san francisco drone aerial

So what airspace CAN I fly in while using a drone in San Francisco?

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about finding where you can legally fly your drone — specifically in San Francisco. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

I’m going to San Francisco for a wedding at the end of May. I wanted to bring my drone and capture some shots of such a beautiful city. However, it seems like just about everything is restricted. Can you recommend some good safe places to fly out there? I’d hate to bring it all the way out there just to find out I can’t fly it anywhere.


Hey Dan,

Welcome in advance to San Francisco, and I’m thrilled to hear you want to take pictures of the beautiful city that I live in.

You are right — a LOT of places that our totally incredible also fall in restricted airspace. Most of the beach area on the western side of the city is part of a National Park, as well as the Presidio and Alcatraz. Then, you’ve got the airport down in the southern part of the city which prevents you from flying, as well as Oakland airport on the opposite side of the bay should you want to fly there.

My first piece of advice is to check Airmap, which can tell you whether or not the place you are flying in is restricted airspace. Simply plug in the coordinates of where you are flying, and check the box for either hobbyist or commercial flight as well as the other boxes such as National Parks, and it will let you know if you’re in the clear or not.

So of the places that are legal to fly over, what are some of the best spots? I would highly recommend Golden Gate Park. There are some really cool spots there — the Japanese Tea Garden, the carousel, and the promenade between the Cal Academy and the DeYoung museum are all awesome. I also tested out my Mavic in front of the Conservatory of Flowers and got some epic aerials of the flowers in front!

I also love Treasure Island. It’s extremely sparsely populated, making it a safe spot to fly, while getting a great view of the city’s downtown area. And there are some awesome wineries there to visit — after you drone of course.

Besides that, there are great, iconic spots in the city — City Hall, Coit Tower and the Ferry Building. While you can fly there, be wary of GPS (buildings may affect your drone’s ability to hold its position) and flying over people — you’re in a city of course.

For your inspiration, here are some great examples of images from my friend and one of San Francisco’s best drone photographers, Kara Murphy:

Blue Monday.

A post shared by Kara Murphy (@karaemurphy) on

Perfect night, perfect light.

A post shared by Kara Murphy (@karaemurphy) on

Another favorite shot from last night’s flight.

A post shared by Kara Murphy (@karaemurphy) on

San Franciscans, where would you recommend Dan fly? Leave your ideas in the comments below!


14 thoughts on “So what airspace CAN I fly in while using a drone in San Francisco?”

  1. You should mention how most of SF becomes a no fly zone any time there’s a Giants game in town. The MLB issues TFRs, called “stadium TFR”, which cover not only game time but also several hours before and after each game.

  2. Wonderful article as I’m looking to come up to SF from Australia and I’m bringing my Mavic to do some shots. I’ve found your article and as two that help.

    Question – If I wanted to do group photo (or pull out video) at somewhere like Google (as an example – of course each business can say no) … you know the sort, 10 of us in front of their logo & I do a small pull out and up to say 30/40mtrs … is this legal even if it’s in restricted space? (ie: stay low – tree height)

  3. Actually you cannot fly drones in Golden Gate Park, nor any National Park.

    State parks are place by place up to the locals, all East Bay and all Santa Cruz are currently off limits for drone operators.

    You can get a $125 fine (and yes I’ve seen that happen) when flying in a park that’s restricted.

    Use this app to check where you can fly, created by the FAA:

    From the Park and Rec’s page here are the only parks that allow drones:

    — Airplane Hill, located south of the four-corner intersection on Panoramic Highway in Mount Tamalpais State Park, i

    — A grassy field in the upper parking lot of Seacliff State Beach was also excluded from the Santa Cruz District.

    — Shoreline Muir Beach Overlook and Fort Funston are also open to drone use when hang gliders and para-gliders are not in the air, according to the National Park Service.

  4. You can’t fly anywhere in SF legally unless your flying a micro drone or not over people. But tell me a spot in SF where there’s no people. Go to hawaii

  5. I was flying in Half moon bay beach this morning and the local sheriff made me know it is forbidden to fly in the area… She let me go without a sanction though. New years spirit I guess

  6. I teach the Drone Aerial Imagery course for the SF Art Academy and lets try and clarify a few locations. Golden Gate National Park is off limits; as is all national parks and this includes places such as the Presidio, and Fort Mason.
    City Parks are also restricted without permits for both hobbyists and commercial operations.
    To film most city landscapes you must get permission and a permit from the SF Film commission. GGNRA: Golden Gate National Recreation Area covers all the shoreline on the West side from the Bridge all the way down to almost Pescadero. What does that mean? It means you can not fly over the beach areas; i.e. where the sand is located. You can in many locations fly over the opposite side of the highway in many areas. So Half Moon Bay for example you can’t fly over the beach however you can fly over the residential areas on the east side of Highway 1.
    Most of the time Local Law Enforcement does not know the rules. I always have a copy of my Part 107 license, a copy of the regulations, any permits required and when you begin to educate their niavity most will leave you alone to fly.
    Also keep in mind for SF, there are restrictions flying over the Port of San Francisco properties as a general rule. Most of San Francisco except the southern portion sits Under Class B airspace for the airport and as long as you are at Treasure Island or north at for example Alameda Naval Air Station you can fly Under Class C airspace for Oakland and Treasure Island is a great location and every WED the Drone Racing League meets there to have fun in the connex area.
    Feel free to email me or message me if you have any other questions about the city. Keep in mind, the Bay Area as a whole is one of the most complex airspace environments in the world. The Peninsula has so many airports that flying almost anywhere in San Mateo County is protected.

    1. Can you tell me if it is legal to fly in the areas that are mentioned in the Drone Girls article (Golden Gate Park, Coit Tower, Ferry Building, City Hall)? Do I need to get a permit or permission? It seems from your comment above that it is legal to fly in Treasure Island. Is, that correct. Thank you!

  7. The author got something very wrong. The SFO airport is not in the Southern part of SF. It’s not even part of South San Francisco which is another city completely. It’s more by San Bruno/Millbrae which is 25 minute drive South of the city of San Francisco.

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