Fort Funston is a hidden gem for coastal photoshoots near San Francisco. Nestled along the rugged shoreline just south of Ocean Beach, this southernmost stretch of the Golden Gate National Recreation area is known for its intricate sandstone cliffs, secluded beach, and expansive ocean view. Fort Funston is also an extremely popular area for dog owners and dog walkers, so it is best for families comfortable around pets.
Discover the secrets of Fort Funston with this comprehensive location guide.
Looking for information about more photoshoot locations? Check out my guide to the 12 Best Places for Family Photos in San Francicso!
Access & Logistics
GPS Pin: Fort Funston main parking lot
Hours: 24/7 (despite what Google tells you)
Parking: Nearly unlimited.
Access: Access to the beach requires navigating 200 vertical feet of moderately steep, sandy stairs.
*Dog parent tip – park right here, at the intersection of Skyline Blvd and John Muir Drive, and walk about ¼ mile to a popular off-leash dog area atop the bluffs.
Fort Funston stands facing the full brunt of the Pacific Ocean. Each season brings a whole new character.
Summer brings the notorious coastal fog and often envelops Fort Funston. Afternoon winds are likely as well. Summer is popular, but can be a frustrating season for family photo sessions.
Fall boasts pleasant temperatures, clear skies, and stunning sunsets. This is your best bet for a sunny beach photography experience.
Winter presents a dynamic and often moody atmosphere, with potential rain and chilly temperatures. However, if you catch a break in the weather, you’ll be rewarded with unrivaled lighting and breathtaking clarity.
Spring brings vibrant wildflowers and a good chance for sunshine. Mornings offer the best conditions before the winds (especially during later spring) pick up throughout the day.
Fort Funston’s Natural Abundance
Fort Funston boasts an incredible landscape and wildlife diversity in a very compact zone.
You park atop a 200-foot high sandy bluff, where some trails branch along the scrubby tops of the cliffs, with crashing waves below and the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean stretching out before you. You will also find ethereal tree tunnels and a few unique Navy-era ruins.
Other trails, including the main trail, take you down to the beach. The beach brings you right to the edge of the powerful Pacific Ocean, and on a sunny day offers a deep blue backdrop in the morning, and a sparkling golden one in the afternoon.
But one of the most unique and hidden environments of Fort Funston is found at the foot of the cliffs, well back from the beach. Here you find a truly unique juxtaposition of textured sandstone, vibrant coastal scrub, and pockets of mature wind-sculpted trees.
This is exactly where you’ll find my favorite spot of all (pictured below) – a secret bench tucked into a deep nook of stunted and weather-battered cypress. I won’t tell you where it is – the search is half the fun – but I promise it is within a 10 minute walk of the main trail. Good luck!
A great place for dogs
Fort Funston is a beloved spot for dog owners, as it is one of the few off-leash beaches in San Francisco. Dogs are allowed off-leash not only on the beach itself but also on top of the sandy bluffs.
As a San Francisco family photographer, Fort Funston is one of my favorite places to take families hoping to incorporate playful moments with their furry friends. This is such a great way to add an extra layer of joy and authenticity to your photoshoot.
Because so many dog owners and dog walkers frequent Fort Funston, this location is only suitable for friendly and socialized fur babies. If you are considering bringing your dog to Fort Funston (or any other beach in the San Francisco Area) be sure to check out my guide to dog friendly beaches in San Francisco.
Lighting and Weather
Timing is key to capturing the best light and atmosphere during your Fort Funston photoshoot. Keep in mind that the weather can change rapidly, so flexibility is essential.
To embrace the softest and most flattering light, plan your shoot approximately one hour before sunset—the coveted “golden hour.” This magical time bathes the landscape in a warm glow, enhancing the beauty of your subjects.
For quieter mornings, aim for at least one hour after sunrise, as Fort Funston can be in shadow until then. Early mornings provide a sense of tranquility and offer a chance to capture the beach in its untouched state. After particularly breezy afternoons, the beach can even appear completely untouched, as all footprints have been swept away by the wind. Morning is also a great time for dogs, as there are fewer other pets around.
Predicting fog at the western edge of San Francisco seems to be a meteorologist’s nightmare – they rarely get it right! Check the weather forecast below, but also have a look at the paragliders’ webpage, which has a number of live cameras atop the sand bluffs at Fort Funston.
National Weather Service point forecast for Fort Funston
Fellow Feathers of Fort Funston paraglider webpage
Tips for a Memorable Experience
To ensure a safe and enjoyable photoshoot at Fort Funston, consider the following tips:
Stay on designated paths and heed all warning signs to avoid hazardous areas. The cliffs at Fort Funston can be steep and unstable – a number of them collapsed during the 2023 rainy season – so exercise caution, especially when photographing children or pets.
On a similar note, avoid prolonged exposure beneath those unstable sandstone cliffs, especially after extended periods of rainy weather.
Lastly, keep in mind that the ocean at Fort Funston is not safe for swimming, and during certain conditions can create dangerous rip currents and undertows.
Embrace the coastal aesthetic
Choose outfits that complement the coastal environment. Earthy tones, pastels, and light neutrals work well against the backdrop of sandy beaches and ocean blues. Flowy fabrics can capture the energy of the wind and create dynamic, visually captivating shots. And, whatever your vibe, make sure your clothes and footwear are suitable for lots of movement and walking. Fort Funston is a bit of an adventurous photoshoot location!
Keep an eye out for wildlife
Fort Funston is home to a rich array of wildlife. Keep your camera ready to capture glimpses of shorebirds, soaring raptors, and playful dolphins or seals in the ocean. Make sure to glance across the horizon every few minutes, as whales also love to make an appearance.
As a portrait photographer, I love to capture the connection created by exploring and sharing this wild environment with the people we love.
Local knowledge – during July and August, keep an eye on the sandstone cliffs for baby bank swallows taking their first flights from the nest. This is a state threatened species that only nests here and Año Nuevo State Park.
Extend the adventure
Pair your Fort Funston photoshoot with an exploration of nearby locations. Lake Merced, located just a short drive away, offers a change of scenery and the chance to capture a completely different type of waterscape. Alternatively, venture into nearby Stern Grove, a lush park known for its enchanting redwood grove and the surrounding eucalyptus forest. If your dog isn’t tired after running around Fort Funston, Stern Grove also has one of the largest off-leash dog areas in the city!
If you live in San Francisco or Marin, Fort Funston can also serve as the starting point for a full day of coastal exploration. Highway 1 between Pacifica and Santa Cruz is stunning from start to finish. Along the way are countless idyllic beaches, coastal preserves, and trailheads to epic overlooks in the Santa Cruz mountains.
The Last of the Dunes
Did you know that sand from Ocean Beach once created dunes as far inland as the Financial District? Hard to believe, but a large portion of western San Francisco used to be sand dunes. During the 1800s, a lot of this sand was actually transported and dumped to create “new” land – the Marina District sits on such a site.
Fort Funston holds the last remnants of that coastal dune ecosystem. As you explore the trails and the bluffs, look north across Ocean Beach and east towards the city and imagine that everything you can see is covered in sand.
Thanks for being here. I’m David Enloe, a San Francisco family photographer. I make soul-stirring pictures for families that find adventure around every corner. Want to learn more about the person behind the camera?