A good photographer can produce amazing portraits at almost any location.
That being said, I think choosing a great spot is the most important decision to make when it comes to engagement photos. The location should suit your style and your own idea of engagement photos. Whether you would like to do them at a neat park, in a forest, at a beach, in an urban environment or at some rather unusual places depends on your individual taste.
Maybe there is a place that has a meaning to you or matches your wedding theme. Ask yourself if there is such a place and if it would be the right choice for doing photos there. What would be a good location? Let me give you an idea:
A good engagement photo location…
… is not overly crowded unless it’s intentionally (e.g. a downtown shoot)
Here is a short and certainly incomplete list of
Great engagement photo locations in the San Francisco Bay Area:
- Golden Gate Park -
I would call it a classic for engagement photos. It has multiple beautiful areas with benches, fountains, lawn, etc – even a Japanese Tea Garden. The best point to start is the Music Concourse which is located between the deYoung Museum and the Academy of Sciences. Everything is within walking distance and the weather is usually moderate.
Disadvantages: can be pretty crowded on sunny weekend days. Usually the area clears out a bit by 5pm (in the summer).
Find it on Google Maps: Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA
Parking: Free street parking (up to 4h) on Martin Luther King Jr Drive, paid parking garage under the concourse, JFK Drive closed for traffic on weekends.
- Baker Beach -
Not the whitest sand and often times kind of crowded but people go here for one reason: you can see the Golden Gate Bridge. Often done in a combination of Golden Gate Park photos as it’s only a 10 minute drive between those two places.
Disadvantages: Not much else going on here. I wouldn’t recommend doing an entire engagement session at this location.
Find it on Google Maps: Gibson Rd at Bowley St, San Francisco, CA
Parking: Free parking close to the beach.
- Legion of Honor Museum -
If you like columns and old European-style architecture the Legion of Honor might be a good spot. Of course, you cannot do engagement photos inside the museum but the building and its surrounding area is beautiful.
Disadvantages: Small area, might not be sufficient for a 2 hour photo session. Often times fog suddenly comes in, can add to the photos though.
Find it on Google Maps: 100 34th Avenue, San Francisco, CA
Parking: Free street parking plus free parking lot, but can be challenging to find a spot.
- Palace of Fine Arts -
Another classic San Francisco engagement location. The adjacent park is a bit crowded and also surrounded by parking cars on all sides. There are some other nice spots close-by: The park at LucasArts in the south, the Crissy Field from where you have a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the little marina in the north with the Wave Organ at the end of the jetty. There is also a narrow beach with Golden Gate Bridge views but on a sunny weekend day it is so overcrowded that it’s just ridiculous to do photos there.
Disadvantages: Super crowded on weekends. The different locations (Crissy Field, Wave Organ) are too far away from each other to be walked within reasonable time and driving around is just a pain on the weekends because the whole Mason Street and surrounding streets are heavily congested with traffic.
Find it on Google Maps: Lyon Street at Palace Drive, San Francisco, CA
Parking: Free parking near the Palace, the Yacht Club or near Crissy Field Center.
- Cliff House -
It’s not about the Cliff House itself, but the adjacent Sutro Heights Park provides some nice views over Ocean Beach and the Richmond/Sunset neighborhood. There is also Ocean Beach close by and the rather unusual Sutro Baths area.
Disadvantages: Walking between the different points of interest is not too bad but still eats time and requires some thoughts about what to do ahead of time. I would say that none of the locations by itself is sufficient enough for a two hour photo session.
Find it on Google Maps: 1090 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA
Parking: There are a couple of free parking lots along Point Lobos Ave plus street parking. Can be challenging to find a free spot during peak hours on the weekends.
- Henrik’s Point -
I was really pondering if this area northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge should be listed under “Great Engagement Locations” or not. Yes, it is very diverse, has some old post-World War II structures and I’d take every San Francisco visitor there because of the most spectacular view of the Bridge. Well, a view that is too fenced off and often crippled with myriads of tourists having cameras on tripods, to get a good shot of someone standing in front of the bridge (compared to the above locations). Close by is the Cavallo Point lodge with its Presidio-style buildings and the (often closed) Point Bonita Lighthouse.
