The Best Spots for Engagement Photos in San Francisco, California | San Francisco Wedding Photographer – Kathryn Cooper Weddings
San Francisco Engagement Photo Locations | San Francisco Engagement Photographer Kathryn Cooper Weddings
Why is San Francisco such a popular place for wedding, elopement, and engagement photography? Try the history, the activities, the hikes, the sports, the tech giants, or the iconic buildings and beautiful skylines. Whatever it is that brings you to the Bay Area, it’s no wonder that San Francisco, California is such a popular place for vibrant, romantic, and uniquely SF photos. (Hint: It’s an amazing city for eloping, and many of these locations are perfect for your San Francisco elopement photos!) For locals and visitors alike, my list of San Francisco engagement photo locations describes the best popular, unique, and I-didn’t-know-this-was-in-California places.
If you’re like me, you were just born here before it got uber-popular, but you can’t really criticize anyone for wanting to elope at San Francisco City Hall…or take engagement photos at the Golden Gate Bridge…or propose under some beautiful redwoods, can you? Want the ocean in your shots? Temperate rainforests? It’s all here. With so many unique areas in the entire Bay Area—stretching from Santa Cruz to Marin and beyond—picking the perfect San Francisco engagement photo spots is no easy task.
Is your head spinning with all the San Francisco engagement photo spots? Or have you never been and want to read about the best options? To make it all a little easier, here are my top engagement photo locations in the SF Bay Area and beyond.
The Best San Francisco Engagement Photo Locations (in no particular order):
The Sutro Baths is such an amazing spot for engagement photos and wedding adventure sessions—and proposals! Get the right angle and the right photographer (okay, and the right time of day—which your photographer will know), and you’ve got an awesome ocean photo with 0 people in it. For San Franciscans and any San Francisco photographer sick of engagement photos at the Golden Gate Bridge, it doesn’t get much more beautiful than a Sutro Baths engagement session. There are so many nooks and crannies aside from this most-pictured spot. In fact, it’s a favorite of San Francisco wedding photographers and even photographers outside California.
Located in the East Bay, this mountain offers views for miles, along with hiking, camping, biking, horseback riding, and more. Mount Diablo may not be an obvious place for engagement photos, but with Sentinel Rock and other areas with unique rock formations, areas to boulder, and tree-lined hiking paths, it’s actually darn cool. Not many Bay Area wedding photographers think about photographing here, but it’s a great place with hours of hiking trails (and views for miles!).
Legion of Honor
What a great place for architectural engagement photos! This museum was modeled after French architecture, and I love the opportunities to photograph my couples at all times of day in the stark white columns. Because most brides wear white, I love shooting engagement photos at Legion of Honor when couples wear color. Bold jewel tones really stand out against the white marble here! Plus, you can take a high to Lands End right from the parking lot.
On a boat under the twinkling skyline
Want romance? Get on an electric boat (yes, it’s a thing) and travel under the bridges from Oakland to the Bay, passing by famous SF skylines and under iconic bridges. You’ll see an incredible sunset and get some awesome photos while you’re at it. I’m a San Francisco event photographer as well as a San Francisco engagement photographer, and I’ve been on several boats in the bay as part of my work covering conferences and events. But you know what’s even better? An engagement shoot right on the SF Bay. Kind of a romantic location for a San Francisco proposal if you ask me…
Not very well known since it’s kind of random to get to, and fairly residential. Bring good shoes for the little hike. It’s worth the views! Plus, on a good day you’ll get amaaaazing views of the Bay, including bridges, buildings, sunset, and more. As a creative wedding photographer, I LOVE the chance to do photograph something a little different, and in this same area I captured this quirky love story. (I don’t want to reveal the exact location since it’s residential, but it has view of the bay. Email me or fill out my contact form if you want to take photos here!).
Bernal Heights Park
If you want great views over the city, head here. It’s not highest on my list of great San Francisco engagement photo locations since it’s so dependent on the angles of the sun (it can look washed-out at the wrong time of day), but it’s still on the list for a reason! Just make sure you plan to go here at the right time of morning/evening.
Yosemite (outside of SF)
It’s the #1 place for engagement photos and elopements probably…in the world? And it’s under 4 hours from San Francisco. I’ll photograph your proposal, engagement photos, intimate wedding, adventure session, or Yosemite elopement any day. Seriously…this place is magical. If you’re looking for a Yosemite engagement photographer, choosing a Bay Area photographer is a smart choice in 2020. So many couples have had to change plans during COVID, and it’s best to be in-state for last-minute changes.
You’ll get a great view of the Golden Gate from here. If you walk for some time on the Batteries to Bluffs trail, and you’ll get even more stellar views. It’ll be more crowded, but waking up early usually solves that! Marshall’s Beach is another great spot if you’re up for a mile up and down (round-trip), and there are many others.
Half Moon Bay (outside of SF)
It’s a pretty famous area of coastline that makes you feel lightyears away from downtown San Francisco. Half Moon Bay has great bluffs like Santa Cruz and San Diego…but it also has the Ritz-Carleton, which is famous worldwide. Half Moon Indian weddings at the Ritz-Carleton Half Moon Bay are THE thing to do, and we all know how much I love shooting Indian weddings! But I’ve gotten off-track again. I recommend Moss Beach for your Half Moon Bay engagement photos since it offers some cool landscape variety, though there are many great locations along the coast.
Big Basin State Park (outside of SF; currently CLOSED until 2021 due to extensive wildfire damage)
If you prefer nature over the bustling city, then take a day trip to Big Basin State Park and get down on one knee in the Redwoods. If you two are really into hiking, trek out to Berry Falls for a waterfall proposal. [Unfortunately, Big Basin suffered immense damage in the summer 2020 wildfires, and even the park headquarters burnt to the ground. Recovery is ongoing.]
