Top 6 San Francisco Video Shoot Locations

Best Locations to Shoot in San Francisco

By Taylor Quintanar

| Video Tips


San Francisco Video Shoot Locations for Film and Production

To capture San Francisco’s iconic skyline from unique and fresh angles, cinematographers must navigate the process of obtaining a film permit and scouting for shoots. The right location can make all the difference in creating a captivating any type of production that showcases its rich history and culture. However, it’s essential to consider the duration of the shoot and the specific hour of the day to make the most of the natural lighting and capture the perfect shot.

San Francisco offers numerous spots to shoot, from the streets of Haight-Ashbury, the historic Golden Gate bridge and the Pier 39 waterfront. From the 1960’s sexual politics, through the tech revolution and digital era, with the right location, film production teams can create a cinematic experience that highlights the city’s unique charm and historical significance with a few square miles. Now, let’s take a look at some of these unique places:

Below are our top 6 picks:

1. The Golden Gate Bridge

Of all of of the stunning landscapes and iconic landmarks in the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge is easily ranked at the top. Filmmakers and photographers looking for a unique location to capture the bridge’s beauty should consider the view from Fort Point in the Presidio. This historic military site offers a commanding vantage and a fascinating backdrop for film and photography projects.

Fort Point provides ideal space for filming sets or staging equipment, while the recreation park outside offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor shots. The red brick fortifications and stunning views of the Bay make it a popular choice for filmmakers and photographers. If you’re interested in shooting at Fort Point as a potential filming location, be sure to obtain the necessary film permits at least 30 days in advance and be sure to check out local resources and guides.

From the bustling streets of San Francisco to the rugged beauty of Marin County, the Bay Area offers endless possibilities for filmmakers and photographers. Whether you’re looking for a studio, information on permits, or advice on finding the perfect film location, San Francisco has it all.

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. Treasure Island is a great site for photographers and filmmakers alike, with its unique views and its fascinating shooting locations. The description of the island’s history as an airport and military base, which have been used as sound stages for The Matrix, Indiana Jones and many other movie and TV productions adds to its allure. The old aircraft hangars, repurposed as studios, offer plenty of room for creating sets and capturing stunning shots.

The island provides a unique perspective of the skyline, with it appearing as if it’s floating on the Bay. At sea-level from the beaches, one can see the skyline as a 19th century immigrant might have experienced it sailing towards the metropolis, with higher vantage points providing a more panoramic view, highlighting landmarks such as the Bay Bridge and Transamerica Pyramid. The streetlights at night illuminate the bridge, providing a magical journey into the urban landscape. Treasure Island’s filming locations offer a roomy and picturesque location for capturing the essence of the area.

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 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. You can capture the bustling street below, but you’ll also capture the widest, most romantic vision of San Francisco. And with near 360-degree access, there are plenty of angles to suit your purpose.

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

5. The Palace of Fine Arts 

The Palace of Fine Arts is an area of natural beauty and historical significance that provides filmmakers with a versatile range of locations for events and productions. The palace’s stunning architecture, illuminated by natural light and framed by the reflections of the lagoon water, offers an enchanting backdrop for a year-round shoot. The palace grounds, complete with Eucalyptus trees and diverse bird species, make it an ideal location to read, relax and soak up the scenery. And for those seeking to add a touch of San Francisco’s iconic charm to their films, capturing a cable car shot is a must. With excellent facilities and easy load-in options, the Palace of Fine Arts is a playground for cinematographers looking to explore 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 rattling by.

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

6. Lombard and Hyde Street

Lombard and Hyde St is a great place to film for several reasons. The intersection offers a unique and iconic backdrop with its steep incline, sharp turns, and picturesque views. It’s location is easily accessible, with nearby parking and public transportation options, making it easy to transport equipment and crew to the site and the area has a rich cultural and historical significance, as it is located in one of San Francisco’s most vibrant neighborhoods, and has been featured in numerous films and television shows over the years, making it an attractive location for filmmakers.

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. Overall, Lombard and Hyde offer a visually stunning, accessible, and culturally significant location for filming, making it an ideal spot for house or SF productions, and other shoots.

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 urban area, 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 location. Film production needs are well understood by local authorities and can easily be organized with a little advanced planning.

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