California is arguably the country’s most Instagrammable state, so grab some in-n-out fries and enjoy this list of 22 Epic California Engagement Photography Locations!
With so many rad locations to choose from, how do you pick the best one for your elopement or engagement photography session? We’d say pick a place that’s gorgeous (duhhh), an adventure to get to (because parking lots are too easy), and far enough away that tourists won’t be in the background of your shots!
California is so diverse for engagement photos – it has beaches, cliffs, deserts, mountains, lakes, surf, and snow all within a 100 mile radius. (Reason #512391 why we moved from FL to CA in 2017) While it can be overwhelming to pick the perfect location for your engagement session, we wrote this blog post so you can see some photogenic (and easy to get to) locations from San Diego to Yosemite!
These are 22 epic engagement session locations in California’s state parks, national parks, public lands, public parts, etc. Please research appropriate permits/access before scheduling a shoot. Always practice “Leave No Trace Principals” and leave the environment better than how you found it!
1) Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is more than 700,000 acres of desert landscape in south-east California. It’s popularly known for it’s Joshua Trees, also referred to as the Yucca Palm, which dominate the landscape for miles on end.
Many people stop by the Natural Sisters Cafe for a fresh juice or smoothie before hopping into the park for their photos!
Pro Tip: Watch out for cactus!! This seams like a given, but we’re just gonna’ say it anyway!! There are really sharp cactus EVERYWHERE and you don’t want to ruin your fun time in the park because you stubbed your toe on a cactus!!
2) El Matador State Beach
Next on the list is El Matador State Beach! This beach is one of the 3 that make up Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach in Northern Malibu. The sunsets here are seriously to DIE for, just like the one we photographed during this engagement session!
This beach is easy to get to so it’s also crowded! Make sure you come during a weekday sunset to get the most out of your experience. And don’t forget to get sushi at the oceanfront patio in Nobu Malibu!
Pro tip: check the tides before you go – shoot for low tide!! The tide was only +2 feet during this engagement photo shoot and we all got wet shoes! Aim for a tide of 0 or even lower for the best experience!
3) Glamis Sand Dunes
Glamis Sand Dunes is 250+ square miles of sand hills rolling for as far as the eye can see! This is number 3 on our list of Epic California Engagement Photography Locations because of how exotic the landscape is as compared to LA! (which is only a 3 hour drive away!!)
Tucked away in the quiet city of Brawley, CA, Glamis is a landscape you wouldn’t believe is in America! Encompassing the nearby Anza Borrego Desert Mountains, these dunes are by all means an epic spot to take engagement photos like this epic session!
I wish I had a great food recommendation for you, but you’re sadly on your own for this one! This place is 60 miles away from any gas stations, cell service, and food options so plan accordingly!! It’s also 120+ degrees Fahrenheit in the summer so only shoot during sunrise if your engagement session is in the summer!
Pro tip: enjoy your time with no phone service!! You’ll be sweating together from hiking up sand hills and you’ll have sand in places you never knew you had, so have fun and make it a memorable experience instead of harping on the little negatives!
4) Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one of California’s most visited landscapes, and it’s easy to see why! Internationally known for its’ granite mountains and roaring waterfalls, it’s a park you don’t want to miss! With multiple different viewpoints of El Capitan and Half Dome, an engagement session in Yosemite National Park is a must do!
Pro tip: check the park website before you go to see which roads are available! The road to Glacier Point is closed until May because of snow, and might even be closed until June on some years with heavier snowfall!
5) Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Anza Borrego Desert State Park is over 600,000 acres of desert landscape located just east of San Diego county! With over 500 miles of dirt roads and more than 100 miles of hiking trails, there’s plenty of diversity for your engagement photo session!
Font’s Point is a popular location to catch sunset like we did in this engagement session! Make sure to bring your 4WD high-clearance vehicle or you will end up stranded without cell phone service.
Pro tip: Don’t wear black in the summer, no idea what we were thinking!! Made for pretty photos though 🙂
6) Walker Canyon Poppy Fields
Located in Lake Elsnoir, CA, Walker Canyon is a flower lovers DREAM!! Every so often, winter rains cause the canyon to explode with flowers which makes for beautiful engagement photos like this session!
The poppy flower super bloom at Walker Canyon brings 50,000 tourists per day so make sure to plan your session for sunrise to avoid large crowds!
Pro tip: watch for snakes! This goes for ALL locations in California. Make sure to stay on the trails and watch every step you take!
7) The Ho Chi Minh Trail To Black’s Beach
San Diego is well known for beach-side cliffs, so we did the work for you and found the most photogenic cliff in all of San Diego! The Ho Chi Minh trail makes for gorgeous scenery, but also prepare for a few laughs as you descend down to Black’s Beach – a NUDIST BEACH!!
