15 Best Spots to Photograph San Diego

Posted on Jul 25, 2012 in photography, Popular

awesome downtownI’m a local San Diego Amateur Photographer. My name is Frank McKenna.  I grew up in San Diego and I love this city.

San Diego is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and millions of visitors, business travelers and tourist come here each year to take in the warm weather and beautiful scenes of the city.  As a frequent traveler myself and one that really loves photography,  I have found that traveling to a city to take pictures can be difficult.  Being unfamiliar with a city, its really hard to know exactly where to go to find the best pictures.  Since I live here in San Diego I thought I would put together something for travelers and photographers to help them take awesome pictures during their short time in San Diego.

If your looking to take day trips from San Diego to photograph cool locations, I put together a list of the best locations within 2 hours of San Diego that you can read here.  7 Best Photography Day Trips from San Diego.

If you are into Night Photography in San Diego, I put a guide of great locations here – 12 Best Places for Night Photography in San Diego.

Or if you want to check out my gallery of selected San Diego Photographs you can go here – San Diego Pictures.


First, Some Tips for Photographing San Diego Sunset is glorious in San Diego, take advantage of it – San Diego is nestled on the Pacific Ocean and has unobstructed views of sunset’s.

I recommend photographing around sunset.  The golden hour here in San Diego is spectacular and your pictures will be so much better if taken at that time. Give yourself 30 minutes to walk and setup for each location . 


Most of the best San Diego pictures you see on the internet and on postcards were probably taken with wide angle lens. I prefer anything 24mm or less for wide angle shots.  For shots in San Diego I prefer to use 24mm for landscape and 35mm shots for the cityscapes.


#1 Scripps Pier La Jolla (Google Map It)

My favorite spot in all of San Diego is Scripps Pier. Not only do you have the fantastic sunsets and the huge pier but there are loads of great shots to be taken of people and wildlife here.  When you look around everything is a shot and everything is bathed in a beautiful golden glow.  If you can get to Scripps on a day when the tide is low, the receding water just glistens on the sand and reflects everything like a mirror.  This is the absolute best place in San Diego to take pictures.  I have provided a map but I recommend parking at La Jolla Shores Beach and walking the half mile up the beach to just under the pier.



#2 Children’s Pool La Jolla (Google Map It)

The Children’s Pool is one of the most beautiful but most controversial places in San Diego. Originally built by Ellen Scripps as a place where kids could learn to swim it was quickly over-run by seals when the water got too contaminated to swim years ago.  Now the battle rages on in courts to determine if the seals should stay or go.  Regardless of the politics this is a beautiful place to photograph seals, people or just the landscape.  If you get there on a day when the waves are big you can capture some pretty incredible photographs of the waves breaking over the breakwall or against the shore.

childrens pool



#3 Centennial Park Coronado (Google Map It)

This doesn’t seem like one of the parks that you have heard about in San Diego but it happens to be the location where most the best San Diego Cityscape photographs are taken.  The park is located right on the bay and has panoramic views of the city of San Diego. You will need to park down the street at the public parking provided in the shopping center or on the street as this park does not have its own parking. For the best shots venture down to the beach located on the left hand side of the park and you can get unobstructed views of the entire city. This place is great for day or night shots.



#4  Sunset Cliffs Ocean Beach (Google Map It)

Ocean Beach has one of the most underrated yet most beautiful coastlines in all of California.  If you want to catch some amazing sunsets and great photos head out south of the pier to a place called Sunset Cliffs Park. Park your car at one of the lots where the cliffs jut out further into the water and it gives you a perfect place to photograph the water and the coastline.  What makes this place excellent for sunset photos are the sandstone cliffs which turn golden in the sunset and look beautiful against the blue Pacific.  Be careful if you are walking close to the cliffs as they can crumble and send you are your gear to the rocks below.


#5 – Salk Institute of La Jolla (Google Map it)

One of the most amazing architectural places in San Diego is the Salk Institute. It provides a photography opportunity in San Diego that is not your typical tourist destination.  The only parking for the Salk Institute is on the street since the lots are reserved for employees.  As a bonus, there is a gliding port next to the Salk Institute where you can take pictures of hand-gliders leaping off the cliffs and flying back and forth high above the coastline.  I like the Salk Institute because you can take some great pictures of amazing San Diego architecture.

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#6 SeaPort Village San Diego (Google Map it)

SeaPort Village is pretty much the #1 tourist destination in San Diego. You can buy any sort of San Diego T-Shirt, crazy hat or carnival type of food in this little tourist trap shopping mall. SeaPort Village however is a pretty cool place to capture night photos since it has lots of boats and structures that reflect against the calm and still waters of the bay.  Bring your camera and tripod and set up for some long exposure shots around SeaPort Village.  There is lots of parking in the lots there (which you need to pay for but it’s pretty cheap).  I like to stroll down the bay and find interesting places to photograph there at night and it usually never disappoints.


