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50 Instagram Worthy San Francisco Photo Spots | The Best San Francisco Instagram Spots

There are so many amazing San Francisco photo spots! From iconic landmarks, Instagrammable viewpoints, beautiful beaches, museums, and more, here are all the top San Francisco Instagram spots!

San Francisco is definitely one of the most photogenic cities in the world. With its natural beauty, iconic landmarks, colorful street art, and beautiful views (especially at sunset), one has no trouble finding all of the best San Francisco photo spots.

I spent much of my 11 years living in San Francisco trying to find the most photogenic places in the city, and I definitely found tons of them! When I first moved to the city, I didn’t have much money but I had a whole lot of free time and a love for photography, so I roamed around aimlessly to find all of the best San Francisco photo spots.

I often get asked what my favorite San Francisco Instagram spots are, so I finally sat down to compile them all. It was kinda hard to narrow it down to just 50, but I’ve compiled all my favorite places to take pictures in San Francisco, from the most popular locations, to some of the best hidden gems

Keep on reading to find all of the best San Francisco photo spots!

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Instagram Worthy San Francisco Photo Spots 

San Francisco Instagram Spots: Iconic Landmarks

Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco’s most iconic landmark definitely deserves a spot on this list of its best Instagram spots. The famous bridge is not only one of the most popular San Francisco photo spots, it is also one of the most photographed bridges in the world!

One look at the bridge and it’s easy to see why the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the best San Francisco Instagram spots – even after I had lived in San Francisco for over a decade, it still took my breath away every time I saw it. 

The iconic bridge has connected San Francisco with Marin County in the north since 1937. The 1.7 mile long-bridge has a single-suspension span, connected with two towers that stand 746 feet tall. Checking it out, photographing it, and walking or biking across it is a must on any San Francisco bucket list!

While the bridge is famous for its iconic “International Orange” color, selected because of its visibility against the fog for passing ships, this was not the original color choice. Originally, the bridge was slated to be painted bright yellow, but was changed because the orange fit in better with the natural landscapes of the area – can you imagine the SF skyline with a bright yellow bridge?!

Speaking of the fog…it can be a bit pesky, especially in the summer! Contrary to what you would believe, summer is much foggier than in the winter, because of the combination of freezing cold water in the bay along with the hot temperatures inland in the East Bay. 

The fog tends to burn off around noon, and roll back in around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, so midday might be your best bet to, you know, actually SEE the bridge. Obviously, it is much more beautiful at sunrise and sunset. Your best bet is to visit during September and October, aka San Francisco summer, when the city is consistently warm and sunny. Otherwise, keep an eye on current conditions on this live webcam!

There really is no bad view of the bridge, which is why it’s one of the most Instagrammable places in San Francisco, but some views are better than others. You’ll find that most tourists will snap photos from either the Welcome Center, on the bridge, or from the Vista Point on the Marin side. While you can still get some awesome Instagram photos from any of these photos, why not check out some of the more unique views of the Golden Gate Bridge?

Just next to the Welcome Center is Battery East, from where you can escape a lot of the crowds and get an amazing, straight-on view of the bridge. It also has amazing greenery in front of it, and you can see the coastline and Fort Point underneath as well.

And speaking of Fort Point, this is another one of the best San Francisco photo spots because you’re so close to it and it gives you the perspective of being underneath the bridge. Just down the road from Fort Point is Torpedo Wharf, which will get you some Instagrammable shots of the bridge as well (if you’re lucky, you’ll get some awesome classic cars in your shot as well!).

Some other awesome views of the bridge include Crissy Field and the West Bluff Picnic Area, and from the Batteries to Bluffs trail. On the Marin side, Hawk Hill and Fort Baker are some of the best spots. I’ve also included a few more especially notable viewpoints on this list of San Francisco photo spots, so keep on reading!

Battery Spencer

Battery Spencer deserves its own mention on this list of San Francisco photography spots because it hands-down the absolute BEST view of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you’ve ever seen the bridge featured in your computer screensaver and wondered where exactly it was shot from then, well, here is your answer!

Located in the Marin Headlands, off Conzelman Road, Battery Spencer was originally used as one of the main protection points for San Francisco back in the 19th century. You can still see some remnants of its military past here, but mostly, you’re checking it out because it is one of the best San Francisco Instagram spots.

This is one of the most popular San Francisco photo spots amongst local photographers, bloggers, and visitors alike because the bridge has a breathtaking, larger-than-life appearance from here, AND you get an amazing view of the SF skyline in the background.

It can get crowded here, but you can still find plenty of pockets of space to snap that perfect shot for your Instagram feed! It is an especially popular spot for the sunset, and for good reason – some of my favorite sunsets that I’ve experienced in San Francisco have been from Battery Spencer. Seeing the colors of the sky transform against the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is just pure magic! 

