You found your lobster (any other Friends fans in the house? Just us? Okay, moving right along). You’re here because you’re a recently engaged San Diego couple and it’s time to start thinking about commemorating that with an engagement session in San Diego. Not sold you need an engagement session? As San Diego wedding photographers who photograph love A LOT we can tell you first hand an engagement session is a must! If you’re already on board with an engagement session but don’t have a location in San Diego that just jumps at you then you’re in the right place.
As San Diego wedding and engagement photographers we have been fortunate to have photographed hundreds of engagement sessions in San Diego county in the last few years and we’ve picked up a few diamonds in the rough in the process. Don’t worry we aren’t stingy with our San Diego location secrets, we spill the tea on our favorites below! We have broken them down by vibe for the sake of saving your brainpower (because hello, wedding planning can drain it we’ve got you covered!).
Table of Contents
- 1 Architectural
- 2 San Diego Beach Engagement
- 3 San Diego Garden Engagement
- 4 San Diego Forest Engagement
- 5 Urban San Diego Engagement Locations
1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
In a nutshell: Italian renaissance style architecture meets numerous botanic gardens.
Dog Friendly: Yes, leashed dogs are welcome to many of the parks and gardens at Balboa Park.
Open 24 hours
Balboa Park is otherwise known as the cultural heart of San Diego and for good reason, the park spans 1,200 acres and includes 17 museums, botanic gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Located just a few blocks from downtown San Diego this historic landmark is a very sought-after location for engagement photos. Built 150 years ago Balboa Park is the number one location on this list if you are looking for photos with historical architecture as the backdrop.
View types: Architecture that will stop you in your tracks (think Italian-Renaissance style buildings), numerous gardens featuring wide-ranging varieties of plants and Palm Canyon which we call the “Jurassic Park” trees.
Parking: Parking in Balboa parking lots is free of charge.
Admission Cost: It is free to explore the grounds unless you enter the museums or go into the Japanese Friendship Garden which costs $12/per person and $50.00 for photography permit as well as a little paperwork involved.
Special Notes: The only downside to Balboa is the huge crowds so just be aware to try and plan for a non-weekend and don’t choose this location if you really don’t want photo-bombers in the distance.
Check out these Balboa Engagement sessions to see if it’s a fit for you.
3146 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109
Phone (858) 488-1549
Hours 11AM-8PM Tue-Thur, 11AM-10PM Fri-Sat, 11AM-9PM Sun-Mon. Belmont Park is open year-round.
In a nutshell: Coasters and carousels galore at this oceanfront amusement park & boardwalk.
Dog Friendly: No, only guide dogs.
Belmont Park has all of the charm and activities to make you and your significant other feel like kids again. The park boasts a 2,600 ft coaster that was built in 1925 called The Giant Dipper Roller Coaster. But one of the more iconic photo opportunities at the park would have to be the carousel.
Admission Costs: Free
Special Notes: We say with this spot you just embrace the crowds.
Cabrillo National Monument
1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
Phone (619) 557-5450
Dog Friendly: Only allowed in a small portion of the park which is the tidepool area and they must be leashed.
In a nutshell: Epic spiral staircase in the lighthouse & pretty walking trails.
Lighthouse closes at 5 pm Tidepools close at 4:30pm
View Types: The most unique aspect that Cabrillo National Monument offers is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse which has been fully restored to its 18880’s appearance. Boasting exterior charm and a breathtaking interior spiral staircase the lighthouse is a picturesque location for photos. From the lighthouse a short two-mile trail through the coastal sage scrub forest offers up some beautiful photo opportunities outdoors. It is ideal in the spring due to the wildflower’s being in full bloom.
There is also a Whale Overlook that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and you might just catch a whale sighting if you visit between January and February. The west side of the park can’t be reached on foot but with a short drive, you can visit the beautiful coastal area and during extremely low tide explore the intertidal zone.
Admission Cost: To get into the monument you will pay $20.00 per passenger vehicle, $15.00 for motorcyclists, and $10 per person for bicyclists or walk-ins. All entrance fees can be paid by cash, credit cards and check.
