This location roundup is meant to point you toward the best outdoor San Francisco photoshoot locations for families. Each of these locations is fairly accessible and has enough variety to keep both kids and adults entertained for an entire photo session.

If you are looking for something a bit more off the beaten path, check out my article titled Secret Photo Spots in San Francisco. Or if you are interested in the broader Bay Area, try 30+ Stunning Bay Area Photo Session Locations.

Fort Funston & Thornton State Beach

Fort Funston, located just south of Ocean Beach, is a hidden gem amongst Bay Area photography spots. This picturesque coastline of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area features stunning sandstone cliffs, a secluded beach, iconic Navy-era ruins, and a secret bench nestled into a wind-sculpted tree nook. Every time I photograph families at Fort Funston I stumble on something new and inspiring.

Fort Funston is an afternoon location with expansive sunset views (when not foggy). It is a popular spot for dog owners, so is best suited for families comfortable around pets.

For more information, check out my complete Fort Funston Location Guide!

Just to the south is Funston’s overshadowed sibling, Thornton State Beach. Aesthetically, it is similar but has a pronounced bench just above the ocean, covered in coastal greenery and walking paths. I love Thornton more for the bluffs than the beach.

This place feels weirdly off-the-beaten-track, and you can find plenty of solitude here no matter the day of the week. I suggest photos at Thornton only for the more mobile families, as a fair amount of walking is required. And if you are hoping to access the beach, expect steep, sandy, and poorly maintained trails!

Check out a 2024 family photo session gallery from Thornton!

Man squeezes baby to cheek in front of sunset and rocky beach.

I’m David, and I photograph Bay Area families that are super proud of where they live. My easygoing presence puts everyone at ease, and I focus on candid emotion and moments of connection. No posing, no stress.

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Looking for more information about taking great pictures at Fort Funston?

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach, stretching from Fort Funston to Lands End, is where San Francisco meets the untamed Pacific Ocean. I think a lot of us jaded locals begin to see Ocean Beach as a boring, monotonous 4-mile stretch of sand. But photography has taught me otherwise – this is simply one of the best places to take pictures in San Francisco.

Whether you seek solitude in the sand dunes, the chance to dip your toes in the envigorating Pacific Ocean, or a vibrant California beach atmosphere near bonfire pits and volleyball games, Ocean Beach has it all. The weather is impressively unpredictable, adding to the allure of the location and also the diversity of images we might create together.

Ocean Beach is a great place for family photo sessions year-round, with exceptionally beautiful light in the early mornings.

For more information about access, seasons, and safety, check out my complete Ocean Beach Location Guide.

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Looking for more information about taking great pictures at Ocean Beach in San Francisco?

Lands End

San Francisco’s westernmost point, Lands End, is an icon amongst Bay Area photoshoot locations. Set atop the rugged coastline of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, this breathtaking slice of coastline offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and iconic vistas. From panoramas of the Pacific Ocean to enchanting trails through cypress forest, Lands End provides a variety of environments to inspire creativity.

And then there’s the main attraction – an iconic view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Lands End shares a parking area with Sutro Baths, the next location on this list. Families that are mobile and feeling a bit adventurous can easily combine both locations for a single, spectacular photo session. Both locations are great in the morning and the evening, with weekend afternoons becoming extremely crowded (avoid them).

For details about parking, weather, and additional photos, check out my Lands End Photoshoot Location Guide.

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Looking for more information about taking great pictures at Lands End?

Sutro Baths

Sutro Baths is one of the most aesthetic locations in San Francisco, and it is especially popular for couples, engagement, and family photo sessions. Just down the stairs from Lands End, the ruins of a massive swimming pool complex offer a special blend of natural beauty and unique architectural forms. Some of my favorite things to incorporate in family photos at Sutro Baths include the reflection pools, pelican formations, sunset cave silhouettes, and Seal Rocks in the background.

If you have young kids or mobility challenges, Sutro Baths might feel stressful or downright dangerous. Many of the favorite photo spots require traversing narrow concrete paths above pools of water or scrambling over uneven terrain to reach the beach or an overlook.

To learn everything you need to know about enjoying a photo session at this beautiful San Francisco location, check out my Sutro Baths Photoshoot Location Guide.

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Looking for more information about taking great pictures at Sutro Baths?

Sutro Heights Park

Highly underrated, sometimes Sutro Heights Park feels like my personal secret photography spot. But it isn’t secret at all, it just happens to be overshadowed by the famous Lands End and Sutro Baths across Point Lobos Avenue. Instead of waxing poetic, I’m just going to list a bunch of things I love about this place.

  • Never crowded
  • Cool big trees
  • Green grass & flowers
  • Accessible navy ruins
  • Best Ocean Beach/ Great Highway view ever
  • My favorite portrait nook that always has perfect light
  • A funky little wooden chapel structure

Sutro Heights really thrives on afternoon light, no matter if it is sunny or foggy. If you want more information on weather and parking, just refer to my Lands End Location Guide as these two locations are right next to each other.

SF Botanical Gardens

When parents come to me looking for family photos with a foresty vibe, I almost always suggest the San Francisco Botanical Gardens as a top pick. By nature (pun intended), the gardens offer incredible variety in a really compact space. During a 10-minute walking loop, we can take pictures in a redwood forest, on a platform floating over a lily pond, running around manicured lawns, exploring an incredible array of exotic flowers, and lots more.

Other great things…the Botanical Gardens are constantly maintained, meaning that your pictures are inevitably free of litter, clutter, and distraction. Sunshine is great, but this is also one of my favorite locations for family photos in the fog. Lastly, it’s free for locals!

*Pro tip – avoid weekend afternoons due to crowds!

To learn everything you need to know about enjoying a photo session at this beautiful San Francisco location, check out my SF Botanical Gardens Photoshoot Location Guide.

