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  • Writer's picturePaper Birch Collective

Top Photo Shoot Spots in Southern California - Best Tips & Tricks

Updated: Sep 14, 2023


Whether you want to spice up your photo shoots with urban landscapes, natural scenery, historic landmarks, or spectacular settings, Southern California has it all. This blog is going to discuss some of SoCal's best photo locations along with helpful tips and tricks for your photo shoots. You will be amazed by the diversity and beauty of SoCal. The photo opportunities here are endless and we hope we can help you capture all the joy in your special moments, whether it's for a wedding, engagement, maternity, family portraits, or graduation!


 

Jeffrey Open Space Trail

Jeffrey Open Space Trail photo shoot shot by Paper Birch Collective, top photo shoot spots in Southern California, SoCal, best tips and tricks

Jeffrey Open Space Trail is perfect for nature lovers and those who want greenery in the backdrop of their photo shoot. It is a beautiful 3.5-mile paved trail that is easy to walk around and great for walkers, runners, or cyclists. The trail is filled with plenty of foliage and greenery all around to make you feel like you are far away from the city, yet you are right in the middle of Irvine. The trees everywhere provide nice shade for hot days and you can even have fun taking pictures with light leaks peeking from the tree leaves. Also, if you want costume changes in your photo shoot, this location is perfect as there are bathrooms nearby.


Make this photo shoot day a date! After your photo shoot, check out one of the many delicious food spots nearby. Mokkoji Shabu Shabu is one of our favorites!


Best for:
  • Nature lovers

  • Those who want to capture greenery (lots of trees, foliage, long grass)


Tips & Tricks for Jeffery Open Trail:
  • Best time of year to visit: Great to visit all year round

  • Best time of day for a photo shoot: 2 hours before sunset

  • Amenities: Yes, bathroom (a place to change to clothes) & entire path is paved (ADA accessible)

  • The location is a little hidden and difficult to find, but we have a good meeting spot

  • Can be crowded around the family season (September to December) - so book early!


Fees:
  • Permit: No permit is needed to have photo shoots at Jeffrey Open Trail

  • Parking: Free and easy parking



 

Treasure Island

Treasure Island photo shoot shot by Paper Birch Collective, top photo shoot spots in Southern California, SoCal, best tips and tricks

If you love the beach, Treasure Island in Laguna Beach is a stunning location to have a photo shoot, especially at golden hour! Even the drive there is a nice experience, whether on PCH with its ocean view or CA Highway 133 with its hills of greenery. Paid parking can be found in the structure at Treasure Island Park or along PCH (we highly recommend coming early to secure parking). This beach is truly a gem with its picturesque rock arch, grassy lawns overlooking the ocean, calm tides year-round, cleanliness, and accessibility. Another major plus side of Treasure Island Beach is that it is usually not too crowded. No need to fear if there are any lines of people waiting for a picture spot, as there are tons of picture-perfect spots to capture while you wait.


Before or after a fun sunset photo shoot here, you could walk around downtown Laguna Beach, explore the cute boutiques, and eat at one of the many yummy restaurants. Urth Caffé and Heisler Park are some of our favorite spots to take in the ocean view after a great shoot. During art month, there are also tons of amazing sculptures, murals, and galleries to visit. Summer can be crowded with tourists, but the small-town vibe of Laguna Beach is definitely something you should not miss.

Best for:
  • Beach lovers, sunset lovers

  • Those who love walkable beach downtown areas and small-town vibes

  • Golden hour photo shoots (best sunsets here!)

  • Accessible access to the beach (wheelchair ramps)


Tips & Tricks for Treasure Island:
  • Best time of year to visit: Great to visit all year round

  • Best time of day for a photo shoot: 1-2 hours before sunset (golden hour here is the best!)

  • Amenities: Yes, bathroom and ADA compliant ramp

  • Usually not crowded

  • Tides are usually under control

  • Explore Laguna Beach’s downtown area filled with cute stores, yummy food, and beautiful art after your shoot!


