Young family walking through the flowers at the Oakland Morcom Rose Garden.

Family Photos

Best Family Photo Locations-East Bay, San Francisco

July 3, 2024


Before I disclose my favorite East Bay outdoor locations for family photos, I want to preface it by saying that my all-time favorite location is your home because it’s about more than the perfect photos with the sweeping views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, or the many beautiful landmarks. It’s about real moments. Real life. Real stories. And it doesn’t get more real than your home. 99.9% of the time, it’s where you feel most comfortable being fully present with your children and where so many of your children’s memories are made.

Okay, so now that we’ve cleared that up, I’ll spill the beans on my favorite East Bay photo locations for families. I’ll list some pros and cons and list the ideal ages for children at each location

Without further ado…

Alameda Crown Beach

Alameda Crown Beach is at the top of my list because it’s basically in my backyard. I love this location because it has something for everyone. What I also appreciate about this beach is that unlike the beaches in San Francisco (usually foggy and cold in the summer), the temps in Alameda are generally warm, yet not scorching hot.

Little ones who love water? This is your place. Most of this beach is protected in a shallow cove that is safe for little ones to splash in. If water and sand are not ideal, the beach also has a beautiful line of sycamore trees and tall, whispy grasses that kiddos like exploring, making for a lovely backdrop.

Best time of day for photos: early mornings and sunset. Low tides are best for wading into the water.
Best ages for children: all ages
ADA accessibility: yes, on the paved sidewalks or non-sandy portions of the beach
Parking: lot paid parking and free street parking
Restrooms available: yes, with foot washing stations
Thing(s) to consider: dogs are not allowed at the beach but are allowed on the paved sidewalks

Oakland Morcom Rose Garden

Who doesn’t love roses? And the roses here are most spectacular in April, but what surprises me is that I also find roses in bloom throughout the year. I wish I could say the same for my garden. There’s a reflecting pool and beautiful tiered fountain kids like to dip their fingers in. This garden is also fun to explore because of the split levels and stone stairways that lead to little hideaways and knobby trees to climb.

Best time of day for photos: early morning or sunset
Best ages for children: all ages
ADA accessibility: only the ground floor
Parking: street
Restrooms: yes
Thing(s) to consider: dogs are not permitted, but I always see leashed dogs there.

Oakland Joaquin Miller Park

Nature lovers? High-energy kids? Well, Joaquin Miller has your name all over it. Located in the Oakland Hills, this expansive park is a perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. The terrain is as varied as it is gorgeous. You can play hide-and-seek in a grove of towering redwoods. Also, a reflecting pool, waterfall (not constantly flowing), amphitheater, and a trail of stoned steps make for fun places to explore. And the views? Stunning.

Best time of day for photos: early morning
Best ages for children: all ages
ADA accessibility: limited areas
Parking: street
Restrooms available: yes
Thing(s) to consider: car break-ins are frequent, so parking is at your own risk. It has yet to happen during my sessions, but it’s happened for others—even if valuables are out of sight. Parking can also be limited later in the day.

Castro Valley Lake Chabot

Ahhh! This expansive location is lovely when the grass is long. I actually prefer shooting on the hills and not so much at the lake because it’s often times super crowded. The rolling hills and stunning views make it especially beautiful at sunset, and there’s a lot of open space for children to show off their bike or scooter skills.

Best time of day for photos: early morning and sunset
Best ages for children: all ages
ADA accessibility: yes, at the lake portion of the park
Parking: paid lot
Restrooms: Yes
Thing(s) to consider: It gets very busy at sunset, and the hiking trails in the hills are sometimes closed during high heat and wind advisories.

Walnut Creek Old Borges Ranch

What a gem of a place! Located in the foothills of Mt. Diablo, this former cattle ranch is a special place to take young kids who love every aspect of farm life: livestock (cows, sheep, goats, and chickens), barns, blacksmithing, and tractors. What I especially like about the grounds are the hiking trails and the beautiful rolling hills in the background. I’ve also spotted deer frolicking nearby during every session.

Best time of day for photos: early morning and sunset
Best ages for children: all ages
ADA accessibility: limited to picnic areas
Parking: free parking lot
Restrooms available: yes
Thing(s) to consider: It’s a strong Little House on the Prairie aesthetic. I suggest venturing along the hiking trails for more diverse scenery. Rattlesnakes are also prevalent on Mt. Diablo during the hot months, so be careful.

Other note-worthy candidates stowed in my back pocket:
-UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens
-Berkeley Tilden Park
-Lafayette Reservoir
-Albany Bulb
I’ve shot at these locations before, but it’s been many moons since I’ve personally vetted them specifically for family photo sessions. That’s the only reason I have not included them on this list. But if you’ve been there recently, I would appreciate your thoughts!

About Me

Real life is more than pretty pictures.
The beauty is in the journey, and it's absolutely
worth documenting all of it. 

I’m captivated by people and always have been; my B.S. is in anthropology. Early on, I appointed myself the family documentarian, carefully recording milestones and travels and learning along the way how much I love visual storytelling. I picked up my first professional camera when my daughter was born, knowing those early years with her were precious and full of changes. A photographer friend’s encouragement soon led me to make photography my career. Today, after many years and proud accomplishments, my passion for it only grows.

I can’t imagine doing anything else.       


©Carmen dunham 2024

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