Shooting The Sunrise On The Southern California Coast

When most people think of photographing the sunset and sunrise, they would tend to agree that the East Coast is the place to head for sunrises while the West is limited to sunsets.  What many folks may not realize is that quite a bit of coastline, especially in Southern California, faces South, and if you look hard enough, you can even find spots that face the East.  If you want to shoot the sunrise in SoCal, your widest choice of locations would occur during December and January as the sun swings down toward the South. I spent quite of bit of time this year trying to track these locations down.  Below is a partial list of locations to watch the sun come UP over the waters of the pacific ocean. From Northern Los Angeles County to San Diego, , here are some great locations for your next sunrise shoot:


Leo Carrillo

One of my favorite sunrise locations in Southern California is Leo Carrillo Beach which is North of Malibu.  Most of the Malibu coastline faces directly South, from Will Rogers over to Point Dume, but there are sections of Malibu and Leo Carrillo that face directly East.   I had no idea that Leo Carrillo even existed until one kind soul walked up to us while we were shooing the pier in Malibu and happened to mention this amazing beach.   Leo Carillo is another stretch of coastline that not only faces South but cuts out into the ocean a bit further at Sequin Point which faces directly east.  One of the coolest aspects of this beach is the caves and archways that have been carved by the surf over the years.   The guard towers aren’t much to look at, but the jagged coastline is absolutely stunning under the right conditions.  We spent quite a bit of time shooting around Sequit Point, but the trail South along the beach is equally stunning and some of the coves down there offer some wonderful views as well.  (The cave shot at the top of this article was taken from Leo Carrillo.  Keep in mind that access to the cave is only available during low tide.)


El Matador

While the above shot was taken at sunset, it is important to note that this stretch of rocky coastline and amazing sea stacks is a South facing beach, and as such, you can still pick up a bit of the sunrise in December and January.   The options aren’t as varied as sunset, i.e. you won’t get the sun coming into those caves, but you can still get some great compositions on the entire length of that beach.  Keep in mind that the beach completely disappears during high tide, so be sure to check the tide charts before heading down.


Surfrider Beach, Malibu

One of the most Eastern facing beaches is Malibu Surfrider Beach which overlooks the Malibu Pier.   When people see shots from this area labeled “sunrise” and they see the sun behind the pier, they instantly assume that they must be looking at a shot that was taken on the East Coast.  This stretch of coastline faces directly East and offers great opportunities to shoot the sun behind the pier well into the late Spring.  This shot was taken in mid December.


Rancho Palo Verdes

The area around Palo Verde is still on my list as much of the peninsula faces directly South and East.  I haven’t been able to get out there yet, but there are some nice stretches of coastline that face the South and East, especially around the Point Vicente Lighthouse.  Hopefully I’ll get a shot or two in the near future.


Corona Del Mar

Corona Del Mar is another spot that will provide some amazing sunrise shots, but only during the Winter months.   Arch rock is a favorite spot for photographers at sunset, but only a handful realize that it can also be an incredible sunrise location.  As with El Matador, the tide is a key factor in getting down to Arch Rock, but if the waves are too high, consider shooting from several vantage points around Little Corona Beach.   Hoping to try this one again this year.


Crescent Bay Point Park, Laguna Beach

Hidden in a neighborhood a couple of miles South of Coronado Del Mar lies a lovely park which overlooks all of Laguna Beach to the South.  It’s a bit tricky to find as it is stuck in a residential area, and can be quite crowded during the day and sunset hours.  It’s often overtaken by weddings and photo shoots, but in the predawn hours, you can almost always find parking on the nearby streets.


Shaw’s Cove, Laguna Beach

Shaw’s Cove isn’t as well known as Heisler Park or Main Beach off of Laguna Canyon Road, but it does face the Southeast.  One of the distinctive features of Shaw’s Cove is the gazebo which overlooks the beach from a cliff above.  I have shot this cove several times, and I can’t recall ever seeing another photographer down there.  In fact, other than a couple of early rising residents, a dog or two and a scuba class, I’ve pretty much had this beach to myself when I’ve shot it.  It’s easily one of my most favorite spots in Laguna Beach.  While the sun is off to the East in this frame,  it’s worth pointing out that you can walk far out around the Northwest corner during low tide and shoot back across the cove to pull the sun into the shot, especially during the Winter months.


Heisler Park, Laguna Beach

Of all of the locations in Southern California, Heisler Park is easily the most accessible.  The park isn’t technically a beach, but the Southern end overlooks almost all of Laguna Beach and features a spectacular view of the city and the Pacific Ocean.  The typical fog and low clouds make mornings like the one above a bit rare, but if you can get down there right after a storm rolls through in the morning hours, the view can be absolutely stunning.  Nice views are also available elsewhere in the park and there is a path that will take you down to the beach if you prefer to shoot the same view from further down.   Last time I checked, parking is free until 8 AM.


Treasure Island, Laguna Beach

Toward The Southern end of Laguna lies Treasure Island Beach.  The shallow cave and tide pools mike this a nice place to shoot during low tide, but it tends to be a bit more crowded due to its proximity to the Montage Resort.  It definitely faces South which again provides opportunities during the Winter months to shoot the sun coming up over the surf.

Coronado Island, San Diego


Probably the most obvious opportunity to shoot the sunrise in Southern California is from Coronado Island back over the San Diego Bay and skyline, but this is also still on my list.

There are a few other scattered opportunities from Dana Point, etc, but I’ve tried to limit my list to those beaches that offer some wonderful stretches of coastline with the opportunity for some dramatic sunrise light.  If you know of other locations that I have missed, please let me know if the comments below.



4 thoughts on “Shooting The Sunrise On The Southern California Coast

  1. Brian Spicer

    Stunning work William.

    • William McIntosh

      Thanks Brian!

  2. Mari

    Appreciate the information, and your incredibly beautiful photos.

  3. William McIntosh

    Thanks Mari!

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