If you’re a city person—if your lifestyle is foodie, coffee nut, mural fan, urban architecture, or anything else that’s all about the city lights, well we wanted to make sure we shared some ideas about where in San Diego you might have a great time shooting. We’ve done series on rustic locations and desert locations, so we thought it high time to return back to the city and list out some of San Diego’s most rad neighborhoods. After all, there’s no shortage of interesting nooks and crannies, businesses, and vibrant fun. Of course, urban doesn’t necessarily just mean industrial and glass and concrete—it means whatever one finds in denser city neighborhoods, so there can be quite a variety.
So, here are some fabulous neighborhoods in which we highlight chic locations, cool murals, and fab establishments that you may want to make a visit to for our adventures together!
The Gaslamp (aka downtown)
San Diego’s downtown is known as the Gaslamp, thanks to the historic stretch of 5th Avenue, where we have retained a little timeless architecture. While most of downtown has been modernized, there are some charming historic pockets in this area that make for a compelling contrast. Note that this is definitely a high-tourism spot, so expect crowds and density. Cafe Sevilla, The Lion’s Share, and Puesto are fave eateries around here, definitely check them out!
Fun shoots we’ve done in this area:
The East Village
Just next to the Gaslamp (admittedly they can blur a little together), we have the East Village, San Diego’s own warehouses meets lofts meets modern area. The trolley passes right through this part of town, which is full of colorful murals, new high-rises, City College, warehouse vibes, and plenty of construction. We love this part of town as it’s less touristy than the Gaslamp, and offers a lot of versatility for modern urbanists. Check out Neighborhood, Tajima, Amplified Ale Works, The Mission, You & Yours Distillery, Fairweather, Noble Experiment…
Sessions from around here:
North of downtown, Little Italy is a chic and dense region full of restaurants, cafes, and hangouts. Don’t be fooled by its name—the volume of Italian businesses isn’t actually that dense here, anymore. But there are definitely some gems! Some of our favorite San Diego eateries are in this area (Herb & Wood, Starlite, El Camino, Ironside, Born & Raised, Pappalecco, Queenstown, Craft & Commerce…), and it has some very charming nooks and crannies here, there, and everywhere, along with all the modern apartments that have popped up in more recent years. The art deco County Admin Building is in the area, along with a charming park, as well as the Santa Fe Depot train station, all within a short walk to the water or down to Seaport Village. This area is always a little on the more crowded side, and definitely offers quite a tourist draw, but it’s awfully photogenic as you can see! The Little Italy sign is often in demand.
Shoots in this area:
Bankers Hill & Hillcrest
Bankers Hill is a lesser-trafficked neighborhood, yet offers ample charms in a super duper convenient location. It’s one of the last vestiges of the Victorian era in San Diego, where there are still some well-preserved buildings and apartments in use. It’s primarily residential with a few notable eatery exceptions (such as Bassam Cafe seen in the image above), and it’s walking distance to Balboa Park, so easy to combine with its west side should you want to make your session a little more park-oriented. It also features to memorable bridges over small canyons—a wooden trestle bridge as well as a small suspension bridge.
Hillcrest is San Diego’s gay village which makes it more colorful and flying LGBTQ flags proudly (even where the pride parade happens annually), and full of cool little shops, eateries, bars, and bustling activity. These two sort of flow into one-another, so sessions here tend to overlap.
Great sessions from around these areas:
Old Town & Presidio Park
The OG San Diego, Old Town is our historic heart… with a hearty dash of tourism thrown in. It has ample charms with a feeling of being far off in a Mexican seaside city. There are many of San Diego’s oldest buildings off of the square here as well, and obviously it features largely Spanish historic architecture along with some old west settlers style buildings. If you like color and vibrance and history and Mexican food, this is a great area to hang out in. It also features Presidio Park (a charming rustic park), as well as Heritage Square (a small enclave of perfectly-preserved old Victorian homes.
Memorable sessions around here:
Liberty Station, nestled in the heart of Point Loma, is a bustling little collection of historic former military buildings that have become shops, businesses, eateries, bars, and cultural venues. It’s a real gem of an area to wander because it happens to also be next to the water, and even has a small rustic part of the park that has a real hiking-in-the-woods vibe. So you can kind of get it all, here. Urban vibes, historic vibes, park greenery, water hangouts, and lots of cool places to eat and drink. Just be warned, it gets quite busy… it’s a high-density area with lots of local activity. As you can see certain signage here is especially in demand. You could liken it a little bit to Seattle’s Pike Place, in a way.
