Best Engagement Session Locations in Southern California


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Southern California offers many wonderful sights that can serve as a backdrop for your portrait or engagement photos. However, the city also has very strict guidelines when it comes to professional photography. While you can take a personal photography virtually anywhere in the city, a professional photographer is confined by the local laws and ordinances or by private property owners that restrict where they can take photographs without a proper permit or permission.

When it comes to choosing the right setting, we encourage you to choose one that best reflects your personality, whether it is an urban or outdoor setting. For engagement photos, the type of setting where you first met or had your first date makes for a great choice, especially if that location is available for a photo session.

In addition, most locations will require permits or a fee for having a professional photography session on their grounds. We encourage you to contact the location and obtain the proper permit or permission first so that we will not be interrupted. If you insist on having the photographs taken at that location without a permit, we can stay until the security personnel escort us from the premises. If there is any fine or ticket, then it is the client’s responsibility to pay and there will be an additional fee if you want to schedule another session.

Most permits cost from $100 to $900 on average and many locations have very strict rules and regulations about how a photo session can be conducted. So, when you are planning out the photo session in terms of the location, date and time, be sure to check the hours of operation, block out and special event dates so that there is no conflict when you obtain your permit.

Here are some of the best locations in the Southern California area where we can take portrait or engagement photos.


Pasadena City Hall

Because permits are no longer needed for professional photographers, this is also a very easy area to take photos for all types of situations. Typically, an early morning session is recommended for the weekend or a time two hours before sunset on a weekday. Because there are no permits needed, do not be surprised to see other professional photographers in the area. However, the city hall is very large and offers a great number of excellent backdrops so there is plenty of room for everyone.

Typically, the best time is usually the weekend because there are relatively few other people around and the light is always nice during most times of the day. There is a parking garage located at 330 E. Union Street that charges $4 which is far less than parking at a meter.


Santa Monica Beach & Pier

The pier along the surf, beach and the Ocean Front Walk offers spectacular backgrounds for a wide variety of portrait or engagement photo session. Because of the popularity of this area, it is highly recommended that you go during the weekdays morning before 8:00am. as that also offers the best light as well. The location of our initial meeting is in front of Bubba Gump 301 Santa Monica Pier Building 9, Santa Monica, CA 90401.


Griffith Observatory

This is another iconic film location having been seen in many different films. This famed Los Angeles landmark is located in the heart of Griffith Park and offers a stunning location on top of the hill with the famous “Hollywood” sign nearby. Unfortunately, this location is so popular that parking anywhere near the Observatory is practically impossible and it will require a long, arduous walk from the bottom of the hill. Plus, the sheer number of tourists, hikers and bike enthusiasts makes this location a nightmare in getting any type of good photographs. Finally, the light falls in such a way that getting photos with the cityscape or Hollywood sign in the background are poor at best. The address is 2800 E. Observatory Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027. We can meet at the base of the Astronomers Monument which you can find at the north doors of the Observatory. 8:00 a.m. is the best time to start an engagement photo session.



While a beautiful location with many different settings that make for great portrait and engagement photography, security guards in the area will escort out professional photographers despite the fact that no permit is needed. Because of this, Chinatown cannot be considered a good location for your photo sessions because there is no guarantee that it will be permitted to take place. In the past, photo sessions that took place in the early morning or late afternoon hours offers striking photographs and the Walt Disney Concert Hall is nearby along with several available parking lots that only charge $5 all day. If you want to take the risk, we can meet at the east entrance of the Chinatown Central Plaza at 943 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012.


Arboretum of Los Angeles County

Here, a permit is required for professionals to take photographs on the grounds. The Arboretum is located in Arcadia, California near the Santa Anita Race Track and provides one of the best garden settings in the region. The permit fee is $50 for the walk-on access. To obtain a permit, please call Lilli Burrow (626) 821-3244. We will meet at the main doors to the Arboretum entrance where the parking is free. The Arboretum is located at 301 N. Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007.


California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

This is another incredible location that does require a permit, but offers a wide range of beautiful architecture and green-space backgrounds that are just perfect for portraits or engagement photo sessions. The permit is $250 and is available after 5:30 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. It may be possible to get a lower permit price, but you will need to call or email James Muro at the Caltech Ticket office at (626) 395-4656 or You can even download the application and get started if you like. We will meet at the fountain located in front of Millikan Library. The street parking is free and you’ll find plenty of it.


Descanso Gardens

A permit is required for photographs to be taken at this beautiful location in La Canada Flintridge. The gardens are open on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and on weekends from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The permit fee is $300 for engagement sessions that last up to 2 hours. 9:00 a.m. is a great starting time for a photo shoot and the parking is free. The Descanso Gardens provides photo permit information and you can make a reservation through their Special Events Office at (818) 949-4291. We will meet at the main entrance ticket counters located at 1418 Descanso Dr, La Canada, Flintridge, CA 91011.


Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

A permit is required for this absolutely incredible location that is picture perfect for engagement session portraits. As one of the finest garden settings in all of Southern California, it does fetch a $300 refundable security deposit and $785 for up to 3 hours of photography during non-public hours and $885 if you choose public hours. The waiting time on application processing could go up to 30 days. The public hours for the Huntington are 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the weekends. On Monday, Wednesday to Friday, the hours are from Noon to 4:30 p.m. with the library being closed on Tuesdays. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the summer weekday hours run from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Basically, the best time for a photo session is from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. or after 4:30 p.m. during the summer months to take advantage of the later sunsets. We highly recommend you to verify these information with Huntington Library on your own. You can obtain access to the Huntington by calling (626) 405-3426. The address is 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA 91108 and the parking is free.


Old Town Pasadena

This is a beautiful location that offers many urban settings which make for great backgrounds for the photo session. The good news is that with few exceptions there are no permits required for the Old Town area. However, there may be property owners or the local authorities that might interfere with the engagement session, so be aware. It is best to start early in the morning which provides the best light and least interference from local business owners. Plus, there are fewer people on the streets as well. We will meet in front of the Apple Store which is located at 54 W. Colorado Blvd. Pasadena, CA 91105.


San Gabriel Mission

One of the most important landmarks in Los Angeles, the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel is one of the most beautiful, historic buildings in all of Southern California. The good news is that photographing outside of the mission itself does not require a permit. However, to go inside to photograph in the Interior Gardens does require a permit which is available for $100 for an hour or less. Located at 428 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel, CA 91776, we will meet in front of the gift shop on the sidewalk.


University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

The perfect location if you or your fiancée is a UCLA graduate, it offers many great locations on the campus and the best part is that no permits are required. However, that courtesy only extends to photographs that will be for personal use only. While the campus is large, the location where we will meet is at Parking Structure 4 at 221 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90095. There is a $12 fee for two hours or more of parking.


University of Southern California (USC)

Of course, if you or your fiancée graduated from USC, this is a wonderful place as well. Like UCLA, there are no permits required and we will meet just outside of Parking Structure X which is located at 3499 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90089.


Venice Beach & Boardwalk

Venice Beach offers a distinctive look to the typical beach environment by adding a little urban landscaping to the mix. The boardwalk itself is an amazing place and the many different murals on the buildings create numerous opportunities for great photographs. The best time for a photo session is no later than 8:00 a.m. because of the light and having fewer spectators. No permit is required and you can park for free on the public lot at N Venice Blvd and Ocean Front Walk, Los Angeles, CA 90291. We will see you at the northeast corner of the lot located near the paddle tennis courts that are fenced.

What follows are locations that are not nearly as ideal for a variety of reasons starting with the numerous crowds, difficult to obtain permits, bad lighting conditions, poor backgrounds and even some potential dangers as well.


Disneyland and California Adventure

While Disneyland is known around the world as “The Happiest Place on Earth” with many wonderful settings for portraits and engagement photos, there are many reasons why this is a less-than-ideal setting. First, the park is crowded from the time it opens until the park closes which makes getting good photographs difficult. Plus, the sheer size of the park makes it very, very difficult to cover much ground even with a two-hour session. However, if you want to risk this location, we can meet just beyond the security checkpoint near the ticket counters. You can park at the Mickey & Friends structure which is only $16. The address of Disneyland is 1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim, CA 92802.


Greystone Mansion

Certainly one of the most famous of all estates in Beverly Hills and offers an incredible backdrop for your portrait or engagement photo session. Unfortunately, the lighting conditions are generally quite poor and the place is filled with tourists most of the time. The grounds do include the pool, formal gardens and the inner courtyard area, but unless you are a resident of Beverly Hills the permit for this location is $290 per hour and will only include access to the exterior locations of the building. You can call (310) 285-6835 if you want to obtain a permit from the Greystone Mansion.


Walt Disney Concert Hall

This is a marvelous location for engagement and portrait sessions thanks to the wonderful light and outstanding architecture. Plus, professional photographers are welcome so no permits or permission is needed. The best part is that any time of the day is well suited for taking photographs as it is one of our favorite places in all of Los Angeles to do photo sessions. Typically, the best time of the day is round 8:00 a.m. or just a few hours before sunset in order to get the best light. However, anytime of the day is usually good for taking excellent photographs. Weekday parking costs $20 before 4:30 p.m. and only $9 after that time. Parking meters are only $4 for two hours, but you will likely have to feed the meter before the photo session is through. Our meeting place is at the corner of North Grand Avenue and West 1st Street in front of the ticketing booth. The address is 111 S. Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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