Parking: See the above admission costs to enter the monument parking lot.
Special Notes: As with the other locations mentioned, Cabrillo National Monument can get very crowded, if you want privacy and photo-bomber free engagement photos it is best to visit on a weekday to avoid the crowds. Also before planning you should check out the website https://www.nps.gov/cabr/planyourvisit/fees.htm which will let you know about updated alerts in effect where some of the attractions you’re interested in may be closed.
1101 1st St., Coronado, CA 92118
In a nutshell: The best view of the San Diego Skyline.
Dog Friendly: Yes
View Types: If you really want to include that iconic San Diego skyline in your engagement photos then there is no better place to capture it than Centennial Park. Located on Coronado Island with views of the bay and the skyline Centennial park is also located right next to The Coronado Ferry Landing where you can grab a drink or a bite to eat. Why not turn your engagement session into a normal date where we can capture the two of you in a more natural way.
Parking: Street parking with paid meters depending on how long you are planning to stay at this location, so make sure you have coins on you.
Admission Cost: None.
Special Notes: Centennial park can get crowded, especially on the weekends so a weekday engagement shoot is recommended for this location. Another thing to note is that many events take place here so check www.coronadovisitorcenter.com and double check the events calendar so that you don’t schedule your engagement photos while an event is going on.
Check out more from this engagement session at Centennial Park.
The best way to Liberty Station is get to Rosecrans Street and turn left into Lytton Street. Take a right turn into Gate 1. We often park and Brick and then go from there, the address for Brick is 2863 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego, CA 9210.
In a nutshell: This is the former Naval Training Center at Point Loma. It has been remade into a multi-functional destination with restaurants, public market, local artist exhibitions, housing, and shopping. It is a food-lover’s paradise. Each first Friday of every month, wander through the Art District for San Diego’s best art event. Browse, dance, and meet the artists. Kids Ventures offers classes, fun activities, birthday parties, and camps for the children.
Dogs: Dogs are welcome.
View Types: Visit Liberty Station NTC Park for the best skyline view of San Diego. You’ll end up with some incredible engagement pictures. We love the murals and color walls that can be found at Liberty Station. Also, we are known as the photographers who will stop traffic to get a photo of the two of you under the iconic Liberty Station sign. We are also suckers for the succulent wall and old fashioned Public Market sign. A short drive and you’re transported to a whole different kind of scenery with architecture and arched doorways as well as a beautiful courtyard and fountain.
Admission Cost: The individual establishments, such as restaurants and galleries, may charge.
Parking: There is plenty of parking, and it is all free
Note: There are so many activities at Liberty Station that are especially fun for engagement photos though it may be best to avoid dates when there are events going on just to avoid the masses of people. You can check out what’s on the agenda at their website HERE https://libertystation.com/events/calendar
Santa Fe Depot
1050 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
Hours: Open from 3 AM to midnight
In a nutshell: Fabulous Spanish Revival building that serves as San Diego’s transportation hub, including the trolley. The tiled walls and domed ceiling depict some of the depot’s grand history. It is located in the center of Downtown San Diego just steps of the Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, and the USS Midway. You’ll find the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego within the Depot building. The stunning architecture makes for extraordinary engagement photos.
Dogs: The depot is pet friendly. Pets up to 20 lbs. are welcome to travel on Amtrak.
View Types: The Depot’s unique architecture is well-worth visiting. When you step outside, you are in the center of activity in San Diego.
Admission Cost: Entering and wandering through the station is free.
Parking: There is some limited metered street parking close to the San Fe Depot Station. Your best bet is to make a reservation through Parking Panda. Depending on how long you park, the cost will range from $5.00 to $50.00.
Note: If you are traveling, please note that there are no lockers at the Santa Fe Depot. Baggage can be stored with Amtrak.
San Diego Beach Engagement
2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr. La Jolla, CA 92037
Phone (858) 452-9858
In a nutshell: Black sand and secluded coast.
