Seaside dreams and coastal magic await you in San Diego

San Diego is particularly known for a few key things… good weather, palm trees, Balboa Park, ComicCon, the Zoo. But more than anything, I think its miles and miles of beaches are probably the first thing people picture in their minds when conjuring up a vision of this city. So when you start thinking about where you might like to have a fun and quintessentially-San Diego session, the beach is an easy choice. If you love sand in your toes, waves crashing forward and dreamy pink sunsets, then let’s get a fun plan rolling! But which beach to choose?

With so many options around here, many beaches have similarities, but when it comes down to the detail, there are definite differences that may help you decide what would be the best fit for you. Do you like cliffs and empty beaches? Do you like to mix seaside greenery with sand? Are you into rock formations? We thought we’d help break down your options so you can get a better feeling for what each beach or ocean view area offers.

Windansea Beach
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Location: La Jolla

01.Windansea Beach

Windansea is one of my favorite beach choices in San Diego because it offers a few different benefits: the crowds aren’t too bad, generally, there are some rad rock formations on the north end for variety, and it’s easy to access… though parking can sometimes be a little tricky in the area. But the sunset magic here is always dazzling. Love the little thatched hut near the staircase and even the view from the road above is great, along with the laid-back charm of the surrounding neighborhood.

Check out some shots we’ve done here:

Coronado Beach
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Location: Coronado

02.Coronado Beach

I’m pretty sure that Coronado’s grand stretch of beach is the deepest choice around here. What that means for you is that because there’s just more square footage of sand space, it’s a choice you can make confidently in avoiding crowded issues. It also happens to be awful purty. The famous wooden Hotel del Coronado with its signature red roofs and classic architecture is at the south end of the beach and makes for a darling old-fashioned backdrop and charming place for historic architecture. At the north end, dog beach is pretty sizable for those with fur buds. It’s hard to quite describe but this is one of my most favorite beaches in San Diego. Check out the sessions linked below to see why.

Some fab adventures here:

Sunset Cliffs
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Location: Point Loma

03.Sunset Cliffs

If rock formations and cliffs are your thing, then Sunset Cliffs is sure to deliver. Aptly named, this whole area includes both Sunset Cliffs Natural Park as well as plenty of coastline that leads down to it. The views here are perfection from both the top of the cliffs, and the beach below, though access may be limited based on tide times and it’s a little climb-y. There are ample nooks and crannies to discover here, and more variety than most beaches (interesting rock formations, cliffs, and greenery), particularly when within the park itself.

Some sessions from this area:

Ocean Beach
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Location: Point Loma

04.Ocean Beach

Just a bit further north of Sunset Cliffs, the two major features of Ocean Beach are the pier and the tidepools. Both make for lots of super fun photos! Of course, one must be prepared for other folks eager for photos in the same spots, so we try and schedule sessions here on weekdays to aim for less density. The pier makes for great photo ops both from above (on it) and from below (with it as a backdrop), and the laid-back OB neighborhood is full of bohemian shops and eateries if you want to add variety to the session.

Some fun stuff we’ve shot in this neighborhood:

Mission Beach & Belmont Park
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Location: Mission Beach

05.Mission Beach & Belmont Park

If you love bustling beaches full of activity, Mission Beach will certainly speak to you. It’s a popular tourism area thanks to all the short term condo rentals right at the beach, as well as the famous Belmont Park—a rather small and cute amusement park with a feature historic roller coaster. Definitely offers clients fun and playful vibes! The boardwalk here is super popular so expect crowds. We recommend this beach only on weekdays so the density isn’t a problem and we have more freedom to enjoy the features/games/fun at the park.

Shoots we’ve done here:

Children's Pool & La Jolla Cove
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Location: La Jolla

06.Children's Pool & La Jolla Cove

The charms of downtown La Jolla are plentiful, but heading to Children’s Beach is kind of the pinnacle—seeing the seals of La Jolla is always a delight. We respect their habitat, so while we don’t shoot on the beach itself, we’re always delighted to take in the views with our clients, as well as walk the seawall. Of course, there are lots of little beach nooks accessible from this area as well as the park above, so no shortage of fun spots here! Just keep in mind each little beach is a mini cove and not all that spacious, so they can easily become crowded. Conveniently close to the fun bustle of La Jolla’s center, pairing a walk around town is easy to do here.

Some playful examples of sessions here:

Scripps Shoreline & Scripps Pier
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Location: La Jolla

07.Scripps Shoreline & Scripps Pier

La Jolla has a few compelling beach areas, and La Jolla Shores is probably San Diego’s most popular. Read: crowded. So we avoid Shores, and instead we head up-beach to the north shoreline where Scripps Pier and Scripps Forum are. In addition to the pier as a gorgeous backdrop, we love the modern buildings of the forum for contrast. This area is managed by UCSD so there are a variety of educational buildings surrounding the area and fun patches of greenery, too.