#7 – Crosby Street Park San Diego(Google Map It)

Crosby Street Park is a tiny little park that just happens to have a pier that extends way out into San Diego Bay which allows you to get some cool shots of the Coronado Bridge that most people may not have seen.  Along the pier there are tug boats and military ships in the yards being fixed so it can give you some pretty interesting pictures.  The park has lots of parking and this place is almost always deserted so  you will probably have it all to yourself.


#8 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints La Jolla  (Google Map It)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in La Jolla is one of those iconic spots that you have probably seen in pictures of San Diego.  This church looks like something out of a Fairy Tale and it is bright white.  It is really one of the most beautiful churches that I have ever seen.  I have provided a map there because getting there is a little tricky since you have to go down a few roads. The best place to take pictures here is up at the church from the huge green lawns that sprawl around the front of the church.  You can also shoot the temple at night as it is very well lit up and provides some pretty dramatic pictures but I prefer the day shots.


mormon church

#9 – Santa Fe Train Depot Downtown San Diego (Google Map It)

The Santa Fe Train Depot in San Diego is one of the oldest and most historic places in Downtown San Diego.  The old spanish style train depot was built in the 1920’s and it will take you back in time to when San Diego was just being incorporated.  The train station is the main Amtrak station for San Diego and it even has some historic old train cars outside that you can take pictures of.  You will need to park in the public lot located just west of the train station since street parking is limited.  The train station is best photographed at night as you can really capture the movement of the trains and trolleys moving by against the backdrop of the station itself. This truly is one of the gems of San Diego.


#10 – Star of India/San Diego Maritime Museum (Google Map It)

The Star of India is an old merchant ship that was in operations primarily around the turn of the century. This ship looks like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean and you can even board the ship and take lots of great pictures on it.  When you buy tickets you get access to 4-5 other vessels including a russian submarine. There are a lot of great photos you can take in this place and it’s also a very interesting place to go and visit and just browse what life would have been like on these old time ships and submarines. When you head out to the pier to go to the Russian submarine, look behind you and you can capture some great views and pictures of the city as well.  While you are there stroll down the harbor to catch lots of nice photos including pictures of an out of commission aircraft carrier – The Midway.


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#11 – WindanSea Beach La Jolla (Google Map It)

WindanSea Beach is one of the most famous surfing beaches in the world. This place was featured in the surfing documentary, The Endless Summer, and the old palm thatched surf hut is still maintained by locals that make sure the palm fronds are replaced when they blow away.

This place is a great place to watch surfers off the coast catch some of the most perfectly shaped waves that you will ever see. This place is very popular with wedding and family photographers so expect that at sunset you will see lots of photographers with flashes taking engagement photos or photos of families.

This is great place to take sunset pictures of people.  To do it make sure that you take the photos as close to the sun setting as possible or even slightly after the sun has set.  Place the subject to block any sun and use your flash to light up there face since the background can easily wash them out.

When you use a flash you can capture some amazing portaits since you will capture the brilliantly colored sky and clouds and the person in front.  WindanSea is a must photograph location in San Diego.





#12 – Balboa Park San Diego (Google Map It)

Balboa Park is the largest urban park in the United States and it was built for the Worlds Fair. The buildings here still stand and it is home to one of the best zoos in the world too – The San Diego Zoo.

This is another location that is a favorite among photographers shooting engagement photos.   The old buildings provide the perfect backdrop to that timeless old spanish colonial feel.  There are so many great places to photograph here including some reflection pools where you can take really good night time photos.

There is plenty of parking around the park and if you have time you can check out the San Diego Historical Society and browse vintage photos of the various areas of San Diego. There are hundreds and thousands of photographs in books and you can even buy prints of the old photos. I have about 10  photos in my house which I had printed in poster size and then later framed.  You can get pictures of old time portuguese fisherman and surfers from the 1920’s.



#13 – Chicano Park Logan Heights San Diego (Google Map It)

Chicano Park is not your typical tourist destination but it is home to some rich Latino history in San Diego.  The park is located underneath the Coronado Bay Bridge and it has some of the most beautiful murals and art that are painted on the pillars and sides of the freeway.  The murals are constantly being changed by local artist and they tell some amazing stories.  This place is great as a backdrop for portraits but also to just photograph the fantastic art and murals.



#14 – Mission Bay (Google Map It)

Mission Bay Park has some great places to take sunset photos. I always like to take sunset photos with some context and something in the foreground.  This places provides a location where you can get nice palm trees, calm waters and even sailboats within the sunset picture.  Its a great location.


#15 – Laurel Street Parking Garage San Diego (Google Map It)

The top deck of the Laurel Street Parking Garage has one of the most amazing views of large planes landing at San Diego International Airport. The parking structure is the very last building on the approach path before the big planes touch down just a couple of hundred feet away.  The planes pass so close that the mist off the engines will seemingly trickle down right on top of you.  You get an extraordinary perspective on the landing planes.

The only catch is that the parking structure does not allow photos on the roof so if you are going up there for that purpose they probably wont like that.  There is a sign as you enter that says it. So you either need to be parking there or going on a trip.  In any case if you find that you can’t get up there than the surrounding area is still a great place to capture pictures of planes coming in very close.  San Diego airport is one of the only major airports in the US that are actually located right smack in the middle of the city.


