Here's to the call of the wild!

Love the outdoors, and want to have a fun adventure that celebrates all the trees trails, and greenery this city can offer? You may have seen our very thorough write-up on locations in San Diego’s central park gem—Balboa Park. But what if your vibe is a little more rustic and a little less manicured? If you want to get away from architecture, formal gardens, and people, and want to explore foresty trails and darling preserves, we’ve put together a shortlist of some of San Diego’s most fantastic green spaces.

Presidio Park

Location: Old Town

01.Presidio Park

High up, overlooking Old Town, Presidio Park is a San Diego gem. It makes for an excellent alternative to Balboa Park for anyone keen on the vibe but not a fan of crowds. There’s a historic Spanish-style building complete with arched colonnades and tiled floors, a rustic grove of Eucalyptus if you love trees, some open grassy plains, historic stone walls and steps up to an old fort area, and a couple of somewhat untouched rustic trails tucked away behind the park.

Sessions we’ve shot here:

Marian Bear Memorial Park

Location: North of Clairemont

02.Marian Bear Memorial Park

This is an often-overlooked series of trails North of Clairmont and south of UTC, few people are aware of. The light is lovely here, the tree cover is plentiful, and it is rarely populated. Convenient huge parking lots are right next to trails (so a relatively short amount of walking, basically). This is a fun spot to plan a picnic experience or just go for a little wander.

Sessions from around here:

Mission Trails Region Park

Location: Allied Gardens/San Carlos

03.Mission Trails Region Park

A huge park preserve and of course darling rustic spot. This one happens to have some particularly compelling features: big broad open plains of grassy hills, some craggy rocky areas, and the historic old stone Mission dam. Parking here typically requires some walking as the lot closest to the dam is quite tiny, but there are larger lots further away. They’re extremely firm on their closing times, however, so ensuring we’re out before the park closes is important to not being locked in!

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

Location: North of Mira Mesa

04.Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

Easy to access and fairly central through San Diego, this is a good, relaxed space with ample parking and variety of environments. It’s got it all—rustic open fields, a wandering brook, giant old trees, golden tall grasses, and long paths shielded by shade trees. A good option for families or maternity sessions, with several different kinds of vibes within easy short access.

Elfin Forest

Location: West of Escondido

05.Elfin Forest

There is something especially dreamy about this incredible preserve. It’s situation next to a big hill and a babbling brook runs through it, and the volume of old oaks is formidable. It has quite a lot of variety and truly rustic charm along with several trails. The one point to make is that this location firmly requires a paid permit for shooting, and it can take a bit of a long wait to get it, so advance planning is necessary. The rangers are pretty strict here, so it’s a must.

Shooting we’ve done here:

Lake Hodges

Location: North County, West of the 15

06.Lake Hodges

Into living that lakeside life? Lake Hodges is the largest near central San Diego, and happens to be nestled next to some gorgeous hills. It has some memorable details, in addition to some great overall views. There’s a large walking bridge with a view, there are super tall reed fields you can walk through, there are short boating piers, and there’s a large park with grand old oaks nearby. And of course some lovely trails. It’s a great choice for quiet—we’ve rarely seen more than a couple of other people when shooting here.

Some fun examples of shoots here:

Stelzer County Park

Location: East County

07.Stelzer County Park

The utter magic of a giant old tree—is there anything better? This dreamy rustic county park is a little outside of the city, but easy to access. The dedicated small parking lot is just a short walk to the famous ‘wedding tree’. From there, there are trails that lead into the hills, gorgeous golden grasses, and meandering paths in the brush, among the plentiful trees. This one is a real gem.

Some magic we’ve captured here:

Oakoasis County Preserve

08.Oakoasis County Preserve

This is one of my top-secret locations I’m sharing boldly because it’s just such a gem that folks don’t know about. The trails that head down into the park are truly lovely, full of interesting rocky formations and flowering bushes, eventually leading to big grassy plains and a gorgeous old oak grove. Often overlooked, this spot is so worthy of choosing!

What we’ve shot here:

Wright's Field

Location: Alpine

09.Wright's Field

This is a real hidden gem that few know of, yet it offers so much magic. It’s a little further out from central San Diego, but since it’s in Alpine that means it happens to be pretty close to the brewery—an amazing spot to kick-off a great session! It’s largely a huge open space with meandering paths through wide fields, but it also has a few tree groves, some bouldery areas, and the ruins of an old homesteader house.

What we’ve shot here:

Cuyamaca State Park

Location: South of Julian, CA

10.Cuyamaca State Park

This darling region is quite near to Julian and Mount Laguna, and is absolutely a breath of fresh air. It’s an expansive park area with trailheads here and there. If you’re into foresty trees, if you’re into hills and views, if you’re into charming lakes, this spot’s got you covered. You can even rent a boat to paddle out onto the lake. Super cute, and though I haven’t been back here in a few years, I’m always game to.

Some of our work from here:


Location: 1hr Northeast of the city of San Diego


Julian is an old west-style town in the mountains, and happens to be San Diego County’s apple zone. This is where our orchards are, and Julian’s historic past as a mining town makes for a real old-fashioned experience. Especially if you like apple-picking, pies, cider, or all of the above. We’ve shot winter sessions here for the pine trees (or in one case, on a Christmas tree farm), for the fall colors, and for apples, apples, apples galore.

Some examples of magic from this area:

Mount Laguna

Location: 1 hour East of San Diego off the 8

12.Mount Laguna

Live in Southern CA but wistful for Pacific Northwest vibes? Mount Laguna can serve you up with forests, trees, mountain views, and cozy vibes. It’s about as northern a feeling as you can get within San Diego County, especially if we head there in the fall or winter. Depending on the area that appeals to you, the views of the Anza desert below can be dazzling, or the rocky basins impressive. Also, big fans of the campgrounds here, we’ve had several couples book campsites for shoots! Note that to park anywhere in this area, you’ll need to buy a park pass from the general store, so getting there before closing is a must!

Some examples from this forested region:

Palomar Mountain

Location: Southeast of Temecula

13.Palomar Mountain

So there’s the charming and lovely Palomar Mountain State Park, as well as some nearby venues you can rent glamping tents from, like Bailey’s. We love shooting in this whole region. Mountain sessions are always a treat. Palomar Mountain has everything you could hope for, little lakes, grand trails, trees galore, and glamping or cabin charm. And the views! Hot tip: if you love space, the Palomar Mountain observatory also happens to be right here!

Check out what we’ve shot here:

So… is that all? Any other suggestions?

Nah, San Diego County is huge and absolutely chock-full of lots of rad places to shoot. This was just a selection of some of our favorites. But there are plenty of places worth exploring at, so here are a few others you may want to consider:

  • Black Mountain preserve
  • Blue Sky Ecological Preserve
  • Mount Woodson Trails
  • Iron Mountain
  • San Dieguito River Park
  • Lake Murray
  • Daley Ranch
  • Hellhole Canyon

Now, if you love the great outdoors, but if you’re more of a seaside person, we’ve got a whole post coming up about beaches and ocean views. Stay tuned!