Battery Spencer is also one of the best places to take pictures in San Francisco at sunrise, however, I’ve never made it out there since I’m not very much of a morning person and I love my sleep even more. Be warned that it might be foggy though – although if you’re lucky, you might get a shot of the towers of bridge just poking through the thick layer of fog.

Just be warned that it can get chilly and windy AF here – be sure to bring a jacket! I’m actually holding down my hat in these shots above, not because it’s a popular look on Instagram, but because it would’ve flown away otherwise!

Bay Bridge

The Bay Bridge is often overshadowed by the Golden Gate Bridge, but it is definitely worth snapping photos with it is another one of the best San Francisco Instagram spots! 

You can admire the bridge all along the Embarcadero, and it makes a beautiful addition to the waterfront at any time of day. However, the best time to photograph the bridge is at twilight, when the Bay Lights installation gets turned on!

The Bay Lights was originally installed on the western span of the bridge, as part of its 75th anniversary in 2013. Created by local artist Leo Villareal, the Bay Lights features a never-repeating, dazzling display of 25,000 LED lights that illuminate the bridge.

It was originally intended to be a temporary installation, but was eventually made permanent because of its popularity with SF locals – good thing because it really does make the Bay Bridge one of the best San Francisco photography locations!

My favorite time to snap photos of the Bay Bridge is right after sunset (or right before the sun rises but again, I’m not a morning person), when it sparkles against the pastel sky. To really capture the glittering lights, use a fast lens with a longer focal length (50mm and above) and shoot at the widest aperture possible (f2.8 or below), or use portrait mode on your phone. You’ll be able to capture the lights of the bridge as twinkling bokeh, which is absolutely magical!

Iconic Cable Cars

San Francisco is home to the last remaining manually operated cable car system in the world. Hanging off the edge of one of these iconic cable cars is not only super fun (albeit touristy AF), it also makes for an awesome photo op!

Invented here in San Francisco by Andrew Smith Hallidie in 1873, the system had 23 lines in operation at one time, but only 3 remain today. No one actually uses the cable cars to get around the city these days, but even as a local, I still found it fun to get on one every once in a while (usually when I was hosting an out-of-town visitor)!

If you don’t want to wait in line and just want to take a photo for your Insta, just go to one of the terminals of any of the lines (Powell St. and Hyde & Beach St. on the Powell Line, or California & Davis St. or Van Ness Ave. for the California Street Line). You’ll find plenty of idle cable cars parked there, and the operators will gladly let you snap some quick photos if you ask nicely!

If you’re looking to actually ride the cable cars (which I recommend doing at least once in your life), the California Street line is less popular, and will have a much shorter line. You’ll also get arguably better views from the California Street line as well!

Alamo Square

Alamo Square is another one of those iconic San Francisco photo spots that you absolutely cannot miss. It is one of the most photographed places in the city, and no, you haven’t been to San Francisco if you haven’t been there.

From here, you will get a postcard-worthy shot of the Painted Ladies, the pretty Victorian homes that were made famous by the opening credits of Full House. You’ll also get one of the best views in San Francisco, with the downtown skyline in the back. 

If you want a photo of just the houses, I suggest shooting from the bottom of the park. You’ll get to cut out all the people and clutter by shooting at this angle. However, if you want to capture the skyline in the background, shoot from the top of the hill – you’ll be able to capture more of the scene this way. You’ll get an even better shot if you have a zoom lens.

Remember to also look behind you, as the houses on the rear side of the park are also stunning as well!

Earlier in the day will have fewer crowds, however, the best lighting is in the late afternoon, when the sun is lower in the sky and not casting a bunch of harsh shadows. It’s also a great spot to hang out for a bit with a picnic!

Also cross the street and get up close to the houses for a different perspective. Just remember that these are private residences so be respectful and keep your distance – don’t climb up to the porch. 

Chinatown

San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, which also happens to be the oldest in America. The vibrant red lanterns, pagoda-style architecture, and ornate lamp posts makes Chinatown one of the best San Francisco Instagram spots.

Chinatown is located between the Financial District and North Beach neighborhoods, between Stockton Street and Grant Avenue. There’s so much to see (and eat!) here, and it’s easy to get lost in the bustling maze of streets and alleys here, snapping tons of photos!

I’ve always loved the red lanterns hanging above Grant Avenue, and have always wanted to take photos there for years! Taking the shots above took a bit of patience, and many attempts to jump into the street every time the light turned red – be super careful and watch for oncoming traffic!

Another favorite photo location in Chinatown is in front of Peking Bazaar, also on Grant Avenue. You’ll find green ladders and hanging lanterns in front of the storefront, which makes a perfect backdrop for photos! I found it the perfect background to take a photo of my egg tart from Golden Gate Bakery, across the street – if you happen to catch them on a day they’re open, I highly recommend grabbing one because they are super yummy!

