When you’re deciding on a location for your engagement shoot, you want to end up somewhere that reflects you and your partners’ personal style and highlights all your best features. Ideally your chosen Bay Area location will provide you with the perfect scenery and landscapes to set the mood of your session. Are you dark and brooding? Hip and urban? Upscale and shiek? Romantic and whimsical? There are a multitude of spots in the Bay to fit any of your needs.
While popular locations like the Sutro Baths, Ocean Beach, and Lands End tend to draw lots of couples their way, we wanted to create a list of Bay Area locations that are not quite as busy and might just add a special and unique flare to your engagement session. From SF city spots to country roads to truly breathtaking wide-open spaces, any couple can find their perfect location somewhere in the landscapes of the Bay Area.
THE EAST BAY PARKS
- Borges Ranch/Castle Rock State Park: If you’re a couple that wants to leave the world behind and do your photos high above the rest, Borges Ranch Trail (where it meets with Castle Rock State Park) has stunning views of the whole valley below Mount Diablo. The ridge of Borges Ranch Trail faces due west towards the sunset, making it the perfect spot for a dreamy golden hour session. Make sure you bring comfortable shoes to walk up the small hill to the lower views and, if you’re feeling really brave, you can continue along the path to one of the higher hilltops and embrace all the beauty this wild and gorgeous park has to offer. If you’ve got a fur baby this spot is 100% off-leash dog friendly which is a huge plus for all our pet parents.
- Tilden Park - Berkeley: If you’re looking for a lush spot on the opposite side of the tunnel, there’s nothing that compares to Tilden Park. Everything from lofty oak trees to fresh green grass and even sporadic patches of redwoods provide the perfect backdrop for a casual and romantic woods themed engagement session. On your way down the hill into Orinda/Lafayette, don’t forget to stop at the overlook to get a beautiful view of the city scape from midway up the mountain. Snap a few selfies of the glorious view after enjoying a relaxing romp through Tilden to capture the love you two share.
- Berkeley City - Jupiter and Downtown: There’s nothing like a stroll through the adorable Berkeley streets and shops to set up your awesome urban engagement session. Embrace the happy hippie ambiance and use cute restaurant patios, like the one at Jupiter, to your advantage. Steel beams, ivy greens, and picnic lights are all the rage for a modern and personality filled engagement photo session along Shattuck Avenue. Venture onto Telegraph to take photos in record stores and coffee shops and really let your edgy personas shine.
- Heather Farm Park - Walnut Creek: Heather Farm provides a striking natural pond with simple rustic back drops all around for nearly unlimited scenery combinations during your engagement session. Romantically swing in the low hanging up branches of an old oak tree, set up a picnic complete with wine or bubbly for you and your partner, or just use the gorgeous sunset light as the backdrop for your sweet and pastoral session. You can also venture over into the rose garden when it’s blooming for some fanciful fairy tale inspired photos among the hundreds of flowering stems.
MARIN HEADLANDS/NORTH BAY
- Muir Woods: If towering redwoods and million-year-old plant life is your jam, then Muir Woods is the spot for you. Encircling yourself in hundred-foot-tall trees, walking down the curving hiking trails, and snuggling up with your lover when it gets chilly as the sun goes down makes for some seriously stunning portraits. Although you can’t step off the path and into the foliage, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of the incredible landscape from the available trails. Not only is it a great spot for an engagement session, but it’s calming and relaxing just to be there in general.
- Muir Beach: There are plenty of coast lines in San Francisco and the surrounding area, but Muir beach tends to be slightly foggy and deeply romantic a majority of the year. You can often see whales swimming in the open water, which adds an extra element of magic to any shoot. There are sandy beaches, large ocean rocks, splashing waves, and lots of succulent greenery all around. Instead of heading to a crowded beach where you’ll have people in the background of your photos, head to Muir Beach for a more secluded and tranquil engagement photo shoot experience.
- Tennessee Trail: Tall grasses and open fields line the dirt walking paths along this romantic and whimsical location. If you’re the type who sees yourself in a maxi dress and flower crown, this would add incredible depth and consistency to your engagement vision. The soft neutral color palette puts all the focus on you and your companion as you stroll hand-in-hand through this magical setting. Finishing your engagement session here with a kiss will make you feel like you’re stepping straight out of a fairytale and into the love story of your dreams.