Some loveliness from this area:

Martin Johnson House & Coastal Trail
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Location: La Jolla

08.Martin Johnson House & Coastal Trail

So while Martin Johnson House is definitely an official wedding venue, this whole stretch of cliffside coastal views has a short and charming trail, and is easy to access though to get unpaid street parking the walk may be a little stretch of a ways. The views include Scripps Pier far below (not accessible from here), and some beautiful large old trees, shrubbery and succulent bushes, and palm trees. If you’re not a big fan of sand between your toes, but you do love the ocean, a lofty view like this can be fun. Bonus: there are a bunch of interesting university buildings and old cottages scattered in this area that make for a compelling contrast.

Check out some examples here:

Torrey Pines State Park & Beach
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Location: La Jolla

09.Torrey Pines State Park & Beach

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect combination of rustic foresty trails, grand cliffs, and majestic beach, all in one. Welcome to Torrey Pines. It’s not the largest preserve but it sure packs a punch with beautiful trails high up above the beach and the pristine waters below. It’s an incredible place to shoot and had all the dreamy majesty one could hope for. Of course, this one comes at a price—in addition to having to pay fairly steep rates for parking there is also a day-use fee, as well as needing to secure a photography permit. You can see why it’s worth it as a truly magical place, but know that if these costs feel too high, there are beautiful alternatives on this list that won’t break the bank.

Want to see some of the magic in action?

Seagrove & Powerhouse Park
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Location: Del Mar

10.Seagrove & Powerhouse Park

North County, SD offers plenty of magic and the seaside towns next to them are often rather charming, none moreso than Del Mar. This stretch of beach is bordered by two different sweet little parks, so if you like the idea of pairing a park picnic and greenery with a beach frolic, this is a great and easy option. The old Powerhouse is a signature distinctive background feature, the trains go by nearby which can feel fun to witness, and the ocean always serves up goodness.

Some great examples below:

Swami's Beach & Moonlight Beach
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Location: Encinitas

11.Swami's Beach & Moonlight Beach

Encinitas is a laid-back yet upscale surfer’s town, and that vibe shines through both in the city and at the beach. Our favorite is Swamis which has a tiny adorable park up top of the cliffs, and a long-ish staircase that leads down to the beach below. This beach is almost always low-crowds, more surfers in the water than loungers on the sand. The cliffs are always dazzling to wander by, and this beach goes on a long ways, feels grand and quiet. Moonlight Beach is a bit further north, and a shorter staircase down, and features classic lifeguard stations and a small park.

We always love shooting here, check these out:

Carlsbad State Beach
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Location: Carlsbad

12.Carlsbad State Beach

Carlsbad Village is a cool little neighborhood in North County that feels like a good balance between history and modernity. Some cool spots to eat and drink at make this neighborhood a fun one to wander around before hitting the beach. It does tend to be a little more crowded here on weekends, but it has a nice chill vibe and makes for a good easygoing spot to wander and capture a little magic.

Some of the coastal vibes from here:

Shelter Island
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Location: North San Diego Bay

13.Shelter Island

While not technically a beach, this stretch of land in the San Diego Bay is a great way to have a seaside experience filled with boats, a view of downtown and the gorgeous waters of this city. If you don’t really want to get sandy, but you’re all about the views living on the water, this would be a great choice for a session. The light here is always a delight, there are trees and grassy areas and piers and restaurants… so maybe this is just right for you.

Some of the fun we’ve captured here:

Centennial Park Beach
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Location: Coronado

14.Centennial Park Beach

Fancy a jaunt in Coronado, but the main beach isn’t quite right? How about a view back on San Diego’s skyline? The northeast side of Coronado island is often overlooked, but has plenty of charms. To be clear, its beach is absolutely tiny, however the park beside it and the piers and docks make for lots of alternative fun.

Examples from around here:

Honorable Mention: Coronado Dog Beach
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Location: Coronado

15.Honorable Mention: Coronado Dog Beach

At the North End of Coronado Beach, there’s a huge area sectioned off for dogs. This is an important point for dog lovers, since our four-legged friends aren’t actually allowed on most beaches. Everyone knows OB dog beach, but it’s super overcrowded with dogs and just doesn’t make as great a spot for a shoot. So if our pups will be along for the fun, then my recommendation is always going to be Coronado because the dog beach is quite large so they’re not crowded with others pups, and because there’s a nearby small park area with grassy greenery for contrast. We can also spread out a little away from dog beach with the pups without too much risk. If you only intend for a quick 5-minutes with your dog on a given beach then most of the above locations would work fine, but if your dogs will be there for a longer period, then this is my recommended beach for you.

Examples from around here:

So let's get cracking!

Hopefully the above locations provided you with ample fodder for thoughts on where might be a perfect spot for our shared adventure! That said, if you weren’t sure whether you were leaning beach vs rustic trails, be sure to check out our last article about rustic Sessions in San Diego. And of course, there is always the classic that is Balboa Park—we wrote up a locations article for the park, too. So once you’ve found something that feels right, let us know and we’ll plan a wonderful adventure!