And also prepare to ascend 10+ flights of stairs to get back up from the beach! But it’s totally worth it, you’ll end up with gorgeous engagement photos like these!
Pro tip: it’s rude to stare. 😛
8) Mount Baldy
California is awesome for engagement photo locations because you have SO much variety to choose from! So far, we’ve seen beaches, cliffs, deserts, etc – but check out this SNOW only 1 hour from LA!!
Mount Baldy is a popular hiking spot for Southern Californians because of how conveniently close it is to LA! Check out how gorgeous this engagement photo session at Mount Baldy!
Often referred to as Mount San Antonio, Mount Baldy is the highest point in Los Angeles! For the couples that want to be able to say they were the “highest couple in LA” for their engagement session, this spot is for you! 😛
Pro Tip: the weather here changes in no time! We scouted this location 4 days prior to the shoot in order to make sure the trail was safe. It snowed in between that time and the date of our session and we ended up with snowy shoes!
9) Griffith Observatory
Probably the most urban location of the choices, Griffith Observatory is centrally located near Downtown Los Angeles! With gorgeous views of the sun setting behind LA, you can’t go wrong by scheduling your engagement photo session here!
While you’re here, you’ll want to catch a few views of the Hollywood Sign from the top of the Observatory! This place is PACKED with tourists, but makes for epic photos like this engagement session we did! Just be patient and wait for the opportunity to shoot with nobody behind you, it’s worth it!
Pro tip: don’t be scared to politely ask someone to excuse themselves out of the way of one or two of your photos!! Your engagement session only happens once, people are generally nice and will get out of your photo if you ask kindly!
10) Sequoia National Park
While all we have to show for this location is a photo this tourist snapped for us during our first trip, Sequoia National Park is GORGEOUS!! Some of the trees in this park are over 2000 years old and are more than 35 feet in diameter!!
11) Vasquez Rocks
Caused by 25 million years of uplift activities along the San Andreas Fault, Vasquez Rocks is an exotic location within 1 hour of Los Angeles to take your engagement photos! It’s dog friendly so bring your pup 🙂
This location is perfect for outdoorsy couples that enjoy climbing. In other words, it’s heavenly for monkeys like Stephen! This engagement session at Vasquez Rocks was so much fun because we literally got to hike/climb/enjoy the beautiful scenery!
Pro tip: plan around LA traffic – you don’t want to spend ANY of your time bored in traffic! Go grab dinner after your sunset session so you don’t waste 1 hour or more in traffic!
12) Torrey Pines State Beach
Torrey Pines is one of the most visited parks in San Diego because of the cliff-side views and endless beaches! This place is photogenic, easy to get to, and has plenty of parking – so go for sunrise like we did during this engagement session!
The best photo spots are at least a 15 minute walk along the beach from the parking lot, so pack lightly and plan to arrive super early! Don’t get too close to the cliffs because they’re always eroding!
Pro tip: keep your eyes out for dolphins! 9/10 times we take photos here we see dolphins 🙂
13) Mission Trails Regional Park
With more than 5000 acres of land to explore, Mission Trails is a popular spot for San Diego locals to get away from the hustle-bustle! The San Diego River flows through the park so you get a variety of scenery. The park is big enough to get great photos even on a weekend for sunset like we did during this engagement session!
Whether you’re feeling lazy and want to stay close to the road or you’re ready for an 8 mile round trip hike, this place has it all and more! This place is very family friendly so don’t do too much PDA 😛
Pro tip: go for a hike here (or any of the locations on this list) before your engagement photography session!! Doing so will get you more excited for the session and more comfortable with the surrounding areas!
14) Big Bear Lake
With over 100,000 tourists visiting every weekend, Big Bear lake is a day trip hotspot for anyone around Southern California! Not to worry, though, because there’s plenty of space for you to explore! Whether you decide to stay close to the roads at Boulder Bay Park or venture into the wilderness via the Castle Rock Trail, Big Bear has scenery for everybody!
Like most of the places on this list, Big Bear is dog friendly so bring your fur children to join you on your engagement photography session! Make sure to grab a large pizza at Maggios after your sunset session!
Pro tip: fall time colors here are stunning – plan your engagement session in late September/early October to get a glimpse of fall foliage!
Popularly known for its’ Apple Pies, Julian is a small scenic town just 1 hour east of San Diego. The clean mountain air and soothing sound of wind blowing through the trees make for an attract escape from the city life close by! Frolic through the fields like we did during this engagement session!
The best part about doing your engagement photos in Julian is that you can literally drop and do a picnic ANYWHERE! (and if you’re anything like us, you’re down to eat pretty much any time!) There’s picnic benches everywhere you look, gorgeous fields as far as the eye can see, and plenty of trees with shade for during the hot summer months!