Dog Friendly: Yes
View Types: Most famously known as San Diego’s nude beach Black’s Beach is also known for the best surf around by locals. This spot is prime for engagement or couple’s photos because of its beautiful black sand which makes it more unique among the other beaches along the San Diego coastline as well as the seclusion from crowds due to its difficulty to get to. It isn’t the easiest beach to get to which on the plus side makes it far less crowded than other beaches along the coast. The Torrey Pines Glider Port Trail is the most commonly used trail to get to the beach. Be forewarned there may be a “Do Not Use” sign posted at the trail as the cliffs are unstable. A better option for access is the Torrey Pines State Park that has well labeled and maintained trails from the top of the mesa all the way down to the beach. You can also gain access in times of low-tide* from Torrey Pines State Beach by walking two miles south along the coast with plenty of photo opportunities along the way! If you start at La Jolla Shores a 3-mile walk north from La Jolla Shores Beach will also get you there and you can stop at Scripp’s Pier along the way for another beautiful photo-op. Again, the La Jolla Shores Beach access will only be in times of low-tide*.
Parking: You can park at Torrey Pines State Beach from 8 am until sunset daily. There is an attendant located at the South Beach kiosk where you can choose to park at the lower lot or drive to the top of the mesa where there are two other lots located near the lodge. There is now a flashing light on the kiosk at the lower lot that notifies you that the upper lots are full. If you don’t want to pay for parking or want to go after the Torrey Pines lot closes you can park on the southbound shoulder of HWY 101 or if using the Glider Port Trail, you can utilize the large free dirt lot located near the trail.
Admission Costs: You will only pay if you choose to access via the Torrey Pines State park lot. In high-season defined as the start of spring break until the end of September the parking cost is $15 Monday-Thursday and $20-25 Friday-Sunday. In low-season defined as the start of October until spring-break parking costs $12 Monday-Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday.
Special Notes: *This beach has a reputation for being incredibly difficult to get to*. There are a total of 4 trails to access Black’s Beach which include Torrey Pines Glider Port Trail, Torrey Pines State Park entrance, Torrey Pines State Beach and La Jolla Shores access. The ladder two will be blocked off in times of high tide. The hike down to the beach is considered unstable in some areas so stable shoes made for trekking are going to be a must to gain access to the beach but the views are well worth it. Another thing worth noting is that the north side of Black’s Beach is clothing optional so this location may not be for you if that makes you uncomfortable.
Coronado Sand Dunes
Ocean Blvd, Coronado, CA 92118
Dog Friendly: Yes.
Open 24 hrs
View Types: Located just to the right of the Hotel Del Coronado you can enjoy views of the Hotel Del in the background and get some shots playing in the water all while enjoying the dunes. The Coronado sand dunes have a totally different feel than the Glamis Sand Dunes or the Ocotillo Sand Dunes which both have you feeling like you transported to the deserts of Dubai. The Coronado Sand Dunes have more of an east coast Hamptons feel in our minds anyway. The dunes are much smaller and are nestled right next to the coast so it’s not that sand as far as the eye can see kind of sand dunes. They also have small shrubs growing all over them.
Parking: Metered parking is available on the road or you can valet at the Hotel Del for $50 and have drinks at the bar after your session.
Admission Cost: Free.
Special notes: Sunrise and sunset are the best times of the day for lighting here.
Del Mar Dog Beach
3200 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar, CA 92014
Hours: Open 24hrs
Phone: (858) 755-9313
In a nut shell:
Dog Friendly: Yes!
View Types: This is admittedly one of our favorite beaches for engagement sessions. The rocky bluffs offer so many opportunities for photographs. Think ocean views butting up to epic rocky alcoves and you and your love snuggled up as the sun sets behind it all. Now wipe your drool and check out these engagement sessions and see if it’s the right spot for you.
Admission Cost: Free.
Parking: Metered parking on the road.
Special Notes: It can get chilly so depending on the month of your engagement session you may want to bring a blanket to snuggle under. Your feet are almost guaranteed to get wet so don’t wear closed toe shoes that you don’t want to take a dip.
