent hills standing near the center of the city. With an elevation of about 925 feet (282 m), Mount Davidson is the only higher location within San Francisco.

The beautiful view from Twin Peak can be seen in the image below from Allison Nguyen.

Ferry Building

The San Francisco Ferry Building was built in 1898 as a terminal for ferries that travel through the San Francisco Bay.  It stands on the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

The building is famous for its 245-foot-tall (75 m) clock tower with four clock dials, each 22 feet (6.7 m) in diameter.  It is home to a popular market and food hall.

In the image below, Courtney Chan shows off the beautiful fall colors that make a perfect foreground in front of the Ferry Building at the right time of the year.

Nora Dale and her group of friends pose in front of the Ferry Building from the opposite side in the great image below that really shows off the iconic clock tower.

City Hall

The San Francisco City Hall is just an impressive building.  It looks like what you would expect from any state or national capitol building.  The dome of the San Francisco City Hall is even taller than that of the United States Capitol Building.  Within that dome is an equally impressive rotunda, making the inside of the building just as picturesque as the outside.

In the image below from Mark Uybalian you can see the impressive exterior.

The magnificent staircase inside the rotunda is on display in the image below from Cheravinna Angesti Mawar.  Your can see more of her work on Instagram or Youtube.

Baker Beach

Baker Beach is a public beach on the peninsula in San Francisco, on the west side of the Golden Gate Bridge.  It is one of the most impressive places to get a great shot of the Golden Gate Bridge with the beach in the foreground.

It should be noted that the northern section of Baker Beach is sometimes called a nude beach.  I don’t think it is anything official, but it is frequented by visitors without swimsuits.

Travel Blogger Annette White from Bucket List Journey captures the majestic Golden Gate Bridge from the ridges above Baker Beach in the beautiful image below.

Trishna Shah and her friends pose on the beach in the image below, capturing probably my favorite scene in all of San Francisco.

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Point Bonita Lighthouse is a lighthouse located at, unsurprisingly, Point Bonita near Sausalito, across the bay from San Francisco. The Point Bonita Lighthouse was the last manned lighthouse on the California coast, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.  The lighthouse and its surrounds offer a plethora of great compositions.

In the image below from Olivia Riba, you can see the actual lighthouse.

In the image below, Riva Lu shows off the impressive rock peaks along the path to the lighthouse.

Finally, you can the vast ocean on display beneath the lighthouse in the image below from Joey Suliguin.

Pier 7

Pier 7 is my favorite of the piers from a photographic standpoint.  The wood planks and lines of light posts are amazing for creating stunning compositions.  There are also great views of the famous bridges, the San Francisco Bay and the skyline.

In the image below, Mimi Srivarom shows off the long lines of lamp posts against the wooden pier.

Mimi also made a vlog, you can see below, sharing her time at Pier 7 and Pier 39, both of which are on this list.

In the image below, you can see that the lights area also great at night, as well as the perfect leading lines to the prominent building.  The image comes from Carlos Valenzuela.

Nob hill

Nob Hill is famous for its luxury hotels and historic mansions, but that isn’t what makes it such a great photo locations.  The steep hills create great views right in the middle of the city.  I would choose a viewpoint right in the midst of the action any day over just having something cool way off in the background.

I love the way Monkeys at Heart framed the bridge in the background with the tall buildings and leading lines of the street and car lights.

Yasseth Fuentes shows off another great view from Nob Hill in the below image.

Powell street

Powell Street is a popular street in the middle of San Francisco’s urban scene.  Old buildings and cable cars make it a scenic place to capture a good Instagram shot.

In the image below, Maide Barisciano poses with a cable car and many old buildings in the background.

Gustavo Donalicio takes a different approach to Powell Street by really hammering those bold red cable car lanes to form a really stunning image.

One of my favorite shots is capturing signs like the one below from Martin De Leon where arrows point to cities all over the world.  This sign can be found on Powell Street.

Land’s End

Land’s End is a popular trail area in the Northwest corner of San Francisco.  The winding trail features beautiful cypress and eucalyptus groves, rocky cliffs, ocean views and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ingrid Hsu shows off one of the great views of the ocean in the image below.

Sheida Iranmanesh gives us a completely different, but equally impressive view looking back at the Golden Gate Bridge.  Count me in for any trail that offers such a great variety of awesome views.

Corona Heights

The Corona Heights neighborhood of San Francisco lied between Buena Vista Park and Eureka Valley. The streets of Corona Heights were cut into the hill sides, and the area offers great views of the city.

Sydney Sagisi shows the view of the buildings downtown.

Khristian Velasquez gives another take on the view, including more of the sprawls of San Francisco.

Finally, Anthony Caraballo gives us a different view, looking up at the neighborhoods in the hills.

The Financial District

The Financial District of San Francisco is its central business district loaded with various corporate headquarters.  As you would expect, it is loaded with massive buildings and classy finishes.

Kayci Kersten provides us with the below image showing off the modern trends of the Financial District.

Not all the Financial District is modern though, as Sara Ameri shows off the classy building below that provides a taste of the past.

And, just because business ends before night doesn’t mean the views end.  The buildings look great at night too when they are lit up, as shown in the image below from Joslyn Fu.

Besides massive buildings, you will find some cool little features scattered throughout the Financial District, such as the statue below, which Juan Vilanova has presented wonderfully with the skyscraper backdrop.

The Castro District

We briefly touched on the Castro District above when we highlighted the Castro Theater.  The Castro District is located in the area surrounding Castro Street from Market Street to 19th Street. It further on both sides from Church Street to Eureka Street.

The Castro District is famous for being one of the first “gay neighborhoods” in the United States.   Unsurprisingly, the Castro District is still one of the most prominent symbols of LGBTQ activism and events in the world.

