A Photographer's Favorite Bay Area Locations for Engagement Shoots

November 19, 2023 Best Tips

Exploring the Bay Area's breathtaking landscapes through my lens is one of the highlights of being a wedding photographer. With each engagement shoot, I discover new facets of this diverse region, from serene beaches to hidden village alleys. In this post, I'm excited to share with you fifteen of my favorite locations for engagement photos. Each spot offers its own unique charm, whether you're dreaming of a beach sunset, forest tranquility, or quaint village romance. Join me as we journey through these picturesque settings, perfect for capturing the love and joy of your engagement.

1. Shark Fin Cove, Davenport

Shark Fin Cove is an enchanting location along Highway 1, a hidden gem that captures the essence of the California coast. I had the joy of photographing Danika & Robert's engagement here, set against the backdrop of a shark fin-shaped rock in a bay blooming with wildflowers. After a rainy winter, the vibrant colors along the coastline were a photographer's dream. The classic California cliffs and ocean views are at their best here, especially when the sunset paints the sky over a field of flowers. It's a spot that combines natural beauty with a sense of adventure.


Timing and weather conditions are crucial for locations like Shark Fin Cove. While it's a paradise in spring with blooming flowers, it can be dry in the fall after hot summers and droughts. Also, be mindful of the wind, especially on the cliffs. Strong winds can make a shoot unpleasant or even unsafe. Always have a backup plan for wind-protected spots, or be flexible to reschedule if needed. Your photographer can advise on the best times and weather conditions to ensure your photos capture the location’s beauty safely and at its peak.

2. Natural Bridges State Beach, Sants Cruz

Natural Bridges State Beach is an iconic spot in Santa Cruz and a local favorite for good reason. Though it's a bit of a steep walk to the beach, this protected cove offers a wind-sheltered haven, making it an excellent choice for beach sessions. Especially when spring and summer evenings bring chilly winds, this beach remains calm. The sunsets here are truly magical, embodying that quintessential West Side Santa Cruz charm. You'll also find rocky cliffs and tide pools at low tide, plus nearby eucalyptus trees home to monarch butterflies at certain times of the year. Just a heads up – it's a state beach, so the parking lot can fill up, and the beach can get crowded during the busy season, but it's well worth the visit.

3. Twin Gates Loop, Santa Cruz

Twin Gates Loop, a short drive from UCSC, is an enchanting daytime destination in the Santa Cruz redwoods. Its tall, wispy fields in spring, dotted with wildflowers, create a vibrant atmosphere. I had the pleasure of capturing Nichole and Johnny's engagement photos here, taking advantage of the spring blossoms and the dramatic clouds for some stunning midday shots. This location is perfect for those who want to embrace the natural beauty and vivid colors of the great outdoors in their photos.

Tip: Golden Hour

The time of day you choose for your photos can dramatically alter their mood. Golden hour, around sunset, provides a dreamy, soft light that's ideal for creating magical photos. Carrie & Paul's engagement shoot at Twin Gates Loop during sunset is a prime example of this. The same location takes on a different character with the light brown, taller grasses of fall, offering a serene and romantic backdrop. Whether it's the vibrant energy of midday or the tranquil beauty of sunset, each time of day offers a unique setting for capturing your special moments.

4. Hidden Beach, Santa Cruz

Looking for a beach that's a bit off the beaten path for your engagement photos? Hidden Beach in Santa Cruz is your spot. What sets it apart? It's lesser-known to tourists, offers the possibility of beach fires, and boasts sunsets across the ocean, ensuring fantastic lighting. Remember, though, it's predominantly a beach setting, so it's perfect if you're dreaming of beach-themed photos. The best part? The sun sets over the ocean rather than behind the cliffs, which can make for some truly stunning photos depending on the time of year.


When Audrey and Mathew chose Hidden Beach for their engagement shoot, it wasn't just about the beautiful scenery. This beach was where they first admitted their feelings for each other – making it a place bursting with personal significance. When selecting a location for your engagement photos, think about places that hold special meaning in your relationship, or even just spots where you've created beautiful memories together. Sometimes, the best place is one that tells a part of your own love story.