Chinatown tends to be super busy and bustling with activity, so it may be tricky to snap photos in the middle of the day (especially on the weekends). A few friends and I ended up strolling through the neighborhood on a weekend evening, around 6pm and found it empty – it would have been the perfect time to snap some photos! It was during the summer, so there was still plenty of daylight available during that time. 

Coit Tower

Coit Tower is one of San Francisco’s most recognizable landmarks, and is visible from many vantage points in the city. While San Francisco may not have an observation deck (although there is definitely no shortage of amazing views!), Coit Tower is as close as you’ll come to one, making it one of the best San Francisco Instagram spots.

The 210 foot tall concrete column has stood on top of Telegraph Hill since 1933, when it was donated to the city to commemorate local firemen – its design is intended to resemble a fire hose.

Climbing to the top of Coit Tower offers some excellent panoramic views of the city, with some Art Deco style windows that are perfect for framing your shot. You’ll tower high above San Francisco, allowing you to get a birds’ eye view!

After 11 years of living in San Francisco, I somehow never made it to the top of Coit Tower (they have somewhat limiting hours). However, I never really saw the need to because the view from the base is already pretty awesome and one of the most Instagrammable places in San Francisco! 

If you want to photograph the tower itself, the best views of it are from along the Embarcadero, or one of the hilly streets that face it, i.e. Lombard Street or Vallejo Street. You’ll get a unique perspective if you shoot directly up from the base.

Palace of Fine Arts

Located in the Marina neighborhood, the Palace of Fine Arts is one of the most opulent landmarks in San Francisco. Originally built for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in 1915, the Palace of Fine Arts is also one of the most gorgeous places to take pictures in San Francisco. 

It is an especially popular spot for engagement shoots and wedding photos – you’ll see at least five other photo shoots going on simultaneously at any given time. One walk through the area, and you’ll see exactly why – it is a breathtaking piece of architecture, with a tranquil lagoon and surrounding greenery. 

Built in the Beaux-Arts style, the Palace of Fine Arts features Grecian-style colonnades and a tall central rotunda. A walk through the palace and you’ll swear you’ve been transported into Europe! Honestly, the Palace of Fine Arts is so beautiful that it will make you feel like you’ve walked into a painting.

There are endless ways to photograph the Palace of Fine Arts. To capture the whole palace, shoot from the grassy areas, with the pond in front. This is also a perfect location to set up an idyllic picnic scene. Also do not miss the chance to walk through the palace and capture the architectural details up close – the sheer scale is impressive!

If you can, come here to shoot at sunrise – the Palace of Fine Arts is truly breathtaking when the golden light rays stream through it! You’ll also be able to avoid most of the crowds by coming early in the morning. Really though, there is no bad time to photograph it, since it is one of the most impressive San Francisco Instagram spots. 

Lombard Street

Contrary to popular belief, Lombard Street isn’t actually the crookedest street in the world (or even in San Francisco, for that matter). But it is still hands-down one of the most iconic streets in the city, and one of the most popular San Francisco photography spots. 

While the entire span of Lombard Street goes from North Beach to the Presidio, the one block stretch between Hyde and Leavenworth is the one that is famous for its eight sharp hairpin turns. This is the part of Lombard Street that is one of the most Instagrammable places in San Francisco.

You’ll get one of the best views in San Francisco from the top – you can see the bay, Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill, and the residential neighborhoods below. The light can be a bit harsh, so you’ll get the best shots around sunrise or sunset. 

As you walk down the street (do not actually walk IN the street, as it is meant for cars to drive through – use the stairs on the sides), you’ll notice that the street is full of beautiful houses and flowers. I personally love this blue home with the bougainvilleas out front – so pretty! I also love shooting Lombard Street from the bottom, because you can see exactly how crooked the street is.

I’ve heard that coming around sunrise is the best time to shoot because you’ll avoid all the crowds and the chaos (unfortunately, I’m not much of a morning person so I’ve never actually made it there that early. Besides, seeing one of the best San Francisco photo spots be bathed in golden light is pretty awesome! 

Just remember that people do live on the street, so be respectful.

Best San Francisco Photo: Parks & Beaches

Marshall’s Beach

If you are looking for a beach that has one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, that also happens to be somewhat of a hidden gem, then you’re in luck – Marshall’s Beach is all of the above, plus one of the best San Francisco photography spots!

This was one of my absolute favorite places in San Francisco, because you not only had an incredible view of the bridge, but also because it had somewhat of a secluded feel. To get here, you will have to hike along the California Coastal Trail, runs from the Golden Gate Bridge with Baker Beach. 

