Favorite Santa Barbara Locations

Santa Barbara hosts an incredible variety of photo locations from expansive sandy beaches to golden hour mountain tops to dramatic Spanish architecture. Crowds are much less of a concern, so most of these locations are ideal even at their relatively busy times like sunsets on weekends. Below are some of my favorite spots in Santa Barbara along with their pros and cons, although this is definitely not an exhaustive list!

Ellwood Bluffs

Ellwood is 20 minutes north of Santa Barbara and has a great mixture of terrain. You can stand on the bluffs (my favorite), walk down to the beach, go to the trees in the grove, or face the mountains in the fields. In the spring there are huge blooms of yellow wildflowers. It's a mile walk from the parking so it's a very quiet area. Great for golden hour glow. Best time is at sunset. Good for families or couples, but not for very young children. Not my favorite location if your main priority is being on the beach at sunset, as the lighting is more hit or miss there.


I may be biased because I got married here, but I think Santa Barbara has the most beautiful courthouse. Perfect for big lush greens and stunning architectural moments. This location is especially useful as the first location in a two stop engagement shoot, as there are tons of great spots to avoid harsh midday lighting. Past engagement clients have combined the courthouse with East Beach or the Mission. The courthouse is my go to spot for headshots and works well for families, couples, and maternity photos, but can get crowded on weekends.

East Beach

East Beach in downtown Santa Barbara is a great spot for the classic golden hour seaside glow. I love shooting here because the beach is so expansive and you can shoot towards the waves, palm trees, or mountains. East Beach works well for sunrise if you are willing to wake up early and I also love shooting late sunsets here, as you can often catch cotton candy colors at blue hour. Unfortunately, the lighting is too harsh at other hours of the day. Great for individuals, couples, and families and probably the most accessible beach spot for parking access.

Lizard's Mouth

About a 30 minute drive into the Santa Barbara mountains, Lizard's Mouth is a local spot for rock climbing, hiking, and of course, epic sunset watching. I love the expansive views of the water and the incredible orange-red tones against the rocks. Lizard's Mouth is great for adventurous couples or families, but has tough terrain that may be difficult for young children or very pregnant mothers. It's also not the most accessible, as there is a mile walk to the sunset spot. If you're up for an adventure and love the mountains, this is a great option for your photoshoot!


Santa Barbara is an incredibly walkable city and I think a lot of clients don't think about the option of just wandering downtown! This is especially great if you can't make a sunset time frame work, as there are a lot of great spots around to avoid harsh lighting. This works especially well for locals that want to visit their favorite spots or visitors who love the Spanish architecture. I love starting early for coffee at Dune or Handlebar to avoid the crowds and then walking around and seeing what we can find in the morning light.

Hendry's Beach

Hendry's Beach is located between downtown Santa Barbara and Goleta near the Mesa and is a lovely, dog friendly beach for individuals, couples, or family shoots. This beach can get quite crowded on the weekends at sunset, which is fine for shooting, but can be tricky with parking sometimes as the lot has limited availability. This is a local favorite spot, with a great restaurant and bar that makes a fun date night to pair with the photoshoot! Not the best if you want to string two locations together, but a great beach for golden hour sunset photos.