My List of Top San Diego Photography Locations - parallel33 photography

My List of Top San Diego Photography Locations


When I was in high school, there were only three locations people took pictures at: the beach, Lake Poway, or Old Poway Park. Don't get me wrong: they're all great locations, but I searched for something more creative. 

Taking into consideration overall potential variety of shots, quality of lighting, and ease of access, I have developed a list of my favorite photography locations in San Diego. My intention is to give fellow photographers ideas on where to shoot next!

1. Canyonside Community Park in Black Mountain

This is my favorite spot in San Diego. Canyonside park is huge and has all kinds of great backgrounds. Fall colors exist (in SD?! Really? ...well, kind of), tree coverings provide nice shade, there are white fences, a small creek, and tall tan grasses that filter beautiful golden hour light. When you're driving in, there is a park and tennis courts to your right, and woods to your left. There's lots of parking and places to explore, but you might have to walk into the trail pretty far. Bring good walking shoes! FYI, this place is packed during Christmas card season. I've found myself waiting in line in order to take pictures in this one field in late December. 

Tip: Get there early because 1) there is so much to explore 2) the sun goes down behind a hill the park (2 hours before sunset is ideal)

2. Oceanside Pier

This is San Diego; of course you want to take pictures at the beach! But doing this can be next to impossible because people are either staring directly into the sun or they're so backlit that finding the right angle and exposure is difficult. This is why I love piers: they give a nice backdrop and provide even shade, so you never have those weird beams of light on people's faces.

These pictures were taken at the Oceanside pier (it also has pretty rocks), but there are other great piers in SD like Scripps Pier in La Jolla and Ocean Beach tower 1.

3. Coffee Shops

One of my favorite things about San Diego are the cute coffee shops we have around. Coffee shops and caf├ęs are great places to take fashion and lifestyle pictures. They even work perfectly for a trendy senior session. Some of my favorite places include: Moniker General, Squarebar Cafe, Holy Matcha, Ocean Beach Beans Coffee Roasters, King's Craft, Better Buzz, James Coffee Co., and Communal Coffee. The pics below are at Holy Matcha and Holsem Coffee.

Tip: Make sure to purchase something so you have a cute prop (plus, it's rude not to).

4. Carlsbad Flower Fields

For flower-obsessed people like me, this is a MUST SEE. I almost cried when I saw all the flowers; they're so beautiful. They bloom from early March through early May. You need to pay to get in, and you have to have a permit and pay a large fee if you're taking professional-grade photos for profit. However, I walked in with my Canon 6D a few years ago and never got questioned. When you go, make sure to be respectful of the flowers and follow the taped off paths. We want them to have it open to the public for years to come. Get creative with the other gardens and backdrops the area has to offer.

Tip: Wear white or neutral colors with no patterns so the flowers and your faces really stand out in the pictures.

5. Sunset Cliffs

Alright, this may be a bit bias, but you're missing out if you've never shot at the cliffs. Right off Point Loma Nazarene's campus is a beautiful stretch of cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The cliffs cover quite a bit of land-- from Cabrillo National Monument to Ocean Beach, but in my opinion, the area around Point Loma is the best for pictures. This may be because there are fewer tourists getting in your shot and you can watch the surfers on the waves for hours.

There are a few options here. Either drive into PLNU's campus (make sure to pick up a free parking pass) and park by Young Hall (...if you can find a spot) or in the city lot on that same hill. Careful: the road is a one way. Ask the security guard how to get there. Otherwise, park in the lot off the corner of Ladera St and Cornish Dr.

This is not an easy place to get to, so make sure you are physically capable and can carry all of your gear on this trek. You can climb down to "beach access" near abs and subs (ask the locals) or down the rope at Garbage beach (it's not actually full of garbage, don't worry). There are tons of tide pools and beautiful rocks and crevasses to enjoy if you can time the tide well. Make sure you go at mid or low tide, otherwise you'll be trapped on the beach! If going down to the beach isn't your jam, you can still get great pictures exploring around on top of the cliffs (10 points if you find the graffiti canyon).

6. Secret Woods in Poway

Okay, this one may be out of the ordinary, but gems can come from anywhere right? My brother found this trail behind the Poway Adult School, and I was pleasantly surprised.

This trail includes fallen tree trunks, boulders, and sycamore trees. The farther back you go, the better. There's lots of parking, and since no one knows about it, you can bet it won't get crowded.

7. Cowles Mountain

This trail is pretty easy and short, and the top overlooks the whole city! I love doing night hikes here during a full moon. Bring a flash, a tripod, and some friends!

8. North Park and Hillcrest

Hip neighborhoods are a perfect hotspot for fashion photography, fashion bloggers, business headshots, and unique senior portraits. I love finding colorful walls and quirky corners in North Park and Hillcrest. Strengthen that insta game!

What's your favorite from my list?

Any other spots I should know about?

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