I think I could spend a lifetime in San Francisco and not get board photographing it. I’ve lived in San Francisco for over 6 years and have a long list of favorite San Francisco photo spots that I go to again and again for Instagram photos.
Whether you’re a travel photographer hoping to land that perfect photo of the Golden Gate Bridge or just a tourist looking for Instagram-wroth photography locations around the city, this post is for you! Buckle in.
I have a long list of the most Instagrammble San Francisco photo spots!
What I really love about San Francisco is how – even though this city is only 7×7 miles – every single neighborhood looks different. One second you’re in a Mexican feeling neighborhood, but turn the street and suddenly you’re surrounded by rainbow Victorian houses. It’s wild.
Top San Francisco Photo Spots For Lit Instagram Photos
1. Dutch Windmills
Did you know that San Francisco has Dutch windmills in the Golden Gate Park?! There’s even bison in that park (among a lot of other really odd/cool things!) The Windmills are on the far West Side just a block or two from Ocean Beach.
My favorite time of year to visit for a great photo is the late summer when all the flowers are blooming in front of them. Arrive at sunset for hazy, pretty light!
2. Turrell Sky Space
I didn’t know this space was a thing for YEARS but finally found it just a few months ago. Right next to the deYoung Museum is the Turrell Sky Space, a light-art installation. This guy has built sky spaces all over the country, but I think the one is San Francisco is my favorite.
3. Battery Spencer Golden Gate Overlook
This is my FAVORITE spot to cath a Golden Gate Bridge view. I love to take family visiting to this spot, and also where I love coming on clear, warm evenings in the city. You can’t find better views of the Bay Area or Golden Gate Bridge than this overlook. To get here:
- Cross the bridge
- Take Alexander Avenue.
- Drive through the tunnel into the Marin Headlands
- Circle back up the hills to Battery Spencer. (Usually, just follow the cars!)
- You can park anywhere on the right lane (there will be signs if you get confused)
I recommend getting as close to Battery Spencer as you can, even though other people will probably be pulling off ot other overlook spots. Park, walk up and BOOM, you’ll be standing basically on top of the North Tower of the bridge. This spot is extra beautiful to get photos of the sunset! (This is where some of the most famous San Francisco photography shots of the bridge and city are taken from, fyi!)
4. Painted Ladies
You probably know these houses from the intro to Full House and a lot of people call them the “Full House Houses” but their real name is the “Painted Ladies.” They’re located in Alamo Square Park. My favorite time to visit is golden hour when the sun is illuminating the houses – in the morning they’ll be the backlight to deal with.
Also, all the houses in this area are cute AF. There’s a pink house on the direct opposite side of the square that is really beautiful. Down one block is a house that I’ve used in photos before as it sorta looks like it belongs in France. I recommend exploring the area after you snap photos of the Painted Ladies!
San Francisco is known for having rope swings all over the city! Sadly, many of them have been cut down over the years. People keep putting them back up, others cut them down. It’s hards ot know if they’ll be up when you visit. Here’s the ones I know about:
- Kirby Cove Swing
- Billy Goat Hill Swing
- Potrero Hill Swing
- Bernal Heights Par Swing (the branch has been cut down on this one!)
- Tiburon Swing
6. Twin Peaks at Sunset
There are 7 hills in San Francisco (just like Rome!) and Twin Peaks is one of them! It can get really windy up here, but on a clear day, you can basically the entire bay area. In front of you, Market Street and downtown San Francisco. Behind it, the Bay Bridge and East Bay. To the left you can spot the Golden Gate Bridge peaking out.
The best time for photos here is at dusk when the sky will turn purple and the city lights start to twinkle. Stay a bit longer (and bring your tripod!) for a great night shot of the city! It’s one of my favorite Instagram spots in the city.
7. Top of Dolores Park
Dolores Parks is a local’s favorite place to hang out and day drink on the weekends. The park is huge and on a hill, and at the top of the slope in Dolores, you’re treated to a stunning view of the city. You can *just* see part of the Bay Bridge peeking out on the skyline between palm trees and colorful houses.
