Top 6 San Francisco Filming Locations – Best Location for Your San Francisco Film

Posted on: February 14, 2023

Top 6 San Francisco Filming Locations – Best Location for Your San Francisco Film

Where can you capture your own vision of San Francisco?

The word “iconic” is overused, but if any American city deserves the term, it’s San Francisco. Its rich history shouts from every corner – from Haight-Ashbury to the bridges and waterfront, San Francisco and the greater bay area conjure up a montage of American history, from the Gilded Age, the wars, the 1960’s, sexual politics, through to the tech revolution and the digital era, all in just a few square miles.

But for cinematographers in San Francisco with an original gaze, the challenge is to capture this famous skyline from fresh and interesting angles. How – and more importantly, where – can you capture your own vision of San Francisco?

Read on for our top 6 picks:


1. The Golden Gate Bridge 


The Golden Gate Bridge from Ft. Point in the Presidio is a great spot to capture the iconic bridge. Fort Point is sited at the northerly point of the San Francisco Peninsula. From its commanding vantage, this was the military base that defended the Bay from the Gold Rush through to the Pacific conflicts of World War II. Permits for shoots are easily obtained but take at least 30 days to process. However, it’s worth the wait.  The red brick fortifications provide an elevated platform, which is ideal for capturing unusual shots of the Golden Gate Bridge.

From the fort, you can see almost all of the famous structure from a deep perspective, but from an oblique angle slightly below the main walkway. This position also offers a panorama of the Bay out to the north, with the Marin Headlands seemingly only a stone-skim away. (Being San Francisco, the sight is often cloudy.) The fort’s casements also offer visual texture and an unusual near-field contrast to the graceful curve of the suspension bridge, looping away across the Bay.

Alfred Hitchcock, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


2. The City from Treasure Island 


To the north-east of the city, connected by the Bay Bridge, lies Treasure Island. Apart from its history as a one-time airport and military base, this artificial island between San Francisco and Oakland also has a fascinating cinematographic history. The old aircraft hangars have been used as sound stages for The MatrixIndiana Jones and many other movie and TV productions. But Treasure Island offers photographers a unique perspective of the downtown SF skyline, closer than expected – but wide enough to capture the entire panorama.

At sea-level from the beaches, one sees San Francisco as a 19th century immigrant might have experienced it, sailing towards their new home. Higher vantage points deliver a more omniscient perspective, with the Bay Bridge to your right and the downtown skyline and Transamerica Pyramid easily identifiable. The bridge is illuminated by white lights at night, picking out a magical journey into the city.

Fishyfool, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


3. The Ferry Building and Financial District from the Water


With its Beaux Arts European arches and the commanding clock tower, the vast Ferry Building is an unmissable San Francisco icon. Until the construction of the bridges, the building once served as the city’s primary embarkation point for commuters and immigrants but is now a major tourism and culinary destination.

The shot of the Ferry Building from landward on the Embarcadero Is well known. Less frequently seen is the close view from the water. Especially at night, shooting from a boat in the Bay captures a spectacular vista, with the 19th century Ferry Building in the foreground and the ultra-modern skyscrapers of the Financial District towering to form an imposing backdrop. The contrasting architecture in a single shot symbolises the history and changes of the city.

Dllu, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


4. The Panorama from the Top of the Mark Bar


The InterContinental Mark Hopkins stands on the peak of Nob Hill and the hotel itself is an architectural must-see. Built in 1926, it feels like a French or Spanish renaissance chateau somehow transported to the US west coast. But the real gold comes from the top floors of the hotel, at the Top of The Mark bar.

Apart from an excellent cocktail selection, the Top of The Mark gazes directly over the heart of the city and offers filmmakers panoramic views of the Financial District, Union Square, Chinatown, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Here’s where you’ll capture the widest, most romantic vision of San Francisco. And with near 360-degree access, there are plenty of angles to suit your film.

Alex from Berkeley, United States, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


5. The Palace of Fine Arts 


Built around an artificial lagoon, the Palace of Fine Arts is composed of a 1,100 ft pergola around a central rotunda. The interior of the rotunda offers spectacular Graeco-Roman colonnades, domes and arches, which can be lit to mysterious effect for films. Adding in the reflections of the lagoon water, the immaculate grounds with Eucalyptus trees and a mass of stunning avian wildlife, there is enough here to captivate any cinematographer. Served by excellent facilities and load in, the Palace offers a playground for exotic, historical and even sci-fi themes.

Kevin Cole (en:User:Kevinlcole), CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, no San Francisco film list would be complete without some advice on a cable car shot. The historic vehicles are recognizable worldwide as part of the fabric of the city. So be prepared – almost every client that wants to visually locate their story in San Francisco will ask for a glimpse of one of the cars to be featured in their films.

Where’s the best place to film a cable car in the wild? Our vote is:


6. Lombard and Hyde Street


The cable car lines run north – south along this crossroad and the seemingly sheer drop away to the north offers a clear and elevated view down onto the Bay. Alcatraz Island and the prison are directly in line of sight, whilst in the far background, Angel Island and the north shore provide a mountainous background topography. Wait until a cable car comes along, then you’ve snared the imagery of the entire city in a single shot. You are high up at this location, so spin around. The view from the intersection east, down towards the Wharf and Oakland is also impressive.

Kevin Cole (en:User:Kevinlcole), CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Note that for many of these shots, you’ll need permits. And if you’re planning an extended shoot in a bustling city, a police presence to keep things clear and safe is always advisable.

An experienced producer can make all that possible. San Francisco is overall a crew-friendly city. Film production needs are well understood by local authorities and can easily be organized with a little advanced planning.

Which location?: How to choose the best filming locations

When filming in the Bay Area, consider the goal you’d like your locations to accomplish. Are you looking for an iconic location that your audience will recognize as being filmed in San Francisco, such as the San Francisco Zoo or City Hall? Or, do you want film locations that suggest San Francisco but aren’t main sightseeing destinations?

You may even want filming locations that don’t look like the bay area at all. Maybe you’re an SF based videographer, looking to stay close to home. There are plenty of photo and video locations in the San Francisco area that look like they could be from different parts of the country. While you stay close to home, you can take the audience of your film on a cross-country adventure.

Remember, if you don’t find the locations you’re looking for in the city, branch out into the greater Bay to find the right type of backdrop for your film. Many films have featured locations in the North Bay and East Bay areas, two of San Francisco’s regions.

About Film in San Francisco

San Francisco is a bustling city known for its diverse culture that has captivated filmmakers for generations. The culture of San Francisco has been an inspiration for several filmmakers. San Francisco can be a great addition to your film’s locations. Amongst the most popular locations is Lombard Street, which is renowned for its sharp curves and has been featured in several movies, including “Vertigo” and “The Love Bug.” Another sought-after destination is the scenic neighborhood of St. Francis Wood, which is well-known for its beautiful architecture and many a serene street. San Francisco’s filming locations offer an authentic representation of the city’s identity, showcasing its iconic cable cars, unique neighborhoods, and street vendors.

Blare Media: San Francisco Film Company and Film Locations

Blare Media is a San Francisco production company ready to help you bring your video idea to life. We’ve worked with clients across the USA to create stunning video content that engages their audience and generates desired results. Contact us today to get started on your San Francisco video project!