San Francisco has plenty of iconic landmarks and picturesque neighborhoods, so it’s no wonder that the city gets its good share of appearances in the movies. Some of its iconic undulating streets became the setting for one of the most enduring movie car chases. The Golden Gate Bridge is truly unmissable, having become a sort of monumental disaster movie trope on its own, inspiring everything from giant monster attacks to tsunamis.

    Most of the actual movie locations in San Francisco are out in the open and easy to access. These include Chinatown and the Painted Ladies across from the Alamo Square Park, while the notorious prison island museum of Alcatraz requires a boat trip out. Here are some of the most iconic San Francisco places in film and television where cinephiles can relive their favorite scenes on a visit to “The Golden City”.


    Golden Gate Bridge

    Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

    Destroyed over and over in various disaster movies, the Golden Gate Bridge makes its way high up on the list of monumental damage movie tropes. A spaceship crashed into the bay in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). The same year, a giant kaiju attacked it in Pacific Rim – then again, in Godzilla (2014). A tsunami heaved through it in San Andreas (2015). In Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), we see a climactic battle on the bridge, as well as a sneak-peek to a post-apocalyptic San Francisco. No real bridge was harmed during the making of these movies.

    Location: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA 94123, USA

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    San Francisco’s City Hall

    Dirty Harry (1971–1988)

    All 5 movies in the Dirty Harry (1971–1988) series starring Clint Eastwood features the San Francisco City Hall. In Dirty Harry (1971), it’s basically the mayor’s office where Inspector Harry Callahan is called in to report on what's being done about the madman on the loose. Before Harry’s arrival, we also get a good shot of the street and surrounding view from above the city hall, as well as the building’s impressive interior as he walks up to the office.

    Location: 1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA

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    Potrero Hill

    Parts of the classic car chase in Bullitt (1968) were shot in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood. More recently, it was the shooting location of choice for the John Schlesinger drama thriller, Pacific Heights (1990), which starred Melanie Griffith, Matthew Modine, and Michael Keaton. Also starring was the bright yellow-hued Victorian house at the corner of 19th and Texas streets. The young couples, portrayed by Griffith and Modine, enjoy their home before Michael Keaton’s character moves in to turn their sweet life into a living nightmare.

    Location: 1243 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94107, USA

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    photo by David Baron (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    The Painted Ladies

    Full House (1987–1995)

    The family sitcom Full House ran for 8 seasons between 1987 and 1995 and continued as Fuller House, which features most of its original and “next generation” casts since 2016. It depicts the Tanner family living in one of San Francisco’s famous Painted Ladies, as depicted in its title intro. These 19th and 20th-century Victorian and Edwardian rowhouses are on Steiner and Hayes streets, near Alamo Square Park from where you can get the best views.

    Location: Steiner St & Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA

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    2640 Steiner Street

    Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

    This elegant Victorian house graces a wide corner lot on 2640 Steiner Street, San Francisco. It dates to 1893 but gained big stardom since it served as the setting to the comedy drama, Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). The film starred Robin Williams in one of his most memorable performances, as the titular nanny-in-disguise. Much of the external features and furnishings such as the door and window panes have been refurbished since, and now slightly differ from how it was depicted in the movie.

    Location: 2640 Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94115

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    The Rock (1996)

    This island prison is notorious for having detained kingpins such as Al Capone, in the past. Crime and thriller movies inspired by the infamous landmark include Escape from Alcatraz (1979), starring Clint Eastwood. Much of it was shot on location, and its production required touch-ups that even helped restore the site. Alcatraz is nicknamed “The Rock”, which was fitting for Michael Bay’s action thriller, The Rock (1996). Starring Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage in protagonist roles, it depicts Alcatraz being seized by terrorists.

    Location: Alcatraz Island Light, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA

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    Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

    As one of the oldest Chinatown’s in America, San Francisco’s own has served as the inspired setting for John Carpenter’s fantasy action movie, Big Trouble in Little China (1986). It starred Kurt Russel, and was shot on location in Chinatown, starting from the iconic gate as you enter from Bush onto Grant Street. You might as well relive some of the memorable scenes, especially where sightseeing visitors hop on the yellow Egg Foo Yong Tours bus through the gate then in front of the actual Far East Flea Market and the Four Seas Restaurant.

    Location: Stockton St Tunnel, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA

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    Alamo Square Park

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

    One of the memorable scenes in the classic sci-fi horror film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), shows the playground at the Alamo Square Park, where Robert Duvall has his cameo as a priest on a swing and where the alien life forms start budding on the plants. They then lightly dash across Steiner Street to San Francisco’s famous Victorian rowhouses known as the Painted Ladies. Other than the trees, not much of Steiner Street has changed from how they are depicted in the film.

    Location: Alamo Square, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA

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    Church Street Muni Station

    48 Hrs. (1982)

    The buddy cop drama comedy, 48 Hrs. (1982), starring Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, depicts some parts of San Francisco such as blocks around Chinatown and the Mission. Some scenes were shot far from reality, such as the Church Street Muni Station, which isn’t very busy but seemed bustling in the movie. This rather small, 2-platform station is never as hectic as it’s depicted in the film. Yet back in those early 80s, it was a new-fangled neighborhood feature, perhaps eager for a bit of Hollywood placement.

    Location: San Francisco, CA 94114, USA

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    photo by Liji Jinaraj (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Chestnut Street

    Bullitt (1968)

    Peter Yates’ thriller, Bullitt (1968), had Steve McQueen in one of his most famous roles. However, it’s the car chase that really stole the show. From burning rubber, hard turns and small jumps, to skids and drifts, it takes us on a roller coaster ride down San Francisco’s steep roads. Relive the iconic pursuit by revving up from the Fisherman's Wharf in the Marina area at Columbus and Chestnut Street, down Hyde and Laguna Streets, then south onto Leavenworth Street. The chase ends at Guadalupe Canyon Parkway – no explosive gas station in sight, though.

    Location: Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94123, USA

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    Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveler

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