Photographing the mighty Golden Gate Bridge is worthy of every bucket list and should be on every photographers San Francisco travel itinerary. But where do you need go to find the very best view of the Golden Gate Bridge? Well, we’re going to show you 5 of the most popular places to soak up the grandeur of this world famous landmark.
The iconic Golden Gate Bridge is by far the most photographed bridge on our planet and one of America’s most recognizable structures. It really is a joy to behold and we want to get you to the right place for the top lines of sight.
Let’s dive right into the best locations and you can decide which of the viewpoints you want to use for photographing the awesome Golden Gate Bridge!
What To Expect From This Golden Gate Bridge Photography Guide
Wouldn’t photography be a breeze if we could control the weather, sun positioning and time of day with a click of our fingers?!
In San Francisco, we all want to get that quintessential Golden Gate Bridge photo in dense fog. But then what about getting a clear shot at sunrise or sunset?
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to click our fingers and select our preferred conditions … at least not yet!
Here’s what you can expect from this article:
- We will show you 5 of the top 5 Golden Gate Bridge view photography locations
- We’ll share photography tips and suggest the best time to shoot each location
- You will find answers to many of the Golden Gate Bridge view FAQ’s
- We couldn’t resist sharing some fun facts and a brief history of the bridge
Best Time of Day to Photograph Golden Gate Bridge
A case could be made for the bridge being SO photogenic that it is best shot at any time of the day.
But don’t believe that!
If you manage to luck out with towering cumulonimbus clouds, dense fog or even a crashing storm – awesome, you can shoot at any time of the day.
But for the vast majority of days, the best time of day to shoot is very early in the morning or way later in the day – aka dawn and dusk.
Here’s why shooting during the day can cause issues (on a clear day).
- Unavoidable deep and dark shadows will be cast from all angles
- Day = only blue skies, Dawn and dusk = stunning colors (limiting in post editing)
- Including the sun and its reflection at dawn or dusk adds another leading line / subject
- From North side of the bridge, you could be shooting directly into the sun
And yes, as you are about to find out, this IS coming from personal experience before we had the right gear and the right idea!
Fog: If you’re looking for that essential Golden Gate shrouded in eerie fog photo, sunrise is the time be set up before it burns off in the late morning. Don’t forget your tripod for those low light photographs.
Season: Spring flowers in bloom can be used as a lovely foreground to frame the bridge. When we visited in late Fall, all we had was dried dirt and dust, not ideal.
California Road Trip: Our 23 best stops along the incredible Pacific Coast Highway road trip covers all you need to plan your California coast itinerary!
Our Photography Equipment
Just give you a quick idea about the images in this post:
All photographs were taken with our Sony A-6000 crop sensor entry level camera, its two kit lenses (16mm-50mm and 55mm-210mm), plus the Sigma 16mm f1.4 wide angle … which rescued us many times as beginner photographers.
Now we have Sony’s A7R IV with the 16-35 f/2.8 GM and 25-105 f/4 G. Yep, we need to book a flight back to San Francisco!
Photography Gifts: Are you looking for awesome gift ideas for the photographer in your life? Don’t miss this essential list of the 35 Best Gifts For Photographers – one of our top recommendations being SF based Peak Design Everyday Backpack.
Best View Points of Golden Gate Bridge
For the purpose of this article we’re only interested in the best spots for the average photographer and those who simply want the most mind blowing views of the bridge.
Be aware that the following locations are no secret!
If you’re looking for a unique perspective or want to include an interesting foreground, your best bet is to walk around Marina District / Crissy Field area or Marin Headland.
The following locations are entirely open to your own interpretation but we have ranked them in order from 5 through 1 according to our personal preferences:
5. Walking Over the Golden Gate Bridge
If you’re looking for the best up close and personal view of the Golden Gate Bridge, you can’t get any better than walking across it!
Best time to shoot
Better early or late in the day.
But with this one you can get away with almost any time of day by using cables and towers to block the sun. Also, try to keep your back to the sun if possible.
