San Francisco’s Lands End is an icon. Nestled along the rugged coastline of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, this breathtaking location offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and iconic vistas. From panoramas of the Pacific Ocean to enchanting trails through cypress forests, Lands End provides a variety of environments to inspire creativity. And then there’s the main attraction for so many of the visitors – a world famous view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Here’s everything you need to know to plan a successful photoshoot at Lands End.
Access & Logistics
- GPS Pin: Lands End main parking lot
- Cost: Free
- Hours: Lands End is open 24 hours a day
- Parking: Limited parking during peak hours. Smash-and-grabs are common. Consider biking, public transport, or ride share.
- Access: Some trails at Lands End are wheelchair accessible, including the Golden Gate Bridge panorama. But certain areas may have steep inclines and uneven terrain. Plan accordingly based on your family’s mobility needs.
*Local knowledge – if the main parking lot is full, or if you’re looking for another vantage, check out the upper parking area near the USS San Francisco Memorial.
Lands End can be enjoyed year-round, but seasonal factors have a big influence on photography. Weekdays in the fall and mornings in the spring are my favorite times for family photo sessions. If you are willing to brave the elements, winter can be the most spectacular.
- Summer offers mild weather in San Francisco, but foggy mornings and windy afternoons are common and Lands End bears the brunt of both.
- Fall often brings pleasant temperatures and sunny skies. Avoid weekends, as the area can be crowded. Opt for a morning photoshoot to enjoy a serene experience with gorgeous light.
- Winter in San Francisco can be unpredictable, with occasional rain and cool temperatures. However, during breaks in the weather, the visibility and quality of light are unrivaled. My favorite moments at Lands End are usually during the winter.
- Spring is a beautiful time to visit, with blooming flowers and more sunshine (especially early in Spring). Keep in mind that afternoon coastal winds can be strong during this season, so consider scheduling your photoshoot for the early morning.
Lands End makes iconic accessible
Lands End offers a unique blend of rugged cliffs, scenic trails, and breathtaking ocean views that add depth and beauty to just about any picture that you take.
The cypress forest extending onto the peninsula at Point Lobos creates an enchanting atmosphere, where morning and evening sunlight filter through the trees. The sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in the distance add a touch of grandeur and a sense of place.
And maybe the most enticing thing about all of this is accessibility. The distances are short and the main paths are smooth and well-maintained. While rugged side trails offer the potential for a little adventure, you can find everything you’re looking for extremely close to a parking lot. This makes Lands End great for maternity sessions and photoshoots with extended family.
Lighting and Weather
Lands End is the westernmost point of San Francisco and is completely exposed to the raw Pacific coast. Timing is crucial for a successful photoshoot, but no matter how well you have things planned, the weather here changes by the moment. Mother Nature is in control out here, so keep expectations realistic and bring a backup plan.
Here are some tips to consider:
For the softest and warmest light, plan your shoot one hour before sunset. This magical “golden hour” creates a flattering and enchanting glow that will make your family radiate on camera.
If you prefer those quieter mornings, wait until at least 1 hour after sunrise as Lands End is in shadow until then.
Here are a few resources for local weather:
National Weather Service point forecast for Lands End
Current satellite fog map
Tips for a Great Experience
Here are some essential tips to ensure a memorable and enjoyable photoshoot at Lands End.
If you are venturing off the main paths, you can quickly find yourself atop steep cliffs. Keep a close eye on children and heed all posted warnings and closures.
Dress with the ocean in mind
Off-whites work well against deep ocean blues, and flowy outfits really showcase the energy of the wind. Avoid solid blues or greens so that you don’t blend in with the water or the trees.
Best whale watching in SF
The iconic Golden Gate Bridge lookout point also happens to be the best place in San Francisco to spot whales. You might see whales year-round, with December through May offering the best chances. Gray whales are the most common – check out this map for their migration route!
Extend the adventure
Pair Lands End with a photoshoot at Sutro Baths, which shares the same parking lot. You can also consider a hike to beautiful Mile Rock Beach, a moderate 2 mile roundtrip from the parking area. Or check out the USS San Francisco Memorial, accessible from the upper parking lot, which is built partially from the bridge of the ship itself.
Sutro Baths shares a parking lot with Lands End. Learn about the Baths and more ways to enjoy the west side of San Francisco by checking out my Guide to Sutro Baths right here.
A nearby Plan B
Sutro Heights Park, just across the street, offers a bit more shelter on windy days. For my family photography sessions, especially with young kids, we often use Sutro Heights as a backup plan.
A Powerful History
Lands End is the traditional homeland and sacred space of the Ohlone people. This breathtaking coastal area, with its rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, and thriving biodiversity, has provided sustenance, shelter, and spiritual connection to the Ohlone communities for countless generations. As you look out from the Point Lobos headland you will see and feel why.
Later, under Mexican rule, this stretch of coast was largely inaccessible to all but the most intrepid. It wasn’t until the gold rush that the area was developed, starting with the Cliff House and followed by Sutro Baths.
Notable fact: according to the Nation Park Service webpage on Lands End History – “In 1897, John Harris, an African American, challenged Sutro Bath’s “whites only” policy in court and won his case. Harris vs. Sutro placed San Francisco at the heart for the fight against separate but equal during the Jim Crow Era and predates the National Civil Rights Act by 67 years.”
While enjoying Lands End, just remember that we’re privileged to share this incredible space. Step lightly, be kind to other visitors, and enjoy yourself!
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?