- Visiting San Francisco on a weekend? Grab a bottle of wine or 6 pack of beer and head to Dolores (it’s legal to drink there, don’t worry!)
8. Palace of Fine Arts
This is probably one of the most popular San Francisco attractions. It looks a lot like something you’d find in Rome to me due to the large columns and dome. The outdoor area is free and open to the public, so you can stop by anytime. That being said, I find that in the evening it’ll be less crowded and the light is really pretty (tourists come during the day but usually not the evening!)
Looking for the for best San Francisco Skyline view? Well, that’s probably from Alcatraz Island (or a boat in the bay!) The Alcatraz tour is my most favorite “tourstiy” thing I’ve ever done. You get to ride a boat out to the island, which is awesome in itself, especially on a nice day.
The island has tons of gardens and it’s smack in the middle of the bay, so you can see Sausalito, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and East Bay all in the same spot. On your audio tour, you’ll be guided to a point on the old prison where you’ll be facing the San Francisco SKyline. Snap that awesome photos!
- The other best place to snap a skyline photos is Treasure Island, which is popular for San Francisco night photography spots!
10. Ferry Building + Cupid’s Span
I love our Ferry Building – you can see the white tower at the end of Market Street from the other side. It’s an operational terminal, but it’s also outfitted with tons of artisanal shops, wine bars and restaurants. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays they also have a really cool farmers market outside!
Next door to the Ferry Building is Cupid’s Span, a giant bow and arrow sculpture! Despite being huge, a lot of people overlook this sculpture as an Instagram spot in the city, but I think it’s a whole lot of fun for photos!
11. Claridon Alley
There is street art ALL over the city but Claridon Alley is extra special. It’s an entire alley painted with murals. Some are permanent, some switch out every few months. It’s really fun to walk down this alley and find a fun photo opp!
12. Lombard Street
This is the most crooked street n the world! It’s a windy street that looks extra cool from above, but is also really fun to walk down. It gets crowded quickly so I recommend you come take photos at sunrise before cars and people flood the road. From the top, you’ll be treated to a stunning view of the city and Coit Tower. The houses along the road are grand and covered in flowers. At the bottom, you can look up to see the snake-like street!
13. Sutro Baths & Land’s End Labyrinth
Most visitors never make it to the west side of the city, and even fewer find Sutro Baths or the Land’s End Labyrinth. We personally love to go hiking here, but on clear sunny evenings, this area is STUNNING for photos.
Sutro Baths used to be huge bathhouses that are now in ruins. They’re basically adult jungle gyms that you an climb all over. They touch the ocean during high tide and result in stunning photos in the evening. In the same area is the Land’s End Labyrinth, a little hidden maze on the Bay with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands.
14. Flatiron Building
At the corner of North Beach and FiDi is the San Francisco Flatiron Building! It’s a nice shade of green and behind it, the iconic Transamerica Pyramid Building stands, resulting is a really fun photo op walking across the street!
Our Chinatown is one of the oldest in the country! It has a really cool Dragon’s Gate marking the entrance, tons of street art and of course, lanterns hanging over the roads. Grab some dumplings after you snap a photo in the street!
16. Wisteria in Potrero Hill
During the springtime, head to Mariposa and Connecticut Street to find a large blooming Wisteria plant! It’s so dang whimsical and makes for AMAZING Instagram photos. Pro tip: wear white!
17. Le Marais Bakery
Le Marais is our favorite bakery and brunch spot in the city! The owners are so nice and have mastered not only chic decor but delicious food. Come for the pastries and brunch, stay for the colorful tiles and French vibes. There are three locations around the city, but the Castro location is my favorite!
18. Home Cafe
This cafe probably isn’t on best photography spots in Bay Area list, but it’s a very Insta-famous cafe because they make super colorful lattes! Rainbow ones, red ones, pink ones, if you can dream it, they probably can make it.