Hotel Del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118
Open: 24 hours a day
In a nutshell: Beach and restaurant open to the general public. The hotel is the epitome of old-fashioned elegance. Engagements couldn’t get more memorable. Great gift shop and bar.
Dog Friendly: Yes. The hotel has a dog beach and a happy hour.
View Types: Unparalleled views of the ocean. The Coronado dunes are also worth checking out if you feel like you want to be transported to the Hamptons.
Admission Cost: The beach is free.
Parking: Metered parking is almost impossible to find on Coronado Island. Hotel guests pay $50 a day for parking. Visitors pay $30 to park for two hours and $10 for every additional hour.
Special Notes: Most activities center around the beach. Take surfing lessons, go sailing or fishing. Enjoy Movie Night at the beach. Dine on the veranda overlooking the water. Then go inside the hotel and get pampered at the spa.
La Jolla Cove
1100 Coast Blvd at Girard Avenue, La Jolla, CA 92037
Open: 24 hours
In a nutshell: Perfect beach near the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park Refuge Center. Surfboarding or boogie boards are not permitted, but snorkel to your heart’s content. Enjoy the sea lions and gulls that make the bluff their home and will happily remind you that this is their home. You can walk along the bluffs and get quite close to the sea lions if you want some adorable photo-bombers in the background of your engagement photos. These fun animals will pose in pictures with you. The La Jolla Cove is an iconic backdrop for engagement and wedding photos alike. In the spring and summer months the bluffs are bursting with color because of the blooming ice plants so it is a great time to schedule your engagement session. Note: alcohol is not permitted on the beach so no popping of champagne bottles here. It is a great location to get a lot of photos on the bluffs and in the sand before carrying your lover into the waves and getting some cute photographs of you two being playful together.
Dog Friendly: Dogs on a leash are permitted on the beach and Kellogg Park.
View Types: The Pacific Ocean alone is breathtaking. Near the Cove, you’ll find Ellen Browning Scripps Park. Dr. Seuss used to live nearby. The beautiful park is a great place for a picnic and outdoor games. You can also shoot plenty of engagement photos here.
Admission Cost: Free
Parking: Some street parking available at two to three-hour increments. Park attendants will ticket zealously for any exceeded time. Parking spaces are easier to find weekdays than on weekends. The nearest parking lot is by the La Jolla Financial Building. The cost is $20 per day.
Leucadia State Beach
948 Neptune Avenue, Encinitas, CA 92024
In a nutshell: Leucadia State Beach, also called Beacon Beach, is probably one of the most private state beaches. There are no signs as you drive down Highway 101. It is peaceful and secluded with white sand and high cliffs. It’s hard to find but worth the search within a residential area. It’s a popular getaway from the larger, busier beaches in the area. The surfing is terrific. Lifeguards are available during the day. This is a good place to shoot engagement photos since there won’t be so many distractions.
Dogs: No dogs are allowed on this beach.
View Types: Pristine sand and waters. It’s an ideal place to catch sight of sea life such as octopus, leopard sharks, moray eels, herons, sea otters and perhaps some whales. They make an interesting backdrop to your engagement session. As photographer’s we particularly love the mossy bluffs that give that punch of color to your photographs. There is also an abandoned stone staircase that makes for really unique photos.
Admission Cost: Free
Parking: There is a small parking lot off Neptune Avenue, and plenty of street parking.
We recommend the Interstate 5 to Ladera Street entrance, but there are others by the Cabrillo monument.
Hours: 24 hours but be careful traversing the slippery cliffs after dark.
In a nutshell: This park stretches a mile and a half along the western end of Point Loma. The cliffs provide a perfect vista of the ocean and San Diego. There are a few beaches, as well. The most popular beach is located off Sunset Cliffs Boulevard at Ladera Street down a stairway. You’ll be right by the waves as they crash. As the name implies, this is where you want to watch a sunset. Whale sightings are quite common. The tide pools make for amazing reflection photos of the two of you.
Dogs: Not friendly. Dogs are not permitted until after 6:00 pm during the summer months.
