San Francisco is all about colour. The blue ocean, the red Golden Gate Bridge, the pretty pastel Painted Ladies, the street art, and rainbows representing LGBTQ rights that are ingrained in the city. Virtually everywhere you look is an Instagram-worthy moment.
But where will you find the best views in San Francisco? The places where you can virtually point your camera in any direction and take a stunning photo? Here’s the roundup, and some maps to help you pinpoint the best places to stop and take it all in!
Best Views in San Francisco
We all know that San Francisco is a very hilly place. And while that might be bad news for your legs, it’s great news for your eyes and your camera.
Those rolling hills that blanket the city make for beautiful vantage points to really drink in the city and it’s surrounds.
Golden Gate Bridge Public View Point
Everyone knows that the most iconic symbol of San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge. There are heaps of great places to see it from, like Battery Point, Fort Point, and Baker Beach to name a few.
My absolute favourite spot to capture it from though, is the Golden Gate Public view point, high above the bridge and the city at Marin Headlands.
If you’re lucky enough to be there on a not too foggy day, you’ll get a great view of the bridge and the city laid out before you. Think of the fog as a smoke machine. If you get there and it’s on, it just adds to the drama!
Palace of Fine Arts
This is one that you’re not going to want to miss, guaranteed. The Palace of Fine Arts was first constructed in 1915, then rebuilt in 1965.
With its own artificial lagoon, this is one grand “pergola”, completed in a style that wouldn’t be out of place in Europe.
16th Avenue Mosaic Steps
San Francisco wouldn’t be what it is today without community art groups and projects. There’s more coming, but this is by far, my favourite.
The 16th Avenue tiled steps was a mosaic and garden project that spans the steps between Moraga Street and 15th Avenue. They’re steep but I recommend climbing them because it’s difficult to take it all in from the bottom.
This one block stretch of Lombard Street, is known for its eight hairpin turns, over its steep incline.
It is a very popular stop for tourists, so remember to be safe while photographing Lombard Street. It’s easy to forget that this is a major thoroughfare that is busy with traffic.
As you can see, Coit Tower is a great vantage point from which to photograph the city. But you can also capture the tower and surrounding buildings from the Embarcadero.
It’s situated on Telegraph Hill, which also offers some fabulous view points. It’s a bit of a slog getting up there if you’re walking, but worth every second for the view.
The Painted Ladies
If you watched Full House as a child, then you’re familiar with the style of the Painted Ladies. The row of Victorian and Edwardian houses skirt Alamo Park and are a tourist flash point.
They’re the real deal when it comes to iconic San Francisco housing, and are one of the most photographed places in the city.
Lincoln Park Steps
There are a few tiled stairways in San Francisco, and the Lincoln Park steps are some of the most beautiful.
You’ll find this stairway on the western end of California Street, at Lincoln Park. And there’s only 52 steps from bottom-to-top, so you’ll be much less out of breath than if you climbed the 16th Avenue tiled steps.
It took two years seven years to complete the project, that was actually run in two phases.
If crowds don’t bother you, head over to Chinatown for a different view of San Francisco.
Grocers, dollar stores, souvenir shops and dim sum restaurants are crammed into Chinatown. But not as crammed as you’ll feel on the footpath.
Don’t be scared away by the people, there’s always great things to see and photograph here, including some stellar street art.
Stretching about 1000 feet above the city, and sitting almost dead center, you’ll find Twin Peaks.
This is the place to go for a true 360 degree view of San Francisco, that is almost unsurpassed. Be sure to check the weather before you visit. It can get foggy all the way up there.
The Alcatraz Ferry
Alcatraz is one of those must-do attractions, especially for film and history buffs. Keep your eyes peeled on the ferry ride over though.
Apart from the seagulls gliding along in the ferry’s wake, you’ll catch some beautiful views of the city from the bay. Boats on the water, bridges spanning the divide between the peninsula and East Bay, and Alcatraz Island itself.
Bonus: Alcatraz Island
This is a little bonus, because it’s similar to the Alcatraz Ferry view, but so much better when you visit in the spring and summer months.
When you’re almost done with your audio tour of Alcatraz, you’ll make your way to the guard’s quarters and hear a little bit about life as a guard on the island.
You’ll get the opportunity to step outside at that point, and this is the view you’ll be greeted with. If it’s a beautiful day, there will be lots of sailboats out on the Bay.
