California is a total paradise for photography. Between the crashing ocean waves, sandy beaches, seaside cliffs, piers, redwood forest, mountains and beautiful palm trees, you’re never too far away from a picture perfect landscape. Plus, you don’t even need a pricey Nikon DSLR camera to get amazing images – you can get plenty of great shots by just using your trusty old smartphone.
Most people just flock to the famous Yosemite National Park to get pics, but California has 280 smaller state parks with just as many great photo ops. These ten parks across the state are especially photogenic behind the lens – but then again, nothing ever really compares to seeing them all in person.
1. Emerald Bay State Park
Centered on Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay, this state park will give you a wide variety of photo opportunities. Sure, the shimmering lake is worth getting pictures of – but venture off and make sure to also capture Eagle Falls, and the majestic Vikingsholm – a huge 38-room mansion that’s thought to be one of the best examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States.
2. Montaña de Oro State Park
Montaña de Oro State Park lies south of Morro Bay with a variety of scenery to photograph. You’ll want to get shots of everything: the rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, coastal plains, open canyons and hills – including the 1,347-foot Valencia Peak. The name – which translates to Mountain of Gold – even comes from the golden bright wildflowers that bloom across the park in the springtime. More about Montana de Oro State Park.
3. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
McWay Falls is the main draw of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, but the photo ops don’t just stop here. Aside from the pristine coastal waterfall, this popular state park near Big Sur has miles of other hiking trails through 300-foot-tall ancient forest. Unfortunately access to the Big Sur Coast is closed from the south due to a landslide, but Highway 1 is open from the Monterey/Carmel area.
4. Limekiln State Park
Limekiln State Park, near Big Sur, blends nature and history with hiking trails through the woods, a fabulous beach, campgrounds, the 100-foot Limekiln Falls, and four enormous lime kilns that remain from an 1887–1890 lime-smelting operation. They’re all surprisingly still left in-tact for the most part, and will give you some incredibly unique photo opportunities. More about Limekiln State Park.
5. Mendocino Headlands State Park
I could never get tired of capturing ocean waves, and Mendocino Headlands State Park is the perfect place to do it. This state park by the cozy town of Mendocino has some of the best, dramatic seascapes in northern California, and they’re especially gorgeous to capture at sunset. The beaches are a little tricky to get to but worth it if the trails are dry and not slippery. Look for the rock arch!
6. Garrapata State Park
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park may be the more popular stop in Big Sur, but Garrapata State Park has a lot to offer too, especially for photographers. This underrated stretch encompasses rocky cliffs, two miles of beachfront, and quiet, coastal hiking trails. If you’re lucky you may also be able to get shots of sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals and California gray whales.
7. Sonoma Coast State Park
Sonoma Coast does not disappoint when it comes to photo ops. With its long sandy beaches, natural arches, secluded coves and rugged headlands, this oceanside park has plenty of serene natural seascapes that are Instagram-worthy. We recommend visiting Goat Rock Beach (as pictured) for your perfect panorama of the northern California coastline. See ALL the beaches of Sonoma Coast State Park.
8. Big Basin Redwoods State Park
California’s oldest state park, Big Basin will give you beautiful forest landscapes to photograph in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Some of the old-growth redwoods measure as big as 50 feet around, and they’re so old they may even predate the Roman Empire. Aside from the enormous trees, you’ll also find great Pacific views here, and gorgeous waterfalls to also capture.
9. Natural Bridges State Beach
As you can probably tell by the name, Natural Bridges State Beach is a photographer’s dream with this rock formation that has a natural arch just off-shore. It’s a relaxing place in Santa Cruz to just lay back in the sand, and get photos of the waves crashing in through the base.
10. Patrick’s Point State Park
Patrick’s Point State Park is a scenic blend of tall redwood forest, rugged coastline, sheer cliffs, tide pools and stunning coastal sea stacks. Here you’ll find lots of great camping opportunities, hiking trails, brilliant sunsets, and of course plenty of photo opportunities around every corner.
California is so photogenic! Where are some of your favorite state parks in the Golden State to take pictures?