I don't know about you, but I consider myself super lucky to live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area. Great people, great food, but most importantly, the Bay Area has some of the most beautiful, natural and urban landscapes in the world. Another factor which makes this area great is our great weather. It's unbeatable. We can photograph outdoors all year long. For a point of comparison, I lived in Chicago for a brief period and quickly realized that outside sessions in that unforgiving climate were feasible only six to eight months of the year. I am a natural light photographer and I often work in public locations, so Chicago's weather was a major hurdle for my business. But not here in the Bay Area! We can spend time outside virtually any day of the year and have a great time creating beautiful memories.
Picking a location for your next photo session does not need to be a daunting task. There are many wonderful sites to choose from. The challenge, however, is narrowing down and choosing a location that best suits your family.
To make your decision a little easier, I made a list of my top 10 favorite family photoshoot locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The list contains some of the most popular areas and also less known hidden gems around the Bay.
1. Lands End, San Francisco
This is probably a favorite amongst many photographers and for a good reason. Lands End is located on the north-western corner of San Francisco. It's set amongst gorgeous eucalyptus and cypress trees on the edge of the coastline with spectacular ocean views. My absolute favorite aspect of this landscape are trees that curved over time due to the force of wind, which creates an unusual and quite stunning backdrop. One thing to be aware of is that the weather at the Lands End can be very unpredictable and those same winds which bend the trees beautifully can make your hair fly in every direction. This is a perfect location for a family that is ready for an adventure.
2. Crissy Field, San Francisco
Another favorite amongst local Bay Area photographers is Crissy Field. It's proximity and views of the Golden Gate Bridge are simply unbeatable. Crissy Field is easy to get to for families of every size. What makes it special to me is that it offers a variety of scenery. There is a large open green field and easy access to the beach. However, a major drawback to this location is that it's super popular, not only with photographers but also with every tourist who visits San Francisco. To fully enjoy it and get stunning shots, I would strongly suggest going either early in the morning or late afternoon on a weekday.
3. Regional parks and Open Spaces
How awesome it is to be surrounded by vast open spaces and regional parks! They are scattered throughout the entire Bay Area and surprisingly very easy to access. It’s hard to believe that in such a populated area we have these vast open spaces at our disposal, but we do and they make great photo locations. I live in Walnut Creek and we have a few in just a 5 mile radius. One of the main things to remember is that for sessions in the open spaces to work well, the timing must be perfect. The best natural light is very early in the morning or in the late afternoon (closer to sunset). The creamy and soft natural light produced at this time of day when the sun sets behind the hills is termed the “golden hour.” The image below was taken at the gorgeous Rancho San Antonio Preserve but similar landscapes and lighting can be found at other Bay Area open spaces.
4. Joaquin Miller Park, Oakland
Joaquin Miller Park is located in the Oakland Hills just off the state highway 13. It's a 500 acre park with rustic woodland trails that wind through redwood groves. It is a perfect spot for a family who is looking for a lush green backdrop. The sunlight which filters through redwood trees creates an "Alice in Wonderland" type of scene.
5. Jewel Lake at Tilden Park, East Bay
This is a perfect location for family photos for many reasons. Jewel Lake is located just a short walk away from the Little Farm, about a quarter mile down a fire road. There's plenty of parking, it is flat and easy to get to. My favorite part is the zig-zag wooden pathway that leads to the lake. It is very green and lush. A one-mile trail loops all the way around the lake which makes for a perfect photo family adventure. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed in this area.
6. Hap Magee Ranch Park, Danville
If you are looking for a manicured location that is very easy for everyone in your family to access, I would suggest Hap Magee Ranch Park in Danville. It's a beautiful park located in the foothills of Danville and Alamo. This park is very close to highway 680 but it feels very natural and secluded. In the autumn you can actually find foliage there. It's not a lot, but for California it can be surprisingly colorful.
7. Old Borges Ranch, Walnut Creek
If you asked me my most frequented photoshoot location, regardless of the season, I would not even hesitate to respond. My response is automatic, it's Old Borges Ranch! This location is perfect for all kinds of photo sessions but it is absolutely the best for families. Old Borges Ranch is a historic ranch located in the foothills of Mount Diablo. It has barn structures, antique farm equipment, old tractor machinery scattered around, a manual water pump and a number of farm animals. Kids can pretty much climb on everything, explore and pet animals and best of all, it's free. Another aspect which I love about Borges Ranch is that it is attached to Shell Ridge Open Space so we can hit the trail and walk under beautiful oak trees.
8. Wente Vineyards, Livermore
If your vision for your next family photo session includes a beautiful winery setting, look no further then the beautiful Wente Vineyards. It is closer than driving to Napa and it's just as stunning. Wente vineyards is a popular wedding location so it's good to check ahead about photographing there.
9. Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden, Palo Alto
One of the most tranquil locations that I photographed at is the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden. It is located in a quiet neighborhood of Palo Alto. It consists of a historic home, carriage house and wide array of beautifully manicured plant landscapes. It is quite small but it offers lots of variety. It's an oasis that is worth exploring.
10. Berkeley Rose Garden, Berkeley
I was considering omitting this "hidden gem" from my list because it is my most recent discovery and I love photographing there. I will not say much more about it. I am keeping it hush hush (at least till this post goes live).
BOJANA KORACH IS A PUBLISHED LIFESTYLE PHOTOGRAPHER SPECIALIZING IN NEWBORN, FAMILY & CHILD PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA. CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HER PHOTOGRAPHY SERVICES.