Located on the rocky coast of the Pacific Ocean, San Diego is known for being one of the most beautiful cities in the United States. The city is bursting with sandy beaches, lush parks, and other unique locations loved by locals and tourists alike. If you’re seeking exciting places to explore, look no further, we reached out to locals to share their favorite beautiful places in San Diego. So whether you’ve just moved into an apartment in La Jolla, a house in San Diego, or just want to know where to go, be sure to check out this list.
It’s no secret that southern California is known for its magnificent beaches and San Diego is no exception. Here are some of the most beautiful beaches and photo spots in San Diego.
1. Windansea Beach
Windansea Beach is a popular beach located only 14 miles north of downtown San Diego. It’s known for its strong surf and beautiful scenery, with rocky cliffs and palm trees surrounding the area. Here is what some of the locals love about Windansea Beach.
Photo courtesy of Yana Matosian Photography
“One of my all-time favorite beaches in San Diego is Windansea Beach,” says family and lifestyle photographer, Yana Matosian. “It has some amazing rock formations and cliffs, beautiful sand stretches, and gorgeous color waves. Add in a beautiful sunset, and you get the perfect backdrop for a family photo session.”
Photo courtesy of Michelle Popp Photography
With some of the best views in San Diego, Windansea Beach is also one of Michelle Popp’s favorite locations for family photos. “It’s one of the most picturesque beaches in San Diego. Nothing says SoCal more than an absolutely stunning beach with dramatic cliffs and textured rocks. If you’re lucky, sometimes you can even spot a seal swimming in the surf.”
Photo courtesy of Chris Wojdak Photography
Photographer Chris Wojdak says Windansea Beach is the best beach in San Diego for taking photos, even if there is a bit of inconvenience involved. “There are no restrooms and no parking lots; you have to park in the residential neighborhood nearby. This is a little inconvenient for a whole day at the beach, but serves to keep Windansea a lot less crowded than other beaches. The sandstone formations there create a beautiful and unique backdrop for dramatic photos with more than just the sea and sky.”
Photo courtesy of Timeless Event Planning
Sandy Brooks, owner of Timeless Event Planning mentions how Windansea Beach is also an excellent spot for wedding or engagement photos. “The view is perfect and not overly crowded with other couples trying to capture that same moment,” she says. “The streets surrounding the beach are also gorgeous and create a beautiful backdrop.”
2. Sunset Cliffs
Another well-known beach loved by locals is Sunset Cliffs. Boasting rugged coastal cliffs, natural rock formations, and scenic ocean views, it’s no wonder it’s considered one of the most beautiful places in San Diego.
Photo courtesy of Darian Shantay Photography
“My favorite picturesque place in San Diego is Sunset Cliffs. I love this cliffside beach because when you are here, you feel like you’re somewhere special,” shares wedding and engagement photographer Darian Shantay. “To me what makes this spot so unique is the way the cliffs curl out to the sea. The views from up above on the cliffs and the breathtaking detail when you take the hike down to the lower beach is remarkable. Whether you enjoy the views from up top or down below, there really is just no beach like it.”
Photo courtesy of Elijah Saldana Photography
Elijah Saldana also comments on the beauty of Sunset Cliffs. “Sunset Cliffs is breathtaking because of its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding cliffs. The natural beauty of the area provides a picturesque backdrop for wedding ceremonies and photography. Additionally, the cliffs offer a unique and secluded setting for intimate ceremonies. The sunsets over the ocean are particularly beautiful and make for an unforgettable experience.”
Photo courtesy of The Post Wedding Photographer
There’s more to do than just soak up the sun at Sunset Cliffs. Perscilla Curley from The Post Wedding Photographer shares what else this location has to offer. “Sunset Cliffs has dramatic cliffs, as well as walking trails, picnic spots, hidden swings, secret caves and a beach, all overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Its location, being on a peninsula and facing west, makes it a perfect place to capture the sunset, which is one of the most breathtaking sights in San Diego. Visitors can bring some snacks and spend the whole evening watching the surfers, waves, and sunset while enjoying the park’s scenic beauty.”
Photo courtesy of Berlynn Photography
Local wedding photographer Berlynn says Sunset Cliffs is the perfect location for an engagement, wedding, or a picnic with friends. “The natural beauty of the cliffs, the sand, and the ocean make this a perfect beach setting for many occasions.”
3. The beaches of Cadiff, Torrey Pines, and South Carlsbad
Looking for more beautiful beaches to explore? Tristan Quigley shares more sandy shores worth visiting. “There are so many beautiful beaches in San Diego that I suggest for all of my family photography clients. Some of my favorites are Cardiff, Torrey Pines, and South Carlsbad. After a fun family photography session, I always recommend celebrating with a great meal at one of the local favorites like Las Olas, Pacific Coast Grill or Best Pizza & Brew. For an extra special treat the kids will love, check out Cali Creamin.”
Photo courtesy of Tristan Quigley Photography
Parks and historical sites
There is so much more to San Diego than just coastal views. Here are some of the most beautiful parks and historical sites the city has to offer.