19. Umbrella Alley
Located in Fisherman’s Wharf, Umbrella Alley is where you can find the famous San Francisco Instagram spot — the Welcome to San Francisco mural! This alley has tons of other street art from local artists, too and it’s all free! Umbrella Alley is right near where one of the cable cars picks up, so you can hop on for more photos after the alley!
20. Japanese Tea Garden
It’s small but looks like you stepped into a real Japanese Tea Garden in Japan. There are a few pagodas, circle bridge, koi ponds and even a tea shop you can dine at! We love walking around here in the mornings when the fog hangs low and makes this garden extra pretty.
22. Conservatory of Flowers
Near the tea garden is the Conservatory of Flowers, which is that BEAUTIFUL historical white building in the park. It’s always surrounded by colorful flowers but the inside is just as cool. Think lush plants, tropical flowers — YASS. Looking for places to take wedding photos in San Francisco? This building is perfect!
23. Piers on Embarcadero
Along the Embarcardero are tons of piers that you can walk out on. Each one is a bit different and offers slightly different views of the city skyline behind you. After you visit the Ferry Building and Cupid’s Span, just walk towards Pier 39 and see what catches your eye! It’s one of those iconic San Francisco picture spots, you can’t go wrong.
24. Union Square at Christmas
Union Square goes ALL OUT for Christmas with a huge tree and an ice skating rink. Next door is Macy’s which also usually hangs a wreath or lights. Come at dusk to ice skate on the ink & snap photos on the ice in front of the tree! Bonus points of wearing matching holiday sweaters.
25. Holmes Bakery
Aka home of the famous “I Got Baked In San Francisco” neon sign! This bakery is really popular for the sign but also for the cronuts. I hear you have to get there right when it opens otherwise they sell out of all the pastries, but the sign will always be there for photos!
26. The Bougainvillea House
This house is famous for its bougainvillea flowers. Many houses in the city grow bougainvillea around their garages, but this house is COVERED in the pink flowers! Located on Union Street in Cow’s Hollow. It’s one of my secret San Francisco photo spots during the springtime.
27. Grace Cathedral
Grace Cathedral is probably the most famous church in San Francisco. It sits high on a hill and also happens to look exactly like Notre Dame in my opinion. Has a spire and everything (well, you know, before Notre Dame burned and lost the spire.)
28. Marshall’s Beach
This is my super-secret spot to take a great photo of the Golden Gate Bridge! The Marshal Beach trail down takes you down the bluff and to a secret beach (that’s also sometimes used as a nude beach, fyi.) The beach goes right up to the base of the bridge, making it a really cool spot for photos!
29. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
I live near Grand View Park in the Inner Sunset and it’s my favorite place to hike up to catch a sunset. You can see EVERYTHING here — on a clear day I swear I once could see the shores of Point Reyes. And, to go to the top, you have to walk the 16th Avenue tile steps.
It’s a huge staircase with colorful steps, it’s really cool. There’s actually two of these steps! One on Kirkham and the other on 16th avenue. Both are beautiful!
30. Wave Organ
In the Marina near the yachts and Palace of Fine Arts is the Wave Organ, which is a musical art piece that makes a sound when the tide comes in. It’s also made out of old tombstones – for real! The 1906 earthquake destroyed a graveyard and parts of it was used to make this wave organ!
31. Point Bonita Light House
Ok, this one is a little bit of a cheat since it’s pretty far out in the Headlands, but I love the Point Bonita Lighthouse. It’s only open a few days a week but if you can time it right, this spot is LIT. I love the drawstring bridge you cross to get to the lighthouse, it’s perfect for photos. Plus, the hike down gives you amazing views of the city.
32. Robin William’s Old House
Located in Sea Cliff neighborhood is Robin William’s old house! It’s a faded salmon color and surrounded by gardens. I love coming here to nerd out and honor a local legend.
33. Lyon Street Steps
UG, these steps are just so dang cool!! They overlook the Marina and Cows Hollow. From the top you can see the Palace of Fine Arts, Sausalito and Alcatraz. I recommend parking on the TOP so you don’t have to walk up all those steps!
