Editor’s Note: This post was made in 2017. Please note that drone laws are rapidly changing and may be different today vs. when this post was written.
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.
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.
First, keep in mind there are differences in the rules based on whether you are a hobby pilot (perhaps you are just racing with friends or taking pictures for fun) vs. a commercial pilot (maybe you are using your drone to film a movie or gather data).
Recreational pilots operate under guidelines in which they acknowledge they will stay below 400 feet, stay away from manned aircraft, and stay 25 feet away from people. Rules for commercial pilots are stricter, including agreements to fly only during daylight. Please check the Know Before You Fly website before flying anywhere.
Now onto San Francisco specific tips…
My first piece of advice is to check the Know Before You Fly website’s airspace map, 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!
Took this shot over the Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park using a @djiglobal Phantom 4! #dronegirl #dji #phantom4 #p4 #dronestagram #dronesaregood #dronesarefun #dronesarecool #quadcopter #goldengatepark #bayarea #bayareaphotographer #sanfrancisco #sanfranciscoart #sanfranciscophotographer #aerial #aerialphotography
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.
Just some test footage I shot on the @yuneecapv #TyphoonH at one of my favorite places in San Francisco, The Ferry Building! Video unedited and unretouched to show video directly from camera. See a review of the Typhoon on my blog TheDroneGirl.com . . . . . #sanfrancisco #ferrybuilding #bluesky #sf #explore #baybridge #drone #dronesaregood #dronesetc #dronestagram #dronegirl #ameliadronehart #howsfseessf
For your inspiration, here are some great examples of images from my friend and one of San Francisco’s best drone photographers, Kara Murphy:
One day, I’ll stop trying to make you feel discombobulated with my photography. Until then, another perspective of #coittower. Today, @drone_360 named my account, along with @eric.t.ringer, @simeonpratt, @ottocarlin, @karimiliya, @wrenees, @charlesmostoller, @issabellen, @unoalto, and @airloft in their 10 IG Accounts for Awesome Drone Photos. I threw the link up in my profile, check it out.
San Franciscans, where would you recommend Dan fly? Leave your ideas in the comments below!