Corona Heights Park is the only place in San Francisco that offers a true 360 degree unobstructed vista. The former quarry does not show up in most guidebooks. Corona Heights is thus, mostly a local hang out spot and a dog’s playground.
The rocks are easy to climb, yet steep enough for superb unobstructed views. Randall Museum is located on the grounds of the park. It too has breathtaking views.
Corona Heights is the ideal place for scenic photography. Its views are less familiar than those of nearby Twin Peaks, yet often more spectacular.
How to get there
The park entrance is located near Roosevelt Way and Museum Way (see map). It can take some time to find parking. The roads are steep, making parking even more difficult. California law requires that you turn your wheels when you park on a steep road. If you are unfamiliar with the law, observe the other cars parked in the same direction to avoid a ticket or a runaway car.
How to photograph from Corona Heights
Look for foreground elements to distinguish your pictures from others. I asked my travel companion to pose for the image at the top of the article. I asked her to look toward the most prominent features of the skyline.
We have a natural inclination to follow the line of sight of people in photographs. Place people to the side, and let them look into the picture at a slight angle. This will help to concentrate the viewer’s attention on the most important aspects of the picture. As the eye keeps wandering back to the foreground, the person’s view draws us back in again, creating a dynamic composition.
Foreground elements also enhance the depth of your images, bringing the pictures to life by giving the viewer a sense of being in the scene. Without a foreground, the viewer floats in the air, but a foreground element anchors her to the ground.
Try different foreground elements. The yellow bush in the picture above adds color and works as a contrast to the blue sky. It also erects a barrier between a potential steep drop and us. This can help make viewers feel more comfortable looking at images taken from high altitudes.
A wide-angle lens would make the background objects too small. Use a normal lens (around 50mm) and step back from the foreground element. This requires a very small aperture to preserve sharpness in the foreground and in the background. Sometimes the required depth of field is simply too large. In this case, I recommend keeping the most important element, the city skyline, in focus. Close objects are still easy to distinguish, even with a slight blur. Focus stacking can help you to increase the depth of field, but a slight amount of blur in near/far combinations looks more natural.
Use a telephoto lens to isolate parts of the city. Even with a telephoto lens, you should pay attention to depth and perspective. Including the bay and the ship above together with the Mission creates a stronger more interesting image. Cover the top portion of the image with your hand and compare it to the full image.
The outstanding views simply beg for panoramic photography. The Twin Peaks article contains detailed instructions about panoramas.
Best Time of the Day and Best Season
The park is open from 6 am to 10pm. Any time of the year is good. The light is best during the afternoon.
Corona Heights Park is a small dog park. Despite the warning signs, I cannot imagine where coyotes would live here. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to err on the side of caution.
Thirty minutes to one hour is sufficient time to photograph the small park. If you shoot large-scale panorama photographs, you need to invest more time.
- Telephoto Lens
- Normal Lens
- Panoramic Tripod Head
- CP Filter
- Wind Jacket (it can get cold, even in summer)
The park is free.
- Buena Vista and Haight-Ashbury
- Twin Peaks
- San Francisco Mission
- Civic Center with City Hall
- Golden Gate Park East Side
- Golden Gate Park: Conservatory
- Japanese Tea Garden
- Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill, Botanical Garden
- Beach and Cliff House
- Lands End and Sutro Baths
- Lincoln Park and Legion of Honor
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