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What are the best spots for San Francisco skyline views?

San Francisco skyline
A view of San Francisco’s Skyline from Ina Coolbrith Park. | Getty Images

Today The Standard’s Nick Veronin is answering a reader’s request for a list of places with city vista’s off the beaten path.

Image of speech bubble with "Ask The Standard" inside.

If you’re looking for epic views of the San Francisco skyline, there are two obvious choices.

From the parking lot at Christmas Tree Point, you’ll see the familiar curve of Twin Peaks Boulevard, snaking down to the neighborhoods below—the long, straight line of Market Street receding to a vanishing point at the Ferry Building. And then there is the aptly named Golden Gate View Point in the Marin Headlands, where the city’s most iconic landmark serves as a kind of gigantic picture frame for the glittering towers of the Financial District.

But what if you want to take in the sweep of the San Francisco skyline from an angle that hasn’t appeared on countless postcards?

As part of our Ask The Standard series, a reader recently urged us to share some less commonly Instagrammed—but no-less Instagrammable—vistas: “I would love to know about views or scenic spots that are hidden gems,” they wrote. 

Read on for a handful of nearby destinations where you can take in a beautiful San Francisco scene without feeling like a tourist gawking at the Mona Lisa. We can’t promise you’ll be alone, but at least you won’t be re-creating a car commercial.

A Secret Pancake Breakfast | Mount Tamalpais

Pancakes always taste better when they are hard-earned. Take an early morning hike to the West Point Inn on Mount Tamalpais on the second Sunday of every month (from May to October), and you’ll be rewarded with a stack of buttery flapjacks and great views. There are a number of trails to this remote breakfast destination. Some are steep and direct, others are easier and winding, and some can accommodate mountain bikes. On the way in, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of San Francisco in the distance—as long as Karl isn’t blocking your view.
🗺️ Map link
🌐 Visit website

Scenic view of the shoreline
Black Sands Beach in the Marin Headlands | Google Street View

Black Sands Beach | Marin Headlands

Many sand beaches in Northern California are of the silty, gray or white variety. But at this slightly out-of-the-way destination in the Marin Headlands, you’ll find a dark, coarser grain. Flanked by rugged cliffs, Black Sands looks out on the rolling expanse of the Pacific Ocean. You can lay down a blanket and enjoy the sounds of the surf, set out on a nearby trail or stroll around the former barracks of Fort Cronkhite. From the beach you won’t be able to see Downtown, but from certain vantage points, you’ll be able to spy Sutro Tower rising above Twin Peaks.
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Bridge seen from a distance
The San Francisco skyline as seen from East Brother Island. | Susie Claxton

East Brother Light Station | Richmond

A bed & breakfast on the bay

Stay the night in this secluded sleep-away retreat, and you could wake up to an incredible view of the city—provided you’ve booked the “San Francisco Room.” Built in 1873 and put into service in 1874, this lighthouse station has helped guide mariners in and out of the San Francisco and San Pablo bays for nearly 150 years. Making the trip is definitely a commitment: A single night’s stay costs $475 or more. But if you’re looking to unplug, the light station can provide. There is no TV or internet, and the entire island is quite small, so there isn’t much to do on the grounds but read, talk with company or sit in contemplative silence.
🗺️ Map link
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Ina Coolbrith Park | Russian Hill

Everyone knows about Dolores Park and Alamo Square. There is nothing wrong with admiring the cityscape from these familiar standbys, but if you’re looking for an alternative view of the skyline, Ina Coolbrith Park in Russian Hill offers excellent views of Coit Tower, the western span of the Bay Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid. This hilly park has several flights of stairs and cement pathways that wind past some lovely landscaping—featuring flowers, spiny agave and ferns. Pro tip: For those looking for a picturesque proposal locale, it’s a popular place to pop the question.
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Hippie Tree Swing | Tiburon

How many hippies are still living in Tiburon—one of the Bay Area’s wealthier enclaves—is unclear. But this destination, with its attached wood-and-rope swing, is a great place to see why the flower children adopted San Francisco as their home. From beneath the towering eucalyptus, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Sutro Tower and the skyscrapers of Downtown in the distance and dream of what it would be like to live on a yacht while overlooking Richardson Bay and Belvedere Cove.
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