Type of photography – Portrait / Architecture
If you’re interested in getting a selfie, portrait or even architectural photograph using the bridge, you can get creative with towering structures, thick cables and include the crazy six lanes of bustling traffic.
These images less common on social media when compared to the typical distant view of the bridge.
Lens Required – 50mm or 85mm (or longer)
Aim for a lens around 50mm if you want background included or 85mm to closely frame your subject. If you have a fast lens with a low aperture (f1.4 – f4.0) you will be able to create a shallow depth of field. Your subject will be in focus and the close up Golden Gate Bridge will be blurred in the background.
Use a wide angle lens for architecture to capture the entire length of cables and towers.
4. Battery East
Battery East is one of the more popular image locations. This site is easiest to access from Union Square and you don’t have to cross the bridge. Battery East encompasses a small area including 4 or 5 different viewpoints of the bridge. Walk around to find the location to suit your camera and lens.
No matter which point you shoot from here, you are going to get Fort Point National Historic Site (Civil War Fortress) in your photo.
Note: You can open up the angle against the bridge by walking to nearby Torpedo Wharf or Crissy Field.
Best time to shoot
Watch in awe as the bridge glows when sunlight kisses steel at sunrise!
Try to arrive in the mid-morning if you can’t make sunrise. Shadows will cause the foreground to be dark once mid-afternoon comes, as you can see in our case.
Type of photography – Landscape
You can of course shoot portrait here by including a subject in the foreground.
However, this is a fantastic landscape photography view point.
Lens Required – Wide Angle (35mm or wider)
Battery East is close to the bridge, therefore you can narrow the angle and in turn narrow the focal length required to capture the whole bridge.
If you move to Crissy Field or Torpedo Point you might need an ultra wide angle to get the entire structure in your frame. Aim for 14mm-24mm for best results.
3. Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point
Golden Gate View Vista Point is certainly one of the best places to see the bridge.
This location gives the photographer a range of shooting options but it does have a car park and is always packed full of tourists during the day.
What an awesome sight it is to see thousands of cars crossing the bay every hour!
Best time to shoot
You have two choices here: Either early morning or at night.
Afternoon and dusk is the worst time to visit this location because the sun disappears behind a hill to the right creating bad lighting in the foreground and middle ground.
Type of photography – Landscape / Night
Landscape photography here is not about getting the bridge from a side profile.
On the contrary, Vista point is the best place to zoom in on six lanes of traffic crossing the bridge for a unique perspective.
Sure, shoot during the day. But visit at night WITH your tripod and set a longer exposure to get the awesome blurry red and white light effect.
Lens Required – Telephoto (70mm-200mm)
The beauty of a telephoto lens here is being able to start at 70mm and zoom all the way into 200mm stopping wherever you see a composition you like.
This isn’t a great location if you don’t have a lens capable of zooming more than 70mm.
2. Presidio Battery West / Marshall’s Beach
We have to admit we were torn between this and the eventual winner. On another day we might have chosen this as our favorite.
Presidio Battery West is a cool vantage point, but what you need to do is walk down the cliff footpath to Marshall’s Beach. Even half way down the cliff (where we stopped) improves the composition enormously.
Next time we’re in SF our number one priority will be to walk from Baker Beach to Marshall’s Beach as far as Fort Point Rock.
Best time to shoot
Sunset, both slightly before and during. The sun will be behind and to your left. As a result the bridge will glow its iconic reddy-orange hue and you won’t have any glare.
Note that sunset will create shadows on a subjects face so if you’re shooting a person here, arrive in late afternoon or use an external flash.
Type of photography – Landscape / Portrait
Although the angle of view isn’t the best when you only consider the bridge, this location allows you to introduce an acutely sloping hill, a soft sandy beach and water to your composition.
These added elements bring photographs here to life, particularly when shooting a wide landscape with a good quality camera and lens. Again, don’t forget a tripod if you want to give the water a silky appeal.