Oakland is very real—it’s no Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I’m a New Yorker for much of my adult life, so I’m allowed to say that. But the graffiti in Oakland is pretty raw, and really quite unique. It’s a great backdrop for photos if you want a more urban style. Respect where you are, of course. As a Bay Area wedding photographer, I can say that photos in Oakland aren’t super common unless you’re at a park like Tilden. So, want to be unique? Take your engagement photos in Oakland if you want something less pretty and more real. Bonus: Few tourists.
Hiking trail – El Corte De Madera Creek Preserve or Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve (Outside of SF)
If you love the outdoors as much as I do, you may want to skip everything urban and head into the temperate rainforest that is Purisima and El Corte De Madera. Depending on the time of year and specific trails, you’ll find yourself so far from the big city that you’ll think you’re in a park where Olympic National Forest and Hawaii had a baby. Some of the scenery is so haunted/foggy/mossy, it’s magical. Even if you don’t do your engagement photos in Purisima, you should hike here!
Berkeley Rose Garden
Often overlooked since it’s hidden in a residential neighborhood, The Berkeley Rose Garden and its series of terraced gardens and roses of all colors is a great place for a quick shoot. East Bay wedding photographers don’t have quite as many places like this, so the garden is a blessing. I love bursts of color in my photos, and the place smells darn good too!
Santa Cruz (outside of SF)
Santa Cruz bluffs – This is one of my absolute favorites on my list of San Francisco engagement photo locations. I know, I know…it’s not exactly San Francisco, but for less than 90 minutes of beautiful roadways (on a non-traffic day), you get beautiful bluffs, graffiti, beach, and great scenery with that salty ocean breeze. The cliffs in Davenport are just awesome.
Monterey (outside of SF)
I know. This location is also not technically San Francisco, but the tide pools, the famous Pebble Beach golf course (yes, I LOVE golfing…seriously), the lone cypress, Big Sur, Bixby Bridge…I mean, how can you skip this place? The options for engagement photos in Monterey are practically endless. Race car fans? Do something uber-unique with a photoshoot at the Allen Berg Racing Schools.
Mission – Clarion Alley
If you want to get into the heart of San Francisco, why not take photos smack in the middle of the city? With murals, parks, famous churches, ice cream shops, the best burritos, and iconic homes, you’ll find plenty of real San Franciscans and even more attitude. Go out early or enjoy the crowds.
Remember how Los Angeles County had to shut down the poppy fields a few years ago because too many Instagrammers were trampling them? Sad. But really, the orange poppies are all over California, and there are some amazing places in the East Bay (I’m an East Bay wedding photographer, actually!) to frolic in thousands of blooms that’d rival LA. Email me to find out where, and I’ll take you!
San Francisco Conservatory Garden
The entire San Francisco Conservatory Garden, gardens, and flowers of Golden Gate Park are an oasis, but the Japanese Tea Garden section is outstanding. What a perfect place to snap a few shots with beautiful curves and flora (and koi). As far as San Francisco engagement spots go…what more do you need here?! Specific parts of the gardens cost money, but most are free engagement photo locations which works for everyone!
The very popular Shakespeare Garden is free but small–perfect for a brunch wedding (permit required for weddings, but not engagement sessions).
Palace of Fine Arts
Yes, the Palace of Fine Arts Museum is a popular place for strolling, photos, and more, but with good reason. The architecture is undeniably unique, and you’ll gawk at the awe-inspiring domes and ornate designs. Maybe you’ll even see an accordion player playing passers-by a song. As a San Francisco wedding photographer, you KNOW that this location is in high demand.
Whether you do engagement photos, your vows, post-wedding photos, or a small elopement in SF, you’ll want to come to the gorgeous grounds. Given all the earthquakes California has had (and which I went through, it’s even more incredible that the Palace of Fine Arts looks so…well, might fine. Sorry. Had to do it.
For an unusual bit of solace and nature-inspired art, try Lover’s Lane right in the heart of SF. Many may see just a curved line through trees, but art lovers and photographers will understand Andy Goldsworthy’s viewpoint in the Presidio.
Golden Gate Bridge – Marin
There are so many places to get great views for your Golden Gate Bridge engagement photos, but I think my favorite (and far less crowded) is on the Marin side. There are quite a few lovely hikes you can do, and it’s fun to be hiking rolling hills with wildflowers and then come over the crest to see the bridge right there.
Bonus: Anyone who has elopement or engagement photos in San Francisco knows that this view from anywhere is a top priority for most couples. Awesome views with no people in the shot. There are free entrances and paid ones. It all depends on the particular view—waterside, bridgeside, or above the fog—you want to do, but I’m happy to help you plan.
So…where will you go for your SF engagement photos?
There you have it—some of my top recommendations on the best places in San Francisco for engagement photos. If you have any favorites, I want to hear! And keep in mind that there are THOUSANDS of public, private, and secret spots to do photos as well…but a girl can’t give away all her secrets, can she?
Another note for LGBTQ couples: San Francisco is one of the most popular locations for LGBT couples doing their weddings, elopements, or engagement photographers…and with good reason. Thanks to Harvey Milk and hundreds of people who worked hard for equality, California—especially San Francisco—is a place of acceptance. Actually, more than that, it’s considered one of THE LGBTQ epicenters in the world. LGBT wedding and elopement photography is awesome here (as it should be).
San Francisco is the perfect place for engagement photos, whether you’re looking for iconic city spots, want to hike and do something unusual, or live in SF and want to just escape. The Bay Area really has it all!
Kathryn CooperWeddings| San Francisco Elopement Photographer | Bay Area Wedding Photographer