The Escaype Fog Chaser’s Guide
Our summer fog season is well underway here in the Bay Area! While we do get fog in the winter, it's most prominent in the summer months (May-Sept, sometimes Apr-Oct).
First and foremost, this is NOT intended to be a bucket list of shots to collect. It is a list of relatively well-known locations and general areas around the Bay Area that we recommend you check out with the various fog levels around here.
I know some people are opposed to us making anything resembling a list of locations, and I have been reluctant because I would much prefer you do the exploring on your own. However, we have received so many requests that we have decided to compile a list specifically mentioning well-known areas and frequently traveled roads that we would recommend to any photographer. Our goal is not to spoon-feed anyone GPS coordinates to plant their tripod; most of these locations have many viewpoints and/or trails, and are always a blast to explore, and to discover vistas and angles that have the best fog patterns on any given day. Some places have been identified by their stretch of road; when the fog height is right, we'd recommend driving that road and seeing what's on it, or simply checking a map for any parks or vista points in the area, as those are likely very scenic.
This list is by no means exhaustive or definitive. If you drive through the Santa Cruz Mountains, East Bay Hills, etc, you will probably pass several Open Space Preserves, scenic pullouts, and trailheads that are not mentioned here. We highly recommend exploring them, as you are likely to find solitude and beautiful sights to photograph.
You need to know that most of the State Parks close at sunset, and most of the Open Space Preserves close a half hour after sunset, and are closed at night until around sunrise. Some of them have locked gates and No Parking signs outside. You’re welcome to discuss this info in your group, though for obvious reasons, we’re not going to provide official Escaype advice on how to break those rules -- but if you do break them, please be discreet or the parks will be forced to ramp up their enforcement.
Note: all elevations are approximate, as most of these locations are on hills/mountains and allow you to travel up or down a couple hundred feet. You should always double-check elevations on a topo map (Google Maps has a terrain overlay).
Generally speaking, you want to be just a couple hundred feet above the fog, so you are close enough that it is prominent in the vistas and images, but not in danger of being covered. There are exceptions, and many of those are long-lens scenes where the fog is much further away from you, but it is known to interact with the landscape, such as flowing through San Francisco or the Golden Gate.
Quick Reference Guide:
|Fog height||Recommended locations/areas|
|700 ft or lower||Golden Gate Bridge/SF (Marin Headlands, various city viewpoints, anywhere you can see the bridge. Fog will usually make it into downtown SF only if it's >500 ft.|
|700-900ft||Tam, Grizzly Peak/Oakland Hills, San Bruno mtns, Tam facing south, San Bruno mtns|
|1000-1200ft||Tam or Grizzly Peak/Oakland Hills (though you probably won't be able to see the buildings of SF)|
|1200-1500ft||This height can be the trickiest. Santa Cruz Mountains Open Space Preserves and vistas around 1500-1800ft elevation, top of Grizzly Peak, east San Jose hills (Sierra Vista, etc) if fog is in the bay as well|
|1600-1800ft||Tam (West Ridgecrest), Santa Cruz mountains open space preserves and vistas, Page Mill Rd overlooking Silicon Valley (sunrise only, sunset usually fogless), East San Jose/Fremont hills and open space preserves (sunrise only, sunset usually fogless)|
|1800-2000ft||Upper Tam, Santa Cruz mountains in Russian Ridge area|
|2000-2200ft||Santa Cruz mountains in Russian Ridge general area|
|2300+||Mt. Hamilton, Mt. Diablo|
Frequently visited spots:
Mt. Tamalpais State Park (Marin County):
Best fog height: 1600-1800ft
Higher locations facing Ridgecrest:
Best fog height: 1900-2100ft
Facing southeast towards SF:
Elevation: 2000-2300ft (depending on location)
Best fog height: <900ft to see city, but can be nice flowing fog up to 2000ft
Golden Gate Bridge/SF:
Elevation: 750ft (tops of towers), 250-300ft (bridge deck). Slacker Hill ~900', Hawk Hill ~900', but usually fogs up before Slacker due to location. Twin Peaks is also ~900'.
Best fog height: <700ft
Russian Ridge area:
Best fog height: 1800-2200ft
Grizzly Peak/Oakland Hills:
Best fog height: Anything lower than 1400ft, but city only visible if ~800ft or lower
East San Jose/Fremont hills:
Best fog height: 1500-1800ft for most places. Usually if the fog is lower than 1400ft, it won't make into the south bay, so you won't see much. It usually won't come in till late night/early morning, so if you want fog here, your best chance is sunrise.