When you have a drone it's important to only fly it in places that are legal. There's a whole lot of rules and regulations that vary by state and even city. This is why it can be confusing to determine where you can fly your drone.
You cannot launch your drone from a city park in San Francisco. However, if you can find a way to work around this you can legally fly your drone near the Golden Gate Bridge. There are also plenty of other places where you can legally fly your drone in and around San Francisco.
Flying Drones in San Francisco
Although many people consider San Francisco to be a really tech-forward city, there's been a great deal of confusion as to whether you can legally fly a drone there. One thing is for certain though, according to the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department you'll be fined up to $200 if you attempt to fly your drone in a city park. This is unfortunate considering that this area has some great parks (e.g. Golden Gate Park, Alamo Square Park, Mission Dolores Park). In fact, when the Trust for Public Land conducted a survey to see which city had the best parks, San Francisco came in third place. However, you don't want to get caught flying your drone there if you don't have a permit that allows you to do so.
Flying “Near” the Golden Gate Bridge
Yes, you can fly your drone "near" the Golden Gate Bridge but here the word "near" is a relative term. This is because while you can fly "near" the Golden Gate Bridge you can't take off, land, or control your drone from any location nearby unless you're on a boat. The other areas (a.k.a. land) around the bridge belongs to a National Park.
Unfortunately, it's against the law for drones to take off, land, or be controlled on land within a National Park. This doesn't mean that you can't fly over a National Park though since the National Park Service doesn't control the air (only the Federal Aviation Administration can do so). Therefore if you're obeying the FAA's (Federal Aviation Administration) rules you're not breaking any rules. However, the National Park can still get you for breaking other laws (e.g. disturbing the peace, bothering wildlife, reckless endangerment, creating a hazard).
When you want to fly near the Hollywood sign you'll need to get a permit to use the property there. This is owned and operated by the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District. There are several different types of permits that you can apply for online that'll allow you to fly your drone here including:
- A special events permit will allow you to host a special event on the property (e.g. Golden Gate Bridge sidewalks, Golden Gate Ferry terminals).
- A filming and photography permit will allow you to conduct these activities on the District's property. Here you'll find all the details you need regarding using the property along with contact information for any property that's located nearby the Golden Gate Bridge but owned by another jurisdiction. When you fill out the online form you'll need to provide contact information and basic filming details.
- An expressive activity permit is available if you want to use your drone while conducting any type of communication that conveys an ideological, philosophical, political, or religious opinion, view, or message (e.g. assembling, demonstrating, distributing written materials, leafleting, marching, protesting, rallying, holding or displaying signs).
Federal Drone Laws in California
The federal government has created some laws regarding drones that apply to every state throughout the States including California. Before flying your drone here you need to determine whether you'll be flying commercially (for work or business purposes) or recreationally (for fun or pleasure). Once you've made this determination you'll be able to understand what laws apply to you.
As a commercial drone pilot in the state of California, you must follow the FAA's Part 107 Small UAS Rule. Part of this rule states that you must pass the FAA's Aeronautical Knowledge Test so that you can obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate. Once you've satisfied this part of the law, if you want to work as a government employee and fly your drone on their behalf (e.g. police, fire department) you'll need to obtain a federal Certificate of Authorization (COA).
As a recreational drone pilot in the state of California, you must follow the FAA's recreational model aircraft rules. As part of these rules, if you plan to fly a drone that weighs more than 0.55 lbs (250g), you'll need to pay $5 to register it. You also cannot fly at a height of over 400 feet, anywhere within 5 miles of an airport, and you must keep your drone within your line of sight at all times.
State Drone Laws in California
There are also some drone laws that apply to the whole state of California. These were drafted by the California State Legislature.
SB 807 // 2016
First responders who damage a drone that's interfering with them while they were providing emergency services won't be held liable.
AB 1680 // 2016
Anyone who interferes with first responders who are responding to an emergency will be charged with a misdemeanor.