Liberty Station Adventures:
One of the largest neighborhoods in San Diego, North Park offers a quintessentially cool California neighborhood. You might loosely compare it to Silverlake or Los Feliz in LA, or maybe Brooklyn in New York. The kind of neighborhood a couple moves to that likes to be walking distance to everything.
It’s a relatively laid-back area that includes a large residential spread, but also a density of very rad businesses such as Holy Matcha pictured above. Lots of cafes and bars and restaurants and breweries in this area, not to mention a lot of cool murals and urban vibes… but not TOO urban. It’s definitely different than downtown. We hang out here a lot in regular day to day life, and you’ll find many of the gems we’ve shot in this area have a great chill vibe. This area does have a huge North Park sign right at University and 30th, great for a crossing-the-street image.
Always fun in North Park:
I might be just a wee bit biased, but this is my home turf, so I think my neighborhood is pretty fab, and love sharing it with my clients! Welcome, one and all! Normal Heights is like a smaller version of North Park in many ways. The locals call it Abnormal Heights, and this is an area where things get just a smidge weirder—and that’s how we like it. It’s definitely gentrified over the years, but it still has a bit of representation of its days of having lots of antique stores and auto body shops. Between those, you’ll find some great cafes, delicious hole-in-the-wall restaurants, brewpubs, bars, and breweries, and lots of interesting little nooks of different kinds (Blind Lade Ale House, Dao Fu, Sycamore Den, Jyoti Bihanga, Zia Pizza, Kiko & Sven, Dos Palmas, Dark Horse…). This area has a true neighborhood vibe… locals, not tourists. Featured right on Adams is one of SD’s signature neighborhood neon arch signs. It makes for a great photo op!
Darling sessions around my hood:
South Park will always have a special place in my heart. It’s a cool little enclave for some charming businesses (Communal, Station Tavern, Cafe Madeleine, Piacera Mio, Buona Forchetta…) and has a really laid-back, quaint neighborhood feel, with its tree-lined streets and adorable craftsman homes. I hang out here often, and its proximity to Balboa Park and makes for lots of convenience if you want to combine its charms with some rustic trails
Some sweet sessions from this area:
So Kensington is just next to Normal Heights, and a little more upscale—once upon a time back in the 30s, it was considered a suburb of San Diego. These days, it’s core. It’s more residential than the other neighborhoods listed, but has a handful or truly delicious and delightful establishments (Tanuki, Ken Cafe, Ken Club, Pappalecco, Cucina Sorella, Bleu Boheme), as well as a great relaxed vibe. I hang out here a lot, as it’s walking distance from my place. It can easily be combined with Normal Heights or something else nearby. It has one of SD’s signature neighborhood arch signs, which is a well-desired feature.
Lovely sessions in laid-back Kensington:
- Steph & Darren
- Genny & Jorge
We’re big fans of University Heights, after all, it’s just down the street from my neighborhood! There are some real gems of delicious eateries here (we’re partial to Madison, Parkhouse, Plumeria, Kairoa, and Meraki) as well as the classic UH sign. And of course, at Adams, there’s Trolley Barn Park. So lots of familiar neighborhood charm among the craftsman homes and darling gardens. It’s a great laid-back neighborhood that’s an easy place for a hangout.
Fab sessions around here:
This is my old neighborhood, so I remember it fondly. It’s a small neighborhood that sits atop the hill that overlooks downtown and the East Village. The views are fab, there’s a delightful preservation of San Diego history with all the Victorian buildings, and there are a handful of rad establishments here, such as the Turf Club, Counterpoint, Influx, Krakatoa, Dark Horse, etc…). One of the most compelling draws here after the views of downtown, is Golden Hill Park, which technically is the corner of Balboa Park. the old stone fountain, the grand old trees… it’s a charming and chill part of the park that has great views and makes for a nice mellow experience.