Look for the sign that leads towards Marshall’s Beach and take the stairs down – they are a bit of a killer on the way back up, but I promise that it’s worth it to get to one of the best San Francisco photo spots! 

If you want even more of a secluded feel, continue along the beach until you reach the cove at the far end. You will have to scramble though some rocks to get past it, but once you do, you’ll encounter an even more amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge (you almost feel like you’re up against it) and even fewer people. 

Marshall’s Beach is definitely one of my favorite places to watch the sunset in San Francisco – it is absolutely breathtaking here! You’ll probably encounter a few other photographers trying to capture the sunset as well, but otherwise it has such a peaceful atmosphere and you almost feel like you have the beach to yourself!

Sutro Baths

Sutro Baths once used to be the site of a large, privately-owned saltwater pool complex. A tragic fire burned it down and you can see the ruins of what remains today, which also doubles as one of the most interesting San Francisco Instagram spots.

Sutro Baths has always been one of my favorite places in all of San Francisco, and I always loved to take out-of-town visitors there. It’s so fascinating to see the ruins, and it’s got a hauntingly beautiful quality about it.

It is also absolutely magical at sunset, if you actually happen to be here on a sunny day (this part of San Francisco is notorious for the fog). However, I also loved shooting here on a foggy day too because you get a different vibe in your photos – they’ll have a bit of a mysterious quality.

I love playing with the reflections here, with the pools within the ruins. You also get some pretty dramatic views of the coastline and surrounding bluffs as well, which makes it one of the best places to take pictures in San Francisco.

Lands End

Just next to Sutro Baths is the Lands End trail, one of the most beautiful hikes in the city. Lands End feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of the big city – cell reception is somewhat spotty here – I always loved getting lost in nature here. It’s also one of the top San Francisco photography spots, because of the gorgeous views of the rugged coastline and bluffs, and of the Golden Gate Bridge.

There honestly is no bad time to come to Lands End, but much like Sutro Baths, golden hour is especially stunning here. The light rays streaming through the eucalyptus trees is absolutely perfect! Also pay attention to the bluffs, the golden light hitting the water is also magical!

Be sure to also take the detour down to the labyrinth, one of the best hidden gems in San Francisco! To get there, To get there, look out for the turnoff to Mile Rock Beach, and follow the stairs down. You’ll come to a fork – follow the trail under the trees (towards the right) to get to the labyrinth.

You’ll find a stone labyrinth, built in the design of a classic seven-circuit Chartres labyrinth by local artist Edward Aguilera. There are also stunning views of the coastline and the Golden Gate Bridge as well!

Stow Lake

If you are looking for one of the most romantic San Francisco photo spots, then Stow Lake is the perfect location. The large man-made lake in the middle of Golden Gate Park provides an idyllic setting for your Instagram shots.

Renting a rowboat will help you get those super romantic photos, and help you pretend that you’re in a scene of The Notebook. This is an especially popular idea for engagement shoots!

Just know that rowing a rowboat is much harder than it looks – I was STRUGGLING in the photo above! A blogger friend and I decided to rent separate boats because we thought that would make for better photos. Unfortunately, I ended up rowing my boat into a tree and spent most of our allotted time trying to get out of it. Needless to say, I am awful at rowing related activities. In hindsight, maybe we should’ve just rented one boat, but it made for a funny story behind the shot! 

The Dutch Windmill and Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden

Located on the far western side of Golden Gate Park stands an authentic Dutch windmill and garden, one of the most Instagrammable places in San Francisco – especially in the spring!

The towering 75-foot tall windmill was a gift from Holland and originally intended to serve as an irrigation system for the park, but is no longer in service today. It is surrounded by a beautiful garden that is named after the queen who gifted the windmill to the city.

The garden is especially photogenic during the spring months, while the tulips are in bloom (usually in March). However, there are always some sort of flowers blooming here, so it is one of the best San Francisco Instagram spots at any time of year!

Sutro Forest

I spent a good amount of time during my 11 years in San Francisco complaining about the fog…now that I don’t live there anymore, I kind of miss it. I used to always curse it when it ended up ruining my plans for a photo shoot, but there are also some spots in which the fog actually makes for better photos – Sutro Forest is one of them!

Sutro Forest is located below the summit of Mount Sutro, one of the highest points in the city. I love it because it is super quiet and peaceful here and it feels worlds away from the city, even though you are right in the middle of it.

It is one of the best places to take pictures in San Francisco when it’s foggy. You know, that kind of fog that is so thick that you can barely see 10 feet in front of you. I love seeing the fog move through the trees – it definitely adds a mysterious feel to your photos! 

Lovers’ Lane Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line

Originally used in the 18th century by Spanish soldiers and missionaries as a shortcut to get from the Main Post to Mission Dolores, the 0.6 mile Lovers’ Lane is also San Francisco’s oldest footpath. 

