San Francisco Itinerary - Best Photography Spots in the City by the Bay
I had only two days in San Francisco, can you believe it? Two days to see all of San Francisco’s attractions, try some delicious food and take great photos. Obviously, it couldn’t be done. No one can see everything in 2 days but I managed to cover a lot during my 48 hours in San Francisco. Therefore, I’ve planned for you the perfect 2 day itinerary with some great tips for the best photography spots in San Francisco.
What’s So Special about San Francisco?
San Francisco is one of the most visited cities in the world, and there’s a reason why so many people find San Francisco so appealing. It is a charming city with an array of cultures and fascinating history. Though there are approximately 7 million people in the Bay Area itself, only 850,000 live within the city limits. It’s not a huge city and therefore you can see a lot of attractions in a relatively short time. San Francisco offers so many things to do, from trendy neighborhoods and fantastic street art to lots of historical landmarks as well as great views. Another reason to visit San Francisco? It is a foodie’s heaven where you can find a great selection of every cuisine you can think of, from Asian and Latin to Italian and Russian, just to name a few. You can also find here a great selection of American wines thanks to the proximity of Napa Valley and Sonoma. So let’s start exploring some of the fabulous attractions you can squeeze into your San Francisco photography focused itinerary. No matter if you prefer street photography or landscape photography, you’ll have plenty to do in San Francisco!
San Francisco Itinerary – Day 1
There are so many places to visit in San Francisco but I chose my list carefully after I’d read about all the things to do in San Francisco for photography enthusiasts. It’s a mixture of everything I like, culture, street art, nature, and trendy neighborhoods.
Golden Gate Bridge – The Most Famous San Francisco Attraction
The first item on our San Francisco itinerary is visiting the most famous bridge in the world. I mean everyone is looking for the best photography spots in San Francisco to get the perfect picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are actually two famous bridges in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Oakland Bay Bridge. Start your morning with a stroll along Marina Blvd. and make your way to Crissy Field. Crissy Field used to be a military airfield, but it was transformed into a national park. It offers one of the best views to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge (especially if you are on a tight schedule). Walk along the promenade and the beach and choose your favorite spot. If you’ve always wanted to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, you can walk all the way to the bridge and cross it or rent a bike, but I chose to continue exploring San Francisco since I only had 48 hours in the city. For information about crossing San Francisco’s bridge.
Insider Tip: Your best bet to avoid the famous Golden Gate Bridge fog is to arrive sometime between late morning to early afternoon. Also, when strolling along Crissy Field, try and go down to the beach. It’s a great viewpoint to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge and you can also capture the local visitors or sport lovers such as kite surfers and the likes.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the orange color of the Golden Gate Bridge wasn’t the first choice of the architect? It was actually the color that was used to protect the material during its shipment, but the architect just loved it so much he decided it should be the color of the bridge.
Visit Mission District – Best Photography Spots for Street Art in San Francisco
After capturing the Golden Gate Bridge from about a gazillion angles, we took an Uber to San Francisco’s Mission District (again visiting San Francisco in 2 days requires some fast transportation), one of the most fascinating neighborhoods in San Francisco in my opinion, especially if you like street art. With a history that dates back to 1776, it is the oldest neighborhood in San Francisco. In the past, you could find here mostly middle-class Latino families but nowadays the Mission is a hub for culture and art that attracts the young hip and artistic crowd. In this hip San Francisco neighborhood, you’ll find a mix of old and new, traditional taquerias next to trendy restaurants, fashionable boutiques next to second-hand stores, and it’s this mixture, in addition to the amazing street art that makes the Mission one of the best destinations for so many San Francisco photography tours.
Things to Do in Mission District San Francisco
Discover Some of the Best Street Art in San Francisco
Stroll around this cool neighborhood and look for the famous murals and graffiti in the Mission. You’ll find amazing street art everywhere you look but you can start with Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley. Don’t miss the Women’s Building (at 3543 18th Street) to catch the MaestraPeace Mural. It was created by seven local female artists who painted the outer walls of the building in 1994 as a visual testament to the contribution of women around the world throughout the years. It is truly a breath-taking sight so make sure you visit it. You can also take a guided tour of the graffiti in the area.
