California’s Ten Best Places for Photography

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One of the questions I get asked most often is “What are the best places to photograph in California.” Now while this question is like asking someone what their favorite child is, I have tried to narrow down my favorite places to just ten. I am sure they will change, but as of August 2012, these are my top recommendations. Also, you can see my favorite California photos here for inspiration and to find new places.

Yosemite

Really if you only go to one place in California I would make it Yosemite. It is the quintessential experience in the outdoors, that really defines why I love being outside. It has waterfalls, forests, hiking trails, granite rocks to climb, rivers, vistas, you get the point. You can spend your whole life photographing here and still not catch all it has to offer. Here are my posts on the area.

Hollywood / Sunset Blvd

Hollywood Forever Cemetery 8

A 180 degree opposite from Yosemite, these two streets represent the glitz and glamour that have made Los Angeles what it is. They have all of the famous spots like Grauman’s Chinese Theater, The Pantages, The Roxy, etc. They also have the famous stars on the ground and famous foot prints and hand prints from over the years. Add into that the dozens of people who dress as their favorite movie characters for photos and you really have a photographers dream. Great in the day but better with the lights at night.

McArthur-Burney Falls

burney falls

While Yosemite has some of the best waterfalls in the world, this little gem in Northern California looks like a waterfall from a dream of heaven. It beautifully cascades down into the pool below and has water that flows not only out the top but also out of the middle of the falls. MacArthur-Burney Falls is large and has a lot of vantage points making it an easy selection that all photographers should see. It is super out-of-the-way but you need to see it. Check out the Sundial Bridge if you are in the area as well.

Golden Gate Bridge

golden gate bridge-1

I know this is not a crazy pick but I mean its really impossible to leave it off a post like this. The Golden Gate Bridge is a symbol of California and one that you must visit and see for yourself. The way the fog dances around it on an early morning or the light bounces off of it on a late night will remind you why you got into photography. I especially like the Northern side of the bridge near the old army lookout point as it is an amazing vista of the bridge, but there really are a ton of great places to photograph it from.

Venice Beach

For photography, Venice Beach really has a little bit of everything. It has muscle beach, the boardwalk, the street performers, the canals and of course the beach itself. You can get great pictures of everything from people to landscapes every way you turn your camera. You can also walk to the Santa Monica pier pretty easily from here as well.

The Racetrack of Death Valley

Located 28 miles down a road you need a 4 wheel drive vehicle to get to, this unique location is where the rocks seem to move on their own. It is so remote that it keeps a lot of people out, but if you make the trek it will provide an amazing reward to the photographer. The rocks are on a dry lake bed and they have trails to show how they got to their current locations. Don’t ask me how they move, but the photographs are amazing any way you look at it. Death Valley in itself is a beautiful place for photography. I have included four more stops on the way to the Racetrack that you can see below.

The Eastern Sierras

The range of mountains in the center of California known as the Sierras provide ample places to take stunning pictures. I spend more time on the Eastern side off the 395 but the Western side is where the National Parks are. Of course a trip to Mt Whitney is a good hike to give you a lay of the land, but a simple drive up to the 10,000 foot campground of Horseshoe Meadows will provide access to the Cottonwood Lakes, untouched and unseen by most humans, these high altitude lakes are sure to provide beautiful photographs. You could always drive up to Mammoth and see the Sierras while exerting less energy as well.

Sunset Cliffs, San Diego

Sunset-cliffs-coastline

Probably my favorite beach to photograph at, Sunset Beach really has everything you could want. The beach itself is secluded and not over crowded, and it features a set of stairs that take you from the cliffs down to the beach below. The beach is complete with rock carvings from the waves, tide pools and the small waterfall like moss, all of which provide an overload of beauty for the photographer. You will see weddings, proms and family shoots going on half the time you are here, but there is enough room for everyone to have a good place to relax.

The Redwoods

Lady Bird Johnson Grove-19

Located in Sequoia National Park, Yosemite National Park and the Redwoods National Park, there are a lot of good ways to see these towering giants. The oldest is in the Sequoia’s, but if you go to any, even the small area of Yosemite known as the Mariposa Grove, you can still see a tree with a 90 foot circumference and 30 foot diameter. To say these things are big is an understatement. Personally I like the Northern California drive called the Avenue of the Giants but if you can’t make it there any of the above parks will do.

Big Sur

Bixby Bridge 4

I often call this California’s perfect coastline, but Big Sur really is that. The 60 mile drive along the winding Highway 1 will be one of the best drives you make in your life. There are vistas at every turn, each one better than the last, bridges that span the coastline and a waterfall that falls gently onto the beach. It is about as good as it gets for photography. You can spend a lot of time soaking this one in for sure.

Honorable Mention – Salvation Mountain

salvation mountain

While not as well know as the above choices, this area is a photographers dream. It is the work of one man named Leonard and it is his way to show God’s love to the world. It has been a labor of love for the last 30 years and is simply put a mountain that is covered in paint, a stark contrast to the desolate Salton Sea that it stands near. You can explore and walk on the mountain and you will leave ecstatic to show people how amazing this place is.

Honorable Mention 2 – Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco 

Palace of Fine Arts 11

The first time I visited this I couldn’t believe I was still in California. The European architecture is on stunning display in this historic building. You will want to explore it from all angles and it will provide a nice break from photographing the Golden Gate Bridge.

So that is the collection of my favorite photography spots in California. What did I miss? Make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments and make sure to subscribe to my blog to stay up to date on my posts.

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  • http://www.estherandjacob.com/ esther julee

    damn it! i really wanted to go to the racetrack.. but we didn’t want to pay to rent a 4 wheel drive. it’s so expensive. :( now, we have to wait till fall/winter to visit again.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Ya it is pricey to get out there and it’s very remote. For me it was worth it as I got to go to the racetrack and off road to an old abandoned mine. It was a lot of fun!

  • http://www.estherandjacob.com/ esther julee

    thanks for putting all this together btw. these posts are really helpful. i’m really enjoying all the best of posts. we’re only in los angeles for a year (or possibly two), so we’re trying to see as much as we can during that time.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comments! I am glad you enjoy the posts and there is a lot of stuff to do in SoCal as you can see!

  • Matt

    Hi Josh, that was a great article. Did you take these photos? I’d love the opportunity to shoot at these locations. Have you ever considered adding these locations to http://www.pashadelic.com If you post these pictures on there, then we can get directions to the photos that you have listed.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment, yes I took all the photos in this post. The app you referenced looks interesting, I will check it out.

      • Matt

        thanks josh! I look forward to seeing more photography blogs from you.

  • Jane Thurmond

    Great pic’s! My favorite, Salvation Mountain, due to the juxtaposition of nature and man made beauty. I will definitely try and get there someday!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! I love Salvation Mountain as well it is so fun to take pictures at!

  • Anup Menon

    Beautiful!

  • Alaina Kirkpatrick

    These are great! Thank you so much for the tips and beautiful photographs.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      No problem, thanks for the comment!

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