This is kind of an oxymoron, right? A published article, available to the internet at large, that tells everyone about my “secret” photo spots in San Francisco. And that would be true…if I were actually going to tell you how to find my favorite untold nooks and quiet corners.

But I’m not going to tell you 🙂

This is not a list of San Francisco Instagram spots, nor the best vantage points for iconic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, or Lombard Street.

This is more like a treasure map for cool places to take photos in San Francisco.

Follow the clues, keep an eye open for the obscure, and you’re certain to have a fun adventure. Try hard enough, and you might find my secret photo spots – locations that I return to, time and again, for my family photo sessions. They are aesthetic, uncrowded, and have all the right feels.

A Cozy Tree Swing

Nearby: Fort Funston
Hint: Not far from the trail, not far from the beach

My favorite thing about this magic little pocket of serenity is that it is always changing. I don’t know who is in charge of interior design, but they seem creative and must get bored easily! On my most recent visit, the space was adorned with brightly colored fishing buoys. Like a nautical Christmas tree.

There are no dramatic views or iconic vistas at the tree swing, but the space is inviting and the light is perfect for portraiture.

The Sunrise Bench

Nearby: Thornton Beach
Hint: North of the main trailhead. Not too high, not too low.

Around an hour after sunrise, light streams through the blufftop trees and works its way down to the beach and, eventually, up to the Sunrise Bench. When the surf is big and there is mist in the air, the atmosphere is ethereal. Perched on an unlikely platform, this little-known spot feels as if it is floating in space.

Arrive early, as the light changes quickly. Before you know it, everything is in full sunlight, completely dampening the airy ambiance.

Morning light through mist onto bench with mother and baby above the ocean.

A Beachy Oasis

Nearby: Crissy Field
Hint: Everyone passes by it, but everyone passes it by

On bright, windy days at Crissy Field (hello, springtime) there is a stand of Monterey Pine and Cypress that never attracts a crowd. Tuck in to get out of the wind or find shelter from the harsh beach sunlight. Kids can find flat spaces to run around, sticks and rocks to build forts, all just 100 feet from the water’s edge.

For my photo clients with pets, I love this option. Crissy is great for dogs but there is very little shade. This little unsung stand of trees is our oasis.

Mother and son stand under the shade of a coastal tree with the Golden Gate Bridge behind.

Secret Sunset Pad

Nearby: Sutro Heights Park
Hint: Sutro Heights is small – you’ll find it if you look hard enough

Discovered (like so many secret spots) on a morning run from my Outer Sunset home, the Secret Sunset Pad is one of those places I always expect to find a crowd…and never do.

Facing Ocean Beach, perched halfway up the sandstone bluffs, there is no better place to watch the sun melt into the Pacific Ocean. Gnarled Monterey Cypress offer shade and shelter, and the ground is largely flat and carpeted with pine needles. This is a perfect place to drop a blanket and take family photos.

The Hidden Garden

Nearby: Ocean Beach
Hint: “First Stop, Last Stop”

Who knew a teeny tiny little neighborhood garden could offer such incredible photography opportunities? At a family session, my client’s daughter insisted that we visit her “secret garden,” so off we went.

Everything about this place is tiny as if fairies will soon spring from the succulents. I felt myself gravitating toward the ground, for a perspective like I was two feet tall.

I would not call this a photography destination in its own right, but as part of a day at Ocean Beach or a tour of the Outer Sunset neighborhood, it adds a magical touch of greenery.

My Favorite Spot in Golden Gate Park

Nearby: Polo Field
Hint: You can’t drive there anymore.

Unfortunately, this location has been forever altered by the loss of an iconic tree during the record-breaking rains of 2022. The tree used to stand on the bank of the lake and fell right in the middle. It has been left sitting awkwardly where it fell.

Regardless, this is my favorite lake in Golden Gate Park. And while it is not actually a secret, few people know it by name. There are green lawns nearby, hidden trails through the forest, and even a little waterfall with rocks that kids love to play on.

For photography, the light is beautiful 1-2 hours after sunrise or before sunset. I also really enjoy it in the fog.

Parents sitting in the background as young daughters dance in front of a lake at sunset.

My Secret Elopement Photo Spot

Nearby: Montara State Beach
Hint: You have to open a gate to get here (it’s legal).

Exposed to the raw Pacific you can expect anything from salt spray to gale-force winds to California golden sunshine. You should probably only try to take pictures here if you know the local weather patterns.

But there is no more epic elopement photo spot within 30 minutes of San Francisco, I feel confident saying that. Want me to show you where it is?

The Edge of the World

Nearby: Marin Headlands
Hint: As far west as you can get.

Both sides of the Golden Gate Bridge are littered with old naval batteries. They are photographically unique and offer unlimited compositions and creative uses of light. But for my photo sessions, I am always looking for variety.

This secret spot is the ultimate in that regard. An extensive battery surrounded by California gold hills, dramatic bluffs, and the raw edge of the Pacific Ocean. You might see a few other people out here, but not many make it this far. Try to find it!

The Vanishing Island

Nearby: Land’s End
Hint: it only exists on the lowest of tides.

The beach is no secret, though I still won’t name it. But the hard part is arriving at this beautiful spot on a low enough tide. Otherwise, my secret island doesn’t exist.

Gorgeous at any time of day, evenings here are magic as the shadows of boulders get long and the air is filled with rose-tinted sea spray. The black rocks contrast beautifully with the bright sky and the deep teal of the Pacific Ocean.

Buy a tide chart, learn to use it, and enjoy my ephemeral island paradise 🙂

A Unique Perspective on the GGB

Nearby: Sausalito
Hint: Rhymes with Apollo.

Another rarely-visited battery, this one has a Golden Gate Bridge view that you won’t see every day. And did I mention the perfect view of Crissy Field, the Palace of Fine Arts, and the San Francisco skyline?

This secret spot is equally beautiful in morning or evening light but gets a bit harsh midday. I suggest aiming for golden hour.

Be careful around these old batteries – there are no handrails and the structures are slowly eroding back into the earth. Stay away from edges!

Couple standing atop naval ruin in front of Golden Gate Bridge.

A Forgotten Canyon

Nearby: Marin Headlands
Hint: Has a campground.

I hesitate to include this spot because it is well known to some folks. But the point of this article is to highlight locations that are both great for photos and rarely crowded. This quiet canyon/ beach combination is both.

From the beach, you feel like you can touch the Golden Gate Bridge. Walk just two minutes back up the trail and you might be in a forested canyon of Big Sur. The variety here is ideal for photography. But note that it loses light long before sunset.

I rarely get a family willing to make the trek. But when I do, I love to recommend this place!

Man looks out from behind a professional camera

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?

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