34. Lover’s Lane
Every city has to have a lover’s lane, right? And ours is really pretty. Put on a white dress, a straw hat and grab your boo! Lover’s Lane is located in the Presidio. Best time of day for photos is the morning or golden hour before the hard light hits. Better yet if it’s a foggy day!
35. Lime Green House
Corner of Irving and La Playa is the iconic Lime Green House, sometimes called the Avocado House! It’s lime green with blue and pink trim. SO FREAKING FUN and one of the best walls to take pictures in San Francisco.
36. Portals of the Past
This is such a cool spot in the Golden Gate Bridge! This archway used to be part of a building in the Fincial District, but the whole building was destroyed during the 1906 earthquake. The archway survived, though, and was moved to the Golden Gate Park where it stands now.
37. Crissy Field
Crissy Field sits on the Northside of the city and has amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s a large field (hence the name) along with a little beach, pier, boardwalk and a cute cafe. I love to come here in the morning to walk around a grab a coffee!
38. Fort Point
Just next to Crissy Field is Fort Point, a historic battery building that’s open for tours and it’s literally right under the Golden Gate Bridge. I recommend heading right to the top floor aka the rooftop, where you can stand under the bridge! It’s one of those San Francisco Instagram Spots only locals know about.
39. Hawk Hill
Another spot right outside the city. It’s next to Battery Spencer by way less crowded. It’s going to suck on a windy day, so only visit if it’s nice out but if the weather is right, holy cow! It’s a beautiful spot to watch the sunset and is one of the most Instagramable places in SF!
40. Stow Lake Boat House + Waterfall
Did you know there’s a boathouse in Golden Gate Park? Stow Lake circles Strawberry Hill and it’s my go-to spot to take a walk around the park. AND, you rent a row boat here! It’s so dang romantic. Huntington Falls, a waterfall, is on Stow Lake along with the Chinese Pavilion. All very Instagram-worthy.
41. Tom & Jerry’s House
Tom & Jerry’s House is so famous it has its own name on Google (though you can find it at 3650 21st St if it’s not pulling up for you.) Tom Taylor and Jerry Goldstein have been decorating their house each year for Christmas since the 1980’s and when I say they go all out, I mean they really go all out! There’s tiny displays with dolls, huge stockings hanging off their deck, a little Ferris wheel that moves AND – each night Santa comes out to greet the visiting children.
42. Christmas Nutcracker House
68 Castro Street is another iconic holiday house to see decor! They do this fast, it almost pops up overnight. Come with a wide-angle so you can capture the whole thing. Best time of day for this one is dusk when the lights start the twinkle.
I have a whole guide on all the best Christmas photo spots in San Francisco with even MORE lights and Instagramable places in San Francisco to see holiday lights!
43. Maiden Lane
Between Union Square and Market Street you’ll find Maiden Lane which is as adorable as the name suggests. It’s a tiny one-block street filled with brick buildings, fancy shops and gives off total NYC vibes. Maiden Lane tons of string lights up year-round. SO romantic! (It’s where we shot our engagement photos years ago!)
44. Castro Street Rainbow Sidewalk
Head to Castro and 18th Street to walk across the famous Rainbow Sidewalk! The Castro is famously the gay neighborhood and is seeped in gay rights history (and really good bars.) The sidewalk was painted around 2014 to support LGBTQ rights. Come wearing cute shoes to show off.
45. Last Stop Sign
The N train runs from downtown San Francisco all the way to Ocean Beach. The Last Stop is honored with a mural at the depot. It’s a block off the ocean but you can’t actually see the water — the dunes are too high! Find it at Judah and the Great Highway.
46. Rainbow Mural
I found this garage mural a few years ago while wandering the Castro. It’s on 17th and Sanchez on the garage door of a house. It’s bright, bold and makes me smile whenever I see it!
