Photos taken on vacation are often the best mementos, especially if your destination is San Francisco. It’s not just that you can practically feel the bay breeze, taste the exquisite meal you had, or recall the exhilarating hill-climb you took with one glance at your camera roll. It’s also that few cities on earth have so many iconic, Instagram-ready vistas; essentially wherever you are, you’ll find a stunning photo opportunity. Still, there are some particularly memorable backdrops worth striking a pose in front of.
Whether you want your San Francisco experience to include some “Look where I am” selfies for your Instagram, colorful sets for an on-the-go TikTok, or classic photos for your family album, put on your walking shoes, grab your camera or smartphone, and head out to any of the following locations. They all showcase just how beautiful the city is and also provide insight into why Time Out named San Francisco the number-one city in the world for 2021.
The Classic Cable Car Photo
Yes, they’re touristy, but even jaded San Franciscans have a special place in their hearts for the clangy, sluggish historic cable cars. Tony Bennett is right. They do seem to “climb halfway to the stars.” But in truth, they’re pulled—via underground cables—up hills steep enough to make your heart pound with equal parts excitement and trepidation.
While you can capture plenty of unobstructed views of the city while aboard one of the charming 140-plus-year-old modes of local transport (which is definitely worth doing), the way to get a great cable car photo is by having someone take a photo of you hanging off of one. They stop frequently and are slow to get moving again, so it’s easier than you think. However if you’re not quick or agile enough for the mid-ride snapshot, you can take photos at the beginning or end of any of the cable car lines when the cars are stopped and loading passengers.
Another promising cable car photo is one taken from the street looking up toward Nob Hill from California Street near Davis Street in the Financial District. Time it right and you can capture one or two cable cars making their way up and down the steep slope leading to historic San Francisco hotels Fairmont San Francisco and the Mark Hopkins, the tracks charting their courses. Position yourself in the forefront of the photo and you’ve got a classic “I’m-in-San-Francisco!” moment. Just be sure to mind traffic; it’s a busy area, especially during weekday rush hour.