Tips + Trends

Have an Eye for Architecture? Snap These San Francisco Sights

In the City by the Bay? Start your shutterbug tour at the San Francisco City Hall. (Photo: Alice Musbach / Alamy)

Cities can be challenging to capture in photos, even for professionals. However, San Francisco’s Victorian architecture and rich natural light, courtesy of its waterfront locale, make it a novice-friendly city to shoot.

san francisco city hall rotunda
The dome in the main rotunda of the San Francisco City Hall. (Photo: Yuval Helfman / Alamy)

Where to Begin

Warm up your photography chops at San Francisco City Hall. Make your way to its center Rotunda, designed to capitalize on the city’s distinctive natural light. A Beaux-Arts masterpiece, the Rotunda spans two large rooms on the ground floor. Its highlights include a snowy, marble staircase and an intricately carved dome inlaid with 24-karat gold.

The main landing of San Francisco City Hall is usually filled with visitors and civil marriage ceremonies, so head to the fourth floor for free rein to experiment with light and perspective. Two walkways offer bird’s-eye views of the other floors so be prepared for unexpected details to catch your eye.

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Morning light along the Embarcadero, as seen from Treasure Island. (Photo: Gary Crabbe / Enlightened Images / Alamy)

Go for Gold on the Barbary Coast

During its gold rush heyday, San Francisco was home to a seedy slew of characters dwelling along the waterfront. The Barbary Coast, as it was called, may be long gone, but this San Francisco area remains flush with photo ops.

Grab your camera and a Barbary Coast Trail map, and set off for a four-mile journey starting at the old U.S. Mint and ending at Aquatic Park. Look for bronze medallions embedded in the sidewalk to guide you along the way. When you reach the water, you’ll find it hard to miss the Embarcadero, which runs along the bay from SoMa (South of Market) to Fisherman’s Wharf.

While there, duck into Embarcadero Center and snap some pictures at this top San Francisco photo location. Its walkways and circular staircases are a photographer’s dream: a visual tangle of curves and sharp angles broken up by mosaic tiles arranged in neat geometric patterns. Climb to higher levels and shoot downward for the most interesting compositions. If crowds make you camera shy, go on the weekend when the surrounding business offices are closed.

ferry building san francisco
The 245-foot tall clock tower at the Ferry Building, once the tallest building in the city. (Photo: Images-USA / Alamy)

Final Stop: Market Street

Afterward, walk along the Embarcadero to the foot of Market Street, where you’ll find the super-photogenic Ferry Building, carefully restored to showcase its most distinctive original features circa 1898. Gabled skylights, dressed with wrought-iron trusses, run along the length of the ceiling, flooding the place with filtered bay sunshine. Make your way to the interior walking bridge on the second floor for great wide-angle shots, or wander the ground floor for close-ups of charming sea creature mosaics along the walls.