Lenses Required – Wide Angle (35mm or wider) and 50mm / 85mm prime
A wide angle lens will be best for the landscape shot if you want to include all of the most attractive elements here.
Either a 50mm or 85mm prime lens would be perfect for portraiture here as they’re likely to allow f2.8 for shallow depth of field.
With the 85mm you can bring the bridge closer to your subject so it doesn’t appear as far away as it is in reality but you will lose some of the background.
Either lens would cover landscapes and portrait here but a fast lens (f2.8) can become very expensive.
1. Battery Spencer
We’re not ashamed to say that we went with the most cliche photography location for the win.
Battery Spencer is the best and most quintessential place to view and photograph the Golden Gate Bridge. This is the iconic Hollywood movie scenes location and gets our vote.
We just wish we visited at sunrise or sunset instead of late afternoon.
Best time to shoot
Any time of day for the iconic view and if a dense fog has rolled in, this is the elevated position to get the best photograph.
That being said, if you can time it right for a colorful sunrise and frame the sun with a reflection as well as the bridge, you’ve hit the jackpot.
Type of photography – Landscape / Portrait / Night
Although you can do a bit of portraiture up here, stick with the landscape lens. This is the place to get your postcard picture from San Francisco to send back to the family.
Look at San Francisco city in the background behind the bridge, awesome, right?!
Check the photo out below to see the only problem up here. There’s a fence in place to stop people falling off, which is obviously a good thing! But it also means you can’t avoid getting a bit of headland in the bottom of your image.
Night photography is also fantastic up here as San Francisco illuminates behind the Golden Gate bridge.
Lens Required – Wide Angle (35mm or wider)
All you need to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer is a wide angle lens. Simple and effective.
This is the place and lens you should prioritize if you are short on time.
Bonus – Alcatraz
Okay, we couldn’t miss Alcatraz!
Firstly because it’s Alcatraz and secondly because we wanted to show why it is NOT one of the best view points to see the Golden Gate Bridge.
The bridge looks considerably less impressive from Alcatraz Island because it’s just so far away.
Another bonus alternative would be to hire a boat or skipper to ferry you out into the bay. Take an ultra wide angle lens and get a rare perspective from below looking up. Just be sure not to do that during the middle part of the day!
Do you plan to visit Alcatraz when you’re next in San Francisco? Read out in depth Alcatraz Tour: Is It Worth The Money? article first.
How To Get To All The Best Golden Gate Bridge View Points
Okay, now you know where the best locations are, let’s get you to them!
The most popular place for tourists (including us and probably you!) to set up base in SF is in or around Union Square. Therefore getting to the best Golden Gate Bridge view points can require a bit of planning and effort.
You might have your car with you but do you really want to be driving across San Francisco?
- Driving – Head to Vista View and from there you can walk roundtrip to Battery Spencer, across the bridge to Battery East and Battery West before walking back to the parking lot at Vista view.
- Don’t have a car or don’t want to drive – You could take an Uber or Grab to any viewpoint and walk to the rest. We took an Uber to Battery Spencer and walked to all others.
- Prefer exercise – Walk 5 miles (direct) from Union Square to Battery East or 6 miles (scenic) all the way around Embarcadero, North Beach and Marina District to Battery East. Put some serious steps on your smartwatch!
- Hire a bike – Cycle the same routes listed above in walking but vastly speed up your travel time between views.
- Cable car – Hop on a classic SF cable car from Union Square (Powell Street) to Hyde and Beach. It’s not far to walk from there and you can see the bridge the entire time.
See the interactive map at the end for locations of each viewpoint.
You could try a different view at dawn and dusk across a few days if you have them available?
Golden Gate Bridge FAQ’s
Here are the answers you’re looking for to some of the most frequently asked Golden Gate questions.
Is the Golden Gate Bridge Red or Orange?
Although the bridge may appear red, it is in fact ‘International Orange’. The stunning deep orangey-red color was only meant to be a primer used to protect the steel from harsh weather. However, Irving Morrow, a local architect lobbied for the color to remain instead of dark grey. The orange stood out in dense fog and suited hues in the local environment perfectly.