Vintage Shopping, Unique Shops and Great Food
Stroll along Valencia Street and browse the vintage shops, book stores and boutiques. For a snack, late breakfast or a pastry go to Craftsman and Wolves, Arizmendi Bakery or Tartine Bakery. For tacos try Tacolicious or La Taqueria and if you’re craving some Greek food try Souvla (and don’t skip their yummy frozen yogurt with baklava crumbles, cherry syrup and more) and for chocolate lovers, pay a visit to Dandelion Chocolate. Another unique place is Stonemill Matcha where you can taste food and drinks with, yes you’ve guessed it, Matcha inside.
Insider Tip: If you’re traveling with kids or you have a slight pirate obsession, check out the Pirate Shop at 826 Valencia St. This store is the front of the non-profit organization 826 Valencia whose purpose is to help kids with their writing skills and encourage them to explore the literary arts. It is an interactive store with trap doors and many more surprises that also holds workshops and events mostly for kids but occasionally for adults as well so don’t forget to check their event calendar!
Visit the Ferry Building Marketplace
From the Mission, you can either walk (about one hour), grab an uber or hop on the Bart (from the 16th street station to Embarcadero station) to get to the Ferry Building which is located in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district. This impressive building was opened to the public in 1898 and used to be the transportation focal point for anyone who arrived by ferry to San Francisco. When the usage of ferries decreased extensively (after the construction of San Francisco’s bridges), the Ferry Building was turned into an office building. Finally, after a 4-year restoration process, it was reopened to the public in 2003 and nowadays the Ferry Building Marketplace is a hub for food and wine lovers. Stroll around this indoor market and admire the beautiful architecture, browse the unique stores in the compound where you’ll find a variety of artisan food products and great joints to have a bite to eat. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday you can visit the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market – one of the best farmers’ markets in the state.
Insider Tip: Do yourself a favor and check out the Humphry Slocombe branch at the indoor market – I had one of the best ice creams I’d ever tasted there. They combine high-quality ingredients with really unique and fun flavors.
Just outside the market, there’s a great vantage point to take some pictures of the Oakland Bay Bridge, I was there during sunset and I had the most beautiful color scheme of pinkish-purple colors.
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market opening hours: Tue./Thu.: 10 am – 2 pm, Sat. 8 am – 10 pm.
Check the opening hours and address for the Ferry Building Marketplace here
Put Exploring the Embarcadero on your San Francisco Itinerary
Exploring San Francisco’s waterfront must be high up at the top of your bucket list. There are different attractions and piers in the waterfront area, here are the ones I’ve enjoyed the most.
Pier 14 – The Perfect Spot for Night Photography in San Francisco
I know everyone is super excited about Pier 39 but to be honest, Pier 39 wasn’t high up on my San Francisco bucket list. However, Pier 14 was! I’ve read it was the perfect place to take some pictures of San Francisco at night and to watch (and photograph) the Bay Lights show. Originally this light show was supposed to be temporary to celebrate the Oakland Bay Bridge’s 75th anniversary but due to its popularity, it became permanent. This LED lighting sculpture is one of the largest in the world and it is just one of the many light installations that make San Francisco so perfect for night-time photography. After you take a picture of the show, turn around and photograph the illuminated San Francisco’s financial district. A word of caution, though the point of night photography is to come at night, we encountered some unpleasant characters at the time of our visit. Nothing major, but it’s better not to go alone or at least make sure there are other people on the Pier.
San Francisco Photography Tip: Obviously a tripod and also some ND filters would be great to get the silky smooth water effect.
Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf – Most Touristy San Francisco Attractions
As stated before, Pier 39 wasn’t high up on my list but since I was in the area, I thought I should have a peek and it was nice strolling through the beautifully illuminated shops. If taking pictures of the sea lions is high up on your San Francisco photography-focused itinerary, then you should come here during the day when you’ll also see the Pier and the Wharf in their full glory.
San Francisco Itinerary – Day 2
Visit Lombard Street
Yes, another very touristy spot in San Francisco and probably one of the most photographed streets in the world, no wonder since Lombard Street is known as one of the most crooked streets in the world. Nevertheless, I am an early riser and I had a suspicion that early morning would be my best bet. The light was perfect and we were the only ones there (until a group of tourists arrived and started yelling to one another as if it wasn’t a neighborhood filled with private houses whose residents were probably still sleeping). By the way, did you know that Lombard St. is NOT the most crooked street in the world or even in San Francisco? This title belongs to Vermont Street in Potrero Hill neighborhood.
Insider Tip: Come as early as possible and I recommend taking an Uber down Lombard St. (such a fun experience) and then climb it back up again or start with taking some pictures from the bottom, climb up the street and then take the uber and continue straight to the Japanese Tea Garden.
Have Some Tea at the Japanese Tea Garden
The Japanese Tea Garden is located quite far from Lombard Street but since I wanted fewer people as possible and good light conditions for both of these attractions, I chose to do them both in the early morning. The Japanese Tea Garden is located at the Golden Gate Park which is actually bigger than the famous Central Park in NYC. There are so many attractions all around the park from the California Academy of Science to windmills, tulips and buffalos (yes, buffalos!). If you have more time, you can check out some of the other attractions. I enjoyed strolling around and take some pictures of the different well-groomed corners and it was also lovely to have some tea in the little teahouse inside.
Insider and Photography Tips: Tripod and ND Filters. And if you come before 10:00 am on Mon./Wed./Fri. The admission should be free. I didn’t know that and paid the fee, however later I was told and read it should have been free.
Address: 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr. Opening hours: summer: 9 am – 6 pm, winter: 9 am – 4:45 pm.
Check Out Haight-Ashbury - One of the Best Photography Spots for Street Photography
Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is pretty famous thanks to the hippie movement and the Summer of Love. The flower children made Haight-Ashbury their cultural center during the 1960s and in the summer of 1967, the Summer of Love, more than 100,000 people came here in pursuit of free love Rock, and Roll and yes, some “party favors” as well. Many of the famous artists of that time such as Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead used to live here, so visiting this unique San Francisco neighborhood feels like taking a step back into history. Haight-Ashbury is also one of the few places that weren’t destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fires, so you can find here some of the most beautiful Victorian houses in San Francisco. Nowadays, strolling through the neighborhood you’ll find a healthy mix of record stores, punk shops, and vintage stores on the one hand next to trendy boutiques and restaurants on the other hand. There are many interesting shops and cultural landmarks as well as street art and if you take a peek into the side streets, you’ll find some of the most beautiful and colorful Victorian houses in San Francisco. Some of the unique shops in Haight St. are The Booksmith for books, the record store Amoeba and Decades of Fashion for costumes. I just had fun strolling around and capturing the unique atmosphere here. It’s probably one of the best places in San Francisco for street photography. If you’re looking for the famous Haight Ashbury legs, you’ll find them at 1452 Haight St.
If you have more time, add these attractions to your San Francisco itinerary:
- You can also check the art exhibits at Haight Street Art Center.
- On Sundays, you can take a free walking tour to learn about the rich history of this neighborhood.
- On the second Sunday of June you can participate in the Haight Ashbury Street Fair when the streets are filled with vendors, food stalls and music- basically one giant street party.
- Beer lovers, check out Magnolia Brewing.
Take a Picture of the Painted Ladies at Alamo Square Park
First of all, I need to get it off my chest – quite a disappointment for me. I don’t usually follow the route of the most instagrammable places many people follow. I stopped here since it was on my way to Hayes Valley. If you feel you must have a photo of these famous houses on your feed or it’s on your way, come here. The little hilly Alamo Square Park is the perfect spot to take pictures of these colorful houses. However, I wasn’t that impressed with them, after seeing some of the homes around Haight-Ashbury neighborhood which in my eyes were just as charming and without any tourists around. For those of you who haven’t heard about the Painted Ladies, these were the colorful houses that were featured in the intro to Full House.
Address: Steiner St & Hayes St, San Francisco.
Hayes Valley - For Shopping, Food Scene and Trendy Vibes
Hayes Valley is a very trendy neighborhood in San Francisco. I have heard great things about it and I couldn’t wait to explore it myself. However, if you are not into trendy neighborhoods, I would skip it and do something else instead. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really beautiful, you can see some gorgeous Victorian houses here (if you haven’t had enough of these), there are great boutiques and restaurants all around, but there isn’t much else to do. You can come here for the hip boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, and wine bars and it would be a perfect spot to have a fun evening in San Francisco.