View Types: There are several photo-perfect stops along Sunset Cliffs. The area between Adair and Ladera Street provides some superb scenery. This spot is frequently used for wedding ceremonies as well. Check out the Point Loma Ecological Reserve. beginning at the Navy property to the south. Luscomb Point and Osprey Street are also favorites for their scenery and are used as wedding venues, as well. We particularly love Cappy’s Point but we also have a secret spot that only locals are savvy to, but we aren’t spilling the details unless you’ve booked us ;).
Admission Cost: Free
Parking: There is limited street parking and several parking lots by Sunset Cliffs.
Note: If you want to just sit and embrace the breathtaking sights, bring along a snack from the Olive Tree Market at Narraganset Blvd. For absolute serenity, take a yoga class on Sunset Cliffs. Keep in mind there are no restrooms at the Sunset Cliffs.
Torrey Pines Beach
Off Highway 101 north of La Jolla
Hours: Opens at 7:15 am every day. Closes at 5:00 pm in the wintertime and at 8 pm during the summer hours.
In a nutshell: Hand gliders love to soar off the clifftops. Enjoy a walk through the Torrey Pines Natural Reserve Park. The road to the beach has restrooms, showers, and lifeguards. There’s also a place for nudists (let’s keep them out of the pictures although a random nakey passer-by would make for a memorable and hilarious photo). BBQ’s are permitted, and there are bins for trash. The road leading to the Natural Reserve Park leads to a number of hiking trails. There are free hiking tours on the weekends. You might see whales and dolphins below. Careful – you might also encounter a rattle snake if you leave the marked trails.
Dogs: Torrey Pines Beach is not pet friendly.
View Types: Hike north from Black’s Beach or south if you’re at Torrey Pines South Beach to reach one of San Diego most beautiful beaches – Flat Rock Beach. It is named after the flat rock that dominates the beach and which visitors can climb for some incredible views of the ocean. This beach is open 24 hours. Your engagement pictures will be fabulous. Possible photo back drops include trees, cliffsides, bluffs, chaparral vegetation and the beach of course.
Parking and Admission: There is a lot at the southern end of Torrey Pines Beach that charges $10.00 per car (not person) weekday and $15.00 per car on weekends. Your car must be out of the park before closing time. If you are lucky, you might find parking along the highway.
Note: Alcohol is not permitted. Many of the hiking trails now have make shift wire fence that isn’t the prettiest in photographs.
We recommend the entrance at 6800 Neptune Place, La Jolla.
Hours: Open 24 hours. However, the waters can get rough. It is recommended that visitors come only when lifeguards are on duty – from 9:00 am to dusk.
In a nutshell: This beach is known for its surfing due to its formidable waves. It has a long surfing history and surfing enthusiasts still consider this their turf. Due to the rough water, swimming and snorkeling are not encouraged. As a memory and salute of its golden days, there is a shack topped with palm leaves where surfers enjoyed their beach parties it makes for cute photos as well.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed after sunset.
View Types: The waves are powerful and enjoyable to watch, as are the sunsets. Depending on the tide there are caves and bluffs that make for beautiful engagement photos. In low tide there is a ton of sandy beach to explore and in high tide we will hang on top of the bluffs and capture the scenic pacific sunset.
Admission Cost: free
Parking: There are a mere 16 parking spaces. Depending on how many people will be there, there might not be enough parking space.
Note: There are no restrooms on the beach.
San Diego Garden Engagement
Carlsbad Flower Fields
5704 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Phone (760) 431-0352
Open seasonally, from March 1, 2020-May 10, 2020.
In a nutshell: Flower children rejoice, we have just the spot for you.
Dog Friendly: No.
View Types: Flowers, on flowers! Fields of Ranunculus flowers that stretch as far as the eye can see. This location is beautiful if you love vibrant color and that whimsical romantic feel. The flower fields at Carlsbad Ranch date back 100 years, fifty sprawling acres in a symphony of colors located on the hillside overlooking the California coast. In one word, DREAMY.
Parking: Parking is free, there is only an admission cost to enter the fields.
Admission Cost: $18/adult.
Special Notes: Peak season for the Carlsbad Flower Fields is mid-March through mid-April.