Disadvantages: Horrible parking situation, many tourists and you definitely need an alternative location for the other 50-70% of the photo session.
Find it on Google Maps: Conzelman Rd at Kirby Cove Rd, Sausalito, CA
Parking: Free, but parking there on the weekends – are you kidding me? It just has way too many people visiting this place for the few available spots.
- Fort Mason -
If you like a rather unusual last century industrial-style kind of engagement shoot then you might want to consider Fort Mason in San Francisco’s north. It has old buildings, lots of shades, structures and a little park, Fort Mason Green very close by. This area of San Francisco is usually not too cold nor windy.
Disadvantages: Diverse but kind of small-ish area, rather something for a 1 to 1.5 hour photoshoot.
Find it on Google Maps: Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA
Parking: Free parking at Marina Blvd or on-site and usually not problematic.
- Downtown San Francisco -
I really like downtown San Francisco for its diversity and photo opportunities. There is the Embarcadero, Ferry Building, Pier 1.5, the small park at Clay and Drumm… and and and. Lots of shaded areas too. If you can imagine a downtown theme for your engagement photos I highly recommend it.
Disadvantages: Hectic surrounding, working around cars and people.
Find it on Google Maps: The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA
Parking: You better do some research on parking garages or you might end up broke after paying for parking… or take the BART.
- Fort Funston -
An amazing location on the southwest border of San Francisco. It has a rich diversity of beautiful landscape, pathways, beach, bizarre WWII structures and more. Even on the weekends it is not too crowded and the area is not one of the overshot classic photo locations where dozens of photographers take their clients every week.
Disadvantages: You need to hike a bit as the area is pretty large. And there is likely some wind blowing and it might be chilly. So not the right location for a shot with high heels and cocktail dress.
Find it on Google Maps: Fort Funston Road, San Francisco, CA
Parking: Free and lots of free spots.
- Montara State Beach -
One of the many deserted beaches along coastal highway #1. And one of my favorites. No matter what time of the day there are only few people at this beach which has some small “canyons” on the side.
Disadvantages: Rough wind, not much diversity – it’s a pure beach shot.
Find it on Google Maps: 8150 Cabrillo Highway Montara Beach, CA
Parking: Free and plenty.
- Pigeon Point Lighthouse -
The same as Montara State Beach, just let me throw in an old lighthouse. The lighthouse is fenced off but there are some buildings (hostel) around it that can make for some more diversity in the photos.
Disadvantages: Rough wind, pretty far south on the Peninsula and some tourists hanging out.
Find it on Google Maps: 210 Pigeon Point Road, South Coastside, CA
- Capitola -
Beach, wharf, railway tracks. What do you want more?
Disadvantages: Not many. Kind of far away, I might need to charge some travel costs.
Find it on Google Maps: Capitola, CA
Parking: Metered parking along Cliff Drive, good for a couple of hours and not very expensive but don’t forget to bring quarters.
- Santa Cruz -
A little bit like Capitola – maybe less cozy and dreamy but more diverse: There is the Walton Lighthouse and the famous Boardwalk. And of course: beach.
Disadvantages: Same as with Capitola – great location but far away and will add travel costs.
Find it on Google Maps: Santa Cruz, CA
Parking: At the marina or free street parking, at the Boardwalk mostly paid parking.
- Berkeley University -
Nice campus, old buildings = lots of photo opportunities.
Disadvantages: It’s an university campus, so there can be events happening or lots of students running around between classes.
Find it on Google Maps: University Ave at Oxford Street, Berkeley, CA
Parking: Not on campus and you need to pay.
- Piedmont Community Park -
This location is a hidden gem for portrait photography. It has a very neat park area, a little fountain and lots of other stuff – even some redwood trees.
Disadvantages: Not much comes to mind here. It’s an amazing location. Maybe a little bit small but still diverse enough for an entire session.
Find it on Google Maps: 711 Highland Avenue, Piedmont, CA
Parking: Free parking lot on the northeast corner.
Note: Photographers, please do respect that these locations are public grounds and meant for recreational or other use for the community. Do not set-up any lighting equipment as this might obstruct others and requires you to obtain a photo permit. I am not responsible for your actions and you need to check by yourself whether or not you need to obtain a permit for your photo projects. Thank you.