California is home to some truly beautiful natural landscapes that are as numerous as they are diverse. It’s the only state whose weather and environment spans from hot desert to subarctic — and pretty much everything in between!
For travelers who are looking to get amazing shots with a camera, a drone or even just enjoy documenting their trip with their smartphone, the great Californian outdoors consists of some of the most sought after photo opportunities in the world.
Whether you’re an amateur or seasoned photographer, our guide to some of the best spots will have you snapping professional shots in no time.
The Best Photography Locations in California
Known as the largest trees in the world, these gentle giants are a must-see for any photographer travelling through California. These trees can be found along Northern California’s coast (known as the Redwood Coast) by taking a quick detour off Highway 101 and following a 31-mile route where you’ll find yourself surrounded by photo opportunities galore.
I recommend playing with different angles to add depth perspective to your shots and don’t forget to include someone in your photo to convey the sheer size of these treasured trees!
Yosemite National Park offers some of the most incredible mountain scenery anywhere in California — complete with snow peaks, pine forest valleys and multicoloured skyscapes which are all easily accessible from the valley road that runs through it.
The magical sheer cliff faces of El Capitan and Cathedral are particularly beautiful at sunset when the warm light reflecting off them contrasts with the snow further away. Don’t forget that clouds can be your friend when shooting in Yosemite, the texture and color they offer can bring your photos to life!
Golden Gate Bridge
It’s easy to see why The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed structures in the world. We’ve seen the famous bridge in countless movies and up close, with its sweeping views of San Francisco Bay, and it’s even more impressive in person than it is on the big screen!
Getting the right angle will make all the difference to your photo, so it’s useful to decide whether you want a city view or a natural background. Locations like Vista Point will give you a great city backdrop and for a more rural perspective, make the trip to the Bay Trail or Fort Baker.
Heading up Route 395, you’ll be greeted with 120 miles of sunlit Sierra Nevada, completely removed from metropolitan areas and a region that’s not to be missed when it comes to mountain and valley photography. Get ready to marvel at towering landscapes in spots like Lone Pine, Mt. Whitney, the Alabama Hills and Mono Lake. These aspen-lined canyons are fantastic to shoot in the early morning when the first rays paint the peaks gold.
La Jolla (San Diego)
Complete with dazzling blue Pacific Ocean Views and an abundance of marine life living in harmony, this picturesque little beach community is a real gem for photographers.
From sweeping, elevated coastal views at the Gliderport (complete with colorful gliders dotted around the sky!), to the romantic rocky settings of Windansea, this stretch of coast has it all. Don’t forget to visit La Jolla Cove where you can snap some beautiful wildlife shots of the local sea lions in their natural habitat.
The ultimate Californian destination for majestically rugged and truly wondrous seascapes, a trip to Big Sur will take you on a 300km drive though sun-kissed coastline, golden plains and faraway mountains. With amazing photo opportunities every few hundred meters and sunsets that will take your breath away, it can be tricky to know where to stop in Big Sur.
Try Spooner’s Cove and Morro Bay for some down-to-the-ground seascapes and Moonstone Beach or Ragged Point for some high-up, sweeping views.
Read more: Best Places to Camp in Big Sur, California
The surf-filled, celebrity-studded enclave that is Malibu also happens to be home to some of the best coastal photography spots in Southern California.
Hike around Point Dume where you can lose yourself walking along the sandy beaches with vistas of both the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Catalina Island. Of course, you can’t miss El Matador State Beach. With its endless vantage points, sea stacks and little caves and coves, there’s not shortage of perfect photo spots.
The Channel Islands
Channel Islands National Park is made up of San Miguel, Santa Catalina, Santa Cruz, San Nicolas, San Clemente, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and Santa Rosa — some of which are better known than others. What they all have in common though is their sheer natural beauty. Surrounded by crystal clear azure waters on all sides that are often visited by orcas and gray whales, the islands are ideal for rugged nature photography from either their forested shores or rocky peaks.
Arguably the best beach location for sunset snaps, Laguna Beach is one of Southern California’s favourite, sun-drenched photo opportunity locations. From bridal portraits to rainbow-colored beachscapes, Laguna Beach truly is a postcard destination.
To shoot some beautifully maintained tropical gardens, head to Treasure Island Park and for hundreds of yards of pristine white sands and tide pools, make the journey to 1000 Steps Beach.
This quiet California beach community resides just off the Pacific Coast Highway where a laidback pace of life is wonderfully apparent among the windswept shores. With miles of sandy coves and rocky headlands and very little traffic, it’s easy to capture an air of peaceful reflection in your snaps, whether its of the churning surf or a quiet meadow.
South Lake Tahoe
This guide wouldn’t be complete without the photographer bucket list favourite — South Lake Tahoe. Nestled in the wild alpine landscapes near Nevada, the lake’s crystal clear, glass-like waters make for simply stunning photos. Emeralds and blues are the signature colors here and with so much to see, it’s easy to spend a few days collecting memories.
The embodiment of Pacific beauty in Southern California, Santa Cruz has waterfront boardwalks by the sea, redwood groves in the hills and a whole lot of incredible photo opportunities. Early morning and sunset are the best times of day to capture the natural beauty of this area.