It is also one of the most romantic places to take pictures in San Francisco – but you don’t necessarily have to be coupled up to take photos here! The picturesque path leads you through a eucalyptus forest, a valley dotted with historic homes, and a charming footbridge.

Also look for the winding tree branches snaking on the floor of the forest – this is Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line sculpture, one of the most iconic artworks in San Francisco. The combination of the tall trees with the curves on the ground really make this one of the most perfect San Francisco photography locations!

Lighting here tends to be somewhat tricky because the trees cast all kinds of crazy shadows. Coming later in the day, when the sun is lower in the sky tends to yield much more even lighting. Shooting on an overcast day also works.

Most Instagrammable Viewpoints in San Francisco

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks may just be the best viewpoint in all of San Francisco – it’s located smack dab in the middle of the city and stands almost 1000 feet in elevation, allowing for some epic 360 degree views. Because of this, it is also one of the most popular San Francisco photo spots! 

You’ll find epic views of the downtown skyline, the bay, both bridges, and beyond from either of the peaks. However, my favorite view from Twin Peaks is from Christmas Tree Point Road. You may be a bit lower in elevation from here, but you get the curved road in the foreground, which adds a bit of visual interest.

Sunset is especially magical at Twin Peaks, as you see the twinkling lights of the skyscrapers come up against the pink sky. Blue hour is especially beautiful as well. However, it is definitely one of the most popular sunset spots in San Francisco, so you’ll encounter plenty of other people there as well. If you come at sunrise, you’ll avoid the crowds (and get some beautiful golden light).

Twin Peaks tends to get cold and windy AF, so bring a jacket with you!

Bernal Heights Park

Bernal Heights is one of the favorite San Francisco photo spots and viewpoints amongst locals. From here, you’ll get a panoramic view, but with fewer crowds than some of the more popular viewpoints in the city (i.e. Twin Peaks and Lombard Street).

It’s got kind of a rustic vibe, with big-city views along with the feeling that you are in nature. In the springtime, the wildflowers bloom and add even more beauty to the park. 

It’s an easy one-mile loop to get to the top. Unlike some of the more steeper viewpoints, it’s much more of a gradual hike. Once you get to the top, you’ll be rewarded with a sweet view of the downtown skyscrapers, Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, the San Bruno Mountains, and the southeastern waterfront, along with grassy hills and trees. 

Also do not miss the top swing at the top of the hill, one of the best San Francisco Instagram spots! This one is somewhat less unknown, and a bit of a hidden gem. You’ll get to enjoy those epic views while swinging into the sky. Do note that the swing is a bit high…if you’re short like me, you’ll need help getting onto it, and to push off.

Ina Coolbrith Park

For epic views of the San Francisco skyline, head over to Ina Coolbrith Park. This tiny park tucked into the Russian Hill is one of my favorite San Francisco photo spots for capturing the downtown skyscrapers. 

Ina Coolbrith Park is at the top of the Vallejo Street Stairs, which are an absolute thigh-burner. Once you get to the top, you’ll be rewarded with some stunning views of the tall downtown skyscrapers (including the iconic Transamerica Pyramid and Salesforce Tower), Coit Tower, the Bay Bridge, and beyond.

Ina Coolbrith Park is one of the best San Francisco photo spots at sunset – you really can’t go wrong with the twinkling lights of the skyscrapers against the transforming colors in the sky. Blue hour is pretty beautiful as well.

Potrero Hill

The thing with San Francisco is that there are always photogenic views everywhere you look, even if you aren’t necessarily looking for them. This is how I stumbled upon this viewpoint in the Potrero Hill neighborhood!

While waiting for brunch at Plow (which has one of the BEST brunches in the city), we ended up wandering around the area since the wait was going to be two hours (normal for SF). We climbed up the hill one block and found this incredible view of the city – one of my favorite secret San Francisco photo spots.

Luckily for you, I’m sharing with you where you too can find it – it’s at the corner of Texas and 19th Streets.

Golden Gate Overlook

This Golden Gate Bridge viewpoint has become one of the most popular San Francisco Instagram spots over the last few years. It’s easy to see why – the two tall eucalyptus trees perfectly frame the bridge, which has a cool vertical perspective, with the towers looking like they’re stacked on top of each other.

If you have seen a photo of this spot on Instagram but are wondering exactly where it is, I’m here to tell ya! If you are using GPS to navigate to this spot, a good address to use is 1600 Langdon Ct. – there is also a parking lot here.

Using a longer lens (50mm or above) will get you better shots here, because the bridge will look bigger in your shots. I shot the photos here at 50mm, whereas the photo at the top of this section was shot at 18mm – notice how the bridge looks much larger at 50mm (even though half of it is covered in fog). If you have an even longer lens (such as an 85mm), even better! 

Treasure Island

Treasure Island is one of those places that many people tend to overlook except for two things: its monthly flea market and annual music festival. Well that’s a shame, because it’s also one of the best San Francisco photo spots!

You can’t beat the view of the SF skyline and the Bay Bridge from Treasure Island. You can snap some photos from the viewpoint on Avenue of the Palms, at the water’s edge. Clipper Cove has some amazing views as well.

If you want to take photos from one of the most hidden San Francisco Instagram spots, head over to the viewpoint at the top of hill at Blue Park, past Clipper Cove and at the end of Nimitz Road. The view from here has been used for many screensavers and car commercials, but hardly anyone knows where it was shot from!

Pier 7

You really can’t go wrong with any view from the piers along the waterfront. However, Pier 7 probably has the best of them all!

From here, you get a perfectly symmetrical view of the iconic Transamerica Pyramid. The wooden pier and the lampposts that line it also create the perfect lines to compose the perfect shot, making Pier 7 one of the best places to take pictures in San Francisco. 

If you look on the other side, you’ll also get some amazing views of the Bay Bridge, waterfront, and Ferry building!

This is also another favorite spot of local photographers, so you may see some wedding or engagement shoots taking place as well. It is an especially popular spot at night, when the city lights come up!

I personally love Pier 7 at twilight, when the sky starts turning colors and the lights starts to twinkle.

Instagram-Worthy Murals, Street Art, and Staircases

Clarion Alley

If you’re looking for the city’s best street art, head over to the Mission District. Within the neighborhood, you’ll find several alleys filled with cool murals. My favorite of these is Clarion Alley, located between Mission and Valencia Streets, between 17th and 18th Streets.  

Here, you will find dozens of socially engaged and aesthetically innovative murals painted by local artists as part of the Clarion Alley Mural Project. The murals represent a variety of artistic styles, and make a statement on social, economic, and environmental justice issues affecting the community.

The murals here are always changing – over 700 works have been painted here since 1992 – which means that there is always something new to see no matter how many times you’ve been to Clarion Alley. This makes it one of the most interesting photography spots in San Francisco.

16th Avenue Steps

Tucked into a quiet residential area in the Sunset District, these mosaic steps have become one of the most popular San Francisco Instagram spots in recent years. 

The steps were the result of a community project, a collaboration between local artists and the residents of the neighborhood. The 163 stairs were adorned with an intricate mosaic that depict a shimmering path from sea to sky. Neighbors sponsored individual tiles contained within the mosaic – if you look closely, you can see their names on the tiles.

If you want more opportunities to take photos in the area, continue up along the stairs towards Grand View Park, which offers some amazing views of the city. There is also a second staircase, the Secret Garden Steps, nearby!

California Love Mural

Pier 39 is one of those places in SF that I basically avoided at all costs because it was touristy AF and always swarming with 32842349 people. When I saw this mural pop up though, I had to make my way there because look at it – I love the typography and the floral motifs on this one!

You can find this mural in front of the Mulberry and Grand store at Pier 39. You’ll get the best shots of it with a wide angle lens, as there’s a post in front of it that kind of obstructs it.

If you’re looking for more murals in the area, head on over to the new Umbrella Alley behind the SF Segway location in Fisherman’s Wharf. The space will eventually be adorned with tons of Instagram-worthy walls, and umbrellas hanging overhead!

Kate Tova Murals

Local artist Kate Tova’s murals have been popping up all over the city recently, and they some of the best San Francisco Instagram spots! Her murals are so vibrant and incorporate lots of textures and found objects.

The mural pictured above celebrates black trans lives, and depicts Laverne Cox, the first openly trans woman to appear on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. It is intended to symbolize beauty’s many forms and interpretations. 

Look on the other side for a colorful, brushstroke-textured heart piece.

Tova has another mural located at 1650 California Street. This one was inspired by the native plants of California, and is dedicated to the firefighters and all those affected by recent wildfires.

Lincoln Park Steps

San Francisco has no shortage of beautiful mosaic staircases, and the Lincoln Parks Steps are one of the most stunning examples. These steps sit on the far western edge of the city, near the Legion of Honor and Lands End, and date back to the early 1900s.

The steps are decorated in a stunning Beaux-Arts style, and are a result of a renovation project which was completed in 2007.

They are located where California Street dead ends, near 32nd Avenue. They are kind of hidden unless you know to look for them – I’ve definitely missed them before in the past!

The Most Instagrammable Museums in San Francisco

SF MOMA

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) is the first museum on the West Coast dedicated to modern and contemporary art. Today, it is one of the city’s must-visit museums and one of the best Instagram spots in San Francisco. 

The SFMOMA was recently renovated and tripled its gallery space, and is now the largest modern art museum in the US. It now houses over 33,000 works by world-renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keefe, Henri Mattisse, and many others. 