Add San Francisco's Chinatown to Your San Francisco Itinerary
Did you know that Chinatown in San Francisco is the oldest one in North America? It is also one of the largest ones in the world (outside of Asia). Chinatown is always fascinating to photograph, and the perfect time would be in the afternoon when there’s still some light outside, but you’ll also see the beautiful lit lanterns in the streets (unfortunately I had a flight to catch). Personally, I just love wandering the streets and looking for exciting things to photograph. Don’t miss the authentic Chinatown’s Dragon Gate and stroll along the touristy Grant Avenue. On Stockton Street, you’ll find the local market where the Chinese residents do their produce shopping (you really do feel like you are in China in this area).
If you are looking for more things to do, add these to your San Francisco Itinerary:
By the way, did you know the modern fortune cookie, the one we are familiar with nowadays, was invented in San Francisco by a Japanese immigrant by the name of Makoto Hagiwara? You can read more about the history of the modern fortune cookie here.
That’s it for me! This is all I managed to see in San Francisco but there are so many other things I wish I had time for. Here is my bucket list for my next visit, but if you have more time, maybe you can squeeze these into your San Francisco itinerary.
More Attractions for your San Francisco Itinerary
Best Photography Spots in San Francisco for the Golden Gate Bridge
There are many great spots to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge and a lot of them would require taking an Uber. There is some public transportation available but in terms of time, it would take much longer compared to driving there in a car.
- Baker Beach – Great spot to take some pictures of the bridge from the beach itself, especially at sunset.
- Marshall Beach – this secluded beach is another great vantage point for photography lovers, however, it is harder to find and requires quite an effort to climb back the stairs on your way back. You can reach it by foot off of the Batteries to Bluffs trail.
- Battery Spencer – Battery Spencer is considered as the best spot to take pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge, and you should come here if you are looking for the classic shot of the bridge. It is located on the other side of the bridge.
- Lands End and Sutro Baths – I really wanted to visit this stunning place during sunset hours but when you only have 48 hours in San Francisco, you can’t put everything on your 2 day itinerary. There is a really lovely walking trail along the cliffs and you can also see the ruins of Sutro Baths. Sutro Baths were part of a salt-water swimming complex that was built in Lands Ends in the end of the 19th century by Adolph Sutro, a former mayor of San Francisco. This place must have been gorgeous back at the days, due to its perfect location on a cliff with one of the best viewpoints in San Francisco. After its popularity decreased, and the area was destroyed by fire, the place was completely abandoned. It’s one pf the favorite spots for photography lovers in San Francisco.
Other Attractions for Your Itinerary
Well if you have more time and you want to check off your bucket list some classic San Francisco attractions, then don’t forget to ride a cable car, visit Alcatraz, shop at Union Square, check out the Palace of Fine Arts, eat some chocolate at Ghirardelli Square, climb to the top of Coit Tower and visit San Francisco Moma.
Getting around San Francisco
I love walking everywhere and though San Francisco is not very large, its geography and my limited time in the city, made it a bit harder than usual. So for me, the best solution was Uber. However, if you have more time or rather save money than time, you can use the municipal bus system. There are also the famous cable cars, but they aren’t that cheap, and you might have to wait for a very long time. If you do plan to ride them a lot, there are 1, 3, 7 days passes. There are also the hop-on-hop-off bus tours, again not very economical. If you’re looking for an easy way to get to and from the airport you can try the San Francisco’s BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), unfortunately, it is more convenient to get all around the Bay area with it rather than getting around San Francisco’s tourist attractions. You can find more information about getting around San Francisco and planning your route here.
Where to Stay in San Francisco
There are so many hotels in San Francisco, and you should choose the area you are going to stay at according to your preferences and personal interests.
If you are looking to be in the center where all the action is, then choose a hotel near Union Square or Fisherman Wharf. If you prefer a trendy neighborhood with lots of boutiques and hip restaurants and bars, there’s no better place than Hayes Valley. Another advantage is that it’s not too far from San Francisco’s city center. If you want a combination of trendy and some authenticity, then how about the Mission? Personally, I stayed around Cow Hollow area and I would gladly stay there again. You can find many restaurants, bars and shops at Union street including Pane e Vino, a little Italian restaurant that happens to have some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had (try the fusilli with smoked mozzarella and eggplants). The area was quiet enough but with lots of things to do at night and its location was ideal for me.