AB 856 // 2015
Unless you have permission you aren't allowed to enter airspace to take a picture or record a video of someone who's engaged in a familial, personal, or private activity. This legislation was enacted in response to drones that the press were using to capture footage of public figures like celebrities.
AB 2655 // 2020
First responders aren't allowed to use drones to take photographs of a crime scene unless they have a valid reason for doing so.
California Department of Parks & Regulations (Cal. Code Regs. title. 14, § 4351) // 2015
Drones can't be used in State Park cultural preserves, nature preserves, or wilderness areas. This is why you should always take time to review a State Park's regulations before flying your drone there. Each State Park may have its own regulations.
PO 925-19-32 // 2019
You're not allowed to launch, operate, or land a drone in any park that's part of the Orange Coast District. This includes Bolsa Chica State Beach, Corona del Mar State Beach, Crystal Cove State Park, Doheny State Beach, Huntington State Beach, San Clemente State Beach, and San Onofre State Beach.
When you're operating your drone commercially in the state of California you're subject to the FAA's Part 107 rules. This means that you must be certified to operate your drone and get a commercial drone license.
Where to Fly a Drone in San Francisco
While there are a lot of rules regarding the use of drones in San Francisco, there are still a lot of great places where you can fly your drone. The following locations have few airspace restrictions (mostly in uncontrolled, class G airspace that doesn't require you to request permission to fly your drone), are quite accessible, and feature some great attractions.
Located on Yerba Buena Island in the San Francisco Bay area there's Blue Park. This island is also connected to Treasure Island – a manmade island that was formed by the American government in 1936. Here you'll find some beautiful views of the city's skyline and the surrounding bay area. In fact, you're able to see both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge from Blue Park. Since you can't fly your drone around the Golden Gate Bridge this is the next best thing. Here you'll get a view of the Golden Gate Bridge an expansive view of the bay area – the best of everything.
Located between Pier 35 and Pier 39 in San Francisco there's a small strip of green space that's known as Public Park. Directly in front of this property, there's a marina that makes this a great place to watch boats. You can also see the Oakland Bay Bridge and the bay's numerous islands from here. As a drone pilot, you'll enjoy how diverse and picturesque this area is.
On the east side of Lake Merritt in Oakland, California there's Empowerment Park. Just outside of San Francisco this park offers incredible views of the lake as it spans over 140 acres. Designated as a National Historic Landmark this lake is known for its "necklace lights." These consist of 126 light posts with 3,400 light bulbs.
This lake also has numerous islands that were created to serve as a wildlife sanctuary. Dating back to 1870, this was the country's first wildlife refuge. Throughout the year the area sees fluctuations of bird species. Therefore you need to always remain vigilant for birds when flying your drone in this park.
Cesar E. Chavez Park
Extending out onto the San Franciso Bay in Berkley, California there's a 90-acre park that's known as the Cesar E. Chavez Park. Here you won't only be able to capture some stunning views of the Bay Area, but you'll also get great footage of all three of the bay's bridges. With San Francisco's skyline located off in the distance will provide you with the perfect backdrop for videos and photographs.
This whole property consists of a wide-open grassy area that makes it an ideal location for flying your drone. This area is also a popular place for flying kites so you'll need to avoid flying your drone near them.
Richardson Ama Field
The PCC Flying Club owns the Richardson AMA Field which is located in Half Moon Bay, California. This isn't only directly across the street from some farmland but also from the Pacific Ocean's shores. Before heading out there you can check out the field's live camera to see what the weather conditions are like. You'll also appreciate the fact that the area has a large runway with a field surrounding it. Additionally, there are some nearly endless views of the Pacific Ocean that can be captured from here.
While you can't launch, fly, or land your drone from a city park in San Francisco without a permit that explicitly allows you to do so, there are still some ways that you can get some great images and videos of the Hollywood sign. You'll need to be a bit creative to do so but the fact still remains that it can be done legally. Of course, before you take flight you should also check out the other laws California has regarding drones so you can have a safe and enjoyable flight.
Shawn Manaher loves to play with new toys and dive into new hobbies. As a serial entrepreneur, work definitely comes first but there is always room for hobbies.