45100 Rio Linda Rd, Temecula, CA 92592
In a nutshell: Whimsical garden estate straight out of the book “The Secret Garden”.
Dog Friendly: No.
View Types: An ivy hedge maze, numerous sculptures and beautiful over grown vines The Humphrey’s Estate in Temecula is available for photoshoots of all kinds as well as engagement sessions. You can also get married at The Humphrey’s Estate. I always feel like I was transported to a beautiful old Italian garden estate when I go to Humphrey’s. It is a really unique spot and an absolute must see.
Admission Cost: $50/hour
Parking: Free, park outside the gate on the side of the road.
Special Notes: If you’re looking for a location where getting dressed up goes with the vibe, this is the spot.
San Diego Forest Engagement
De Luz, Santa Margarita Trail & River
37385 De Luz Rd, Fallbrook, CA 92028
Opens at 8am and closes at 6:30pm
In a nutshell: Lots of tall established trees and a beautiful river with huge boulders in it.
Dog Friendly: Yes!
View Types: Get ready for an easy hike where you can explore the changing leaves of the trees, snuggle up on boulders the size of small islands and get those cozy yet rugged vibes.
Admission Cost: Free.
Special Notes: This wouldn’t be a high heel friendly spot.
19952 State Park Drive, Palomar Mountain, CA 92060
Opens at 6am and closes at sunset
In a nutshell: Transport yourself to Washington, thick rows of pine trees, hiking trails and beautiful pond and an overall moody “Twilight” movie feel.
Dog Friendly: Yes on leashes.
View Types: Mountainous and covered with pine trees this spot is so beautiful for any couples who love that woodsy cabin vibe. If you go at the right time of the year (i.e. winter) you can even catch snow for your photos. There is also a wide open meadow with tall grasses that makes for beautiful engagement photos. The pond is also beautiful and this location is always relatively quiet so you kind of have the place to yourselves. There is a TON of greenery so wear a contrasting color, bright red looks striking in all of the greenery. You do need a permit here for professional photography.
Admission Cost: Just the photography permit.
Parking: Park in designated areas for $10/day.
Special Notes: It can get super chilly here so keep that in mind. Bring a blanket you two can curl up in for cute photos in the meadow or bring a cardigan. Also if you really want to wear a heel I would recommend something short and blocky, it can get muddy and there is a bit of hiking involved.
Urban San Diego Engagement Locations
Gaslamp Quarter San Diego
We recommend starting at 1037 J St. San Diego, CA 92101
In a nutshell: Urban vibes for days, murals, rooftops and we can even hit up a bar and take photos of the two of you enjoying a drink.
Dog Friendly: Yes.
View Types: Lots of murals, cool staircases and rooftops, sprawling city views.
Admission Cost: Free as free can be.
Parking: unless you can find metered street parking you may have to pay for a garage usually around $20/day for the parking structures.
Special Notes: Some rooftops and parking structures have security guards so just be aware we may get the boot, but we will be sure to get you some awesome photos before they notice us ;).
We like to start at Yellow Deli located at 315 E Broadway, Vista, CA 92084
In a nutshell: Murals and breweries galore as well as a love gate so bring a lock with your initials!
Dog Friendly: Yes, although some breweries won’t allow the pups in so keep that in mind if you wanted to incorporate grabbing a beer into your session.
View Types: Definitely more of an urban vibe here, there are some fun murals but this would mostly be like a casual date sort of session. Start the session by grabbing a beer at Belching Beaver or Mother Earth or something at Yellow Deli where you can curl up on the couch together with some coffee or tea. Then cruise around the sidewalks and stop at the murals for a few photos. Finally put your lock on the love gate sculpture, close your eyes and pretend you’re in Paris.
Admission Cost: Free.
Parking: Lots of street parking for free.
Did you find the perfect spot? Let us know if this helped you out. If you live in San Diego and have an awesome San Diego engagement session location you think we should add, drop a comment we are always looking to scout new places. Also if you need tips to get AMAZING engagement photos check out our complete guide to the perfect engagement session photos.