There are plenty of photo ops here, but one of my all-time favorite pieces is Dan Flavin’s Untitled (in honor of Leo at the 30th anniversary of his gallery) – the colorful neon lights make the perfect backdrop for your photos!

Some of my other favorite works include Gerhard Richter’s 256 Farben (256 Colors), Ellsworth Kelly’s Spectrum I, and Robert Indiana’s Love Sculpture. 

Also be sure not to miss the incredible living wall, viewable from the sculpture terrace on the third floor!

The de Young Museum

Located in Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum is one of San Francisco’s premier fine arts museums. It’s also one of the best San Francisco photography locations

I’ve always loved the texture on the building’s facade, which has made it one of my favorite backdrops for photos. It’s a relatively neutral wall, but the texture is a lot of fun to play around with, making it one of the best places to take pictures in San Francisco.

Take photos close up with the wall, straight on, from far away, or shot from different angles so you can play around with bokeh!

Be sure to also go up to the Harmon Observation Tower in the museum as well! You don’t need to pay museum admission to go check out the view, which also makes it one of the best free things to do in San Francisco. From here, you can enjoy some stunning views of Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, and the downtown skyline. 

Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor is one of the most beautiful museums in San Francisco. Originally built to commemorate the Californian soldiers who died in World War I, the museum exhibits ancient and European art that spans over 4,000 years.

The museum is housed in a stunning Beaux-Arts building, with tall neoclassical columns in the courtyard, which makes it one of the best San Francisco photo spots. On top of that, it boats an amazing view of Lincoln Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Conservatory of Flowers

The Conservatory of Flowers dates back to 1876, and is one of the oldest buildings in Golden Gate Park. Its five galleries display over 2,000 rare tropical plant and flower species from around the world.

The inside of the Conservatory is filled with lush greenery, making it one of the most Instagrammable places in San Francisco. It’s also a great place to escape the fog!

The outside of the Conservatory also makes a gorgeous photo op – the beautiful Victorian style greenhouse building combined with the flowers outside create a storybook scene.

Instagrammable Streets of San Francisco

Columbus Street and the Sentinel Building

Did you know that San Francisco had its own Flatiron building? San Francisco’s version is officially known as the Sentinel Building, and is made of white tile and copper, and has been painted green.

It started construction right before the 1906 earthquake, survived the disaster, and completed construction in 1907. Supposedly, the Caesar Salad was invented in this building during the Prohibition. The Kingston Trio bought the building in 1959 and recorded here.

The best place to photograph it is from the corner of Columbus Avenue and Kearny Street. This is one of the best San Francisco photo spots because you’ll not only get a perfect view of the Sentinel Building, but also the iconic Transamerica Pyramid right behind it. 

The Rainbow Crosswalks of the Castro

These colorful rainbow crosswalks in the Castro District celebrate the spirit of the city’s LGBTQ neighborhood. They were painted as part of a streetscape improvement project back in 2014 and you can’t help but feel joyful when you look at them, making it one of the best San Francisco Instagram spots!

You can find the rainbow crosswalks on the corner of Castro and 18th Streets.

California Street

California Street is one of the most beautiful streets in all of San Francisco, especially the stretch that runs in through the Financial District, Chinatown, and Nob Hill. It’s got some of the best views, because it’s also one of the hilliest streets in the city! (Psst…going west to east is downhill and easier on your thighs).

My favorite view on the street is in between Stockton Street and Grant Avenue. This is one of the best San Francisco photography spots because you can see the downtown skyscrapers, the pagodas of Chinatown, and because of the red Muni strip painted on it. If you look closely, you can also see the Bay Bridge being perfectly framed by the skyscrapers!

Jasper Place

I stumbled upon this little alley while roaming around the North Beach neighborhood and it instantly became one of my favorite places to take pictures in San Francisco. You really can’t go wrong with a street that is lined with pastel-colored facades!

You can find Jasper Place between Stockton Street and Grant Avenue, between Filbert and Green Streets.

Maiden Lane

This little alley sits right next to the famous Union Square. Not many people realize it’s there, which is a shame because it is one of the prettiest streets! The string lights twinkling overhead makes this one of the best San Francisco photo spots.

The best way to shoot the lights is to use a wide aperture (f2.8 or lower), with a longer focal length (I shot this above at 75mm). If you are using your smartphone camera, portrait mode will work beautifully here.

Most Instagram-Worthy Homes in San Francisco

San Francisco might just have the prettiest homes in all of the US (not biased at alllll). The city is filled with unique houses, from beautiful Victorians, to colorful facades.

Just a reminder that these are all private residences, so please remember to be respectful! Don’t make a lot of noise, stay on the sidewalk (don’t climb up to the porch), and just snap a few quick shots.