Here are some delights from this part of town:
If you are looking for a south-of-the-border flavor, the Barrio’s the place to be. It’s an interesting neighborhood that’s partway into a gentrification. There’s a strange combination of vibes throughout this neighborhood—it’s run-down in some places and shiny brand new in others. One of our favorite spots in this neighborhood is Chicano Park—a unique park under a series of overpasses, full of colorful murals largely celebrating Mexico. Such amazing fun energy here!
Sessions from this neighborhood:
Ocean Beach & Point Loma
Hippies? Naturalists? Surfers? Ocean Beach, aka OB, has always been known as a neighborhood where chill people go to chill. Over the years it’s modernized a little and it has become quite an interesting collection of unique spots. My guy’s favorite fish tacos in all of SD are at South Beach Bar & Grill, and y’all know everyone loves Hodad’s burgers! The pier here is a super popular spot to wander on or under, the beach is classic, and the tidepools are huge and fabulous at low tide. Point Loma as a whole is a pretty polished and upscale area which contrasts the low-key vibe of OB, so there are lots of unique opportunities around here with the gorgeous rustic magic of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park due south of OB, and Cabrillo Monument and historic lighthouse at the very tip of the peninsula.
Some fun stuff we’ve shot here:
San Diego offers historic charm mixed with posh glamour here in downtown La Jolla. This area is known as an upscale spot (note the McLaren, Bentley, and Lamborghini dealerships side by side to give you a sense) but also a historic one—so many charming old edifices, cottages, and nooks/crannies. A getaway spot for the Hollywood elite, many had homes here. In modern days, many cute shops and neighborhood hangouts have popped up, and its easy proximity to the beach and beachside parks, cliffs, and walkways make it a wonderful place to wander, with ample variety of vibes and choices for photoshoot spots, from Children’s Beach to the Cove to the Tidepools to the Art Murals series to the Cave to the quaint downtown… there’s a lot of fun to be had!
Some fun La Jolla wanders:
Timeless and constant, the charm of the almost-island of Coronado is darling and then some. Everyone knows the famous Hotel Del Coronado (aka The Del) with its historic red roof (you may remember it from the film ‘Some Like it Hot’), but few know the rest of its nooks and crannies. Obviously the multi-million-dollar historic homes serve as a darling backdrop, and its mile of big and broad beach with the views of Point Loma/Cabrillo. But there’s also a sweet and charming little downtown stretch, Spreckels and Centennial Park, and colossal views of downtown San Diego’s skyline. Oh, and I love Clayton’s Coffee Shop, it’s such a timeless little diner. It’s a fun area for sure!
Some examples of sessions here:
A darling enclave, North of San Diego, Del Mar is that perfectly laid back and charming little seaside town. It’s an upscale area with lots of charming cottage vibes, and both Powerhouse Park and Seagrove Park are seaside and offer direct beach access. San Dieguito Lagoon also passes right through the heart of Del Mar, and we’ve shot some fun stuff right by the water there, too. Plus Viewpoint Brewing’s beer offerings nearby don’t hurt!
Sessions from this area:
Welcome to North County San Diego, where beach communities are the way life is. Encinitas is this interesting contrast of classic and timeless, boho, laid-back beach town… paired with modern chic style, new buildings, and charming gentrification. SO much good food, many great cafes and hangout spots, fun shopping, and also some of the best beaches, in particular thanks to the hugely high cliffs that line the beach. I’m particularly partial to Swami’s Beach, but Moonlight’s great, too.
Some fun examples from this area:
Now we’re way up in North County where there’s been a lot of transformation in recent years. There’s a holdout of some historic neighborhood charm, but there’s also a lot of gentrification and changing happening around here. It’s such a fun contrast to see, and I’m excited to shoot in this area more often! There are some fun murals, restaurants and neighborhood hangouts around here, so let’s meet up and make some fun happen!
Recent Carlsbad sessions:
- Melissa & Jacob
- A Team Branding Frolic
Chula, what’s up? This part of town has so much more to offer than many folks realize. Some really cute stuff in this area that’s been coming up for a while, and admittedly I had overlooked it for years. Loved the sessions I’ve been doing around here recently, definitely excited to loop back soon!
Listen, San Diego has plenty more neighborhoods and if yours isn’t on this list, it’s entirely possible it has magic I just haven’t yet discovered. So if you have something else in mind, I’m all ears. I can’t wait to help bring your session in the city to life!