As you can see in the image below from Jessica Hernandez, the district is covered in rainbows, which add a lot of bold colors and interest to any shot.

ChinaTown

Chinatown in San Francisco is a huge tourist attraction.  It is estimated to receive more visitors than even the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge.  It is a large area, but most of it is based around Grant Avenue and Stockton Street.  The area is the largest Chinese enclave outside of Asia.  Established in 1848, it is the oldest Chinatown in North America as well.

Chinatown is loaded with photographic opportunities.  We had several photos submitted to highlight many of the different types of images you can expect, but the opportunities are much more expansive.

The first image highlights some classic Chinese symbols and architecture with Jack How standing beneath the arch.

The image below from Bela Doce Botanicals shows the Chinese lanterns lining a classic street with lots of great signage.

Chinatown is also full of great murals and artistic work, as you can see in the photo of Angie Lee in front of this awesome Bruce Lee mural painted by popular graffiti artist Luke Dragon.

guide to san francisco

Finally, Trung Ly shows another view of a classic Chinatown street with lots of people, signs and stores.

Grace cathedral

Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal cathedral located in the Nob Hill area of San Francisco. Besides the stunning exterior, the cathedral is famous for its stained glass windows, interior finishings and mosaics by Jan Henryk De Rosen.

Michael Capponi shared the below image with us, highlighting the beautiful front of the cathedral with its giant stained glass window.

In another image showing the front of the Cathedral, Victoria Gervasi shows off greater detail around the entrance, including its intricate doors.

Conservatory of flowers

The Conservatory of Flowers is located in Golden Gate Park.  It is a greenhouse and botanical garden that is home to a collection of rare and exotic plants. Surprisingly, it was completed in 1879, making it the oldest building in Golden Gate Park.  It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historical Places. Furthermore, it is a California Historical Landmark and a San Francisco Designated Landmark.

In the fun image below, Paige Voigt shows off the unique building and great landscape outside.

instagram guide to san francisco california

The inside makes for great photo compositions as well.  Just check out the adorable image below taken by photographer Amy Nghe.  She has a ton of amazing images from this photoshoot  here.  You can also see more of her work on Facebook, Instagram or her website.

Palace of fine arts

The Palace of Fine Arts is located in the Marina District of San Francisco.  It was originally constructed to exhibit works of art for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.  Standing on its original site, it is one of only a few surviving structures from the Exposition.

Dmitry Zmushko shows of its size and details in the great image below.  I just love the perspective captured here.

In the image below, Nada Ali shows off the fantastic landscape and surrounds of the Palace.

Painted Ladies

The Painted Ladies are the homes made famous by the American TV show Full House.  In an architectural sense, painted ladies refer to Victorian and Edwardian houses painted three or more colors to embellish or enhance their architectural details.  This trend started in the 1960’s and has led to similar groupings of houses like the ones below in several American cities.

Julen Saez de Ibarra had some fun with his pose in front of the famous Painted Ladies in the image below.

Yasseth Fuentes was a little closer to the houses in the below image, allowing more detail to be seen in the intricate Painted Ladies.

Lombard street

Lombard Street is is famous for a one-block section of the street that features eight steep hairpin turns. This famous one-block section is located in the Russian Hill neighborhood and claims to be “the crookedest street in the world.”  This section of the street has become a major tourist attraction, receiving around two million visitors per year and up to 20,000 per day on busy summer weekends.  It has also been featured in many movies and TV shows.

Yasseth Fuentes poses at the base of the famous section of Lombard Street in the below image.

Cable Cars

The San Francisco cable car system is the world’s last manually operated cable car system.  Only three of the original 23 iconic cable car lines remain. The cable cars are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are a must photograph icon of San Francisco.

Included with the cable cars, I would also photograph the San Francisco’s heritage streetcars, which operate on Market Street and the Embarcadero.

You can see one of the classic cable car shots in the image below of Jilleanne Zaragoza hanging off the rail.

The best chance to capture a great image at the cable cars is to find one that is stopped so that you can take your time setting up the shot, and you don’t have to deal with people getting on and off.  The image below is a perfect example from Mark Uybalian.

Pier 39

Pier 39 is part of Fisherman’s Wharf, but I wanted to separate it out for fun since it is a site all on its own.  The pier is a popular tourist attraction full of shops, restaurants, a video arcade, street performances, the Aquarium of the Bay, virtual 3D rides, and views of California Sea Lions out on docks.  This is also a great place for kids with a giant carousel and lots of family oriented entertainment.  You can also catch a good view from Pier 39 of Alcatraz, Angel Island, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The image below from Deniz Balci captures perfectly the fun feel of Pier 39.

Of course, when you visit a pier, you also want to get a good shot of the water and view, as you can see in the image below from Anna Jennings.

U.S.S Pampanito

The USS Pampanito is a submarine used by the U.S. Navy during World War II. The ship is now a National Historic Landmark preserved in the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association located at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Yasseth Fuentes captured the view from on deck where the flag in the background really makes it pop.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Ultimate Instagram Guide to San Francisco-37 Amazing Photo Locations

  1. You won’t believe how gutted I was that the one day I had in San Francisco was the foggiest they’d had in 5 years – we couldn’t see the Golden Gate bridge at all!

    Francesca x // glutenfreehorizons.com

  2. Pingback: Photography and Instagram Guides – Photography & Travel
  3. I’m not the owner of the site or of the copyrights, but it’s very clear to me that this website is violating many copyrights. Is there a way I can report it under the DMCA? Thanks!.

    1. Estrella, please share the basis for your accusation. I take these matters seriously as both a photographer and an attorney. All images on this site are either mine or have been used with the permission of their owner. If you are aware of any images where the owner claims to have not granted permission, please let me know so I can resolve the misunderstanding.

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