4. Balboa Park
“One of my favorite, most picturesque spots in San Diego is Balboa Park,” says Mallory Kessel. “It offers plenty of variety whether you’d like the scenery to consist of beautiful florals at the Alcazar Garden or Japanese Friendship Gardens; cacti at the Desert Garden, colorful architecture in the Spanish Village; or modern/Spanish architecture at the many museums around the park. Grab a cup of joe at the Prado, grab a bite at Panama 66 near the Sculpture Garden, and snap some photos around this must-see attraction. It’ll be time well spent.”
Photo courtesy of Mallory Kessel Photography
Kyla from Spotlight Studios shares just how special this park is. “Balboa Park holds so many magical places to explore. This area is full of beautiful trees, and offers the perfect spot for a picnic, a family photo shoot, or just some quiet time with your sweetie. It’s truly one of the best hidden gems of San Diego.”
Photo courtesy of Spotlight Studios
5. Mt. Woodson Castle
San Diego family and wedding photographer Desiree Jacobs shares one of her favorite places, Mt. Woodson Castle. “This unique historical site boasts a 12,000 square foot home filled with 12 rooms and a large hall. It sits on 12 acres of beautiful garden grounds that create a gorgeous venue for weddings.”
Photo courtesy of Desiree Jacobs Photography
6. Hotel Del Coronado
The Hotel del Coronado, also known as The Del, is a historic beachfront hotel Coronado, California, just across the bay from San Diego.
Photographer Amy Gray shares why she believes the beach at The Del is one of the most beautiful places in San Diego. “The Hotel Del Coronado beach is the quintessential Southern California beach. It includes a variety of backgrounds, with sand and sky, a flat shoreline for reflection shots, a rock jetty for the little ones to climb on, bright blue lifeguard towers, and of course, the gorgeous Victorian architecture of the hotel. If you’re going to San Diego, you can’t miss the Hotel Del.”
Photo courtesy of Amy Gray Photography
7. Mission Trails Regional Park
“Mission Trails Regional Park is a beautiful place to visit if you love to hike or take your kids to explore nature,” claims Johanna Kitzman from Studio Freyja. “With several trails, there’s something for every activity level. Beautiful trails (both flat and elevated), rivers to explore, and a paved road perfect for biking or a stroller walk.”
Photo courtesy of Studio Freyja
8. Inaja Memorial Park
Southern California native and founder of Mountain Made, Eva Hatch shares the important history of the beautiful Inaja Memorial Park. “Located right off Highway 78 in the Cleveland National Forest is Inaja Memorial Park. It’s a tribute to the 11 firefighters who lost their lives battling the Inaja Fire in 1956. This tragic event directly led to the creation of the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders and the 18 Watch Out Situations used throughout the fire service today.”
Eva continues, “The park has a nice picnic area and a few short trails. Perched at 3,440 feet in elevation, the peak has a 360-degree mountain view featuring the start of the San Diego River bed and the historic Santa Ysabel Valley. This hidden gem is a fantastic place to watch the sunset over the rolling hills.”
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Gutierrez
A list of the most beautiful places in San Diego wouldn’t be complete without mentioning some of the stunning locations near the city. Here are a few of the metropolitan areas that are sure to impress.
9. La Jolla
Jennifer Leigh Warner from Experience Wildlife says, “La Jolla is one of my all-time favorite places to visit and photograph in the San Diego area. The beautiful ocean views are only matched with the vast amounts of marine wildlife that call these shores home. Stroll along the walkway and enjoy ocean views, take in the California sunshine and fresh air while exploring this cute seaside town, full of art galleries, cafes and street vendors. This is a must-visit spot for anyone traveling to Southern California.”
Photo courtesy of Experience Wildlife
“Carlsbad is located in North County San Diego is one of my favorite locations in all of San Diego,” states Cheri from Carlsbad Food Tours. “It’s a prime vacation spot for families and couples alike. Carlsbad “Village by the Sea” has 7-miles of beautiful beaches, a laid-back community feel, and plenty of kid-friendly activities and attractions to keep everyone happy. Not to mention the manicured golf courses, water sports, and five-star resorts. Carlsbad truly has something for everyone to enjoy.”
11. Del Mar
Del Mar is a beach city in San Diego known for its beaches, scenic coastal bluffs, and charming downtown area. Rochelle Cheever from The Elopement Experience shares, “One of my favorite places in San Diego is the beautiful sandy beaches of Del Mar which stretch out as far as the eye can see. The water is a deep blue, and the beach is dotted with people and dogs. I love taking my dog for a walk on this beach, as there is plenty of space to roam and play.”
Photo courtesy of The Elopement Experience
12. Downtown San Diego
A trip to San Diego wouldn’t be complete without visiting the downtown area. “Downtown San Diego puts you at the very center of everything, literally,” says local photographer, Irina Shalaeva. “With friendly cafes, A-list restaurants, nightlife and shopping only minutes away from cultural places and beaches, the downtown area is truly special. You can enjoy every day as a new adventure, and in every direction there is a new discovery.
Photo courtesy of Contours of Hearts Photography
Explore more San Diego articles: