When you think of San Francisco, you’ll instantly think of the Golden Gate Bridge and those seriously steep streets. But beyond those classic sights, there are so many other San Francisco Instagram spots you’ll want to add to your radar.
San Fran, the “Golden City” is a content creator’s dream, with epic viewpoints, floral wonderlands, and exciting neighborhoods to check out. Before you pack your camera bag and head to San Francisco, you’ll benefit from having a plan of action for where to go and shoot.
Particularly in a city as big and busy, you’ll need to time your itinerary to perfection if you want to hit all your must-see photo spots in San Francisco.
That’s where this article is here to lend you a helping hand! Read on for my guide to the 15 most Instagrammable places in San Francisco which will tell you where to go, how to get there, exactly when to visit, and whether or not you’ll have to pay anything.
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The 15 Best San Francisco Instagram Spots
1. Golden Gate Overlook
Soaring over the strait that connects San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean, the art deco Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous San Francisco photo spots.
Designed by Joseph Strauss and constructed during the 1930s, the bridge carries automobile, bicycle, and pedestrian passengers over the bridge and is considered a Wonder of the Modern World.
However, if you want to know where to get the best photos of this icon, then you need to know about the Golden Gate Overlook! Located just south of the bridge on a hillside, this observation deck provides a full panorama of the suspension bridge as well as the wider bay area and the Marin Headlands.
You can just visit the lookout which is not challenging to get to or, alternatively, you can don your hiking gear and go for a wander further into the bluffs.
If you want to make the Golden Gate bridge appear huge in your photos, make sure to pack a telephoto lens! For reference, the below pictures were shot on 98mm and 159mm.
Location on Google Maps: Golden Gate Overlook
How to get there: You can drive to the Golden Gate Overlook from downtown in 15-20 minutes subject to traffic and there is a huge, free parking lot literally in front of the viewpoint. If you’re getting around by foot, bus routes 30 and 70 drop you outside of the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center from where it’s a 10-minute walk up to the observation deck.
Best time to go: Anytime.
2. Marshall’s Beach
Marshall’s Beach is a remote patch of beach accessible via a brief hike down the hill from the Golden Gate Overlook so I recommend planning to visit these two San Francisco Instagram spots at the same time.
The sand on this picturesque yet rugged beach is strewn with pebbles and boulders which means you can capture some beautiful and artistic photos with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Keep your eyes peeled for birds as Marshall’s Beach is also abundant with local wildlife as well as gorgeous natural scenery. This is a great place to grab a breather from the chaos of the city.
Location on Google Maps: Marshall’s Beach
How to get there: The same directions apply as when you’re visiting the Golden Gate Overlook. You can leave your car in the parking lot and then follow the hiking trail down to the beach which takes around 20 minutes each way. It is a steep staircase that can be slippery at times so you will need to dress appropriately in decent footwear.
Best time to go: Any time works but the beach is particularly special to experience at sunset.
3. Battery Spencer
Offering one of the best vantage points over the Golden Gate Bridge, Battery Spencer is another one of the most popular Instagrammable places in San Francisco. It’s located on the northern side of the bridge and comprises an old artillery battery that was in action until World War II.
It’s worth visiting Battery Spencer in addition to the Golden Gate Overlook as the perspective is entirely different, with this viewpoint providing a backdrop of the downtown area. Battery Spencer is also a great shout for history enthusiasts as you can wander around the former military site.
A word of warning: you might come across photos on Instagram that were taken on the hillside below Battery Spencer. It’s important to note that the area is closed and violators are subject to imprisonment or huge fines. It definitely doesn’t worth breaking the rules just for a photo!
Location on Google Maps: Battery Spencer
How to get there: Drive north out of downtown San Francisco along Route 101. Turn off at Bunker Road which leads you to the parking lot on Conzelman Road – this will take around 30 minutes, subject to traffic. Bus route 30 drops you on Route 101 from where it’s a 20-minute walk to the viewpoint.
Best time to go: Aim to arrive in time for sunrise or soon afterward. The road gets super busy later in the day and the parking lot is not that big. Sunset is a popular time for visitors to visit Battery Spender and parking at this time is near impossible.
4. California Street
One of the longest and most important thoroughfares in San Francisco, California Street stretches its way through the city from west to east and connects Lands End with the Ferry Building.
Due to the number of cable cars that shuttle along the road, it’s super scenic and one of the best places to take pictures in San Francisco that capture the city’s character. From here, tramlines overlook the bridge and provide that classic California city panorama!
The best location to shoot is right in front of the Dim Sum Corner. From here you can gaze down a steep patch of the street, lined with skyscrapers and the scarlet towers of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
Location on Google Maps: California Street, near Dim Sum Corner
How to get there: Ride the legendary cable car itself and alight at California St & Grant Ave, alternatively, you can just park by the road.
Best time to go: Sunrise or early in the morning is the best in order to avoid traffic. If you can, try to visit California Street at the weekend when the roads are quieter as to get the shot, you literally have to stand in the middle of the road.
San Francisco is home to one of the oldest and liveliest Chinatown districts in the country. In fact, it’s also the largest Chinatown outside of Asia! The streets are emblazoned with Chinese-inspired buildings, lanterns, temples, and decorative elements.
Dragon’s Gate, the ornate southern entrance, is one of the best San Francisco photo spots and also remember having your camera poised while walking down Grant Avenue which is thronging with tea shops, herbalists, markets, and restaurants.
As Dim Sum Corner is situated within Chinatown, then you can combine your visit with California Street.
Location on Google Maps: Chinatown
How to get there: California St & Grant Ave is the closest cable car station. Bus routes 8, 30, 45, and 91 stop on Stockton Street.
Best time to go: Any time works and it will depend on what kind of vibe you’re looking for overall. Morning is the best to go if you want to shoot without any crowds but you might want to visit at night to experience the neighborhood once it’s all lit up and the restaurants and karaoke bars are in full swing.
Cost: Free but budget for food and souvenirs.
6. SkyStar Wheel
The first spot to make this list that is sited within the Golden Gate Park, the SkyStar Wheel is one of the best photo spots in San Francisco for aerial views across downtown, the bay, and the Pacific Ocean.
Reaching a height of 150 feet (46 meters) this touring wheel was installed as recently as 2020 and will only remain in the park temporarily before it’s taken to its next city. But don’t worry, you have until 2025 to secure your ride! Each rotation lasts around 12 minutes and by night, the installation is illuminated by one million colored lights.
In case you don’t want to go for a ride, you can still shoot some awesome photos on the ground.
Location on Google Maps: SkyStar Wheel
How to get there:
Judah St & 9th Ave is the nearest Muni metro station, situated a 20-minute walk away. Various buses stop along Lincoln Way and Fulton Street but number 44 drops you off the closest, outside the Tea Garden.
If you prefer to drive then paid parking is available at the Music Concourse Garage. Alternatively, you can park for free along Martin Luther King Jr Dr or on Stow Lake Dr around the lake.
A quick heads up that the park gets quite busy during the day, especially on the weekend, so finding a free parking spot might be a struggle if you don’t arrive early in the morning.
Best time to go: The attraction operates daily, 10 am – 10 pm, and you can visit it at any time that suits your schedule.
Cost: General admission starts at 18 USD per person while VIP admission starts at 50 USD per person. You can book general admission tickets online or at the ride but tickets for the VIP gondola must be purchased in advance online.
7. Conservatory of Flowers
This elegant Victorian-era greenhouse exhibits a glorious collection of flora and plant life that you can get a close-up look at: perfect for photos! You’ll see a variety of blooms alongside tropical foliage and enchanting water features with displays changing based on the season.
The Conservatory of Flowers is one of the best photography spots in San Francisco for flower addicts and you can have a wonderful time taking a mix of portraits and macro shots.
This is another attraction that you’ll find within the Golden Gate Park if you want to make the most of your visit to the venue.
Location on Google Maps: Conservatory of Flowers
How to get there: Follow the directions for the SkyStar Wheel and consider combining your visit to these two San Francisco Instagram spots.
Best time to go: Any time works but it’s best to go close to opening time on weekdays when the greenhouse is quieter. It’s closed on Mondays but open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am – 4.30 pm.
Cost: 10 USD per person, Tuesday to Thursday, or 12 USD per person, Friday to Sunday. You can purchase tickets online in advance or at the venue.
8. Japanese Tea Garden
The Japanese Tea Garden in the Golden Gate Park brings the beauty and tranquility of Japan to the bustling streets of San Fran.
Within the premises, you will encounter all the quintessential features of a traditional Japanese Garden including an arched drum bridge, pagodas, native Japanese plants, and koi ponds crisscrossed by stepping stones.
There is even a cluster of cherry blossom trees that bloom during March and April, making it one of the best places to take pictures in San Francisco during the spring season in particular.
Location on Google Maps: Japanese Tea Garden
How to get there: Follow the directions for getting to the SkyStar Wheel and the Conservatory of Flowers and aim to visit all three of these San Francisco Instagram spots in one swoop.
Best time to go: As with some of the other San Francisco photo spots, any time works to shoot at the Japanese Tea Garden but I would urge you to go around opening time on weekdays. The gardens are open daily, 9 am – 4.45 pm during winter at 9 am – 5.45 pm during summer, so you could aim to visit them right before the Conservatory of Flowers.
Cost: 10 USD per person. If you can visit between 9 am – 10 am on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then there is no admission charge.
9. Golden Gate Pavilion at Stow Lake
Moving onto yet another of the most Instagrammable places in San Francisco located within the perimeters of the vast Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Pavilion at Stow Lake is one of the most serene spots to make this list.
It’s situated on Strawberry Hill, a hilly island in the middle of Stow Lake that is accessible via two footbridges. The Chinese-style pavilion peeks out from the greenery in a prime spot overlooking the lake.
It’s often overshadowed by the nearby Huntingdon Falls and so if you’re lucky you might get this hidden gem all to yourself. You might want to shoot within the structure as well as from across the lake so that you have the whole building in the frame.
Location on Google Maps: Golden Gate Pavilion at Stow Lake
How to get there: Follow the same advice as provided previously for getting to the Golden Gate Park attractions. For context, it will take you around 20 minutes to walk there from the Conservatory of Flowers.
Best time to go: Any time.
10. Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden & Dutch Windmill
My final pick of Instagrammable places in San Francisco within the Golden Gate Park is a double-whammy – the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden and Dutch Windmill.
The Dutch Bulb Growers’ Association donates bulbs every year that bloom into a colorful display of the most famous export of The Netherlands. To further add to the European spirit, you’ll see a windmill next to the garden which was constructed as far back as 1903.
The garden with the windmill is the perfect setting for a photoshoot and is a popular choice for wedding photography.
Location on Google Maps: Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden and Dutch Windmill
How to get there: The Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden and Murphy Windmill are located in the far western corner of the Golden Gate Park. It takes around 1 hour to walk across the park from the Conservatory of Flowers. Alternatively, you can take the metro to Ocean Beach and walk from there. Bus number 5 stops nearby on Fulton Street.
Best time to go: Any time of day. It is best to visit during the summer months (April onwards) when the tulips come into bloom for the season. As we visited in late November, unfortunately there were no tulips but the setting was still pretty!
11. Palace of Fine Arts
Styled upon a Greco-Roman palace, the Palace of Fine Arts is suspended above a serene lagoon and features a long colonnade with a rotunda at the center.
It was built at the turn of the century to provide a setting for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. The palace is adorned with classical sculptures and elegant columns that provide one of the most majestic settings for photography.
Rather than hosting an art gallery as you might assume, the Palace of Fine Arts is used for special events, trade shows, and private parties. You’ll totally get why this is one of the best photography spots in San Francisco once you see it!
Location on Google Maps: Palace of Fine Arts
How to get there: Bus numbers 30, 70, and 101 stop close by on Richardson Avenue. There are tonnes of parking within walking distance if you’d rather drive.
Best time to go: Early in the morning before it gets busy. The complex is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am – 5 pm (closed on Mondays) but you can stroll around the grounds and take photos anytime.
12. Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line & Lovers Lane
Created by the English sculpturist and environmentalist, Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line is a long winding avenue of recycled eucalyptus trees that snakes its way through the southeastern corner of the Presidio of San Francisco.
It’s a great spot for a morning stroll and despite being right in the heart of the city, it feels like you’re miles away. Once you’ve completed the trail you can also tackle Lovers’ Lane at the Presidio.
The latter is paved rather than woody and is a better option if you’re not traveling with proper footwear for hiking. Paired together, these are two of the loveliest San Francisco Instagram spots for nature lovers.
How to get there: Alight the cable car or bus line 1 along California Street. There are several parking lots within Presidio of San Francisco if you’d rather drive and coincide your visit with going to the Golden Gate Overlook.
Best time to go: Early in the morning.
13. Painted Ladies
The Painted Ladies is a row of quaint Victorian-era residences that have featured in numerous films, making this one of the best San Francisco photo spots for movie buffs.
Situated on Steiner Street, the houses are directly opposite a park from where you can take your photos with the houses in the foreground and the city skyline looming behind. The houses are not open to the public, they are actually private homes, so just be aware while shooting.
Location on Google Maps: Painted Ladies
How to get there: Bus number 22 stops nearby at Fillmore St & Hayes St.
Best time to go: Any time.
14. Twin Peaks
One of the best places to take pictures in San Francisco, Twin Peaks is an elevated recreational park that offers the most incredible views over downtown and puts the landscape of the hilly city into perspective.
The park comprises two peaks, Eureka Peak and Noe Peak, which are accessible via an easy 0.7km (1.1 km) hike and reward you with 360-degree views from the 922 feet (281 meters) summit. The walk is clearly signposted and has steps to help you, it’s not challenging and the lookouts are phenomenal.
If you’re not up for a hike, you can just simply drive up to the parking lot that already offers a breathtaking view.
Location on Google Maps: Twin Peaks
How to get there: You can park at the parking lot at the base of Twin Peaks and walk the rest of the way.
Best time to go: Any time of day works but you might want to avoid hiking up during the hottest part of the day. It’s always a great option to visit early in the morning for sunset!
15. Union Square
Concluding my guide to the most Instagrammable places in San Francisco, Union Square is basically the most central and busiest part of the city, right in the heart of downtown – the equivalent of Times Square in New York.
It’s surrounded by hotels, shops, restaurants, museums, and other attractions and never sleeps! We were fortunate to see Union Square dressed up with its Christmas tree which made the visit (and the photos) all the more spectacular but the place is buzzing year-round and it’s a fantastic spot for photography.
Also, visit the nearby Powell Blvd & Market St and you can see the historic turning point of the cable car.
Location on Google Maps: Union Square
How to get there: Cable cars stop right in the square and the whole area is well-served by buses if you are not able to walk from your hotel.
Best time to go: Early in the morning.
That concludes my guide to the best photography spots in San Francisco. I hope you feel inspired to charge your camera (or smartphone!) and hit the streets to create some epic images to call your own.
And if you need some inspiration for writing the best captions for your San Francisco photos? Don’t worry, I got you covered as well – just check out this post about the best San Francisco captions for Instagram.
If you have any more questions about traveling to or shooting in San Francisco, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Reach out via social media, email, or leave me a comment below.
If you’ve already visited the city then let us all know with a comment what your own favorite San Francisco Instagram spots were and if you think they ought to be added to my guide.
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- Camera body: Sony Alpha 7 III
- Standard zoom lens: TAMRON 28-75 mm f/2.8
- Wide angle lens: Sony FE 16-35mm f/4
- Telephoto lens: TAMRON 70-180 mm f/2.8
- Drone: DJI Mavic 2 Pro
- GoPro: GoPro Hero 7
- Camera Bag: Peak Design Everyday Totepack
- Tripod: Manfrotto Compact Action
If you want to read more about what is in our camera bag, check out my detailed post about our travel photography gear!