Top 4 Beaches in Marin for a Family Photo Shoot

Ronnie's Awesome List presents a guest article by Gina Risso, family photographer working in the Bay Area. Mention Ronnie’s Awesome List and get 10% off your session fee. 

So you wanna do a beach shoot? 

Surrounded by water on 3 sides, there are no shortage of beaches in Marin County.  And while each one has its own special characteristics, not all are ideal for a family photo shoot. Photo shoots on the beach present their own unique set of challenges. It’s bright and often can be difficult to photograph young children at all times of day on the beach. Kids like to move and aren’t always the best at following directions. So it’s best to plan your beach photo shoot close to the end of the day. We also have a lot of fog here.

A foggy day on the beach can be nice, but its a completely different look and feel to a photo shoot on the beach at sunset. 

All ages are good at a beach shoot, except that short period around the age of 1, when some babies like to feast on sand. Often, we wait until the kids are a little older, before doing a family beach shoot. A good tip: Always bring a change of clothes to a beach shoot. Especially when kids are involved. Photo shoots can abruptly end because someone got wet.

Listed below are my favorite beaches for a family photo shoot in Marin County.

Muir Beach

Only a 10 minute drive from Mill Valley, Muir Beach is the easiest ocean front beach to access in Marin from 101. Flanked on either end with tall bluffs, this small beach has a lot to offer. There’s a new bridge to cross to get to the beach which can be very photogenic, some trees and bushes on the path to the beach, a creek that empties into the ocean on the north end of the beach, and there’s always a few logs washed up on the beach. Parking is free and there’s usually plenty of spots. Best time of day is once again, close to sunset. On foggy days, anytime is of day is good.

Stinson Beach

Ahhhh, Stinson Beach. What a beautiful spot. A little further from the 101, you can expect it to be about a 40 minute drive. I love this beach for family shoots for several reasons. First off, the sand is soft and fine and lovely to walk on. Secondly, its a long beach with bluffs at either end, which makes for a beautiful backdrop, no matter which direction you’re facing.  And finally, its a flat, wide beach which gives us lots of space to move about. Flat beaches are much safer for the smaller kids, than steep beaches. 

Stinson can be busy, if you come during one of the heat waves, but most of the time in the late afternoon, early evening, it clears out. I prefer to shoot near Sea Drift, which is in the middle the beach. (Sea Drift is a private, gated development. Unless you are renting a house, you are not permitted to enter through the gate.) I usually park on the road to Seadrift called Cll Del Arroyo and take one of the roads to the left, to access the beach. This area of the beach has nice sea grass near the edge of the beach and is usually pretty quiet. The best time of day to shoot at this beach is late afternoon close to sunset. If you can schedule it close to low tide, its even more spectacular.

Schoonmaker Beach, Sausalito

Schoonmaker beach is probably the closest beach to the 101 in Marin. It is located on the bay along the Sausalito waterfront, and is perfect for the under 5 crowd. Small waves, palm trees, boat docks, and a view of Mt. Tam are a few of the fun elements here. This beach itself is best at high tide, so check the tidal charts before you plan a shoot here.  Don’t bother at low tide. The bay mud is really black and messy and not the best background for a family portrait. Best time of day is the late afternoon, but there are ways to make it work other the times of the day. There are 4 parking spots designated for coastal access. The rest of the spots in the parking lot are permit only. Park at your own risk, if the coastal access spots are taken. They do occasionally ticket here.

China Camp Village

I love this beach for so many reasons. China Camp Village is located near Peacock Gap in San Rafael, about 15 minutes from the 101. Once the site of a thriving Chinese-American fishing village dating back to the late 1800’s, China Camp is now a gorgeous park. The old ruins are located on a small beach on the bay and it faces east with the Richmond Bridge off in the distance. There’s a rustic old pier jutting out into the bay, some old buildings, a eucalyptus grove, vintage signage, and some old fences that can add character. Most areas are safe for all ages, except the old pier. Hold hands or carry your little ones, if you decide to explore the pier. There are no railings. Best light is late in the afternoon, but its pretty good in the early morning too. Great for all seasons. Plenty of parking, but there is a parking fee of $10 per car. 

The beaches further north are amazing as well, but the drive is a bit long for a family photo shoot. If you live further north, then it might be worth it to head out to Dillon Beach or Point Reyes. In the end, whatever beach you choose in Marin, you are guaranteed some beautiful scenery. 

Ready to schedule your holiday photo session? Gina Risso is one of the most sought after professional family photographers in the San Francisco Bay Area. With holidays fast approaching you’ll want to book soon to capture some amazing year-end portraits you’ll enjoy for years to come. Learn more about Gina at, on Facebook and Instagram.