4. Gualala: Although it’s name might be a bit of a tongue twister, there’s not doubt that this small coastal town has a truly simple and down to earth beachy feel to it. The smell of sea salt in the air surrounds you as you start you session in the surrounding redwood forest. Keep an eye out for the local wildlife and, if you’re lucky, the sun will give you a thrilling show as it sets over the sea. The bluff trail leading to the beach provides a little height for a lovely view any time of day. When choosing this location, make sure to prepare for a drive, as getting to Gualala takes about 2.5 hours from San Francisco. This is just all the more reasons to turn your engagement session into a starry-eyed weekend away to celebrate your love.
SAN FRANCISCO CITY
- Stow Lake: Hidden directly in the center of Golden Gate Park, around and behind the Japanese Tea and Botanical Gardens, is this beautiful slice of heaven. The lake is a lovely water feature background for any couple wanting to project a joyous and playful outdoor vibe. If you want to be adventurous you can rent a swan boat or a rowboat and add a bit of distinctiveness to your engagement images. Wander through the lush greenery at Golden Gate Park, up cute wooden stairway paths, and around the small lake for a truly picturesque session.
- Botanical Gardens: I’m sure you’re surprised to see this popular location on our list of slightly under used spots, but hear me out. The Botanical Gardens are absolutely gigantic. While there may be people wandering around looking at all the exotic plants and taking photos of their own, chances of you finding a plethora of secluded spots with flowering shrubs and lavish greenery is high. The Japanese Garden Inside of the Botanical Garden rivals the actual Japanese Tea Garden across the street and the landscaped trees, vines, and flower gardens are always well taken care of and immaculately displayed. What’s especially wonderful about the botanical garden is that if one country’s plants are out of season, there is a very good chance that another country or side of the world will be in full bloom. It’s like taking a trip around the globe with your loved one to get photos done. And who doesn’t need an extra little vacation?
- Presidio: Every time I shoot out in the Presidio I’m reminded of scenes from one of my favorite childhood books, Where the Wild Things Are. The lofty eucalyptus trees tower overhead creating tree lined paths that look nothing short of enchanting. If you sneak back behind the beautiful mid-century houses and deeper into the eucalyptus forest, you’ll also find trees covered in ivy and even a man-made eucalyptus branch tee pee that you can cuddle up near or inside of while you’re there. This spot is often shrouded in fog which gives it a really distinctive and quixotic feel. Just make sure to bring a jacket with you, being so close to the coast this spot can get abundantly chilly during the cooler months.
- Legion of Honor: Everyone knows that the city is covered in old and striking architecture. While the Palace of Fine Arts acts as the backdrop for hundreds of engagement sessions a month, the Legion of Honor is a slightly lesser known museum style location that will itch all your architectural scratches. Immense stone pillars create a sense of regal Grecian beauty and the dazzling center sculpture presents a hint of the louvers French appeal. If you can avoid cars in the background the large fountain out front of the museum is also a stunning spot to channel more of your European vibe. Top it off with shots in the manicured park to the left of the museum or head down onto Lands End Trail to your right to get the best of both the manufactured and natural worlds.
- All Over SF!: If none of the listed locations are doing it for you, you’re in luck, because San Francisco is a lively hub of culture, beauty, and love. Find an alleyway near the Embarcadero that will give you a gritty urban feel. Head to one of the many bars or restaurants in town to sip on a beer or glass of wine and capture some casual moments as an engaged couple. The San Francisco flower market is a great location for some fun and flirty vintage themed photos where you can match your 50’s style fit and flair dress to all the flowers inside. Treasure Island is just a hop, skip, and a jump across the Bay Bridge and gives you absolutely breathtaking horizon views of San Francisco’s iconic and ever expanding skyline. If you’re wanting something a bit more moody, head out to the city at night time and capture all the lights along the peers and buildings. Share an ice cream cone at Ghirardelli Square, play pinball at the vintage arcade, or hop on the red trolley to give your photos a quirky uniqueness that is perfectly fit to you and your loved one. The possibilities in the Bay are truly unbounding, just like your love for one another!
Written by Kate Holtzen
Photos by David Sachs Photography and Katherine Elyse Photography