Unique and Beautiful Bay Area Wedding Photography Locations
Over the past several years doing weddings, engagement sessions and portraits in San Francisco and around the Bay Area, I’ve been lucky enough to visit and shoot in some pretty killer spots for Bay Area wedding photography. In fact, I’ve even helped my wife (who grew up in NorCal) discover tons of local spots that she had never seen or even knew about! How’s that for bringing a French Touch to the USA?
While my primary focus is always the couple and their connection during the wedding day or engagement session, I really appreciate a beautiful backdrop for images. Check out my Instagram account or my Blog and you’ll immediately see some pretty epic location shots.
Couples or individuals often ask me if I can recommend a location for their engagement session. Sometimes, they’ll even contact me before booking a venue to get ideas of where their wedding should take place. And of course, I always look forward to doing day-before or day-after shoots in beautiful places with the bride and groom. So I decided to put together a list that I can share with them – and you! I should mention that I tried to narrow down this list to my favorite Bay Area only Wedding and Engagement locations; I’ll be sharing a larger NorCal list and West Coast list soon.
Without further ado (and in no particular order), here is a list of some of my favorite Bay Area Wedding Photography Locations.
Scroll down to view all, or click on the location in the list below to jump directly to it.
- Baker Beach and Marshall Beach
- Fort Point
- Marin Headlands
- Moss Beach
- San Francisco City Hall
- Land’s End and Sutro Baths
- Sutro Forrest
- Streets of San Francisco
- Point Reyes
- Outdoor Art Club, Mill Valley
- Muir Woods, Muir Beach, Muir Beach Overlook
- Oakland Redwood Regional Park
- Deer Park Villa, Fairfax
- Mt. Tamalpais
I’ll be updating this list when I discover new sweet places, so make sure to bookmark it and come back and check from time to time. Feel free to share with anyone who might find it helpful; engaged couples, other photographers, people looking for cool places to visit. And don’t forget to leave me some feedback about any cool places I might have missed – there’s a ton more out there to discover!
I should also mention that I’m not formally associated or partnered with any of the wedding venues listed below; I just have had the privilege of shooting there and think there are absolutely gorgeous!
#1: BAKER BEACH AND MARSHALL BEACH
If you’re looking for the quintessential Golden Gate Bridge shot, these are some beautiful beaches to explore. They are easy to access, parking is pretty convenient, and if you don’t mind 10 minutes on a dirt trail, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views on the peninsula. Here’s the thing: most people (photographers included) head to the more accessible, and more well-known Baker Beach. My recommendation is to head to the neighboring Marshall Beach for more interesting vegetation, more epic views, and especially a little more privacy. Great for sunset shots or running in the waves!
#2: FORT POINT
I can’t understand how more people don’t take advantage of this place. It’s seriously impressive. This 19th-century fort was built to protect the Golden Gate mouth of the San Francisco Bay, a good 80 years before the Golden Gate bridge was built! Rather than demolish this small stronghold, they built the world’s most famous bridge directly over it, resulting in two impressive feats of architecture combined in one space.
What I love the most about it though, is the fantastic soft light that pours through the old, cloudy windows. This is a great place to start sessions in the early afternoon while you’re still waiting for the ‘golden hour’. There are some interesting lines and curves to play with as well, and always easy to find a private corner to grab some intimate shots.
Plus, some added bonuses: it’s super convenient and easy to access (literally, you can park right in front of the fort), free to visit, free parking, and free bathrooms…and this in a city where nothing is free. Take advantage of this great spot before it gets overcrowded.
#3: MARIN HEADLANDS
It’s hard to classify this under just one location because Marin Headlands is so diversified. You have everything from rolling hills to black sand beaches to a 19th-century lighthouse to a wild coastline and spectacular views of the City and Golden Gate. And all within a short drive of downtown SF.
I always recommend this spot to couples who don’t have a ton of time to drive to a location but want a combination of natural scenic landscapes with impressive City views. It’s really unbeatable. Within the borders of Marin Headlands, here are some of my favorite spots (but you can basically just drive through and stop at any place with an amazing view):
- Slackers Hill: rolling green landscape
- Hawk Hill: top of the world views on the Pacific
- Black Sands Beach: surprising sand colors make for vivid backdrops
- Point Bonita Lighthouse: iconic monument and great views of the city
- Rodeo Beach: wild coastline typical of Norcal
- Tennessee Point: cliffs and beach all easy to access
- Fort Baker: slightly East of the Marin Headlands, but great views of the city and fun architectural elements to explore
#4: MOSS BEACH
It might just be a ½ hour drive from the city (okay, without traffic), but it feels like a world away. That’s one of the things I love about San Francisco – it’s a thriving metropolitan city, but with some of the world’s most beautiful nature so accessible! No wonder so many people want to live there.
Anyway, Moss Beach is one of those great natural and accessible spots. You have a crop of interesting woods just on the coast, which provides fantastic light. There are also some wild coastal cliffs and secluded beaches (for couples who want to avoid crowds of the City). Bonus: the Marine Reserve is a great site to spot sea lions.
#5: SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL
Couples who get married in the San Francisco City Hall are truly lucky. For an administrative building, it is possibly the most beautiful classic architecture on the entire West Coast. For an affordable, convenient, and beautiful small urban wedding location, this can’t be beat.
If you can, try to arrange to have your ceremony on the top floor; the light and details up there are magical.
#6: LAND’S END AND SUTRO BATHS
Okay, if you’ve seen engagement photos in San Francisco (or had your engagement photos taken in the City), chances are pretty high that some of them were at Sutro Baths. That’s because this is definitely one of the most popular spots for photos. And with good reason! It’s the perfect combination of a gorgeous ocean view, woodsy pacific coast trees, and a weirdly interesting ruin of a bath-house.
It’s a fun and easy place to get to, and you’ll have some of the best natural backdrops in the city. However, you won’t be alone. Parking can be tricky, and the lines for the bathroom are super long (especially on the weekends), but if you do snag a spot make sure you extend your exploration towards Land’s End and the Parapet at Sutro Heights Park – all within a few minutes walking of Sutro Baths, but slightly further from the crowds.
#7: SUTRO FOREST
Close enough to Sutro Baths to add it to your sunset shoot locations, but it feels like a world away. Sutro Forest is a cloud forest right in the middle of the City! It’s a great place for a short hike, and even better for an underrated photo location in the woods. Check it out before it gets too popular.
#8: STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO
There are so many great, graphic and scenic street scenes in San Francisco that I can’t choose just one. Although, I do have some favorite neighborhoods to explore for photo purposes: Mission District, Hayes Valley, Pacific Heights, The Castro, Russian Hill, North Beach, etc. etc. San Francisco is a freaking beautiful city.
My best advice for a couple looking for some killer urban-vibe shots on the streets of SF is to start in your favorite area. This might be where you live, or where you first met. Or maybe just a neighborhood you spend a lot of time in.
In any case, you’ll have some kind of emotional connection with it, which will definitely come across in the pics. Years from now, you may have forgotten the familiar feelings you have when you live there, so you’ll love to look back and see some of your favorite street corners, cafe haunts or restaurants that you frequent.
#9: POINT REYES
Do you want to see a cross between Ireland, Scotland, Northern California…all less than a 2-hour drive from San Francisco? Well, better book out a ½ day trip to Point Reyes. I’ve already blogged about this spot a several times, but that’s because it is one of my all-time favorite locations.
There are some special spots within the boundaries of Point Reyes National Seashore. Use this list a great place to start exploring this amazing location:
- Cypress Tree Tunnel – Probably the most famous spot; you’ll definitely run across other couples shooting there.
- Chimney Rock – short hike to fantastic vies
- Tomales Bay Shipwreck – interesting and graphic shipwreck that’s right in downtown Inverness
- Limantour Beach – a bit of a drive, but a beautiful beach that makes you feel like you’re on another planet, or at least a different coast!
- Point Reyes Lighthouse – iconic old lighthouse
- Drake’s Beach – White Cliffs of Dover? Or Drake’s Beach, California. Hard to tell, but both are beautiful.
- Kehoe Beach – aesthetic dunes and tufts of seagrass surround this secluded and beautiful beach.