Pro tip: don’t think about the spiders that you’re probably sitting on 😛
16) Carlsbad Cliffs
This one really hits home for us…because it IS home for us! Carlsbad is our back yard, can you tell why based on the photos in this engagement session? With teal water, neon sunsets, and quiet evenings – Carlsbad is a relaxing environment for a laid-back engagement session!
Terra Mar Beach is the best beach at Carlsbad Cliffs because of the tide pools that get exposed during low tide, so check the tides before your session! Also make sure to eat raviolis at 264 Fresco after the photos!
Pro tip: keep your eyes peeled for the ‘goat trail’! It’s not an official trail, but it’s a cliff-side trail where you can see the waves crashing against the sandstone cliffs and get epic photos of the water spraying behind you!
17) Lake Cuyamaca
Nestled in the heart of Julian, Lake Cuyamaca is a scenic playground for nature lovers near Southern California! With over 100 acres to explore, there’s plenty to see! And did we mention that it’s dog friendly as well?? So don’t forget your fur children!
The lake looks so pretty with the sun setting in the background – just look how joyful these two were in their engagement photos at Lake Cuyamaca! We mentioned apple pie earlier – don’t forget to stop at Julian Pie Company for a taste of heaven on your drive home!
Pro tip: walk counterclockwise around the island for your sunset session to get the most amount of photos with the best lighting!
18) Coronado Island
Popularly known for the Hotel Del Coronado, Coronado Island is a great choice for couples who enjoy a little history! Opened in 1888, The Del was the largest hotel in the world at the time! It hosted presidents and celebrities, so you’ll feel like a boss taking photos here! Just look how much fun these two had during their engagement photography session here!
Did we mention tacos? Yeah, definitely don’t forget those – get tacos from La Salsa right next to the Hotel Del Coronado! Their chicken tacos are bomb with the mango habanero salsa!
Pro tip: stay the night at the Hotel Del Coronado to get the full experience!!
19) Palm Springs
All the park rangers at Joshua Tree National Park need to live somewhere, right? Known for its hot springs, stylish hotels, and golf courses – Palm Springs is the definition of a hot travel destination! Many people come here and ride the Aerial Tram to the top of Mt. San Jacinto for panoramic views of the city!
You’ll want to plan your trip to Palm Springs around the heat, summer afternoons can soar over 120 degrees Fahrenheit! And if you go during the winter, DON’T do sunrise because the temperatures can be colder than 35 degrees!! But regardless of when you go, you’ll get epic photos just like these two did during their engagement session here!
Pro tip: don’t go to a pool party the day before your engagement session!! Save the partying for after 😛
20) Windansea Beach
Known for its reef breaks and 8+ foot waves, Windansea Beach is a gem in La Jolla, CA! The ocean water is more clear than most of SoCal, the sand is clean, and there’s plenty of rocks to climb on! This place can get packed so plan your session during the week or for sunrise to make the most out of your experience. Check out how much fun these two had during their engagement session at Windansea Beach!!
You’ll want to dress to impress for this beach because there’s a high end vibe in La Jolla! We’ll link an outfit guide at the bottom of this blog post so you can slay the game at your engagement photography session!
Pro tip: grab coffee with an oceanfront view before your session at Caroline’s Cafe in La Jolla! The views are gorgeous!!
21) Sunset Cliffs
Sunset Cliffs is a stretch of cliff-side beaches located in San Diego, CA. Popularly known for its sea caves and tide pools, this place makes for an epic backdrop for your engagement photos! If you come during the months of May and June, don’t let May Gray and June Gloom bum you out – this place still makes for pretty photos in the fog!
Parking here gets NUTS especially during the weekend, so plan to arrive early and enjoy the views while you wait for your session! This goes without saying for all of these places – plan to arrive early so you can enjoy the scenery without feeling rushed to take photos!
Pro tip: low tide is the best time to shoot because of the extra beach!
22) La Jolla
If you want a taste of luxury for your engagement photos then this place might be perfect for you! Located just north of downtown San Diego, La Jolla is an ocean lover’s dream location for photos!! There’s even a place for seals to hang out and sunbaith called La Jolla Cove!
Weekdays are the best time to come to avoid crowds, do sunrise if you can to ensure you have the best possible experience! Like many of these gorgeous places, these Instagrammable locations are no secret anymore – so plan against the crowds so you can get your dream engagement photos!
Pro tip: the green rocks are slippery. Don’t climb on them like we did!
Hope this list of California’s Best Engagement Session Locations helps you plan your dream engagement photos! We’ll continually add to this list as we explore more of this beautiful state! Got a location recommendation? Comment it below!
Getting excited for your engagement session in California? Make sure you dress to impress – here’s our outfit guide on how to dress like a boss for your engagement photos!
If you are a photographer and you’re diggin’ this editing style, try our Lightroom Presets! These presets work best for photographers who shoot their subjects backlit (with the sun behind the subject). Make sure to underexpose your photos because you don’t want to lose your highlights when applying this preset!