You can’t go past Castro District for colour, drama and excitement. The spirit of San Francisco lives in Castro.
Apart from the beautiful houses, which I’ve obviously fallen in love with, there’s always something going on. There’s Castro Theater, built in 1922, and rainbows every which way you look.
Van Ness Avenue Cable Car
The Van Ness Avenue Cable Car is an iconic part of San Francisco.
Mostly because it heads up and down this hill multiple times a day, and if you arrive at just the right time, you’ll be able to see the sun setting and the hustle and bustle of the city carrying on around this old-world icon.
Pier 39 Fisherman’s Wharf
A trip to San Francisco isn’t complete without a visit to the Fisherman’s Wharf seals! Sure they’re just lazing around, soaking up the sun, but can you blame them?
They’re in one of the best cities in the world! Really they’re waiting for you to whip out that camera and get a shot of them with the best looking backdrop around.
Union Square is basically the center of big name San Francisco shopping. Shops like Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton and Swarovski all have presences there.
There’s always something going on in the square, whether it be the giant tree and Menorah at Christmas time, or the San Francisco hearts.
I guarantee that you won’t find a better view of the Golden Gate Bridge than the one at Baker Beach.
Not only do you get these views, but you’re also in a prime position for beautiful sunset photos over the rocky San Francisco coastline.
Want a panoramic view of the city stretched out before (and behind) you?
Then you need to get yourself to Corona Heights Park. It’s only a short climb and you’ll feel like you’re in the clouds.
This is also a great place to get the lay of the land so to speak. It’s easier to orient yourself when the city’s right in front of you just like a map.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is huge. There’s so much to see and photograph that frankly, you could easily spend an entire day in there.
There’s the San Francisco Botanic Gardens, the bison, Fine Arts Museum complete with its own sculpture garden, windmills, and the Japanese Tea Garden. You could also stumble across this waterfall, like I did while running Bay to Breakers!
Mission Dolores Park
Mission Dolores Park is where you’ll find the locals on a sunny day.
Grab a picnic lunch, or an evening brew and sit to watch the world go by, or the sun set. It faces Mission High School, so you can sit back and imagine what it would have been like to have this kind of view out of your English classroom window.
Clarion Alley, Mission
It’s not San Francisco without awesome street art, and Clarion Alley in Mission is the place to go to find it at its best.
The Clarion Alley Mural Project is a community group run by artists and uses public art as a voice for the marginalized.
Conservatory of Flowers
The Conservatory of Flowers is located in Golden Gate Park, and is a must-visit in San Francisco.
It is the oldest building in the park, however it did undergo an extensive renovation back in the early 2000s. Today it is home to 1,700 plant species, which will give you lots of eye-candy to gaze at.
Lands End Labyrinth
I mentioned that the list of spots to capture the Golden Gate Bridge from is long. This is another of them, although that’s not the angle I chose for this shot.
Lands End kicks butt for views of the East Bay, the bridge and it’s a great little hike up to Sutro Baths, which isn’t too shabby in terms of views either. Plus, you get a labyrinth to boot!
The ruins of Sutro Baths are right near Lands End Labyrinth, so it’s easy to get to (albeit, not so easy to find parking).
It was built in the late 1896, as a public saltwater bath house, but unfortunately it burned down in 1966. The ruins are the reminder of a place where the rich and poor of San Francisco could visit for a break.
San Francisco City Hall
San Francisco City Hall had to be rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake that ravaged the city.
What stands today is a breathtaking Beaux-Arts building that spans two city blocks and harks back to old-world European architectural charm.
Let’s be honest, Battery Point, Fort Point and Baker Beach are usually crowded because everyone wants that Golden Gate Bridge shot and they’re the easiest ways to get them.
But if you’re willing to drive a little further, you can still get an awesome shot of the bridge, and the bay on a beautiful day.
Japanese Tea Garden
San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden was built to feature in the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition.
It is the oldest Japanese Public Garden in the United States, and features beautiful ponds, bridges, and temples like the one pictured above. It is also a popular spot for wedding photography.
Legion of Honor
The Legion of Honor in San Francisco is part of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. The other part of the Fine Arts Museum is the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.
This building itself is a full scale replica of the French Pavilion at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
MAPS TO GET YOU THERE
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