#16 Petco Park in Downtown (Google Map it)

Petco Park is right next to the Convention Center and it is a great place to get wide angle shots of the city, but also to capture the trolley line that runs right beneath the footbridge.  If you love train watching, this is a great place to visit.  If you are staying at any of the hotels downtown you are within minutes of the picturesque sights of the Petco area.


# 17 The Dr Seuss Tree in La Jolla (Google Map It)

The tree can be viewed in the park across from the La Jolla Cove Suites. If you can get on the roof of the hotel you can get some great panoramas too. 

The tree can be viewed in the park across from the La Jolla Cove Suites. If you can get on the roof of the hotel you can get some great panoramas too.


#18 North Beach  (Google Map It)

north beach

#19 San Diego Skyline from Point Loma  (Google Map It)

This is a hidden place not many people know about.  You will need to park your car and then look for the small hidden set of stair cases that are between two houses.  From there you can setup and get a great view of the whole of downtown. Bring a zoom lens because that will give you the best result.


#20 Mount Soledad Cross La Jolla  (Google Map It)

This can be a beautiful place to see the entire skyline of San Diego from way up high.


#21 Del Mar 4th Street Beach (Google Map It)

G0 to the end of 4th Beach in Del Mar.  Take a walk along the cliffs, it is extraordinary at sunset.

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# 22 Broken Hill in Torrey Pines (Google Map It)

This place is pretty amazing if your looking for a nice location.  It will take you a 15 minute hike to get there but it is worth it. Park at Torrey Pines Golf Course and walk the path to Broken Hill Trail in Torrey Pines (South Trail)  


#23 Marian Bear Park (Google Map It)

This is a good place to take engagement photos or do a nature walk to take pictures.  A very wooded and secluded area right off the 52 freeway.


#24 The Mushroom House La Jolla (Google Map it)

There are 2 ways to get here.  Walk along the coast up from Scripps Pier (about 10 minutes), or take the longer walk down the cliffs from the Glider Port through Blacks Beach


#25 Gas Lamp District from Convention Center  (Google Map It)

This is a nice cityscape of Downtown San Diego and easy to get to.  Go to the central steps of the Convention Center and go to the top of the steps and you will see a tram stop.  That is the best vantage point for this photo.



#26 American Plaza Trolley Station (Google Map It)

This is a very cool trolley station located in downtown San Diego. It is right near the Santa Fe Train Depot.


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#27 – Geisel Library (Google Map it)

This is a beautiful library located on the campus of UCSD.  For the best angles, go to the corners of the building to capture the whole architecture.  This place reminds me of a big diamond ring.


#28  The Bench (Google Map it)

I really hesitate to give out this secret location. Many locals know about it but it offers maybe the best view of San Diego.  There is a bench at the top of the hill, overlooking a great expanse of coastline and a huge pine tree above it.  This is a great location for romantic pictures.   Just keep a secret please!


#29 The LightHouse (Google Map It)

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is located in Cabrillo Monument.  This is a great place to go but the gates close at sunset so you can only really take pictures during the day here.  There are plenty of great places to take pictures of both the lighthouse and the dramatic coastline here. In fact the tide pools below the light house are some of the best in the world and you can spend hours walking around and seeing lots of sea life.  This is a beautiful place to take pictures of Old San Diego.


# 30 Oceanside Harbor (Google Map It)

This quaint little harbor is a great place to walk around and see lobster boats, shop and take in the real northern San Diego County scene.  The beach here is wide open and there is a beautiful pier that you can walk along.  Its a very picturesque place.


#31 North Torrey Pines Bridge (Google Map It)

A brand new bridge was recently completed to allow the trains to run under it and pass along the coast on their way north. It makes for a very picturesque place to take pictures of Torrey Pines State Beach or passing trains at sunset.

amtrak coaster la jolla

#32 – North Park San Diego (Google Map It)

North Park is San Diego’s coolest neighborhood filled with lots of great restaurants, cafe’s, cool bars and just an all around great place to live the urban lifestyle.  There are plenty of cool places to photograph in this neighborhood but my favorite place is the Greetings From San Diego Mural located at 30th and El Cajon Blvd.


#33 Abandoned Homes of HellHole (The Devils Den)

I just visited there in early 2014 and its pretty cool.  You can read about it here.  The locals may be against people walking there, I have heard stories about that but have not confirmed – The Abandoned Homes of HellHole Canyon.


#34 Take a Trip to TJ (Google Map it)

TJ is pretty amazing for food and culture.  I highly recommend a day in TJ just exploring but remember to bring your Passport.  Don’t worry you don’t need to drive.  Park your car on the border and head over for some good times and some great street photography.


San Diego is America’s Finest City

Now these are not the only places to photograph in San Diego but they are definitely at the top of my list.  I love it.  I think you will love it too if you are visiting.

If you’re looking to make a trip through California check out my tips on where to go to get the most amazing pictures – Best Places to Photograph in California.  Send me an email at [email protected] if you have any questions.