47. Son and Garden Tea
Son & Garden is a VERY Instagramable cafe that I actually haven’t been able to get to yet (thanks panny) but it’s like if Bridgerton and a rainbow had a baby and that baby was a tea room. SWOON. It’s totally one of those aesthetic places to go in San Francisco with the girls for brunch, or when you’re aiming for super over the top whimsical photos.
48. Pacific Catch Tiki Bar
One thing I really love that has come out of the pandemic is all the outdoor seating options restaurants made. One of the coolest new additions is the Tiki Bar at Pacific Catch in the Inner Sunset. The parking lot has been transformed to a very IS-worthy bar with cute tiki drinks!
- PS – another one of my favorite San Francisco Instagram spots is the Tonga Room Tiki Bar in the bottom of the Fairmont!
49. Inner Sunset Mural
This mural is painted over the construction boards on a restaurant on 9th and Lincoln. This is temporary (will probably be gone by the end of the year when the restaurant opens) but if you’re wandering around the Inner Sunet at the right time, pose for a cool photo in front this colorful mural!
50. Rose Garden
Every spring the Rose Garden in Golden Gate Park blooms with hundreds of beautiful roses. Find it behind the deYoung Musuem on the North Side of the park!
51. Sutro Forest
Most people who live in San Francisco have never been to the Sutro Forest, but I go on hikes here all the time. You may see me wandering the tiny trails under the trees. It makes for beautiful photos when the fog is hanging low — last fall my friend and I dressed up in Slytherin and Hufflepuff robes and took photos here! It’s totally spooky when it’s foggy.
52. General Store
Head to the Outer Sunset to the General Store on Judah Street. This trendy boutique has books, clothes, candles, etc. There’s a cool back garden with a cute little greenhouse but the show-stopper feature is the circle archway inside the store. I now want an archway like this in a future home!
53. The Purple House
Another favorite house! On 15th and Noe, this house is just begging to be the backdrop of your photos!
54. The Pink House
Some of my favorite San Francisco photos are just of the houses. This pink house is on Alamo Square on the opposite side of the Painted Ladies (so the West Side). Make sure to get up close, it has so many cool details.
55. Floral Grubb
Arguably the most famous greenhouse nursery in San Francisco. Floral Grubb is large and outdoors with a wall of colorful chairs, cool corners with displays and even an old car with plants growing out of it. Totally IG-worthy! Just come ready to spend money because it’s going to be REALLY hard to walk out without buying anything.
56. Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden & Dutch Windmills
Come springtime, the Dutch Windmills in the Golden Gate Park bloom and it’s so dang pretty!! They’re my favorite secret SF photo spots to come to at sunset on a hazy clear night. After, walk over to Ocean Beach to catch the susnet!
57. Cable Cars
Last but not least, the San Francisco cable cars are a classic photo spot! They’re arguably one of the most instagrammable places in San Francisco. The key is getting there really early, like before 8am early, so you beat the crowds and can take a photo without anyone else on the car. I recommend the Van Ness Stop since it’s the least popular spot for tourists!
They had the cars free for the month of August this year so we rode the Van Ness Cable Car past the Fairmont and down to FiDi. Oh my, the views are amazing!!! You’ll get so many great photos here.
And, I have more secret photography spots in San Francisco! I did a whole photo series called Chameleon City basically showing how you can “travel the world” without ever leaving the city. You can visit France, Japan, Iran, Bali and more, all in the city!
Looking for more tips on what to do in San Francisco? I have so many helpful blog posts on places to visit in San Francisco for free, and my favorite San Francisco sightseeing in one day if you’re short on time, along with my meal huge city guide.
- One day in San Francisco Itinerary (how to make to most of the limited time!)
- 19 fun things to do in San Francisco
- What to pack for a trip San Francisco (at each season!)
I hope this helps you find the best places to take pictures in San Francisco and get that perfect Instagram photo! If you have any favorite Bay Area Instagram spots to add or tips, leave a comment below so everyone can see. Got questions? Comment or DM me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul and I’ll be happy to help!