Fees:
  • Permit: Yes, a permit is required to have photo shoots at Treasure Island

  • Parking: Paid parking nearby; multiple paid meter options on PCH or in the Treasure Island Park structure (arrive early to find)



 

Quail Hill Trailhead

Quail Hill Trailhead photo shoot shot by Paper Birch Collective, top photo shoot spots in Southern California, SoCal, best tips and tricks

Quail Hill Trailhead is one of the more secluded photo locations on this list as there are never crowds, so it is a great spot for those seeking a private photo shoot. You’ll feel like a model on this trail with the cool breeze flowing through your hair. During the spring and rainy season, the trail is blooming with bright yellow flowers. In the dry seasons, there may not be any greenery, but you can count on golden vibes from the rolling hills. It is free to visit and parking is easy to find; there is even overflow parking at the next park over. Lastly, be sure to schedule your photo shoot at least 2 hours before sundown because the hills will block the sun when it gets close to sunset.


Overall, Quail Hill Trailhead is a fun and private location for a photo shoot. It is an easy hike for friends and families to enjoy. The perfect spot to have fun hiking, seeing sights, taking pictures of nature, and of course, capturing great portraits as well.



Best for:
  • Those who seek a more private photo shoot location

  • Rolling hills lovers

  • Hike lovers


Tips & Tricks for Quail Hill:
  • Best time of day for a photo shoot: at least 2 hours before sunset, sun dips behind hills before sunset

  • Amenities: Yes, bathroom for costume changes (at the start of the trail only)

  • Never crowded

  • Extra walking shoes are recommended if you plan to wear fancy shoes for your photo shoot

  • Especially great location for family shoots because there is tons of space to hang out and explore when your picture is not being taken

  • Be on the lookout for wildlife!


Fees:
  • Permit: No permit is needed to have photo shoots at Quail Hill Trailhead

  • Parking: Free & easy parking, overflow parking available too



 

Victoria Beach

Victoria Beach, Laguna photo shoot shot by Paper Birch Collective, top photo shoot spots in Southern California, SoCal, best tips and tricks

Victoria Beach is one of Laguna’s most popular beaches and it is another amazing spot to watch the sunset, enjoy the ocean, and capture beautiful golden hour images. The scenery changes with the seasons as the tide levels increase and decrease, resulting in more rock formations in the winter with low tides and more sand in the summer with high tides. This beach is famous for its “Pirate Tower”, a great picturesque addition to the beach. It is important to note that the trek down to the beach is not the easiest as there are multiple steep flights of stairs, but if you can make it, it is definitely worth the little hike.


After your photo shoot here, you can continue exploring Laguna and check out some of the many hip restaurants nearby. Just like Treasure Island Beach, Victoria Beach is super close to Laguna’s walkable downtown area filled with cute stores and delicious food; the perfect spot to hang out or have a romantic date.


Best for:
  • Beach lovers, sunset lovers

  • Tide pools


Tips & Tricks for Victoria Beach:
  • Best time of year to visit: All year, but summer is more crowded

  • Best time of day for a photo shoot: 1-2 hours before sunset

  • Be aware of the unpredictable tides, especially if you want to stay dry!


Fees:
  • Permit: Yes, a permit is required to have a photo shoot at Victoria Beach

  • Parking: Paid meter parking nearby or search along PCH (somewhat tricky and scarce; arrive early to find)



 

Newport Beach

Newport Beach photo shoot shot by Paper Birch Collective, top photo shoot spots in Southern California, SoCal, best tips and tricks

Newport Beach has some of the most gorgeous sweeping beach views. This beach is famous for its surfing, as well as its pier and boardwalk of hotels, shops, and restaurants. If you just want the beauty of sand and sea in your photos, this beach is the perfect spot for your photo shoot. There is good parking availability, but payment is required. It does get more crowded in the summer, so be sure to plan accordingly. Before and/or after your photo shoot here, you can explore some of Newport Beach’s shops and restaurants along the pier and boardwalk.



Best for:
  • Sweeping beach views

  • People who love the beach and seek sand and sea views in their photos

  • Pier and boardwalk exploring


Tips & Tricks for Newport Beach:
  • Best time of day for a photo shoot: at least 1 hour before sunset

  • Amenities: Yes, bathrooms near the parking lot

  • Often crowded in the summer


Fees:
  • Permit: Yes, a permit is required to have a photo shoot at Newport Beach

  • Parking: Paid parking on site



 

Noguchi Gardens

Noguchi Gardens photo shoot shot by Paper Birch Collective, top photo shoot spots in Southern California, SoCal, best tips and tricks

Noguchi Gardens in Costa Mesa is a public sculpture garden that symbolizes Southern California’s various geographical characteristics. If you seek a modern and urban style in your photos, this is the location for you. This outdoor sculpture oasis is open free to the public and there is plenty of parking in the structure. The best time to have a photo shoot here is 3-5 hours before sunset. Just down the road from Noguchi Gardens is South Coast Plaza where you can spend time shopping or eating after your photo shoot!

