The state of California may be famous for its sunny beaches and famous actors, but for landscape photographers, it is a paradise. California is one of the most diverse states in the country and is distinct in the fact that it has three major regions that are very different from one another – the coastal area, alpine mountains, and deserts.
There is no shortage of great places to go for photography in this state, and your options are almost limitless. Do you want to see rocky coasts and shorelines, or experience redwood forests and pristine mountain lakes? You can have it all in one state.
21 Top Photography Locations in California
Here are our picks for some of the top locations in California for landscape photography.
1. Yosemite National Park
This national park is very well known among landscape photographers thanks to its sights like Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan. With over 1200 square miles in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, there are plenty of places to see and explore.
With so many different scenic views and areas, it is very easy to find places to avoid the crowds. The plentiful hiking trails can also help you accomplish this, as well as give you many photo opportunities.
2. Death Valley National Park
Located in eastern California, a small part of Death Valley National Park also extends into Nevada. In addition to being one of the largest national parks in the country, it is also one of the warmest.
Here photographers can find plenty of sand dunes, deserts, salt flats, and mountains to photograph. Because of the extreme heat, the most popular time to visit this park is in the fall and winter months.
3. Joshua Tree National Park
Just two hours south of Los Angeles lies Joshua Tree National Park. It is over 1200 square miles and consists of beautiful desert scenery.
The main attraction of Joshua Tree is its namesake, the desert joshua trees. It is also a popular location for night photography due to its location outside of major towns and cities.
4. Redwood National Park
Found in northern California, Redwood National Park is home to some of the largest living trees in the world. These giant trees are world famous and make for some great photos.
This park is filled with plenty of scenic drives to get you to some great views, or if you are feeling more adventurous, plenty of hiking trails as well. The giant redwoods are amazing and you will find plenty to photograph at this park.
5. Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park is found just south of Kings Canyon National Park, and the two parks are managed together. They are both located next to Yosemite National Park, so a visitor could easily visit all three on the same trip.
Inside of Sequoia, you will find popular places such as General Sherman and Mount Whitney. General Sherman is the largest tree in the world, while Mount Whitney is the tallest peak in the lower 48.
6. Kings Canyon National Park
Located north of Sequoia and near Yosemite, Kings Canyon National Park holds its own and is just as beautiful. It is over 700 square miles of pristine, photogenic scenery.
The two most popular destinations in the park are Kings Canyon and General Grant Grove. Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the country, while the grove is full of beautiful sequoias.
7. Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods National Monument is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It covers 554 acres, most of which are covered in coastal redwoods.
Open year round, Muir Woods is a great place to visit if you are ever in the San Francisco area. There are plenty of good access points, and the usual weather is beautiful.
8. Golden Gate National Recreation Area
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of California’s most iconic landmarks and tourist destinations. You can photograph this famous bridge from many different vantage points, many found within the national recreation area.
Popular places include Crissy Park and Fort Point, both of which offer great views of the bridge and surrounding bay. You will also find plenty of redwood forests and nature shots in the area.
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9. Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve
This lake and nature reserve is found near Yosemite in eastern California. It was established to preserve the natural limestone tufa tower formations at the lake.
This salt lake attracts many landscape and nature photographers due to its unique colors, patterns, and abundant wildlife.
Mono Lake is threatened by low water levels and increasing salt levels, which are also rapidly changing the landscape and appearance of the lake.
10. Morro Bay State Park
Found in central California is Morro Bay State Park. This park has a huge lagoon with brackish marshes that support large populations of birds.
Morro Bay State Park gives visitors the chance to explore natural marshes, lagoons, and bays. Full of wildlife and hiking trails, you will find no end to the possible nature and landscape photography opportunities.
11. Montaña de Oro State Park
Montaña de Oro (or Mountain of Gold in Spanish) State Park is just south of Morro Bay and gets its name from the yellow wildflowers that grow in the area. It has many hiking trails to view its beaches, streams, canyons, and mountains.
This state park has plenty of historical attractions in addition to its natural beauty, and you can even travel around the park on horseback.
12. Point Lobos
In addition to some excellent landscape photography, Point Lobos is also great for jogging, scuba diving, nature watching, and picnicking. This park is often called the “crown jewel of the state park system.”
Most visitors come to this park to view its diverse underwater habitats and see its many different marine animal species. Photographers will love its beautiful shorelines and plant variations to get unique photos.
13. Bodie State Historic Park
Bodie State Historic Park is a unique California gold-mining ghost town. It once had a population of over 10,000 people when gold was discovered here, and now only a small portion of the town remains, preserved for its historic value.
Around the park, photographers will love the rustic scenery and the high desert landscape. While the park is open year round, it can be hard to access in the winter months due to snowfall.
14. El Matador State Beach
Around Malibu, California you can find some of the best beaches in the world, and one of them is El Matador State Beach. For any landscape photographer, this beach is a dream come true.
If you can find a spot to park in the extremely small parking lot, you will be rewarded with one of the best beaches in the country. From white sandy stretches of coast to rocky bluffs, there are many different things you can photograph here.
15. Pacific Coast Highway
One of California’s most famous destinations and possibly the most well known drive there is. Driving along this highway you will find plenty of stunning lookouts and bluffs, as well as views of the ocean.
One of the great benefits of the Pacific Coast Highway is that there are no fees to cruise down this road, and you have very easy access to plenty of landscape shots without
16. Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Usually open from May to November, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is a protected area found in eastern California. This area is home to some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet, including one that is over 4,000 years old.
There are plenty of hiking trails around the area to get into some very beautiful and remote areas, and the pine trees add a very unique look to the area and photos that are taken here.
17. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a very popular tourist destination that is partly found in Nevada as well as California. The water and mountain scenery around the area make it a perfect place for landscape photographers as well.
This lake can be enjoyed year round, and it is home to many winter sports. There are plenty of access around the lake and the scenery will leave you speechless.
18. Convict Lake
Famous for its turquoise blue water, Convict Lake received its name after a large group of escaped inmates found refuge here on the run from the law over 100 years ago.
19. McWay Falls
For someone that loves beaches and waterfalls, McWay Falls is a dream come true. Coming out of McWay Creek, this waterfall is over 80 feet tall and is considered a tidefall, or a waterfall that empties directly into the ocean.
There are only two waterfalls in California that empty straight into the ocean, and McWay Falls is the biggest. With beautiful cliffs and views of the falls, any landscape photographer will enjoy themselves here.
20. Pfeiffer Beach
A beach well off the beaten path, Pfeiffer Beach is well worth the effort it takes to get to. The most popular aspect of the beach is called Keyhole Rock, a large natural bridge formation that allows rays of sunshine to shine through at sunrise.
Pfeiffer Beach may require a little more travel in order to experience than other beaches in California, but this means it is usually less crowded and the scenery is the best that you will find anywhere.
21. Big Sur
Big Sur is a rugged and undeveloped section of the California coast that is often given the credit for being the longest and most scenic stretch of coast in the country. It has beautiful views, redwood forests, sandy beaches, and rugged bluffs that all contribute to its notoriety.
Big Sur offers limited resources and services, so be prepared to experience limited restrooms and amenities. But for those wanting to experience the most rugged and remote coast in the state, Big Sur should be a priority destination.
As you can see, California has no shortage of places to visit for an avid landscape photographer. Whether you are searching for forests, deserts, beaches, or something in between, you will be able to find it somewhere in the state.
From the redwood forests to the sandy beaches, California will leave you speechless with its seemingly endless amount of photo opportunities. If you have ever thought about traveling to a state to photograph its landscape, California should probably be the one!