Top 10 Bay Area Locations for Family Photos

Bay Area Locations for Family

Every year, I get asked what are the best Bay Area Locations for Family Photos. And whilst I have a list of secret locations that only my clients have access to, I do have a list of my fav Bay Area Locations for Family Photos that are kid friendly and in most cases, even dog friendly! Please do note that some of these require a permit to shoot at. I’ve tried to call that out below so you can see which ones need a permit so be sure to check with the city before you shoot there to make sure you don’t get confronted by a Ranger in front of your clients.

Bay Area Locations for Family Photos:

#1- Arizona Cactus Garden at Stanford University

This location is one of my favorite Bay Area locations for family photos- esp. if you’re looking for options in the peninsula. It’s a beautiful garden with lots of cacti and succulents (which are perfect for photos any time of year) and it’s right next to the Stanford Campus so there’s plenty of space for kids (or dogs) to run around.

The only downside is that it can get pretty hot during the summer, but if you go early in the morning or late in the afternoon i.e. Golden Hour, you should be good.

Please be careful with young children and untrained and off leash puppies here as the cacti are not fenced and can easily result in a serious injury if kids and dogs are allowed to run wild!

Also, this is the #1 Bay Area Locations for Family Photos because it is really popular amongst all bay area family photographers! So if you’re looking for a location that is more intimate or private, this is not the one! You’ll find this location especially crowded on weekends so if you and your client decide to shoot here, please plan to do so on a weekday to skip the crowd!

You can read more about the Arizona Cactus Garden here.

  • Cost of entry: Free
  • Permit Required: No
  • Shaded: No shade
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Bathrooms: No
  • Parking: Park at Roth Way Garage- about a 10 mins walk to the gardens

Bay Area Locations for Family Photos:

#2- The Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts is another one of my favorite Bay Area locations for family photos. It’s a beautiful spot and it’s right in the middle of the city so there’s plenty to do afterwards if you’re looking for something to keep the kids busy.

One downside is that it can get quite windy, so be sure to dress appropriately! And on really windy days, it might be tough to get good shots here without everyone looking like they’re about to take flight.

Another thing worth mentioning is that this Bay Area location for Family Photos requires a permit if you want to shoot on site. I’ve had clients shoot here before and just gotten lucky with no one coming by to ask what we were doing, but I still always have a permit to avoid being embarrassed and cited by a ranger in front of my clients.

You can read more about the Palace of Fine Arts here.

  • Cost of entry: Free
  • Permit Required: Yes, $100/hr for up to 12 people
  • Shaded: Some shade
  • Dog friendly: No
  • Bathrooms: Yes
  • Parking: Street parking is available but since this is a tourist location, expect to wait a bit esp. on weekends

Bay Area Locations for Family Photos:

#3- The Presidio, San Francisco

The Presidio is a large park in San Francisco that used to be an army post. It’s now a national park and there are plenty of different areas to explore.

One downside (or upside, depending on how you look at it) is that there’s lots of hills here which can make for some really cool photos, but it can also be a bit of work to get up and down them with young kids or dogs.

There’s also plenty of history here and if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge from one of the many look out points. So many clients want bay area locations of family photos to have a view of golden Gate Bridge so definitely scout this one out if you’re looking for Golden Gate views too!

The Presidio is definitely a place where you could spend an entire day if you wanted to and still not see everything. So if you’re a photographer, be sure to scout the locations you want to shoot at before hand. And make sure to use the sun tracker app to locate where the sun will rise/set so that you can make sure the lighting works optimally with your chosen spot here.

Also keep in mind, coyotes have been sighted numerous times here. So please keep the dogs on leash and avoid shooting past sunset for safety reasons.

You can read more about the Presidio here.

  • Cost of entry: Free
  • Permit Required: No; only required for commercial filming
  • Shaded: Yes, but can be quite windy so dress appropriately!
  • Dog friendly: Yes, on leash please!
  • Bathrooms: Few but maybe far depending on what part of Presidio you shoot at
  • Parking: Street Parking

Bay Area Locations for Family Photos:

#4- Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga

Montalvo Arts Center is an arts center located in Saratoga, about 30 minutes from San Francisco. It’s a beautiful estate with gardens and trails that are perfect for photos.

The center was originally built as a summer home for Senator James Phelan and his family. After Phelan’s death, the estate was given to the state of California and opened as an arts center in 1930.

Montalvo has hosted many famous artists over the years, including Diego Rivera and Ansel Adams. The center is also home to the largest collection of California art in the world.

There’s plenty of areas to explore here, and it’s a great spot if you’re looking for something a bit more off the beaten path. There’s not much shade, so be prepared for a hot day if you shoot here- esp. on the grounds. If you have a permit, the covered areas of the building are beautiful and make for gorgeous backdrop and you can easily avoid the sun here!

Another thing to note is that Montalvo Arts Center requires a permit if you want to shoot on site i.e in the building. You can read more about the requirements and pricing here.

The grounds are open to the public from sunrise to sunset everyday, so it’s a great option if you’re looking for somewhere last minute or don’t want to deal with permits. But they are crowded and the road runs around the grounds which makes it a not very ideal Bay Area Location for Family Photos.

  • Cost of entry: Free
  • Permit Required: Yes, $200
  • Shaded: No shade, unless shooting in the villa
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Bathrooms: Yes
  • Parking: Yes

Bay Area Locations for Family Photos:

#5- Los Altos Redwood Grove

Los Altos Redwood Grove is a small park located in Los Altos, about 40 minutes from San Francisco. The park is home to a few dozen redwood trees and it’s a really beautiful Bay Area Location for Family Photos.

The grove was originally planted in the 1920s and has been open to the public since then. It’s a really small park and can get crowded, but it’s definitely a great spot for photos if you’re looking for something different. The trees are tall and make for a beautiful backdrop. This is one of my fav locations to shoot at esp. during summer. Sunset in summers is much later in the evening but this location makes it really easy to shoot earlier in the evening as the tall trees filter the light. Thus, making this a fav Bay Area Location for Family Photos esp. if it involves young kids that usually go to bed much earlier than the summer sunset!

There is a small gazebo in the center of the grove that makes for a nice spot to take a break.

  • Cost of entry: Free
  • Permit Required: No
  • Shaded: No shade, unless shooting in gazebo
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Bathrooms: Yes
  • Parking: Street Parking but please be respectful to the residents as this is in the middle of a residential area

Bay Area Locations for Family Photos:

#6- Beach at Ritz Carlton

The Beach at Ritz Carlton is a beach located in Half Moon Bay, about an hour from San Francisco. It’s one of my favorite Bay area locations for family photos to shoot at and it’s definitely a beautiful beach!

The beach is wide and the sand is white which makes for a really pretty backdrop. The waves are usually gentle here which is great if you have kids but please be sure to avoid the coast if you’re shooting during the sneaker waves season. One of my fav things to do after a photoshoot here is to head to The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay with my clients and grab some hot chocolate by the outdoor fire-pits. They also have some S’mores kits available for purchase that I love to get for the kids as a small treat for being so amazing during our shoot!

It can get pretty crowded on weekends, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for a beach photo shoot. It also makes for a beautiful backdrop for engagement photos!

  • Cost of entry: Free
  • Permit Required: No
  • Shaded: Some Shade
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Bathrooms: Yes
  • Parking: Small lot just before the entrance to Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

Bay Area Locations for Family Photos:

#7- Hellyer Park, San Jose

Hellyer Park is a park located in San Jose. It’s a really big park with lots of different areas to shoot in and it’s one of my go-to Bay Area locations for family photos when I have south bay clients with young kids that prefer to stay closer to home.

There’s a playground, a pond with ducks and geese, a BMX track (hello senior photos!!), an off-leash dog park, and lots of open space. It can get pretty crowded on weekends but it’s great for photos because there’s so much to choose from.