Bougainvillea House

The bougainvillea growing on the front of this house is absolutely insane! You can find this incredible house in the Marina District, on Union Street and Baker Street. The best time to see it is during the bougainvillea season, in the summer. Check out the house next door as well!

Candy House

This gem just might be my all-time favorite house in the city – I can’t get over those colors! They sort of remind me of candy (or Lisa Frank!). You can find this beauty in the Mission District, on the corner of 24th Street and San Jose Avenue.

Haight-Ashbury Victorians

The homes in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood are my favorite – there are so many colorful, historic Victorians here everywhere you look. This group of Victorians on Waller Street are some of my favorite – they kind of reminded me of the Painted Ladies, but jewel-toned!

Rainbow House

I spotted this house years ago in passing, and I had always wanted to come back to photograph it. I finally got the chance right before I moved away from the city – better late than never, right? 

This incredible house is painted in an ombre rainbow, with each panel painted with different colors of the rainbow. It is one of the most colorful homes in San Francisco!

You can find it in the Noe Valley neighborhood, on Clipper Street between Douglass and Diamond Streets.

The Most Instagrammable Cafes, Restaurants, and Bars in San Francisco

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Mr. Holmes is famous for two things: its cruffins and the neon “I got baked in San Francisco sign.” You’ll have to get in line early in order to get your hands on a cruffin, but you can drop by to snap a photo with the sign (and really, ANY of their pastries are delicious!).

Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters

The pineapple wallpaper here makes it one of the most Instagrammable places in San Francisco! You’ll find some of San Francisco’s best cups of coffee here as well.

Chambers Eat + Drink

Chambers has this amazing “Be Amazing” sign in the back bar area, but also has a solid lunch and dinner menu, as well as tasty cocktails! They have some amazing happy hour deals as well. One of my favorites in the city!

Media Noche

Media Noche is one of the most Instagrammable places in San Francisco for that amazing tile floor, and the colorful floral mural out front. They also have some delicious Cuban food and sangria – try their pork bowl!

Home Cafe

The super Instagrammable lattes here are on a different level, and makes Home Cafe one of the most popular cafes in the city. Try the birthday cake latte here – it will be the most colorful latte you’ll find!

Pinhole Coffee

You can’t help but feel happy when you walk into Pinhole Coffee, located in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. Check out the rainbow panels on the wall – super colorful and super Instagrammable!

San Francisco Instagram Spots: Shops

Miette

Coming to Miette always makes me feel like a kid in a candy store…literally! I love the jars of candy jar lined up on the wall, as well as the pretty floral wallpaper. They have lots of yummy treats here – candy, chocolate, cupcakes, and macarons. And speaking of macarons…they have a macaron happy hour every weekday from 5pm to closing!

Also check out the tables set up outside – the pastel green matches perfectly with the pink storefront! If you also walk around the corner, there is a perfect pink wall as well.

Flora Grubb Gardens

Part plant store, part art gallery, you’ll be amazed at the plant installations at Flora Grubb Gardens! I’ve always loved this succulent wall – it makes me want to collect alllll the succulents! Grab a cup of coffee at the Four Barrel location here, and admire all the plants here (and pick up a few for your collection). Also check out the wall of colorful lawn chairs!

Succulence

And speaking of Instagram-worthy plant shops, you must also check out Succulence! They sell a well-curated mix of plants and home decor items. Check out all the plants in the back – this succulent U Sexy display is everything!

The Best Photo Gear for Shooting at the Best San Francisco Instagram Spots

Camera:

Many of the photos in this post were shot with the Nikon D7000 (which has now been updated to the Nikon D7500). I shot on this trusty camera for years and it has accompanied me on many of my travels!

Recently, I decided to enter the world of mirrorless cameras and purchased the Sony a6000. I am loving it because it is soooo lightweight – so perfect for travel! Sony definitely makes the best mirrorless cameras, and the image quality is excellent.

Lens:

The vast majority of my photos are shot with the Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 (for NikonSony). The 28-75mm range covers much of what I need while I’m traveling so I only need one lens. The f2.8 means that it works great in low light and gets amazing bokeh (or that blurred background).

For phone photos:

I actually end up taking a lot of photos with my phone – I currently have the iPhone XR. It definitely shoots excellent images so you’d never know that they were shot on a phone! The newer iPhone 11 has an even better camera, so definitely look into it if you’re due for an upgrade and want to shoot better phone photos!

Other gear:

I love this lightweight tripod, which is cheap, easy to set up, and not super annoying to carry around. I also use this selfie stick tripod to help me take self-portraits on my phone! This is especially handing when trying to get self-portraits at places that don’t allow tripods.

Have you been to San Francisco? What are some of your favorite San Francisco photo spots?

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