San Francisco’s fame as an eclectic and recognizable city has gained it some well-deserved cameos in countless movies. If you’re a film buff looking for the lowdown on famous SF locations captured on screen, here are some essential places to try and see for yourself.
The massively popular Instagram account @filmtourismus, managed by German blogger Andrea David, is an absolute treasure trove of exciting filming locations from around the world. Thanks to Andrea for the inspiration!
1. San Francisco City Hall
San Francisco City Hall most recently gained worldwide attention for the Getty wedding in November 2021, but its grand staircase has made appearances in a decent amount of films over the years. You might recognize it at the end of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) when Indy and Marion are walking down the stairs at the end of the movie, providing a nice resolution for their relationship arc. It also made an appearance in Milk (2008), although the office of Harvey Milk’s assassin, Dan White, was recreated elsewhere. City Hall also features prominently in Dirty Harry (1971), A View to Kill (1985), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).
2. Painted Ladies/Alamo Square Park
The Painted Ladies, a quaint row of Queen Victorian homes arranged neatly alongside Alamo Square Park, are most famous for their appearance in the opening credits of Full House (1987-1995). Many believe the Tanners were meant to have lived in one of the Painted Ladies, but their “actual” fictional home is just a mile away at 1709 Broderick Street. Other films that feature cameos of the Painted Ladies and Alamo Square Park are Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Junior (1994), and The Five Year Engagement (2012).
3. Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts has been one of San Francisco’s most unique landmarks ever since it was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Not only has it featured in beloved series like Monk (“Mr. Monk Goes to the Ball Game,” S2 E3) and Sense8 (“Limbic Resonance,” S1 E1), but it’s also made appearances in several blockbusters. You’ll recognize it in The Rock (1996), when Captain John Mason (Sean Connery) reunites with his daughter Jade (Claire Forlani) as FBI agent Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) eavesdrops. It also makes an appearance in Vertigo (1958) when Scottie and Judy are walking next to the lagoon, as well as The Room (2003), Bicentennial Man (1999), and So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993).
4. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is easily the most recognizable landmark in San Francisco, and possibly in the world at large. As such it has made countless appearances in film over the years, often in striking and memorable ways. You might remember when a tsunami destroyed it in San Andreas (2015), or when it hosted the ruthless battle between humans and apes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). The bridge was also destroyed by a Kaiju at the beginning of Pacific Rim (2013) and attacked by a giant octopus in It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). And be sure to keep an eye out for it in High Anxiety (1977), Bumblebee (2018), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), Godzilla (2014), and Ant-Man (2015).
Alcatraz’s fame as a maximum-security federal penitentiary between 1934 and 1963 inspired some of the Bay Area’s most iconic movies. It is perhaps best memorialized in Escape from Alcatraz (1979) starring Clint Eastwood, which reimagines the true story of the island’s dramatic 1962 escape and was filmed largely on-location for both interior and exterior scenes. The Rock (1996) also dives into the island’s bleak time as a prison, and you can see it in Catch Me If You Can (2002), So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993), Point Blank (1967), The Book of Eli (2010), and X Men: The Last Stand (2006).
As the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest Chinatown in North America, San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the city’s top tourist destinations — which makes it a prime hotspot for some famous films. It features prominently in the martial arts comedy film Big Trouble in Little China (1986), much of which takes place in a mythical underworld beneath the neighborhood. You can also see Grant Avenue at California and Pine Streets in The Matrix Resurrections (2021), and additional Chinatown cameos in The Joy Luck Club (1993) and The OA (2016-2019).
Out-of-towners might be unaware that Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) was not shot in Chinatown, but rather in the Richmond District, as SFGATE explains.
7. Pacific Heights
SF’s Pacific Heights neighborhood has seen a decent amount of films come through the area, and the unmistakable residence of Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) at 2640 Steiner Street is a must-see for many a tourist. The home at 2700 Vallejo Street was featured in Bullitt (1968) as the Chalmers’ residence, and the Dolittle family lives in an apartment at 2100 Green Street in Doctor Dolittle (1998). You’ll also notice parts of the neighborhood in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), Basic Instinct (1992), and Foul Play (1978).
8. Fort Point
Perhaps the most memorable part of the film Vertigo (1958) is when Madeleine leaps into the water at Fort Point and is subsequently rescued by Scottie. The location was later used in the Vertigo parody film High Anxiety (1977), and a body washes up at the same location in Chevy Chase’s thriller film Foul Play (1978). Keep an eye out for it at the beginning of Ant-Man (2015) as well.
9. Russian Hill
The groundbreaking car chase scene in Bullitt (1968) is a favorite of any film buff, and it was stitched together across several different SF locations including Bernal Heights, Potrero Hill, Russian Hill, and Fort Mason. The zig-zagging hilly roads and Bay views from Russian Hill are unmistakable, and the scene captures the roller coaster-like effect of any bumpy drive through the famous neighborhood.
A recent iconic action sequence was captured in the bus fight scene of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021), a favorite among San Franciscans for its tongue-in-cheek Muni jokes. Tales of the City (2019) has a Macondray Lane cameo, and the The Princess Diaries (2001) cable car accident happened at the intersection of Broadway and Taylor.
10. Fisherman’s Wharf
Did you know that part of Titanic (1997) lives on in San Francisco? The SS Jeremiah O’Brien, a World War II-era Liberty ship at Fisherman’s Wharf, was used to film the Titanic’s engine room for the movie. The ship has been completely restored and is almost entirely open to the public, so you can even climb aboard and see the engine room for yourself.
Fisherman’s Wharf is also home to the famous Musée Mécanique, a free museum of coin-operated mechanical instruments and games. The popular attraction makes an appearance in Always Be My Maybe (2019) when Sasha and Marcus duck into the photo booth, and The Princess Diaries (2001), which shows the museum’s prior location at the Cliff House.
Featured image: Photo by @filmtourismus on Instagram