Tip: Bring your dog to the shoot!

Want to make your engagement photos even more special? Bring your furry friend along! Dogs can add a fun and personal touch to your beach shoot. Remember, they might only have the attention span for a photo or two, so plan accordingly. Also, having a pet wrangler can be a huge help. Check out my other blog post with more tips on including your pet in your shoot – it's a must-read for animal lovers!

5. Bear Creek Redwoods Preserve, Los Gatos

Looking for a forest setting that's easy to access and stunningly diverse? Bear Creek Redwoods Preserve in Los Gatos is a treasure. Just a stone's throw from the parking lot, you'll find a serene, easy-access trail around Upper Lake – perfect for those who want the forest vibe without the hike. The area is open and light, with a variety of trees and colors that create a picturesque backdrop. The best part? You get the full view of the forest in the background – it's like stepping into a scene where you can truly 'see the forest for the trees.' A dream for nature lovers and photographers alike!

6. Alma and Redwood Springs Loop, Los Gatos

If you're dreaming of those majestic old-growth redwoods that Northern California is famous for, Alma and Redwood Springs Loop in Los Gatos is your spot. Ben & Kim were looking for exactly that and we found it here. The hike might take some effort, but trust me, it's absolutely worth it. The forest envelops you in its ancient beauty, making every photo magical. And it's not too far from San Jose, making it a convenient forest getaway.

Tip: Multiple locations

Planning multiple photo locations or outfit changes? Choose spots that are close together. For Ben & Kim, we paired this trail with the Redwood Open Space Preserve nearby. There's a parking lot with bathrooms, perfect for a quick outfit swap. It's little details like this that can make your photo session smooth and enjoyable!

7. Mori Point, Pacifica

Mori Point in Pacifica is a stunner, especially if you're looking for a location close to San Francisco. It's where Melanie & Eric loved to walk and became the perfect spot for their engagement shoot. We captured their love amid spring's colorful wildflowers and dramatic cliffs. What's fantastic about Mori Point is its proximity to the city, offering diverse backdrops and beautiful views in any weather. Even the bay's iconic fog adds a touch of magic, making this spot a favorite for its natural beauty and versatility.

8. Carmel Beach, Carmel

Carmel Beach is a sight to behold with its soft white sands and turquoise waters. During our shoot, the cloudy day provided us with beautifully soft light, highlighting the beach's natural charm and the colorful vegetation in the dunes. While it can be popular in the summer and holidays, its beauty makes it worth the visit. It's an idyllic setting for those who dream of a beach backdrop that combines natural elegance with a touch of whimsy.

9. Carmel-by-the-Sea Village, Carmel

The village of Carmel-by-the-Sea is a treasure trove of unique architecture and hidden alleys, offering a completely different vibe from the beach. Maria & Tony, who love this charming town, chose it for its quaint streets and amazing restaurants, which they enjoyed after our shoot. Scouting this location was a delight – every turn revealed a new alley or an art gallery, perfect for capturing those intimate, candid moments. It's an ideal spot for couples who want a blend of artistic and romantic settings in their photos.

10. Castle Rock, Los Gatos

Castle Rock State Park is a forested wonderland just outside San Jose. It's where lush greenery meets sculpted sandstone and sweeping vistas, especially from the high ridges of the Santa Cruz Mountains. For those who love a mix of adventure and stunning natural backdrops, this park has it all – enchanting forests, quaint bridges, and impressive rock faces. And if you're up for a hike, the views from the top are nothing short of spectacular. It's the ideal spot for couples who want a bit of everything: forest vibes, scenic views, and a touch of adventure.

Tip: Outfit Choices

Remember, your outfit can really stand out against the natural backdrop. Take a cue from Olivia & Jon, who chose reds and burgundies to beautifully contrast with the greenery of Castle Rock. A splash of color can add an extra layer of visual interest to your engagement photos. Check out my blog post and Instagram reel for more tips on choosing the right outfits for your shoot!

