If you love movies, you’ll delight in all the different San Francisco locations that have been used as features and backdrops in famous films. Movies are tied to the very history of the City by the Bay.
In the first moving picture, Eaweard Muybridge’s galloping horse was filmed in the Bay Area. In the following decades, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton used San Francisco to shoot silent features. Since then, producers and directors have chosen the city for its unique landmarks and culture.
As you make your way through some of the most recognizable neighborhoods and tourist spots in San Francisco, here some of the most iconic movie locations to add to your list.
The island prison visible from Fisherman’s Wharf is known for housing some of this country’s most dangerous criminals, including Al Capone and James “Whitey” Bulger. It became both a major tourist attraction and a popular movie set after closing for good in 1963.
Alcatraz was the obvious setting for the 1979 feature Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood. Another popular movie shot on the island was The Rock (1996), starring Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage.
Golden Gate Bridge
A San Francisco landmark that is tough to miss, this bridge spanning the bay is painted International Orange (official color) and has been featured in countless films. Probably one of the most famous is Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), where Kim Novak leaps off the base of the bridge into the water, and the Jimmy Steward jumps in after her.
Other movies that used the iconic bridge as a scene prop include Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Zodiac (2007), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Pacific Rim (2013), and Ant-Man (2009).
As one of the oldest Chinatown’s in North America, San Francisco’s has served as an inspiring setting for many feature and award-winning films. Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1993) was partially set in Chinatown and other parts of the Bay Area.
Other films that were set in or had major scenes in San Francisco’s Chinatown include The Dead Pool (1988), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), and Big Trouble in Little China (1986).
San Francisco’s City Hall might seem like a typical tourist attraction, but the site has appeared in an interesting variety of movies. You’ll see City Hall in Milk (2008), which is a film depicting how Harvey Milk fought for LGBTQ freedoms in the city. The building was also used as a set in Dirty Harry (1971), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
The twisty switchbacks on Lombard Street have made it a top tourist attraction in the city, and it’s also been used in several feature films. You can see Herbie tackling those turns in The Love Bug (1968), and Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neil being pursued by bad guys though this one-way street in What’s Up, Doc? (1972).
Most of these San Francisco movie locations are out in the open and simple to access. While inspiring on their own, knowing that they were also featured in some famous movie productions can add another layer of intrigue and excitement to your next outing in the City by the Bay.