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Bumblebee film spotlights San Francisco

Transformers spinoff movie Bumblebee filmed on location in the Californian town of Vallejo, becoming an unusual big-budget feature visitor to the Bay Area of San Francisco.

The film is set in 1987, years before the events of the first live-action Transformers movie and follows kindly sentient robot Bumblebee – who disguises himself as a Volkswagen Beetle car – as he befriends Hailee Steinfeld’s teen Charlie while fleeing his enemies.


California production was facilitated with filming incentive support worth $22m and Vallejo stood in for the fictional town of Brighton Falls, offering the California “beach town” visuals the producers were looking for. There were also plenty of easily-accessible scenic vistas such as Rodeo Beach, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and numerous views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

A former naval yard on Mare Island, across the Napa River from Vallejo, was used as the staging point for the film’s finale.

The production team headed further south for additional locations. A boatyard in San Pedro, just south of Los Angeles, was used for scenes where Charlie first discovers Bumblebee and a recently-closed Boeing plant on nearby Long Beach became the headquarters of the movie’s secretive government agency Sector 7, represented by John Cena's lieutenant (pictured below).

Desert story settings were shot in the western Mojave Desert near the town of Lancaster, 70 miles north of Los Angeles.


San Francisco remains an iconic story setting but does not often host big-budget shoots for more than a few days the city has limited production infrastructure and lacks purpose-built studio facilities. 

Recent high-profile films set in the city have included Marvel’s Ant-Man and its sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp, but both movies were based in Atlanta and shot only limited scenes in San Francisco.  

Vancouver in British Columbia is one of the most regularly-used North American stand-ins for San Francisco and other Californian settings, with well-developed studio infrastructure and competitive filming incentive support.

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, superhero movie Captain Marvel and Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun sequel – entitled Top Gun: Maverick – have been among the handful of big-budget features to shoot in California this year. All three received millions in tax credit support from the California Film Commission.   

See KFTV's production guide for more on filming in California.

Images: Will McCoy/Paramount Pictures