11. Lovers Point, Monterey

Lovers Point in Monterey truly lives up to its name. It's a romantic haven, perfect for those cozy beach picnics or just soaking in the scenic views. What I adore about this spot is its diverse landscape – on one end, you have stunning tide pools and soft sandy beaches, and just around the corner, there are magnificent boulders and cliffs against an ocean backdrop. Though it can be popular in peak season, its beauty and convenience close to Monterey make it a top choice for couples looking for a variety of scenic options in one location.

12. New Brighton State Park, Santa Cruz

I'm biased here since this is one of my favorite beaches in Santa Cruz! (Not only because it's walking distance from home) The forested bluffs offer a campground, hiking trails, and sweeping views of Monterey Bay steps from a sandy shore. Devon and Nick came up from LA to visit family over Thanksgiving, and we got the most dreamy fall engagement photos.

13. Fort Ord Dunes State Park, Monterey

Fort Ord Dunes State Park is a hidden gem, boasting colorful dunes blanketed with lush vegetation alongside a stunning beach. It's an ideal choice if you're seeking beach vibes without the crowds, as it tends to be quieter than other popular spots. Do keep an eye on the weather, especially for windy conditions. The presence of large dunes adds a unique dimension to your beach photos, offering more diversity in backdrops. Plus, it's conveniently located just a short drive north of Monterey, making it an easily accessible yet picturesque location for your engagement shoot.

14. Sutro Baths, San Francisco

Sutro Baths in San Francisco is a spectacular location that blends urban convenience with a sense of historical wonder. Right in the city, it offers an escape into a world of meandering paths through trees and the intriguing ruins of the old baths. This spot is a treasure trove of hidden gems, making every photo shoot unique and exciting. I absolutely love capturing moments here; the variety and character of Sutro Baths ensure that no two shoots are ever the same, providing a perfect backdrop for couples looking for a blend of nature, history, and urban charm in their engagement photos.

Tip: Sunrise vs. Sunset

Choosing between sunrise and sunset for your photo shoot isn't just about the light – it's also about the crowd. Popular spots like Sutro Baths can get busy at sunset, sometimes even leading to lines for the most iconic photo locations, like the baths themselves. During a sunset session, you might find yourself waiting for a turn. In contrast, sunrise sessions are usually less crowded, allowing for more time and more intimate shots without the wait. Keep this in mind when planning to capture those perfect moments at well-known locations.

15. Wilder Ranch, Santa Cruz

Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz holds a special place in the hearts of locals, including Sara & Jordy, who grew up visiting on school trips. For their engagement, we utilized the vibrant architecture of the old farmhouses and buildings, adding a colorful and fun backdrop to their photos. The stables, with their rustic charm, also provided a unique setting, reflecting the couple's fond childhood memories and their journey together.

Carolita & Kyler's shoot took us to the cliffs near Wilder Ranch, a short stroll from the historic buildings. The cliffs offer a magical setting, especially with the perfect lighting conditions we had. We were fortunate to have a calm day, allowing us to fully explore and capture the stunning beauty of the cliffs. Their photos are a testament to the breathtaking landscapes Wilder Ranch offers, combining history with natural splendor.

Bonus Location: Your Own Romantic Hideaway

Sometimes, the best location for your engagement photos is a place that holds special meaning for you and your partner. It doesn't have to be a well-known spot; it could be as simple as your home, where you share morning coffee and laughter with your dog, or your favorite local coffee shop or library. These personal spaces tell your unique story and add an intimate, genuine touch to your photos. Capturing moments in a place that resonates with your relationship can make your engagement shoot truly one-of-a-kind and deeply meaningful.

Choosing the perfect location for your engagement photos is all about finding a spot that reflects your personalities and your love story. Whether it's the serene beauty of a natural park, the charming streets of a bustling town, or a place that's uniquely special to you, each location holds the potential to beautifully capture your love and commitment. I hope these spots inspire you to find that perfect backdrop for your engagement photos, creating memories that you'll treasure for a lifetime. Happy exploring and I can't wait to see where your love story takes you!