We always love finding new opportunities to wear your wedding cheongsam. If your Chinese wedding cheongsam is not your main wedding dress, take it out for a spin for during engagement photo shoot so it gets the spotlight it deserves!
We’ve scoured all over the Bay Area and California to find the best locations for engagement and pre-wedding photo shoots. These locations have been tested by us personally, and we have these gorgeous bridal photos to prove it :)
Location #1: Legion Of Honor
This is a great place if you’re looking for that beautiful, ethereal light background for your engagement shoot. There’s a really convenient parking lot right outside the Legion of Honor in case the bride wants to do multiple outfit changes (we won’t judge).
Quick tip: Be careful of car break-ins. Theft is pretty common in this tourist location so make sure your valuables are safely hidden in your car.
Location #2: Allied Arts Guild
Another beautiful location for your engagement shoot that is not typically on any list is the Allied Arts Guild. This venue in Menlo Park features gorgeous walkways, stucco buildings, and endless rows of beautiful flowers. Come shoot here in the Spring and you won’t regret it.
Bonus tip: Make sure to reach out beforehand to ask if you can take some engagement photos here. They are often flexible but we recommend always double checking.
Location #3: Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park
If you’re wearing a cheongsam or qipao for your Chinese wedding tea ceremony, you can also consider going to the Japanese Tea Gardens for some shots in front of their beautiful tea houses and bridges. This park is definitely one of the more crowded places we’ve been to so we recommend going early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Bonus tip: SF residents can get a discount to enter if they show their license or proof of residence.
Location #4: De Young Museum
A unique spot for taking engagement photographs in San Francisco is the De Young Museum. If you prefer something more modern and artsy, then this shooting location can be a fun place to walk around with your photographer. You can pose in front of modern architectural buildings, columns and statues or opt for something more nature-esque among the grassy park area in front of the museum.
The James Turrell Skyspace is one of the hidden gems at Golden Gate Park. It’s part of the De Young Museum but located outdoors right outside their sculptural garden. You might need to ask a staff member to help you find it, but it’s definitely worth the trip! You can get some beautiful artsy shots in this open skyspace chamber with colorful walls and angled lighting.
Bonus tip: There’s a paid parking lot next to the museum or parking spots along the main roads.
Location #5: Big Sur - Bixby Bridge
If you are willing to drive a bit further south, Big Sur has many beautiful locations that offer sweeping views of the California coastline. If you’re a lover of nature, you can consider coming to Big Sur for these breathtaking pictures. One of our favorite spots is the iconic Bixby Bridge. There is parking immediately right before the bridge, and a sloped area for you to get your engagement shot in. But be prepared for the many visitors and tourists who likely will also be trying to get a beautiful picture for their trip.
Location #6: Big Sur - Pfeiffer Beach
Further down Big Sur is Pfeiffer Beach. To get down to the beach, you’ll need to drive down a very narrow and windy road but it’ll be worth it. Pfeiffer Beach is known for the beautiful coves found along the beach. If you can go during golden hour, you can get a gorgeous shot of the light streaming between the large rocks.
Bonus tip: There is no cell reception once you get down to Pfeiffer Beach, so be prepared.
Location #7: Half Moon Bay (Ritz Carlton)
If you lived in California, you probably have gone to Half Moon Bay for a fun day trip. If you want to recreate those memories for an engagement photo shoot, we recommend the beach right next to the Ritz Carlton. It’s about a half mile walk from the hotel down the coastline, down some steps before you get to the beach level, but it is worth it. Along the way, you can also get some gorgeous shots of the California coastline. We recommend couples come here right before dusk to get that soft yellow lighting for their engagement photos.
Bonus tip: There is free parking allocated at the Ritz Carlton parking garage—simply tell them you are visiting the beach and they’ll point you on your way.
Location #8: Palace of Fine Arts
Palace of Fine Arts is one of the classic locations for an engagement shoot in SF. The beautiful pond along with the Grecian columns in the background make for an epic portrait for the groom or bride.
Location #9: Land’s End / Sutro Baths
Another famous destination for engagement photo shoots is Land’s End—in particular, Sutro Baths. If you are willing to get up early in the morning and brave the often cold winds found on the coast, then Sutro Baths can be a gorgeous spot.
Bonus tip: This location is perfect if you have a flowy dress or long train that can take advantage of the natural winds often found here.
Location #10: Potrero Hill
If you want something more of a city skyline for your engagement shoot background, then head over to Potrero Hill (we recommend walking around Texas St and 20th). These SF hills will finally come in handy for getting these beautiful pictures.
Bonus tip: Make sure you have someone there to help watch out for any cars. Take these photos in the middle of the road at your own risk.
Location #11: Golden Gate Bridge
Every couple who has lived in the Bay Area probably has had a romantic memory of the Golden Gate Bridge—whether it’s hiking in Marin Headlands, or driving past the bridge to Napa, or maybe even getting proposed to with the Golden Gate Bridge behind them. This iconic bridge is therefore a very popular place for an engagement or general photo shoot.
To get the best shot of the bridge, we recommend checking out Hawk Hill. It’s a bit of a walk to get to the spot from the parking lot, so we recommend bringing some walking shoes and then changing into your heels. Beware though, there is definitely a crowd of tourists at this location so schedule your photo shoot accordingly.
Location #12: City Hall
San Francisco has been blessed with a breathtaking City Hall. Whether it’s an elopement or engagement shoot, you can’t go wrong with this classic building. From the regal staircase to the lovely archways, there’s many wonderful spots inside for a romantic photo.
Bonus tip: City Hall is only open during the weekdays during business hours, so you’ll need to find time during the week for an engagement shoot there.
These venues are too gorgeous not to include on the list, but they do require a small fee or permit.
Location #13: Montalvo Arts Center
This spot is a hidden treasure in Saratoga, CA. We recommend reaching out for a permit ahead of time if you want to do an engagement or pre-wedding photo shoot here. One big advantage of this space is then that you don’t have to worry too much about crowds getting in your shots. The venue features a beautiful garden with towering trees that is dream worthy for any engagement or wedding photo shoot. It definitely has topped our list for dream wedding venues.
Location #14: Hakone Gardens
Another wonderful but secluded venue for a good pre-wedding photo shoot is Hakone Gardens in Saratoga. This setting is absolutely lovely if you’re wearing your wedding cheongsam and qipao dresses. The bamboo background as well as the tea house are both great options for bridal photography.
Bonus tip: You do need to pay a entrance fee to be able to shoot there for your engagement, but you can inquire at their ticket desk.
In the mood for more? Check out these other articles:- 5 Chinese Elements of a Qipao
- 30 of the Best Ideas for a Modern Asian Wedding
- How do you accessorize your cheongsam?