Best for:
  • Those seeking a variety in scenery

  • Modern and urban styles, more man-made (less nature)


Tips & Tricks for Noguchi Gardens:
  • Best time of day for a photo shoot: 3-5 hours before sunset

  • Can be crowded during wedding season

  • Directions from the parking structure: head towards west elevator, exit on floor 1

  • Check out South Coast Plaza for shopping or restaurants near this photo shoot spot


Fees:
  • Parking: Paid parking in structure (plenty of spots)



 

Santiago Oaks Regional Park

Santiago Oaks Regional Park photo shoot shot by Paper Birch Collective, top photo shoot spots in Southern California, SoCal, best tips and tricks

Tucked away in east Orange alongside Santiago Creek, lies the 1,296 acre Santiago Oaks Regional Park. This secluded park is a nature lover’s paradise as it is filled with many different types of tree species and interconnected with several trails for hiking, biking, or even horseback riding. The reflective water of the clear creek is a great spot to play around with reflections. This park also offers beautiful seasonal variety, with blooming wildflowers in the spring and green rolling hills. Along with miles of trails, there’s a nature center with history exhibits and wildlife displays, a small playground, picnic areas with BBQs, and countless spots to enjoy nature as well as capture the beauty of what this park has to offer. You can spend hours exploring this regional park!

Best for:
  • Nature lovers, hike lovers

  • Lots of forest and green scenery


Tips & Tricks for Santiago Oaks Regional Park:
  • Best time of day for a photo shoot: 2-3 hours before sunset

  • Amenities: Yes, bathroom (near nature center)


Fees:
  • Parking: Paid parking on site, admission is free



 

Pasadena City Hall

Pasadena City Hall photo shoot shot by Paper Birch Collective, top photo shoot spots in Southern California, SoCal, best tips and tricks

Pasadena City Hall, located in the heart of Pasadena, is a wonderful location for a photo shoot if you love architecture. This historic building was designed by architects Bakewell and Brown with a Mediterranean Revival style incorporating elements of Italian Renaissance architecture. It can be pretty busy at this location year round, so be sure to plan accordingly to ensure there are no major events happening at the time you visit. The best time to have a photo shoot at Pasadena City Hall is late morning or 2-3 hours before sunset. Parking fees vary, but there are plenty of spots. Overall, Pasadena City Hall is a gorgeous historic building with stunning architecture, rich history, and a great photo shoot location.


FUN FACT: Pasadena City Hall is a Hollywood favorite! It has been used as a filming location for several popular movies and television shows, including Parks & Recreation, the original Batman television series, and The West Wing.

Best for:
  • Architecture lovers

  • History lovers


Tips & Tricks for Pasadena City Hall:
  • Best time of day for a photo shoot: late morning or 2-3 hours before sunset

  • Pretty busy year round


Fees:
  • Parking: Payment fees vary, but there is plenty available



 

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano photo shoot shot by Paper Birch Collective, top photo shoot spots in Southern California, SoCal, best tips and tricks

Mission San Juan Capistrano, a stunning historical landmark, was founded more than 200 years ago and is the birthplace of Orange County. If you love old architecture and a vintage look, this is the perfect location for your photo shoot. There are several stunning spots to take pictures at Mission San Juan Capistrano. From the old cobblestone walls to giant church bells and a variety of greenery and flowers, you will be sure to capture some amazing photos. There are even more great photo opportunities at a nearby train station as well. This historical and beautiful gem is a gorgeous backdrop for any photo shoot, especially for a romantic engagement or wedding.

Best for:
  • Architecture lovers

  • History lovers

  • Those looking for a vintage look in their photo shoot


Tips & Tricks for Mission San Juan Capistrano:
  • Best time of day for a photo shoot: 2-3 hours before sunset

  • Amenities: Yes, bathrooms

  • This is popular and sometimes busy location, reserve your photo time slot at least 2 weeks ahead!