Are there any hotels with direct views of the Golden Gate Bridge?
Yes, there are a surprising amount of hotels with a view of the bridge but you can expect to pay top dollar for the privilege! Here’s a roundup of hotels with views over the Golden Gate Bridge.
How much did it cost to build the Golden Gate Bridge?
The total cost to build the bridge was US$ 35 million, which equates to over US$ 500 in today’s market. Staggeringly, the project was completed under budget and ahead of time!
Did anyone die during construction of the Golden Gate Bridge?
Yes. Despite Strauss’ new idea of installing a vast net underneath workers, 11 men died in total. At the time 11 was under the expected death rate for such a build. In the 1930’s, it was estimated that 1 man would die for each million dollars the project cost. A 5 ton scaffold fell and took 10 men with it on Feb 17 1937. The net saved a further 19 men from certain death, they went on to be known as the ‘Halfway to Hell’ club.
How long does it take to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge?
Allow at least one hour. Expect closer to 1 hour 30 minutes once you include stops to gaze across the bay at SF city and Alcatraz Island.
History of the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge became One of the Modern Wonders of the World upon its completion in 1937. However, it was once dubbed ‘The Bridge that couldn’t be Built’.
Before the bridge was built, the only way to travel between San Francisco city and Marin County was by ferry. Many people wanted a bridge to connect the city to communities around the bay at a time when San Francisco’s growth rate was under the National average.
Experts believed that a bridge couldn’t be built across the 2,000 meter Golden Gate Strait due to strong tides and currents combined with a 113 meter deep channel and strong winds.
Doesn’t sound like the easiest place to build a bridge, does it?!
Initial budget reports came in at an estimated cost of US$ 100 million (equivalent of US$ 2.3 billion today).
But one man responded to the call claiming to be able to build a bridge for US$ 17 million, under one-fifth of the proposed figure. Joseph Baermann Strauss was tasked with the job of building the Golden Gate Bridge.
Against plenty of opposition from the US Navy and railroad companies who owned the profitable ferry service crossing Golden Gate Straight, the bridge was suffering from a financial perspective at the same time.
Following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, bonds were the only way the bridge could be funded. However, no one would buy the bonds until the founded of Bank of America bought the entire issue to kickstart the bridge and consequently, the local economy.
Time to Build
Strauss’ initial two double cantilever design was dismissed as ugly. Plus, his inexperience with Suspension bridges meant other experts were called in to spread the engineering design and construction work. However, he remained the lead engineer on the project.
It took over 10 years between Strauss proposing he led the project to the first day of construction on January 5 1933. Just over 4 years later on May 27 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge opened to foot passengers and to vehicles the day after on May 28.
Best View of Golden Gate Bridge Map
Click into this interactive map, zoom in / out and move around to find the locations for each of the 5 best view points for photographing the Golden Gate Bridge.
If this is your first visit to SF and you are planning to visit the top attractions in San Francisco, we recommend you purchase one of the three San Francisco attraction passes.
The idea is simple with these attractions passes because the more attractions you visit, the more money you will save.
Having personally used each of the attractions passes in cities around the world including SF, it’s safe to say we are experts in this field. We can offer advice from our first hand experience.
Explore our resources below to help decide which is the perfect pass for your visit to San Francisco:
- SF Sightseeing Pass – The most popular SF attraction pass option for visitors who want to see as many attractions as possible.
- San Francisco CityPASS and C3 Pass Review – How to visit select attractions in San Francisco at a competitive price point.
- San Francisco Pass Comparison – Detailed comparison between each of the 3 San Francisco Passes and which one you should buy for your visit.
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Want more California content? Head to our California Travel Guides to explore National Parks, popular road trips and things to do in major cities of the sunshine state.
We hope this guide help you plan your Golden Gate Bridge photography locations for the best view!
Please let us know if you have any questions about the Golden Gate Bridge or San Francisco in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
Their work has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications.