The word san diego is written on a train track.

20 Best Places to Take Pictures in San Diego

Uncover the top photography spots in San Diego, from coastal sunsets to historic landmarks, and capture the city's beauty through your camera lens.

With its sun-kissed beaches and vibrant cityscapes, San Diego is a photographer’s paradise.

From the bustling Gaslamp Quarter to the serene shores of La Jolla Cove, every corner of this city offers an Instagram-worthy snapshot.

Whether you’re looking to capture the perfect sunset over the Pacific or the architectural wonders of Balboa Park, San Diego’s diverse landscapes provide many picture-perfect spots.

In this guide, we’ll explore the best places to take pictures in San Diego, including some of my favorite lesser-known photo spots.

So grab your camera, and let’s discover the photogenic charms of ‘America’s Finest City’.

The Well-Known (But Unmissable) Places to Take Pictures in San Diego

San Diego is a dream destination for all photography lovers.

Whether you want to take underwater photographs, capture unique wildlife pics, or shoot landscapes and cityscapes with beautiful sunsets – this is the place to be.

With all these wonderful places, picking the absolute best photo spots in San Diego wasn’t easy.

However, I tried to include something for everyone – so I hope you enjoy my selection.

Cabrillo State Marine Reserve

A rocky cliff overlooking the ocean.

Credit: Daniel Peckham, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED, via Flickr

This is a State Marine Reserve and a marine protected area extending off the Cabrillo National Monument. Rocky and sandy beaches form the territory. There are many hiking trails you can take to explore the area.

Since swimming, surfing, diving, and other activities are prohibited, this is the perfect spot for seascape photography without getting anyone in your pictures.

This isn’t the case inland. This is actually a pretty touristic and visited area – so it can get very crowded. During your visit, please be respectful of the environment. Don’t leave anything behind or take anything with you.

Best view

Using the hiking trails, get on top of the peaks to have a better vantage point to photograph the sea and the tidepools.

Best time to visit

As it gets very crowded, it’s best to photograph it in the morning golden hour. Otherwise, schedule your photos for a weekday to have fewer people around.

Pro tip

Natural parks like this are great locations for pet photography. However, remember that pets are only allowed on trails west of Gatchell Road and the Coastal Trail. Be sure to keep your pets on a leash.

Check the tide charts to plan your visit around them. Wait for a high tide to capture the crashing waves.

Bird Rock Waterfront


This part of the shore doesn’t have a beach, so it’s less crowded, and it’s easier for you to find quiet places where you can take pictures without people on them.

The offshore riffs are popular amongst surfers. So, if you want to take some surfing photography – you’ll love this spot.

It’s also perfect to photograph the waves. You should check the tide chart to plan your photo trips. Sometimes, there’s a lot of seaweed, though.

The name Bird Rock comes from a rock in the shape of a bird, which is a popular subject for nature photographers. Wait until a live bird stands on it to take your photo.

On the back, you’ll have the Bird Rock residential neighbourhood and La Jolla Boulevard. So, you can also change the scenery once you’re done with your seascapes.

How Much Do You REALLY Know About Photography?! 🤔

Test your photography knowledge with this quick quiz!

See how much you really know about photography...

Best view

Vista Point.

Best time to visit

The evening golden hour is perfect.

Pro tip

The type of rocks you’ll find along the coast are quite beautiful. They make a great foreground element in your landscape pictures. To keep everything sharp, use focus stacking.

La Jolla Cove

A group of sea lions resting on a rock in the ocean.

Credit: Tomás Del Coro from Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

La Jolla Cove is a beautiful cove with a beach surrounded by cliffs, making it a wonderful photo location.

However, the possibility of practising underwater photography makes it more interesting for photographers. You can do snorkelling or scuba diving, depending on your skills and interests.

You can use an underwater drone if you want to make some underwater shots while remaining above water. Just remember that because of the heavy surges, not all drones suit this location.

It’s also possible to kayak. This allows you to get further away from the shore to make some beautiful landscape photographs. You may also strap your action camera to your life vest.

For sports photography enthusiasts, there are many open water events that you can use to practice your skills. If you’re into wildlife photography, you may catch a California sea lion in the water or resting on one of the cliffs.

Be careful not to disturb the sea lions or any other wildlife. Not only is it disrespectful – it’s also illegal. So, you better bring a telephoto lens so you don’t get too close and disrupt them.

Best time to visit

You’ll get the best light in the early morning.

Pro tip

If you’re interested in photographing wildlife, you can visit between May and October – this is the seal pupping season.

To protect the animals in this vulnerable time, a rope barrier separates them from tourists. However, you’ll get beautiful shots standing behind the rope without disturbing them.

Downtown San Diego

A city skyline in the distance.

Credit: Bernard Gagnon, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Downtown is the heart of San Diego. It houses the Petco Park, the San Diego Opera, the San Diego Symphony, etc. This is the skyline that you want to capture.

Before stepping away to find a photo spot to make your cityscape picture, you’ll also want to capture some of the buildings and landmarks in Downtown.

One of these landmarks is the Santa Fe Depot – formerly the Santa Fe railway station. There’s also the colourful five-level outdoor mall Horton Plaza.

To get a feel of the cosmopolitan San Diego, you can also visit Chinatown and Little Italy – both found in Downtown.

Best view

You can get wonderful skyline shots from Shelter Island and the Cabrillo National Monument.

You can visit the C-level Lounge and Tom Ham’s Lighthouse on Harbour Island to find a good vantage point. If you want to photograph it from above, visit the rooftop bar Nolen.

Best time to visit

You can visit and photograph Downtown all day long, but I recommend capturing the skyline just after sunset.

Pro tip

Use the reflections of the city skyline to create more interesting compositions.

Balboa Park

A large building with a pond in front of it.

Credit: Bernard Gagnon, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want a mix of culture and nature, Balboa Park is the place for you.

You can find historic landmarks from the Panama-California Exposition (1915) and the California Pacific International Exposition (1935) here.

The Botanical Building, Casa del Prado, and Casa de Balboa are wonderful architectural examples that are worth photographing. You’ll also find plenty of museums, like the Museum of Us or the Fleet Science Center, which offer wonderful photo opportunities.

As for the nature part of the park, there are many gardens for you to choose from, including the Japanese Friendship Garden, the Rose Garden, the Lily Pond, and many others.

If you prefer a sporty mood, there are sports venues like the Balboa Stadium, the Golf Course, and the Rube Powell Archery Range.

The Balboa Park also houses the famous San Diego Zoo. So, if you love photographing animals, this is the place for you. The San Diego Zoo is the home of more than 650 species and subspecies for a total of 4000 animals.

Best spots

Everywhere you look, there’s a photo spot in Balboa Park. The best ones largely depend on taste and the type of photos you want.

My favourites include the Centro Cultural de la Raza, the colourful patio of the Spanish Village Art Center, the Lily Pond with the Botanical Building in the Park, and El Prado.

Best time to visit

This is a very popular park – both for tourists and locals. Make sure you come early and during weekdays to avoid the crowds.

Pro tip

Balboa Park is a popular location for professional photo sessions from graduation to wedding shoots. So, you may find it hard to work in the theme-designated areas.

If you’re not looking for a specific building or landmark, you’ll find plenty of beautiful photo spots along the green belts and walking paths where you can work more peacefully.

Pacific Beach (PB)

A wooden pier on the beach.

Credit: Dirk Hansen, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pacific Beach, better known as PB, is a seaside neighbourhood well known for its thriving nightlife and surfing activity.

The Ocean Walk Front boardwalk extends for 3.2 miles, full of restaurants, bars, hotels and shops. It’s usually quite lively and crowded.

Next to it, you’ll find Crystal Pier. Several ocean-view parks have playgrounds, while some are unmaintained, allowing sports like mountain biking.

You’ll find surfers year-round, even if the water can get quite cold during the winter.

Best view

You have a good view of the coast and skyline from Crystal Pier.

Best time to visit

Sunrise and sunset.

Pro tip

Pacific Beach is ideal for capturing sunset silhouettes. Set the exposure to the sky, and you’ll get a silhouette of your subject. Surfers make a great subject for this type of photo.

Ocean Beach (OB)

A person walking on the beach at sunset.

Credit: Abdominator at English Wikipedia., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ocean Beach is a coastal neighbourhood. In it, you’ll find the historic district full of cottages built between 1887 and 1931. You’ll also find other landmarks like the Ocean Beach Gateway Archeological Site.

Newport Avenue, and the neighbourhood in general, is populated by local stores and independent hotels instead of big chains and franchises.

This gives Ocean Beach a strong sense of community, and the streets have a distinct look that you’ll love to capture in your photographs.

Best view

The palm trees in Newport Avenue that lead to the sea make a wonderful view. If you want to capture the skyline, head to the pier.

Best time to visit

Daytime is best for photographing the city streets and landmarks. Then, head over to the shore and the pier to capture the sunset.

Pro tip

You can do beautiful light painting photographs at night. Make sure you use a tripod. Then, bring torches or light brushes, depending on what you want to do.

Torrey Pines State Reserve

A panoramic view of the ocean from a cliff.

Credit: Farwestern Photo by Gregg M. Erickson, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This coastal state park was named a National Natural Landmark in 1977. It’s formed by a series of cliffs overlooking the beach and a lagoon.

You can capture amazing landscape photographs here – the towering sandstones are one of the most stunning subjects. However, you’ll also find flora and fauna that make wonderful subjects.

Amongst the most common animals, there are foxes, bobcats, coyotes, skunks, as well as migrating birds. Sometimes, it’s possible to spot humpback whales and gray whales while migrating.

As for the plants, you’ll find the rarest pine in North America – the Torrey Pine and many types of cacti. A train goes by every hour, which is another interesting thing to photograph while you’re visiting.

Best time to visit

Torrey Pines State Reserve gets very crowded on holidays and weekends. So, it’s better to come on a weekday. Sunset offers the best light.

Pro tip

Come in spring if you want to capture a greener landscape and colourful blooming flowers.

Los Peñasquitos Canyon

A rocky area with a stream running through it.

Credit: Credit: Wayne S. Grazio, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED, via Flickr

Los Peñasquitos Canyon is one of the largest urban parks in the U.S.

This is a perfect location for nature photographers, whether you’re interested in landscape pictures or photographing wildlife. Thanks to its rich bio-diversity, you can find birds, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles – including rare and endangered species.

Here, you’ll also find a historic landscape called Rancho Santa Maria de los Peñasquitos – an adobe ranch built in 1823.

Best view

The waterfall is by far the most iconic place to photograph.

Best time to visit

The morning golden hour has good light, and it won’t be too crowded.

Pro tip

You can use the creek and the many pools of water to experiment with reflections and create interesting compositions.

Sunset Cliffs


This natural area offers a sandy beach with waves big enough to surf and a series of cliffs surrounding it. In combination, it makes a perfect photo spot.

You can stay at sea level to make silhouettes or capture the waves. However, you can walk the hiking trails on the cliffs for a higher vantage point.

These trails aren’t well developed, so they aren’t so crowded. However, they can be dangerous, so please be careful.

From the cliffs, you can also photograph the tidepools. You’ll also find beautiful beach houses that make a nice backdrop for your Instagram pics or any portrait session if you want a variety of backgrounds.

Best view

Walk the Razor Point trail to get a stunning view of the sunset.

Best time to visit

The golden hour – particularly at sunset.

Pro tip

You can use a polarizing filter if the reflection on the water is blowing your highlights.


The mountains are in the distance.

Credit: Djh57, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Coronado is a tied island sitting opposite the San Diego Bay. Most constructions you’ll find here are resorts. The most famous is the historic landmark Coronado Hotel – built in 1888.

Best view

You can get beautiful views of Coronado Island from Downtown San Diego or the tombolo walking towards the island.

In the same way, from Coronado, you’ll have a great view of San Diego.

Best time to visit

Sunrise or sunset.

Take the HARD Photography Quiz! 🤯

Now it's time to really test your photography knowledge!

(99% of people can't get all the questions right...)

Pro tip

Head over to the leash-free Coronado Dog Beach for some amazing pet photography.

Old Town San Diego

A house with a clock tower.

Credit: Ken Lund from Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Old Town, as the name indicates, is the oldest settlement in the city. It was its core until they moved it to Downtown San Diego to be closer to the coast.

You’ll find Presidio Park and Old Town San Diego State Historic Park here. The architecture in this area is quite different from anything else you’ll find in the city, and it’s worth photographing.

If you want to get a feel of the Mexican heritage, this is the place to visit. There are many annual celebrations, such as Cinco de Mayo, Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), and Posadas around Christmas time.

Pro tip

If you like documentary photography, you should definitely visit during one of the annual events.

Chicano Park

A large mural painted on the side of a bridge.

Credit: Jay Galvin, CC BY 2.0 DEED, via Flickr

If you like street art, this is the best photo spot in San Diego. In the Chicano Park, you’ll find the largest collection of murals in the U.S. and sculptures and earthworks.

The murals have historical importance, representing the struggle and achievements gained by the Mexican-American community and the Chicano identity.

Best time to visit

April 22 is the anniversary of the takeover. Each year, the park hosts many events worth photographing.

The Lesser-Known San Diego Photo Spots (Local Secrets)

  • Verbatim Books – this vintage bookstore in North Park has an amazing wall full of books forming its name—definitely a beautiful backdrop and a dream for book lovers.
  • Annie’s Canyon – a beautiful hiking trail in Solana Beach, will lead you to this awe-inspiring sandstone canyon.
  • Raised by wolves –  the opulent decoration of this bar has an old style that makes a wonderful photo spot.
  • Mount Laguna – From November until May, you’ll find a snowy landscape. Since the big fires, it has a spooky vibe – so it makes a very unique location.
  • Kwaaymii Point – this is a beautiful location to photograph rock formations.
  • La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla – Whether it’s the facade, the pool, or the lobby, this beautiful hotel is a great location for your Instagram pics.
  • Old Point Loma Lighthouse – this isn’t quite such a hidden gem, as it’s quite famous. However, it’s a one-stop photo spot that you can’t miss.

FAQs about Taking Photos in San Diego

Is it legal to fly a drone in San Diego?

Recreational use of drones is legal in San Diego as long as you follow federal and local regulations. To fly a drone as a recreational pilot, you must take TRUST – a free online test to prove you have enough nautical and safety knowledge.

Is it legal to take street photos in San Diego without permission?

As long as you’re on public ground and you’re photographing things and persons in plain sight – it’s legal. Obviously, this is limited by other laws like copyright of public artwork, privacy laws, etc.

In private property, the owner is the one who sets the rules. So, you have to be careful because a gate or a sign doesn’t always protect private property – so, you may think it’s a public place when it’s not.

Are there any places in San Diego where photography is strictly prohibited?

All National Parks in San Diego forbid the use of photography drones – even if it’s only for personal use.

Is flash photography allowed in museums and indoor attractions?

Each museum may have a different policy. However, flash is usually forbidden to protect the artworks and prevent disruption to other visitors.

8 Tools for Photographers

Check out these 8 essential tools to help you succeed as a professional photographer.

Includes limited-time discounts.

Learn more here

Leave a Comment


Enter your email to be sent
today's Welcome Gift:
19 Photography Tools

🔥 Popular NOW:

Shotkit may earn a commission on affiliate links. Learn more.