Fees:
  • Admission fee

  • Permit: Yes, there is a permit permit fee to have a photo shoot at Mission San Juan Capistrano

  • Parking: Some free parking, paid lots available nearby



 

LA Arboretum

LA Arboretum photo shoot shot by Paper Birch Collective, top photo shoot spots in Southern California, SoCal, best tips and tricks

The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden is a beautiful 127 acre garden and historical gem located in the city of Arcadia. This gorgeous botanical garden is home to plants and flowers from all over the globe, some of which include rare endangered species. LA Arboretum also serves as an animal sanctuary for peafowl*, which can be lots of fun to observe. The bamboo garden is one of our favorite gardens here because it will make you feel like you’ve traveled all the way to Japan. Every season there’s something blooming, from the large trees to plants and flowers everywhere, you will always have something beautiful to see! If you love a backdrop filled with nature, this is the photo spot for you!


*Did you know males are peacocks and females are peahens? Together they are peafowl!

Best for:
  • Plant and nature lovers

  • Peacock observing

  • Diverse gardens

  • Tranquil escapes to nature


Tips & Tricks for LA Arboretum:
  • Best time of day for a photo shoot: Whenever you can reserve a photo time slot (time slots can be limited)

  • Amenities: Yes, bathrooms, drinking fountains, paved pathways (mostly)

  • Not usually crowded, unless there is a special event


Fees:
  • Admission fee

  • Permit: Yes, there is a permit permit fee to have a photo shoot at LA Arboretum

  • Parking: Free parking in both lots



 

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park photo shoot shot by Paper Birch Collective, top photo shoot spots in Southern California, SoCal, best tips and tricks

Searching for a spectacular location for your photo shoot? While this spot does require traveling (and a travel fee), Joshua Tree National Park at night with the sky full of twinkling stars is one of the most breathtaking views and makes for an epic photo shoot backdrop. Not to mention, the desert scenery, unique Joshua trees, cool rock formations, and endless open space are also picture-perfect elements to have in any photo shoot. Golden hour in Joshua Tree is extra magical here as the desert lighting will add beautiful warmth to your photos. If you love stars and stargazing, this is the photo location for you! If you also prefer avoiding crowds in your photo shoots, this park's massive size will allow you to have a private photo session, letting you fully embrace your inner model skills. It is important to note that there is an entrance fee per vehicle and there are limited facilities.

Best for:
  • Desert lovers

  • Star gazing and astronomy lovers

  • A spectacular backdrop (imagine a sky full of twinkling stars!)

  • Variety of unique natural elements (Joshua Trees, rock formations, stars)


Tips & Tricks for Joshua Tree National Park:
  • Best time of day for a photo shoot: 3-4 hours before sunset

  • Amenities: Yes, but, limited bathrooms

  • Beautiful golden hour lighting and astrophotography opportunities

  • Be aware and prepared for the extreme hot temperatures in the day and extreme cold weather at night


Fees:
  • Park entrance fee per vehicle

  • Permit: Yes, there is a permit permit fee to have a photo shoot at Joshua Tree National Park

  • Parking: Free throughout park



 

The Paper Birch Collective Studio

Private photo shoot at private photo studio shot by Paper Birch Collective, top photo shoot spots in Southern California, SoCal, best tips and tricks

Last, but not least, our studio at the Paper Birch Collective office in Santa Ana is a great photo shoot location option. There are many benefits to having a photo shoot at the PBC studio: you can have multiple costume changes, several different backdrops, incorporate props, and also have fun with dynamic lighting to create a unique look. Parking is also plentiful and free. A photo permit is not needed. There is no time pressure or crowds watching you during your photo session. You can fully embrace your model energy in our private studio.

Best for:
  • Private photo shoot sessions

  • Those who want to incorporate costume changes, props, different backdrops, and unique lighting

  • Those who want to feel like a model


Tips & Tricks for the PBC Studio:
  • Best time of year to visit: ANYTIME

  • Best time of day for a photo shoot: ANYTIME

  • Parking: Free and plentiful parking

  • Amenities: Yes, bathroom

  • Features: Paper Birch Cafe


Fees:
  • No extra permit, parking, or entrance fees!



 

Thanks for reading!

We hope you enjoyed this post and found some new places to have a photo shoot in Southern California! As you can see, there are tons of amazing spots to choose from. Each location has its own charm and character. You can easily spend a week or more exploring SoCal and still not see everything. We'd love to help you capture the beauty in your special moments! Contact us today and let's make some memories!


 

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