The Full House opening credits are legendary—not just because we get to see John Stamos in a mullet, but because they provide some of the most iconic shots of San Francisco. From aerial views of the Golden Gate Bridge to a quaint picnic scene in front of Alamo Square’s Painted Ladies, the television series captured the beauty of the city and its laid-back culture.
San Francisco has long been a popular destination for filmmakers, given its steep and crooked streets, Karl the Fog’s constant presence, and the unique architectural charms that its Victorian-style homes provide.
Though present-day directors and producers flock to San Francisco to shoot blockbuster films, SF’s film history stretches far back into the 20th century: movie legends like Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock filmed some of their most famous works in places like the Palace of Fine Arts and Dolores Park.
Film buffs might recognize SF from shots in Steven Soderbergh’s ever-relevant Contagion, while others associate the city with the 1993 classic Mrs. Doubtfire, starring Robin Williams, the actor who appears most in films based in SF.
Using film location year-end 2021 data from the SF Film Commission , The Standard compiled a series of maps and charts to track the city’s most film-able locations, the directors that find inspiration in SF’s streets, and the movies that capture the character of SF’s unique neighborhoods.
The film commission’s data set only includes feature films and major TV series. And though it doesn’t include Alcatraz (on federal land) or even Full House (almost entirely filmed on a set in LA), the database provides the most comprehensive list of filmed locations in the city.
Director’s Favorite Locations
Numerous famous directors hail from San Francisco itself, and many have returned to the city for acting or directing gigs. Just look at Danny Glover: he’s an actor and director known for his political activism, but he also boasts major acting roles in Mandela and The Last Black Man in San Francisco (the latter of which shot scenes in over 30 locations in the city).
Others find SF to be their muse. Director Garry Marshall set no fewer than four rom-coms in the city, producing classics like the Princess Diaries and Beaches.
Legendary filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Chris Columbus and Philip Kaufman all shot four movies based in SF, while other directors like Wayne Wang found inspiration in the Bay Area’s vibrant Asian communities. Wang went on to produce heartfelt films like Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart and The Joy Luck Club, which provided an intimate look into SF’s Chinatown neighborhood.
San Francisco’s Most Popular Movie Settings
It should come as no surprise that the Golden Gate Bridge a top spot for filmmaking. But the No. 1 location is actually City Hall, with an imposing dome said to be almost a foot taller than that of the U.S. Capitol.
Earthquake-doomsday flick San Andreas and the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo, for example, both heavily featured the Golden Gate Bridge. But the 1955 sci-fi monster film, It Came from Beneath the Sea, did it first. Famed monster maker Ray Harryhausen spent most of his budget constructing a giant octopus that wrapped around the bridge. (The creature was affectionately dubbed the “sixtopus,” since the film didn’t have enough money to animate all of the tentacles).
Though locations spread out across the city, directors seem to concentrate much of their filming in downtown areas like the Financial District and along the Embarcadero. The Matrix Resurrections relied on downtown’s imposing skyscrapers as the backdrop for car chases, while Blue Jasmine used streets in the Marina and Ocean Beach’s misty views to set a melancholy tone for the drama.
Love Letters to San Francisco
At the end of the day, some films are set up like a love letter to the city.
If you’re new to San Francisco, maybe you learned about the Painted Ladies by watching Full House or jonesed for a cable car ride in Nahnatchka Khan’s Always Be My Maybe. If you’re a local, maybe it was The Princess Diaries that reminded you of the city’s youthful quirks and painfully steep sidewalks (we're looking at you, Bradford Street).
Whatever the case, the movies chosen for this map read like brochures for San Francisco, utilizing the largest number of unique locations to shoot scenes.
Liz Lindqwister can be reached at [email protected]