Where to even begin? Point Reyes is certainly a wonder that California has been gifted to call its own. It’s a bit of a drive to get to the coast (depending on where you are), but it’s never a boring drive if you love nature, hills, and waving to cows and goats.
Consider starting off in Point Reyes Station before you head out for a cocktail or a bite, they have phenomenal oysters at Cafe Reyes.
To plan your point reyes session you’ll want to do three things:
1) Alltrails.com to find a trail that’s open and feels good to your athletic ability
2) Check the weather - pack accordingly, layers are great. Blankets are a bonus! It’s windy on the coast, the same way it is on a beach, the closer you are to the shore the more windswept you’ll be (also a total bonus in my book).
3) Pack snacks - depending on the length of the trail + the 40 minute drive in you’re looking at a good bit of time without food! Be sure to pack snacks and water for a break - one backpack should suffice.
A few of my personal favorite trails at point reyes are:
Chimney Rock Trail
Another popular location right in San Francisco and just a walk away from the Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach. If you’re a local you know that Carl comes in most days and hangs out past sunset. However, the days where Carl (the fog) goes away always make for some pretty spectacular photos, especially at sunset and sunrise. The richness of the sun kisses the land with its vibrant rays making for the most stunning light a human could hope to witness.
While I love a good overcast day - the sun makes all the difference if you’re a lover of warm images that remind you of a hug.
A bit closer to the Golden Gate this beach is fantastic for couples who want the view of the bridge in the background of their photos as well as the beach vibes. There are also some fun trails that lead to nature and beautiful views that are worth exploring if you want a bit of diversity.
Where do I begin with Thornton Beach? For starters I think it's important to note the little lady that plays her trumpet at the trailhead entrance, so far, she's been there every time I've visited and it's possibly been my favorite perk about this location - aside from the spectacular views.
I stumbled upon this location by luck and I remember having the life changing insight that sometimes the best things in life are the unexpected. This is also a big part of why I believe in exploring and chasing light - because the truth is, it's always changing!
But enough about my philosophical insights - Thornton Beach is a gem, with sunning overlooks to the ocean, beautiful trees, and trails that lead to spectacular views. Some of the trails are a bit rigorous, so if you're hoping to venture out to some rad spots you'll want to be sure you're wearing the right shoes for a small bit of climbing and wearing clothes that can accommodate. However, if you're just wanting the overlook, you can park in the parking lot and walk right up!
Mill Valley is a cute little town just west of the Bay and slightly past the Golden Gate Bridge with a lot of beauty to explore. This area gets pretty windy and hilly quickly, but if you can handle a few curves this area might be a great option for your engagement session. With locations like Mount Tamalpais and Muir Beach it's hard to run out of incredible shoot locations. Keep in mind because this is close to the coast, the further you get to the coast the higher your potential of experiencing an overcast day. If you're hoping for some sunshine be sure to head out the day after a coldfront!
Here are some of my favorite Mill Valley Locations combined with places I'd love to shoot!
Horse Hill Preserve
Golden Gate Park
For starters, Golden Gate Park is massive with plenty of unique and diverse areas to explore. Chances are you won't be able to cover the whole park in a single visit.
It'll be good to consider your top 2-3 locations and plan your day accordingly. Golden Gate Park is easily accessible and is within walking/short driving distance to the historic Height neighborhood, Ocean Beach, and Land's End/Sutro Baths. The park itself is home to towering redwoods, multicultural gardens, art museums, and the Conservatory of Flowers. Note most of the gardens require a photography permit so be sure to inquire ahead of time!
Botanical Garden (hours are seasonal) Open Daily 7:30AM
October – early November: 5 p.m.
1st Sunday in November – January: 4 p.m.
February – 2nd Saturday in March: 5 p.m.
Spring & Summer Last Entry:
2nd Sunday in March – September: 6 p.m.
- Garden of Fragrance
-Moon Viewing Garden
- Mediterannean Garden
- Zellerbach Garden of Perennials
Japanese Tea Garden
Conservatory of Flowers
A stunning backdrop for anyone who loves architecture that makes a statement and exploring tropical plants.
It can get a bit toasty in here due to minimal airflow, but if you’re not a heavy sweater this might just be a great location for you!
The Briones is a huge regional park north east of Oakland with magical lighting and incredible views. If you're looking for easily accessible rolling hills and beautiful hikes this park might be a great fit for you.
Ideal for picnics, hikes, rolling around, and a bit of climbing (if you're into it).
Some of my personal favorite areas in the Briones:
Alhambra Staging Area
Bear Creek Staging Area
If you want an incredible weekend getaway with some epic photos to follow Mendocino might just be your go to place. Perfect for couples who love exploring quaint little seaside towns, beautiful forests and spectacular sunsets, Mendocino is pretty close to perfect.
There’s quite a bit around Mendocino to do and to explore so I’ll list some of my favorite spots below.
Point Mendocino Trail
Point Kelli (mega stunner, incredible in the AM with all the fog and at sunset)
Waterfall Loup (in Russian Gulch State Park)
Be sure to make time to enjoy a tasty cocktail and lunch at the Maccallum house.
You won’t regret it!