You can read more about this county park here.

  • Cost of entry: $6 per vehicle
  • Permit Required: No
  • Shaded: Yes, lots of shady areas
  • Dog friendly: Yes, off-leash dog park is great!
  • Bathrooms: Yes
  • Parking: Street parking but can be difficult to find a spot on weekends

Bay Area Locations for Family Photos:

#8- Elizabeth Gamble Gardens, Palo Alto

The Elizabeth Gamble Gardens are a beautiful garden located in Palo Alto. They’re a great spot for photos any time of year, but I especially love them in the spring when the flowers are in bloom thus making it a top Bay Area location for Family Photos!

There’s a small pond, gazebo, and lots of different areas to shoot in. It can get pretty crowded on weekends, but it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re looking for a garden location.

The Wisteria at Gamble Gardens is a beautiful spot for family photos. The flowers are in bloom from late February to early May, and the garden is open daily from sunrise to sunset. There’s plenty of room for posing among the vines, and you can even bring your furry friends along! Be sure to snap a few shots beneath the Wisteria Tunnel. It’s a must-see!

  • Cost of entry: Free
  • Permit Required: No; but be sure to check garden is not closed for private events on days you plan to shoot here!
  • Shaded: Yes
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Bathrooms: Yes
  • Parking: Street parking but can be difficult to find a spot on weekends

Bay Area Locations for Family Photos:

#9- Sutro Baths and Land’s End, San Francisco

The Sutro Baths and Lands End are two locations in San Francisco that I love to shoot at. The Sutro Baths are a set of historic baths located in the Outer Richmond district of San Francisco. They’re a great spot for photos because they offer amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge.

Lands End is a park located at the end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a great spot for photos, and it’s also dog-friendly! I would only recommend using this Bay Area location for family photos if you have kids older that 5yrs of age, esp. if shooting near the sutro baths as the wall of the baths are pretty narrow and take a little patience and finesse to walk over to the other side and to the beach. This is my preferred location for maternity sessions in the Bay Area for sure!

You can read more about the Sutro Baths here. What a fascinating historical Bay Area Location for Family Photos!

  • Cost of entry: Free
  • Permit Required: No
  • Shaded: Some Shade
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Bathrooms: Yes, but can be a bit far from where you’ll want to shoot
  • Parking: Yes

Bay Area Locations for Family Photos:

#10- Filoli Gardens, Woodside

If you’re looking for a more traditional and elegant Bay Area location for family photos, I would highly recommend Filoli. It’s located in Woodside and it’s a former country estate with beautiful gardens and architecture. Fav time to shoot here is definitely spring when the flowers are all in bloom.

It can be a bit pricey to get in (adult tickets are $25), but it’s definitely worth it for the amazing backdrop. You can actually shoot here without a permit if you’re doing a simple family photoshoot with no additional equipment/tripods/lights and are not doing outfit changes. I’ve linked the details to their photography permits here.

The estate is open to the public from Wednesday through Sunday, and there’s an admission fee (although children under the age of 17 are free). It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re looking for a timeless location for your family photos. Permit is required for photography.

Filoli bloom season is typically mid-March to late April.

  • Cost of entry: $25 per adult, $15 per child (ages 5 and under are free)
  • Permit Required: Yes, contact the estate for availability and pricing information
  • Shaded: Yes
  • Dog friendly: No
  • Bathrooms: Yes
  • Parking: Yes, ample

So there you have it! My top ten Bay Area locations for family photos.

Whether you’re looking for a traditional estate like Filoli or something more modern and outdoorsy like the Sutro Baths, I’m sure you’ll find the perfect spot for your family photos. Happy shooting! πŸ™‚

What are your thoughts on these locations? Do you have a favorite that wasn’t mentioned? Leave a comment below and let me know! I’d love to hear from you. Have fun shooting at these amazing locations! πŸ™‚ if you want to book a session with me and want to know more about my secret locations, I’d love to chat with you! You can reach out to me via this contact form.