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Looking for more information about taking great pictures at the SF Botanical Gardens?

China Beach

China Beach is for locals and for people willing to work a little extra to get off the beaten path. Similar to Baker Beach but smaller, China Beach is best during afternoon light and really comes to life on a low tide, when you can explore the rocky coves and tide pools on either end of the main beach. China Beach is also often better than Baker Beach for wading and playing in the ocean, but please use caution and know your limits! Expect a 5-10 minute walk down a steep hill.

I suggest China Beach to my family session clients when I can tell that they are looking for a beach day experience. They want to take their shoes, build sandcastles, and splash around in the ocean!

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Baker Beach

Baker Beach is an easy choice for a beach family photoshoot. Capturing sunlight both early and late in the day, you can count on great light for sunrise and sunset sessions.

For family photography, I usually head to the north end of the beach, where you find sun-dappled forest, a historical military outpost, nearly a mile of beach, beautiful rock formations, and iconic vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge.
That classic family photo you’re thinking of, the one in front of the Golden Gate Bridge – that’s probably Baker Beach.

It is important to note that the Baker Beach parking lot is known for smash-and-grabs, and the crowds can get overwhelming on a sunny weekend afternoon. The beach itself also drops quickly into the ocean, creating dangerous waves and undertows. Oh, and part of the beach is clothing-optional!

Learn more about how to safely enjoy San Francisco’s most iconic beach with my Baker Beach Photoshoot Location Guide!

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Looking for more information about taking great pictures at Baker Beach?

Presidio Wood Line

Looking for somewhere with an ethereal, timeless feel? Do you think your kids might enjoy exploring a dense forest in search of fairies and secret hiding spots? Named for Andy Goldsworthy’s unique artistic work – a meandering, alternating set of wooden logs creating a path through the forest – the Presidio Wood Line (part of the Lovers’ Lane Trail) might be your perfect family photoshoot location.

The forest itself is entirely eucalyptus, with big trees towering on both sides of the path. The surroundings are unique but the variety is a bit limited, so just make sure that you’ve seen a sample session gallery before settling on this location.

If you are scheduling a photoshoot at the Presidio Wood Line, try to avoid the midday hours – the magic of the place fades around noon as the shadows of the trees disappear. Sunny afternoons are my favorite, and the forest provides plenty of shelter from the wind. Weekend crowds ar usually manageable.

For more details, check out my complete Lovers’ Lane Photoshoot Location Guide.

Looking for more information about taking great pictures at the Presidio Wood Line?

Crissy Field

Crissy Field is a large coastal area encompassed by San Francisco’s Presidio. Wide open and flat, it was the city’s first airfield. It boasts two great beaches and incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Crissy Field West Beach is at the top of my list because it is sheltered from the strong winds pouring in off through the Golden Gate. On most afternoons in the spring, you will find hundreds of windsurfers and kiteboarders on the East Beach, but the West Beach is still very pleasant for family photos.

There are lawns and picnic tables, bathrooms, and ample parking. Dogs are allowed off-leash. The bridge turns into a postcard silhouette at sunset, and it glows orange in the light of sunrise.

Crissy Field East Beach is also beautiful, but I suggest scheduling morning photo sessions to avoid strong winds and pairing it with the Palace of Fine Arts for variety (just a 3 minute walk away).

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Palace of Fine Arts

Looking for a totally singular San Francisco photo spot? Originally constructed in 1915 for the Panama–Pacific International Exposition and built to look like a decaying ruin of ancient Rome, The Palace of Fine Arts feels like a place where you should have to pay lots of money to take photos. Think massive stone arches and vaulted ceilings, all surrounded by a picturesque lagoon – it’s straight out of a Hollywood set. It might be the most popular San Francisco Instagram spot. And yet, yet, it is free to the public!

Similar to Sutro Baths, the Palace of Fine Arts is well known, especially for engagement and wedding photos. It is an equally great location for family photography, especially when paired with Crissy Field East Beach. Avoid weekends and holidays when possible, and practice smash-and-grab avoidance tactics if parking in the main lot.

*Local tip – park over at Crissy Field East Beach and walk to the Palace of Fine Arts from there.

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Cavallo Point

I’m breaking my own rules and including a location outside of the SF city limits. Point Cavallo is just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, near Sausalito, and I had to include it as one of my all-time favorite Bay Area family photoshoot locations. What does Cavallo have to offer?

  • A panoramic vista from Sausalito to Lands End
  • A quiet, rocky beach
  • A quaint, boat-filled marina
  • Those California gold vibes
  • A LOT more sun (less fog) than SF
  • One of the closest views of the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Aesthetic Fort Baker naval ruins
  • A huge grassy lawn

Cavallo Point Lodge also has two of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area. One is a bit more casual, the other upscale, but both feel like a true escape from the city. Make a reservation for your family to turn a sunset photo session into a full evening getaway!

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Bonus: Fort Point

You know that place you always meant to visit but never quite made the time? The one that, when you finally got there, you thought “how have I lived here for five years and missed this place?” For me, that was Fort Point.

Historic, aesthetic, and located underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, this is one of my favorite new spots in San Francisco. I have yet to schedule a photo session here, but I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for something unique quintessentially Bay Area. I visited with my wife and young daughter and, despite the wind and fog, had a great time exploring and taking photos!

The opportunities for unique lighting and composition inside abound. And if you visit on a less windy day than we did, the views of the Bay from on top are incredible. Kids of all ages will love this place, as there is plenty of space to run around, museums with fun naval displays, and endless hidden corners to be explored.

Operating hours are limited, so make sure to check the official Fort Point website before making plans.

Pro tip: Bring layers (more than you’d think). Fort Point is often one of the windiest spots in the city, and the interior of the building is shaded and chilly.

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