The town of Tiburon is a lovely North Bay suburb with a beautiful view on the city. But my recommendation is the venture out towards the charming Old Saint Hilary’s Chapel. Not only do you get to visit a beautiful little church, but you’ll have the nearby Open Space Preserve all to yourself! With rolling hills, big rock formations and one of the most beautiful views of San Francisco, this is one of those ‘secret’ spots that won’t stay that way for long.
If you’re looking for an original, artsy or fun location within the City, try the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I have to admit that I’m not a huge museum buff, but I was thoroughly impressed by this spot! Not only are you surrounded by impressive pieces of art, the whole building and architecture is an expression of modern art itself!
#12: OUTDOOR ART CLUB, MILL VALLEY
This place is such a killer spot for a wedding! Somehow a mix of old west meets stylish woodsy modern. You have the big, rustic but modern wooden cabin which makes for a super romantic spot for your reception. This building and most of the grounds are surrounded by old-growth redwoods. It feels remote with that intimate ‘lost-in-the-woods’ vibe but is super accessible and customizable to your decor tastes and theme. Love this spot!
#13: MUIR WOODS, MUIR BEACH, MUIR BEACH OVERLOOK
Three very different vibes all within a few minutes drive! This is what I loooove about the Pacific coast. Muir Woods is like THE primo spot for San Francisco tourists and locals alike to get their redwoods fix. It’s convenient, easy to find, and has lots of paved or well-marked paths to enjoy the impressively huge trees. It is truly a beautiful spot. However, because of its popularity, especially on the weekends, parking is kind of a nightmare (if you find a spot at all, it might be miles from the entrance), you’ll need to pay for an entry ticket, and you most definitely won’t be alone on the main paths. Still, it’s totally gorgeous and you can somewhat easily find a secluded spot with a little walking.
Muir Beach is a few miles down the road and is also a popular spot for weekend warriors trying to get some fresh air and sand between their toes. This spot is great for a beachy, sunset vibe.
Muir Beach Overlook is surprisingly…overlooked. It’s between Muir Woods and Muir Beach and it does require about a 10-minute drive up a steep road, but the breathtaking views are totally worth it. I’ve always been able to find a parking spot and there are relatively few people here which means you can walk down the little path and grab some shots with the rugged cliffs and city views with ease.
The combination of these three spots makes for a great afternoon/evening engagement session with plenty of diversified natural scenery.
#14: OAKLAND REDWOOD REGIONAL PARK
If you want to get lost in the gorgeous redwoods, but don’t want to deal with the massive crowds of Muir Woods, head to Redwood Regional Park. It’s also a spectacular spot for a weekend hike and is super convenient to the city and East Bay. You’ll easily find spots to sneak off by yourselves. Definitely also check out Grizzly Peak Boulevard for a fantastic view of the city. Recommended for sunset sessions!
This is a newer location for me to discover, but wow, what a discovery! I have to admit that it was only thanks to a few of my wedding couples recently who got married in different and very interesting places that I found out how awesome the small town of Pacifica is.
First off, it is just south of the City – about 20 minutes (again, without traffic) – but feels like a totally different world. For an intimate wedding or awesome engagement session on the cliffs, check out Mussel Rock Park for a beautiful and secluded view of the coastline.
As for quirky, original and beautiful wedding locations go, it’s hard to beat Shelldance Orchid Gardens. This is probably one of the more fun venues I’ve been able to shoot a wedding in. Between the greenhouse full of succulents and the charming outdoor space overlooking the ocean, I seriously fell in love with this spot and can’t wait to shoot there again.
#16: DEER PARK VILLA, FAIRFAX
Another stellar wedding venue that I loved shooting at. This is convenient to the city, but far enough to feel secluded. It’s a gorgeous spot surrounded by redwoods. And best of all (trust me, you and your guests will thank you for this), you can do it all in one location. From the getting ready to the ceremony and the festive reception – everything is set up for a beautiful and easy day in the woods.
#17: MT. TAMALPAIS
Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat because unlike all the others on this list, I haven’t actually shot here yet. I have visited it though, and would highly recommend this location to an adventurous and outdoorsy couple looking for a spectacular spot! It would be ideal for sunset and is pretty underrated (read: no massive crowds of people). Hit me up if you want to make it happen for your engagement or wedding shots here!